February 2, 2023
by Mike Razak
1n 2017, when Nodus Watches debuted its first watch, the Trieste diver, I wrote it off as another generic microbrand throwing its hat in the ring with a dive watch—at that time, perhaps as ever, the watch world was awash in divers. The Trieste was fine, but nothing special. What I did not expect was the breakneck speed with which the brand would release watches over the following five years — and not just frequency but leaps and bounds in quality. The brand’s founders aren’t just driven by a passion for watches, they want to make good watches. Call it an “if you build it well, they will come” approach. And people did come: Even if you haven’t heard of the brand, Nodus has a loyal following and is exceptionally well-regarded in the microbrand watch community. In the years since Nodus launched, I’ve had the good fortune to review many of the different models it’s released (check out the aBlogtoWatch reviews of the Avalon and the Duality), and when I said that they’ve been breakneck with releases, I meant it: At hand is the second iteration of the third generation of the Nodus Retrospect.
On the whole, Nodus makes decidedly contemporary watches. It isn’t pushing the limits of horological design with avant-garde cases that perplex as much as they amaze, nor is it shackled by traditional design in the name of historicity. In finding that balance, the brand hasn’t established a design language in the traditional sense; the models aren’t instantly recognizable as Nodus’ in the way that Seikos and Mosers are recognizable. It may sound contrived, but the design language for Nodus is quality and refinement. For those familiar with microbrand watches and especially with the bigger microbrand names, it’s not hard to tell a Nodus from the exceptional finishing and just-right design choices. The Retrospect continues this approach, with a design that remains modern despite being inspired by three vintage divers: the Gruen Ocean Chief, the Breitling Superocean, and the Rado Captain Cook. All three of those old watches, in one way or another, feature the long triangular hour markers and inward-sloping stadium bezel that define the Retrospect.
There have been plenty of changes to the Retrospect for the third generation, but I won’t delve too deeply into them; they’re mostly incremental refinements that, true to Nodus form, bring the model closer and closer to perfection. The stainless steel 42mm case is 13mm-thick, a full millimeter thinner than the first generation. Tolerances were pushed, and undercut chamfers were added to allow the watch to be thinner and wear thinner. Having tried the original version, I can attest it was a chunky watch, but the third generation is an entirely different experience. With its dimensions, you’re going to feel it on the wrist, but it feels present, not prominent; give thanks to the sloping 22mm lugs, the 48mm lug-to-lug, and the female endlinks on the bracelet, which allow the watch to better wrap around the wrist. The concave 120-click bezel gives it a presence where the 13mm is easy to feel, but it’s not as dramatic as its vintage forebears, making it a modern take on those designs. The fully-lined insert is DLC-coated stainless steel and the numbering has been refined, with a new red frame added to the triangle. A concave bezel is already less susceptible to harm than a convex or outward sloping one, but the use of steel only lessens it further. The bezel operates smoothly with perfect tension (though the grooves could be deeper for a slightly better grip when wet), and the big screw-down crown is just as easy to use. The watch features a more-than-adequate 200m water resistance, suitable for just about anything for which you might need it—in my case, this meant bath time for my kids, dishes, and light rain.
Under the double-domed sapphire crystal, the sunburst sandwich dial holds court. Here in slate grey, the Retrospect is also offered in bright orange, pale salmon, and a gradient blue. Brands have a tendency to crowd dive watches with an abundance of text and too-large markers, but Nodus has gone the opposite direction. For text, all you’ll find is the brand and logo, model name, and a narrow minute track along the periphery; note that care has been taken to ensure that there’s no disruption of the longer minute track hashes. While Nodus has really played around with the use of sandwich dials in the past (especially in the Duality), the Retrospect is kept simple with long triangular cutouts for the hours; in this generation, the cutouts are sharper and cleaner. The blocky beveled hands are polished and easy to read, though certainly, the lighter dials benefit from additional contrast with the polished handset.
One of the neatest things about the Retrospect dial is the date window at 6 o’clock. It’s got a pronounced beveled frame but also a thin white line around it. Matching the cutout hour indices, the hands, and the bezel, this line provides a lumed frame for the date. The Super-LumiNova C3 lume is excellent across the board. Though the hands and bezel are slightly brighter than the hours, this is to be expected given that they sit below everything. There’s certainly a novelty to the lumed date frame, but part of me would like the brand to push further and lume the actual date. As it is, it serves as only a somewhat helpful reminder of which way is down (should you ever get confused). Overall, the dial presents as highly legible and uncluttered, with a brilliant radiance that is allowed to stand out against the matte bezel.
(If you’re wondering about the movement, it’s a Seiko NH35 with 24 jewels and a 41-hour power reserve, regulated by the brand to -/+ 10 seconds per day. And that’s all there is to say about it.)
The biggest news from Nodus and the second version of the third-generation Retrospect is the inclusion of the brand’s proprietary ratcheting clasp. The bracelet itself is a quick-release oyster-style affair that doesn’t merit much scrutiny. The ratcheting clasp, though, is quite exciting. Other than Halios, I’m not aware of any small brands that have their own clasp; the go-to ratcheting clasp to date has been large and clunky and is often mismatched with slimmer divers simply out of a desire to have the functionality. With the Nodus NodeX™ ratcheting clasp, a single button on the underside is depressed to allow the wearer to expand or contract the bracelet. Note that this has to be done off-wrist, and that the extending portion has a bit of wiggle to it, but at no time did it feel flimsy or loose. This is exciting for Nodus, but it’s also exciting for the entire industry, as the design is adaptable and licensable to other brands.
While Nodus states that the Retrospect is inspired by truly vintage watches, it occupies a different space to me. This watch is the perfect distillation of The Microbrand Watch, a watch that represents the entire world of microbrand watches. Direct-to-consumer, affordable, off-the-shelf movement—yes, but there’s more to it than that. Early microbrands, almost without fail, were big, chunky watches, almost always in-your-face divers (think of the Halios Puck). Later, as more and more brands popped up, the dial was where the fun was had—embossed patterns, vibrant colors, playful lume. More recently, as with bigger brands, microbrands have been homaging vintage models. The Achilles heel of many microbrand watches, though, was and is a lack of refinement and balance. Sometimes the inspiration or rationale isn’t clear, or the dial is too busy or loud, or the watch isn’t well proportioned—sometimes nothing is right. The Nodus Retrospect, though, has hit the nail on the head in each case. It has refined the idea of a robust, vintage-inspired dive watch with an engaging dial and brought it to its natural terminus. The cues to the historic models are subtle yet evident; the case and bracelet are thoughtful and wear well; and the dial is radiant and layered but not overpowering. Nothing stands out because everything is complementary and forms a greater whole. This isn’t to say that the Nodus Retrospect is a perfect watch, simply that it has perfected the fundamental ideals underpinning the entire microbrand watch segment. The Nodus Retrospect III is priced at $475 and is available directly from the brand. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.
>Model: Retrospect III
>Size: 42mm-wide, 13mm-thick, 48mm lug-to-lug
>When reviewer would personally wear it: Every day in the summer, thanks to the quick-adjust sizing
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Someone looking for an affordable diver that feels like it’s much more expensive
>Best characteristic of watch: Stadium bezel, sandwich hour markers, sunburst dial
>Worst characteristic of watch: The stadium bezel makes it wear every bit of its 13mm-thick (even though that’s not that thick)