A Rising Star in the Lone Star State: The Dufrane Waterloo

Well. November is here again, and by the time you read this things will have changed in the United States. What doesn’t seem to change is the various watch blogs covering watches that sponsor them, or own them in some cases, and the constant churn of puff pieces about artsy watches that serve absolutely no practical use of any kind.

Don’t get me wrong, I like engineering and innovation, but most of the time it’s just trying to stand out in the constant sea of watch releases, and even though I like a few of them here and there, a weird set of hands or a story about how you loved Mickey Mouse watches in the 80s does not an innovation make.

I felt like I wanted to cut through all that and start looking into watches that maybe don’t get enough attention, or don’t feel the need to splash ads all over social media. A friend in Austin Texas turned me onto a brand called Dufrane who just happens to be releasing a new watch. I had been getting a lot of “no thanks” from various smaller watch companies, but I decided to send one more. This time I got a yes. 


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Steven Lee is the owner of Dufrane watches, a company based out of his home in Austin, TX. He’s put his own money into making watches he likes, which started with watches inspired by pilots watches. His releases have always been limited, and sold pretty much by word of mouth. The new watch is a little different. He told me this will be his first release on kickstarter (which will have ended by the time you read this), and while the first run will be 300 pieces, he’ll continue to make this model if the demand is there. Calling this his favorite so far, the Dufrane Waterloo will hearken back to his love of everyday watches like the Rolex Explorer or the Omega Railmaster. And while the case has the shape of a famous group of watches, I found there’s so much more here. Whether he intended it or not. 

The 39mm Case

Like I said before, it’s not secret that the case shape is clearly inspired by Rolex. At 39mm across and 47mm from lug to lug, you already know that the size is perfect for just about any wrist. Being that the caseback is fairly slim, this watch will sit flat on the wrist as the lugs only have the slightest of a down turn. Sometimes 39 can be a little small on a bigger wrist, but I never felt that way the whole week I had it.

All of the surfaces on the case are brushed, aside from a shoulder chamfer that runs beautifully from one end to the other; this catches the light and breaks up the brushed surfaces from running together. That polished chamfer works incredibly well with the polished duel layered bezel to reflect just about any color you’re close to up to those beautiful eyes of yours and, I feel they work together to make the watch a little bit sporty, and also something you can wear to the Thanksgiving dinner we’re all dreading this year. 

Lastly, the crown is big and easy to turn. The watch I was given was a prototype, and Steven said the crown was a little too big and would be reduced by about a mm on the final run. Even with the bigger crown, I didn’t feel like it dug into my wrist, and while the triple seal system ensures the 100M water resistance rating, personally I would like have seen a screw down, but it’s not a deal breaker by any means. 

The Dial

The dial of this watch is were things get unique and take a turn away from anything you’ve ever seen. First off, let me mention that we’re looking at the dial through a flat, AR coated sapphire crystal, and considering almost everything is domed right now, it was actually a breath of fresh air to have a flat crystal which gives us a clear, and undistorted look at this dial.

The dial is basically two parts. The main dial is an off-white linen pattern with minimal type, and the chapter ring is a brushed metal ring with milled numbers and minute markers. When I first saw it, in conjunction with the bezel, I immediately thought of Americana design. The watch looks like it was made with materials that were at one time used to build the United States. Then I noticed that all of that along with the actual heat blued leaf hands gave me serious American pocket watch vibes.

A transformation in my mind began. At first glance you notice that all-too-familiar case shape, but once you start looking at the dial, the bezel, the way the chapter ring is brushed a little rougher, almost like reclaimed metal, you get this real sense of the great American pocket watch. The heat blued hands seal that deal, sometimes “black as pitch” as my wife’s grandmother would say, and sometimes the blue of an old gun barrel.

The dial also has a surprise at night. While you notice right away that the tips of the hands are lumed in Superluminova C3, you don’t realize until the lights are off that the 12, 3, 6, and 9 also shine in the night. Let me also point out that the tip of the hands are also lumed to the exact length of the chapter ring.  It’s the little touches that let you know you’re dealing with an enthusiast.

I found myself in this American awakening in the dial staring at it several times a day. I can tell you that I did have a little trouble reading the dial throughout the day in direct light or the bright LEDS of the department I work in. Beautiful as it is, in some light, you have dark hands on a shiny white field, and sometimes you find yourself hunting the marker to see what time it is. 

The Strap

A tobacco brown leather strap comes with this watch, as it should. Did I mention earlier that the lugs were drilled? That’s going to make changing straps a no brainer. I liked the strap that came with the watch, but it’s not going to take the blue ribbon at the state fair. For one, sadly, it was a wee short, and I found myself having to keep the buckle in the first or second hole which means that floating keeper floated its ass right on up to the side of the watch.


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While a little on the basic side, it is a thick and robust leather with white stitching that should serve you well through the years. On the case side, the lugs are curved which let the strap hug the case of the watch with little gap. That’s a nice touch aesthetically, and I know a lot of you are worried about strap changes, but fear not! The Waterloo has you covered. While it wasn’t on my prototype, there will be a second set of lug indentions in the lugs for a standard spring bar. That set won’t be drilled though, to my knowledge, and will have to be changed out the old fashioned way. Personally, I can’t wait to see watch people put on this watch when it rolls out in December. 

Your Movement Choices

The Waterloo will come in a choice of two movements. Mine had the Sellita SW200 automatic beating away at a lovely 28800bph, but for the Mike Penates of the world, there will also be a Quartz version equipped with the Rhonda 715 and good for 5 years of power reserve and 10+- seconds a month.

The Sellita however will only be good for 38hours at full wind. Also, sadly, the quartz models won’t get the heat blued hands. While the same design, the hands will simply match the color of the case, stainless steel or rose gold.

The upside of the quartz, for some, will be that it shaves almost 2mm of the thickness of the watch to 8.8mm vs 10.4mm for the auto. As far as the auto is concerned, Sellita makes a hell of a movement that easily rivals ETA with very few issues these days. And while it’s been my experience that the SW200 tends to run a little fast, regulation will be done at the time of final assembly, which will be done by Mr. Lee in Austin. It’s a personal touch for the buyer of the watch to know that the man who designed it. I like that,

Final Thoughts

When I spoke to Steven, I didn’t get what I expected. I got to talk with a guy that loves watches, who still owns his first watch from the 80s (a Pulsar) and broke the stereotypes I had of people from Texas. For the most part, he’s a lot like the rest of us, he works for a living, and part of his heritage and travels comes along with these watches. Dufrane was his mother’s family name.

The Gaucho straps that come on some of his watches and are available separately on the website are inspired by South American art and clothing. The name Waterloo was the original name of Austin way back when it was known as the Republic of Texas. He’s doesn’t come from a place of wealth enthusiasm, and I think that the Waterloo is a reflection of all these things. 

Is the watch perfect? No watch is. Did I love the feeling it gave me? Yes. Of all the watches I’ve seen from smaller brands this year, in my opinion, this one is the most unique. The case is familiar, but beyond that, this is a watch that has a look like no other without falling into the “art watch” category that I dislike so much. This watch could be your everyday watch, whether you kick in doors with boots or you kick in doors with a pair of hard shoes (dress shoes). It blends modern and vintage looks so well that I never could really feel one way or the other about it. It never felt old, but it never felt new. It always felt like a great American watch.

The Kickstarter ended at the end of October but the watch will still be available at $575 for the auto and just $399 for the quartz. It’s not robbing you either, and it’s honest (unlike some other watches I’ve looked at lately). Once all this hullabaloo with Covid is done, I’m sure you’ll be seeing Dufrane show up at the shows. I encourage you to check out the Waterloo. While the winter is still dark, a star rises above the skies in Texas. 

Check out the Dufrane Watches site!

 

Baird Brown( Contributor )

Baird is an avid motoring enthusiast and a self taught hobbyist watchmaker from Bristol, TN. He has a love for all things mechanical and has an affinity for the style late 60s and 70s Chronographs and Dive watches. Baird views watches as engineering marvels and tools for everyday life rather than just jewelry. His writing style is inspired by certain “British automotive journalists” and his own experiences growing up and living in a blue-collar society.


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