Nodus Contrail Review
By: Michael Penate
I’ve been pretty hard on micro brands in 2018. I don’t know why, but I’m finding it more and more difficult to try and keep up with or get behind the next big #watchfam underdog story these days – and social media isn’t helping. In a way, I find that it’s a blessing and I’m almost paying even closer attention to the start-ups that do it right. Nodus caught my eye before with models like the Trieste and the Retrospect. However, I found my interest truly piqued after meeting the guys right here in Seattle for some late-night drinks, when they graciously introduced me to the concept of the Nodus Contrail.
I may have glanced over some renders on a dimly lit iPhone that night but… I spent the remainder of the year just waiting for the real thing. After the Nodus Contrail was officially introduced this summer in a range of dial options, I knew I had to take a closer look. This wasn’t just because of the dual time feature either (you guys know me), but because I think this watch can be the one that elevates Nodus to the ranks of micro brand greats like Gavox, Raven, Orion, and Halios.
It’s also hard to find guys like Wes and Cullen, who operate their brand with the utmost care and attention to quality. At Nodus, all assembly, design, and regulation processes take place in Los Angeles, California and even on a prototype like this, it shows. Speaking of which, there will be some changes made for the final, full production models and I’ll be sure to highlight those during this review.
The Nodus Contrail really did fall into a sweet spot for me in terms of size. The 316L stainless steel case features some sharp, polished chamfers and even though it clocks in at around 47mm lug-to-lug and 11.8mm thick, the watch pops on wrist. That’s not to say that this watch wears large by any means and in my experience, the size reminded me of what one would feel with a watch from the Seiko SNZH line-up. But, this watch comfortably sits at 40.5mm including the cool, glossy sapphire 60 click 12-hour bezel, which is both luminous and bidirectional. This transitions seamlessly to the box sapphire crystal with enough AR coating on the underside to keep visibility clear.
Like any good watch, the Nodus Contrail sports a well designed set of drilled-through lugs that both complement the case size and finishing. Even 40mm can feel wrong if the lugs are poorly executed and Nodus really got the lug profile right on the Contrail. They aren’t boring, have a nice curvature, and look great with those polished segments. One should note that the final version will come with circular brushing on the lug tops, so keep that in mind. Over at 3 o’clock we’re greeted by a sick screw-down crown with a heavy knurling treatment that supports the watch’s 200m water resistance rating. I may have messed with it more than I should have, but it’s just such a pleasure to operate.
I think a few people might be surprised by the sand dial texture on the Nodus Contrail, which introduces some much needed design variety in today’s watch industry. Nodus could have easily slapped together a classically sized, B.S. “affordable” diver without much effort. But, the brand decided to loop in a small bit of design controversy and the textured dial really has to be seen in person. It feels, gritty, organic, and motivating in the sense that the watch pulls you out of your comfort zone, in the hopes of taking you on a new adventure. It is, after all, meant to conquer “the air, sea, and everything in between.” I’d feel pretty set with this watch anywhere, honestly.
Available in Black Sand, Mute Gray, Laguna Sand, and Ballistic Green, the Nodus Contrail dial serves up a simple readout that fits the watch perfectly. Branding is minimal and I absolutely adored the red “Contrail” text just above 6 o’clock (looks even cooler on the Laguna Sand model… my favorite version). The applied indices also add extra depth and their sizing matches seamlessly with the hands to foster a tight, legible display. Even the framed date aperture at 3 o’clock does its job both functionally and visually, adding its own bit of charming asymmetry to the endearing Contrail. Looking at yet another layer, you’ll also find crisp chapter ring with a minutes scale, which I could’ve done without – but I’m sure others will appreciate it.
The 20mm Nodus Contrail bracelet is built on a comfortable H-link design and features a nice, brushed finish that matches the case. Like the lugs, small changes will come to the bracelet and apparently, Nodus will be polishing the the outer edges for the final version. As I try to imagine it, I’m finding myself more and more attracted to the idea. While the bracelet featured on the review unit was nice, I can’t help but wonder how much nicer it would look with an added bit of visual interest that coincides with the case’s polished surfaces.
Now, the clasp also needs some refinement. The Nodus guys ensured me they’d be making improvements in the future but at the moment, this prototype Contrail featured a simple, flip-lock clasp that got the job done. It’s seen its fair share of desk diving expeditions and I’d like to see what the final versions feel like before passing judgment. Otherwise, if you’re familiar with many of Seiko’s introductory offerings, you’ll have an idea of how the clasp operates and feels.
A trusty Miyota 9015 powers the Nodus Contrail and I’m so glad this is the movement they chose. Like many enthusiasts, I’ve only had great experiences with it – I’m even more excited about it after meeting with Miyota back in Hong Kong. Specs are standard and the movement delivers buttery smooth hand-winding together with hacking and a 42-hour power reserve. In the future, I’d love to see something like a high accuracy (super quartz) Contrail option… or maybe even something solar. How cool would that be?
I’d put my own money down for the Contrail. I just have to say it. Nodus has worked hard to bring budget-conscious watch buyers something special, while dedicating an immense amount of time to stateside assembly, regulation, and QA. This not only attracts me to the watch, but also the individuals driving the brand. And consumers should start seeking and valuing dedicated, honest brand owners in today’s crowded watch industry. Currently the Nodus Contrail is available for pre-order at a price of $525.
Michael Peñate is an American writer, photographer, and podcaster based in Seattle, Washington. His work typically focuses on the passage of time and the tools we use to connect with that very journey. From aviation to music and travel, his interests span a multitude of disciplines that often intersect with the world of watches – and the obsessive culture behind collecting them.