Watch lovers, it’s time to talk about a sensitive subject. I’ll wait for everyone to find a private spot to read this article, but once you do, settle in and allow yourself to open up. Free your mind, light a candle, get all your chakras in order, do what you need to do. It’s going to get personal.
Before diving into the details of the watch for this hands-on, we need to talk about size. Watch size, wrist size, lug to lug length, diameter without crown, ultrathin, “beefy” thick, bracelet droop, strap too tight. There are a lot of variables at play here.
I’m a big guy. I’m six feet tall, my shoes are a size twelve, and my wrist is seven and a half inches first thing in the morning before the blood starts pumping. And I came of age during the “big watch” years when Panerai was all the rage, and high school kids, if they wore a watch at all, bought 55 inch Diesel monsters at department stores, almost always in some kind of loud color. So, it follows that most of my watches early on were in the 42mm range. Maybe a little bigger, but I was conditioned to believe that anything less than 40mm was wimpy, and just a nonstarter. More than that, I was taught that size is essential in determining whether or not you should even seriously look at a watch.
One of the watches I wear most often is a Speedmaster Professional with its classic and versatile 42mm case. But I’d be lying if I told you that as I started to learn more about vintage watches, and my taste started trending away from sports watches to more classic designs, that I didn’t experience a condition that I’m sure most of us have secretly shared: wrist envy.
Yes, wrist envy is a real thing. It seems like in order to have more than 10,000 followers you simply must have the most perfectly tanned wrist skin. Photoshopping a wrist shot to make it look like the platonic ideal of what we imagine the ideal human wrist to look like has become de rigueur for the big blogs. Mobilizing the watch community to come together on more realistic expectations for wrist attractiveness standards is something I’ll save for another post. What I really wanted to address here is what do we do as watch lovers when we love a watch that seems to not love us. If you’re small wristed but you just need to have that Sea-Dweller, of if you’re a big huge hulking dude but the only thing you really love is a 34mm Calatrava or a 35mm Nomos Tangente.
The Nomos Club
I was drawn to Nomos pretty early on in my descent into watch culture. They are one of those brands that used to be way, way inside-baseball, and only the most dedicated and hardcore watch nuts knew who they were. Now, they are still on the inside, but I think they’re comfortably on the outside of the inside. They have a strong social media presence and seem to be one of the few watch brands that can admit to themselves that it is in fact the 21st century. So you start coming across them these days pretty early on, and I have to think that’s largely by design, as they happily present themselves as an affordable gateway into true watchmaking. And German watchmaking, at that. Something a little different for the contrarian in all of us.
Nomos has an unmistakable and clear aesthetic. Clean, modern designs, rooted in the Bauhaus tradition. They are playful with color and even adventurous in some of their newer dial designs, but there’s a conservatism in their cases. They tend to be smaller than whatever is on trend at the moment, and even before their newest in-house automatic movement allowed them to make breathtakingly thin self-powered pieces, their hand wound Alpha movement allowed them to keep their line strictly within classic dress watch proportions. A more seasoned Nomos historian than me will surely be able to chime in and tell us when they made their first 40mm case, but I have to think it was only relatively recently.
The clean design and youthful energy of the dials and brand itself made Nomos a target of mine. And before I owned the Nomos Club Campus that is the subject of this now rambling piece, I acquired and flipped a 38mm Orion and a 38mm Tangente (the wonderful Topper Jewelers edition with a brilliant white dial and lumed hands and hour markers – I feel a twinge of regret for letting this one go). I loved those watches, but not enough to hang on to either of them for more than a year. Such is the watch collecting “journey,” I suppose. You either don’t click with something and let it go because it never gets worn, or you part with something you love to make way for something that you think you’ll love more. In the case of the Orion, it was wonderful but just too formal for a guy who wears jeans approximately 6.8 out of 7 days per week. With the Tangente, let’s just say I was made an offer that I couldn’t refuse, and wound up with something equally special when it was all said and done.
Sports watches were my original sin, so to speak, so it made me leery of investing in a sub 40mm watch. And on the day I took delivery of my Orion, I was at the tail end of a Seiko Orange Monster bender, one of the biggest and goofiest hunks of steel you can own, so the delicacy of the Nomos came as a particular shock. I was immediately impressed with the appearance and quality of the watch, but it seemed miniature on me when I started wearing it. And now, it’s time for a trivia question: do you know how many people laughed at me for being a big guy wearing a small watch that was almost dainty in comparison to the rest of my collection? The answer, of course, is zero. Nobody noticed. And I genuinely loved wearing it.
The Club Campus that I’ve settled on for now is 38mm in diameter, and about 8mm thick. These are “modern” dress watch dimensions but it exists within a different kind of watch genre somewhere between pure dress and sport – it’s an everyday watch. It can get wet, but don’t take it deep. It looks fine with business casual dress (whatever that means – that’s a whole other post, probably for a whole other blog) and maybe even a suit. Maybe. I don’t know. I probably wouldn’t go that route, but you can. You’ve got this, Suit Guy.
This particular Club was made in an edition of 75 for Ace Jewelers, in Amsterdam. Now, I fully admit, I’m a sucker for special editions. It’s a weakness. Not only in watches, but in books, sneakers, Oreo cookies, and many other things. Anyway, I saw this thing on Instagram and it immediately drew me in. It feels like a Nomos take on a panda dial, and unless they make a chronograph someday, it might be as close as we get. The red numerals and second hand pop, and the dial goes from near black to a light washed out gray depending on the light. It has a beautiful matte finish that feels like the inverse of their silvered dials.
Those numerals. Let’s briefly discuss the weirdness and appeal of the California dial. The mix of Arabic and Roman numerals doesn’t serve a particular purpose – it doesn’t make the watch more legible, for instance. It’s pure style. It creates a distinct lack of symmetry, but only upon close inspection. An alien from another planet wouldn’t understand that there’s a mixup on the dial, because it looks normal at a glance. But it’s not – it’s a little off. You have to look closer, and I think that’s why I like it.
Unlike the Tangente and Orion, which both have thin lugs that look like they could almost be bent by hand, like a paperclip, if just the right amount of force were to be applied, the Club has a heft to it when you hold it in your hand. Nomos is proud of the fact that all of their watches are really unisex – nothing is ever labeled as mens or ladies. But in my opinion, there’s something masculine about the Club case shape that isn’t really there in the rest of their line up. It’s less delicate.
The Club Campus is solid on the wrist and while it doesn’t disappear to the point that you forget it’s there, it’s very refined and discreet. It’s not a watch that’s going to be noticed by a lot of people. Even with the high polish, it doesn’t scream to be looked at. It’s comfortably thin, and wears, in my opinion, pretty much true to size. Unlike some other Nomos watches, the lugs aren’t attention seeking – it’s a “normal” design and doesn’t have an extreme lug to lug length that is out of proportion with the dial size.
Nomos began selling the Club Campus as a budget friendly option for recent college graduates or folks who for whatever reason are about to obtain their first real watch. To keep costs down the standard Club Campus lacks a sapphire caseback, but Ace Jewelers and Nomos elected to let us see the movement on this special edition. This is the right choice. The Alpha is well finished for a movement at this price point. Let’s face it, automatic movements that are not finished at all get the open caseback treatment, and that sight isn’t novel to anyone these days. But a well finished hand wound movement is still a really cool thing to see.
Wearing a small, thin watch on a regular basis is fun, and once it became clear that I could handle the 38mm size (which is not that small, really), my eBay and Watchrecon searches took on a different character. What was most surprising about wearing a watch of this size was that it seemed to have the desired impact that you think of with bigger watches.
Think of a huge, highly polished Breitling, or my aforementioned Seiko Orange Monster. These are watches that are meant to signal the outside world to a certain level of masculinity, of toughness, and confidence. Now, I enjoy a big dumb sports watch the same way I enjoy polishing off a popcorn and a Coke at a summer blockbuster at the local multiplex. Turn your brain off, enjoy something flashy and loud. But the light, thin watches I’ve opened up to now convey an heir of breezy elegance that’s altogether different, and dare I say, more mature.
To extend the movie metaphor slightly, and clumsily, I’ll just say that if you’re the type of watch guy who picks a watch for a cinema outing based on what you’re seeing (no judgment if you are – in fact, this is the germ of a blog post, I can feel it…), you’re probably not going to wear the Nomos to the next Marvel movie on opening weekend. You might wear it to the art house screening of the Academy Award nominated short films. More likely, though, you’ll wear it to a quiet bar, where you’ve brought a book to read, while you sip on a Negroni.
It’s easy to have tunnel vision as a watch collector, and to give in to some of the norms and tropes of the hobby perpetuated by expensive marketing campaigns. But there is value in trying new things, and being open to your taste naturally changing. I won’t ever have a collection full of 36-38mm dress watches, but I’m better off as a watch guy knowing that I’m capable of truly bonding with something small. And my wrist envy? All but cured. I can use filters to simulate that wrist tan, anyway.
Article & photography by Zach Kazan