Posted on May 16 2023
Switzerland is famed for its world-beating watch industry.
Not so much.
And Los Angeles?
It's famous the world over - known as the global hub of the film and television industry. It has the iconic Hollywood sign and the walk of fame. We're all familiar with the city, even if it's just from tuning into the Oscars each year.
But as a city of watch brands? It's no Geneva.
That's why Nodus has been on my radar for a number of years. This young microbrand boasts that its watches are designed, assembled, regulated, and tested in LA. There's something very appealing about a new brand from a city I already feel that I know so well. Particularly when the city isn't known for watchmaking.
Then they released a watch inspired by a trio of memorable 50s divers. I had to get my hands on one. Let's see how I found it.
Nodus Retrospect III Salmon Sky
Nodus Retrospect III Review
The name Nodus is taken from Latin and translates as Node ( I'll save you the Google search - it's where two paths join). I'm assuming that the brand name was chosen carefully and reflects the ethos of the two founders. If not, then the Retrospect coincidently features two intersecting elements.
Make no mistake, Nodus is an American enterprise through and through and part of the brand appeal, and a major selling point is its assembled in Los Angeles label. If America is the heart of capitalism and the American dream is open to all, then microbrand watches are a great example of this entrepreneurial spirit and these American roots are central to the brand.
But that's only one part of this watch.
The Retrospect III - the third iteration of this model - doesn't look like the cutting-edge tech that the US exports to the world. Instead, the styling is vintage-inspired. And not just generally. There are a couple of watches from the 50s that it references specifically, meaning the path of the young LA-based brand intersects with Swiss watchmaking from the past.
It's a compelling blend of styles and cultures that gives an authenticity to the brand that isn't always there with young companies.
Reworking designs of the past is a tricky game. It often leads to the popular homage models that recreate our favourite watches of the past. And the latest Retrospect is a homage of sorts. But importantly, it takes its design cues from an era rather than an individual watch. A quick glance at the watch does remind me of Breitling's Super-Ocean and Rado's ever-popular Captain Cook model, but it's not a homage to either.
What I didn't immediately pick up on was the nod that it also gives to Gruen's Ocean Chief, an iconic American dive watch from the same era. I like that, it's another line of intersection and another reference that suggests the Retrospect is part of a bigger story.
So what does this preamble mean?
In a nutshell, it means that the Nodus Retrospect III is a well-made dive watch that has its roots and is assembled in modern America. But stylistically it's reminiscent of a particular type of dive watch from the 50s. It has a modern mid-sized case paired with a distinctive retro-inspired dial and an inward-sloping bezel that harks back to an earlier era.
As you'd expect, it's powered by a reliable Japanese automatic movement and, as a functional dive watch, has 200M of water resistance. There are four variants of the Retrospect III, Nebula Blue, Slate Gray, Flare Orange and the model I have in my hand - Salmon Sky.
Nodus Retrospect III Watch in Detail
Some watches grow on you - as you wear them and appreciate the build quality, or when you discover new design elements the closer you look at your new watch.
Not with the Retrospect.
The bold retro-styling is very much the major appeal of the watch from the off, although as you'll see, the specs, design and build quality also combine to make this a great value watch. But it's the design that will have caught your eye. The bezel, dial and colouring are the selling points for this watch, and if you have a penchant for retro-divers, then the Retrospect ticks the boxes.
I guess that isn't surprising. Remember, this is the Retrospect III, it's the brand's third iteration of this model, with each update tweaking the design a little. Take the case for example. At 42mm wide it's 2mm larger than the previous Retrospect model. Forged from stainless steel and with a mixture of polished and brushed finishes, the case wears well. In part that's due to the flush bezel and lack of crown guards. But the designers have been mindful of the size and created a case that hugs the wrist.
Sitting on that case is a fairly straightforward bezel insert, made of steel and DLC-coated. The distinctive feature here is its inward slope. Originally designed to protect bezels from damage, it's the first element that really references the watches of the 50s. It's matched with a coin-edged bezel that also reinforces the retro aesthetic.
Sitting beneath the sapphire crystal is a sumptuous sandwich dial. While the black and blue versions have a tool watch vibe and the bright orange is a real statement piece, for me the elegant Salmon Sky was the colour of choice.
And this dial is where we really see the references to the Breitling, Rado and Gruen models. The large triangular markers are unusual, visually stunning and reinforce the overall styling. While sandwich dials aren't particularly common, the Retrospect really benefits from this slightly quirky feature. The bottom layer has lume thickly applied and both the shape of the cutouts and the lume match the hour and minute hands. I like that there's minimal dial text and the neat date window at 6 o'clock maintains a pleasing symmetry and has a matching Salmon background.
As simple as it is, the dial is definitely the watch's primary feature. It's the design cue that pays homage to the earlier watches, and it seems fitting that it shares a similar look to Gruen's Ocean Chief Diver, a truly American watch.
The substantial screw-down crown stands out and is signed with the brand's logo. Without the distraction of crown guards, the crown helps reinforce the vintage vibe that makes this watch so appealing.
That utilitarian look continues on the case back which is unadorned and features only the necessary text regarding the specs. What is nice to see though, are the quick-release spring bars at the rear. I know, it's a small touch, but it tends to make life a lot easier for those of us who endlessly swap straps, It's definitely a positive for a sub-$500 watch.
That brings us to the bracelet.
It's equipped with Nodus' proprietary NodeX™ clasp, a feature that allows for quick adjustments. It's a cool addition and boasts five locking positions.
As mentioned earlier, the watch is powered by a movement favoured by microbrands, Seiko's NH35 automatic movement.
Nodus has done a couple of things very well with the latest update to the Retrospect line. They've taken three distinctive dive watches from the 1950s and used that styling on a watch that also appeals to modern tastes.
The result is an excellent and very affordable diver that has a 42mm case and a modern Japanese mechanical movement. At the same time, the watch has a strong retro aesthetic and a dial straight out of the earlier era. It's an ideal blend of retro-styling and modern functionality.
The small touches are there too. The screw-down crown, the quick-release spring bars and the easy-to-use bracelet sizing. All are very practical and great additions to a watch that references a bygone era so well.
And remember, it doesn't just look the part. This is a legitimate dive watch.