Packing a punch

The Nodus Contrail 39 is an Incredible Value in Automatic Watches


November 22, 2018 Reviews By Photo by Hunter D. Kelley
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Nodus is a young brand based in Los Angeles, CA that began producing watches in 2017. The brainchild of co-founders Cullen Chen and Wesley Kwok, Nodus offers steel tool watches at affordable price points that are designed and assembled in L.A. Their most recent offering, the Contrail, is available in two versions: one with a 12-hour bezel, and one with a sunburst-brushed fixed bezel, which we got to check out recently.

The Good: We see lots of microbrand offerings here at GP, and quite frankly, we can become jaded and snobbish about them. “Great, yet another bezel that doesn’t align properly” is a frequent refrain coming from the Watch Desk. However, since what we’re dealing with here is a fixed bezel watch, there’s nothing to fuck up in that regard. This is a simple, wearable tool watch with good proportions and a bracelet that isn’t yet another Osyster derivative. Kudos to Nodus.

Who It’s For: This is a pretty versatile watch, and while the lack of a rotating bezel precludes its use as a traditional dive watch, you’re getting a tough, 200m water-resistant tool watch on a steel bracelet for under $600. Both newbies and diehard watch guys could easily get plenty of use out of the Contrail 39.

Watch Out For: One thing that somewhat annoyed and yet simultaneously charmed me on this watch was the crown action — it’s distinctly a utilitarian crown in that you can feel the threading and the movement if you hand-wind the watch. “Rolex-buttery-smooth” it ain’t, so if that bothers you (or if vertical play in the crown along the stem bothers you), you should beware. On the other hand, having a crown that looks like a spare part from the floor of an automotive shop on a watch that’s made for heavy duty use ain’t such a bad thing. Kind of ties the utilitarian room together, if I can mix both metaphors and Lebowski references.

Alternatives: The Seals Watch Co. Model C Field Explorer for $590 immediately comes to mind: you’re also getting a fixed bezel and 200m of water resistance as well as a distinctly tool watch-feel, all for under $600 (though you’re not getting a bracelet, here). If you can find a Halios Seaforth with a fixed bezel floating around on the secondary market, those were originally pre-sold at a similar price point (though it seems they’ve since appreciated somewhat in value). The Crucicle from Mk. II, based on the famed A-11 military watch, also features a fixed bezel for $650, but again, you’re not getting a bracelet.

Review: There are four colorways of the Contrail 39, and I received the Black Sand for review (there’s also Mute Grey, Laguna Sand and Ballistic Green). The watch features a 39mm stainless steel case with a fixed bezel, and all surfaces are brushed except for the lug chamfers and part of the case back, which are polished. Including the flat-top, box-shaped sapphire crystal with AR-coated underside, the watch measures 13mm tall (11.8mm without the crystal). Lug diamater is 20mm, and you get a screw-down case back and crown and Viton gaskets for 200m of water resistance. You also get drilled lugs (praised be the Watch Gods!).

What drew me into the Contrail 39mm was most definitely the dial — I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened the box, but I’m happy to say I was pleasantly surprised. It’s well-designed, handsome and striking, featuring a sand-like black texture, applied indices, cut-out date window at 3 o’clock, thin, vaguely sword-shaped hands with a white, counterbalanced second hand, and a beautiful rehaut with minute/seconds track and 1/5th seconds track. All lume is done in green C3 SuperLuminova, which, when not glowing, is a creamy, vintage hue. The dial is further adorned with the Nodus logo, the word “Nodus” in white, the word “Contrail” in red, and “automatic” in white — just the right amount of interest and contrast are present to keep the wearer engaged.

The sunburst dial texture and depth to the date window and rehaut truly bring this dial to life — you can’t quite get a sense of it from a head-on photo, but once you see it, there’s an “aha” moment, the “aha” being the realization that you’re getting a well-thought-out product for your money. The depth also seems to make up for the absence of a rotating bezel.

And why would you not want a rotating bezel on an otherwise dive-rated tool watch, you might ask? I don’t know — I’d definitely want one! I was excited by the 12-hour variant of the Contrail, as 12-hour watch designs are generally in relatively short supply, but unfortunately by the time I spoke with Nodus, these were nearly sold out. I would imagine, however, that the idea for producing a fixed-bezel variant of the watch is that this one can appeal to those who wouldn’t otherwise use the bezel, but still want a robust tool watch. With the Contrail 39, you’re getting a 200m-water-resistant watch that wears smaller on the wrist, so for smaller guys, this could be the Goldilocks timepiece.

The other area in which I think the Contrail 39 really shines in the H-link bracelet, which features a flip-lock clasp with micro-adjustments and single-sided screws for easy resizing. The flip-over portion of the clasp has to travel so far before it locks into place that the first few times I wore the watch, I was afraid I was going to break it upon closing it, but I quickly realized that this wasn’t the case: it’s merely a well-made bracelet, not flimsy in the least. I’ll admit that the H-link design isn’t my personal favorite, aesthetically speaking, but I was so thrilled not to see yet another Oyster-like ripoff that I gladly wore this thing with a smile on my face.

Inside the watch is the Miyota 9015 automatic date movement, regulated to 4 positions for increased accuracy. This is a 24-jewel movement with 42 hours of power reserve that’s hand-winding capable, hacks, and is considered a workhorse. There’s nothing particularly pretty here that would be of interest through a transparent case back, but that’s not what the Contrail 39 is about.

With the watch comes a Nodus watch roll, the steel H-link bracelet, a microfiber cleaning cloth, and the tech specs and 24-month warranty/regulation card. The roll is a nice touch, especially for under $600.

Verdict: Thinking I was smarter and faster-working than I actually am, I accepted delivery of the Contrail 39 and thought that I would get it back out to Nodus within a couple days. My gross misunderstanding of my own editorial capabilities meant that, on the bright side, I was able to enjoy wearing the watch for several weeks. I have to say, I wasn’t sure what to expect going in: this is a sub-$600 automatic, steel watch, just like so many others.

At the end of the day (or many, many days), however, I was pleasantly surprised by the Contrail 39. It wears comfortably and sits unobtrusively beneath a cuff, it’s not overly heavy, and the dial is surprisingly complex without being difficult to read. The bracelet is easy to adjust, robust, and the time and winding are easily done — even if the crown action feels like turning off a spigot outside your childhood home.

Overall, I would buy a Contrail for someone as a gift without too many reservations (there are always some reservations at play when speaking about such a young company, but after corresponding with Wes for a while, I’m confident that these are two young guys with good heads on their shoulders who stand behind their products). Hell, I would buy one for myself, too, if I weren’t trying to get rid of watches.

What Others Are Saying:

• “All in all, the Nodus Contrail and Contrail 39 are very successful timepieces with a lot of points of interest. Whether it’s the balanced aesthetics, the useful bezel, the modest sizing, or the above-average finishing, there is plenty to get into with these watches.” — Zach Weiss, Worn & Wound

Key Specs

Case Diameter: 39mm
Case Depth: 13mm
Water Resistance: 200m
Movement: Miyota 9015

Nodus provided this product for review.

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