It’s easy to nit pick every little detail with a watch. The dial has too much text, the date is in the wrong place, the case is too thick… there’s a million small things that get in the way of our own perfect design. Of course, those variables are a bit different for each of us, leaving watch designers with a rather impossible task of pleasing everyone, everywhere. To me, the most successful designs are unapologetic in their approach, they stick to their plan and execute to the initial vision laid forth by the brand, broader reception be damned. The Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver was a perfect example. It defied easy explanation, and it’s a watch that’s chock full of character as a result. The upcoming automatic Datomaster from the same brand, takes a very different approach, presenting a stripped down design that, at a glance, is left grasping for character. It’s there, but it’s not the type to wear it on its sleeve.
The Datomaster is, like all modern Nivada Grenchen releases, a resurrection of a sports watch from the ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s a simple steel chronograph that has been brought back with MecaQuartz movement, and as of this summer, will be welcoming a mechanical model that more closely resembles the original. In true Nivada Grenchen fashion, you’ll be able to tweak the details to your heart’s content, from hand shape and logo treatment, to hand-wound or automatic movement options.
The prototype Datomaster 39 seen here features a steel 39mm case with a wwhite dial and contrasting black sub dials. A written logo and model name are the only copy to be found on the sparse dial, and thanks to the date window placement at 12 o’clock, both labels are moved a bit closer to the hand stack. There’s plenty of negative space here to enjoy if you’re the type that bemoans dials heavy on verbiage. The clean look is further aided by the lack of numerals, with applied batons marking each hour, and a chapter ring pushed to the very edge of the dial. A dome crystal causes distortion at the edges, but at just the right angle magnifies the minute markers.
A Sellita based movement, either the SW510 BH b for the automatic, or SW510 M BH b for the manually wound, places a running seconds hand at 9 o’clock, and a 30 minute totalizer at 3 o’clock. Timing elements get orange accents, from the timing seconds hand to the first five minutes of the totalizer (and even the 45, in case you end up bringing it around more than once). In total, it’s a very straightforward, symmetrical dial that’s presented in near clinical fashion. It feels a bit like a dateless watch, as the aperture is absent from the usual locations, instead hiding underneath the timings seconds hand when not in use, at the very top of the dial.
We don’t see many 12 o’clock date windows, but they are out there. The last one that sticks out in my memory was on this special edition TAG Heuer Carrera Sport, which worked pretty well with their lockup, and even got a red on white date wheel to further stand out. One thing I hadn’t considered, as it was always pictured with the timing hand positioned in the southern half of the dial, was the implication of that timing hand covering the date when not in use. While it doesn’t make a huge impact, it does impede legibility just enough that you have to tilt your head a touch to properly see the date. It’s a mild inconvenience, but it does honor the original design of the watch.
The steel case is equally straightforward in its shape and construction, with pump pushers and a polished bezel ring holding the crystal in place. The rest of the case is uniformly brushed with crisp lines and no bevels to speak of. There’s a lot of dial here with a thin bezel piece that’s steeply raked, so it wears a bit larger than the 39mm might suggest. The total length of the watch is 46mm while the thickness clocks in at 13.9mm, making for an overall pretty predictable presence on wrist. It’s comfortable and perfectly ergonomic for a steel chronograph.
There’s no real fault to be found with the Datomaster 39; it’s perfectly inoffensive. Almost to a fault, really. I find myself looking for some character when it comes to watches like this, and it might just be the configuration in front of me, but I could use a bit more. When I spent time with the CASD, I was befuddled by its seemingly bizarre use case, but found the resulting mishmash a total delight, and truth be told, it’s a watch that sticks with me still. The Datomaster is, well, a perfectly fine and attractive steel chronograph, but it might also be one that ultimately takes a back seat to options that stir a few more emotions.
The Nivada Grenchen Datomaster 39 with mechanical chronograph movement is available to pre-order now, starting from 1,795CHF on a leather or tropic strap, and 1,995CHF on a bracelet. Nivada Grenchen.