The Nodus Contrail II was released late 2020 for $675 and provided a phenomenal pick-me-up to what was an otherwise awful year. The Los Angeles based company made a number of huge splashes this past year from launching their podcast Long Roads, the Retrospect II release, this updated Contrail II, and a number of special editions. Nodus also made an impact locally (U.S) with their philanthropic work during the pandemic. I’m sure there are quite a few I am missing, but you get the gist. The Contrail II was a follow up to the original Contrail. Nodus took the Contrail and improved virtually all aspects of the watch, the result is something unique. Take a gander at the specs below to familiarize yourself with the dimensions of the watch. Also, there are a ridiculous number of hidden gems within the specifications below that speak to how special this watch is. Let’s quickly start with the specifications and work our way down.
“Nodus us senpai, please sponsor us”– KC and Jon Jon Podcast, 2021
Case: 316L surgical-grade stainless steel
Dimensions: 39mm case width, 12.6mm thickness, 47.5mm lug-to-lug, 20mm lug width
Movement: Miyota 9015 automatic movement, regulated in four positions (+/- 8 secs/day)
Crystal: Flat-top box-shaped sapphire crystal, Blue anti-reflecting coating on underside.
Bezel: Bi-Directional with ceramic ball bearings, sloped sapphire insert OR stainless steel insert
Luminescence: Swiss Super-Luminova C3
Water Resistance: 200 meters / 660 feet
Bracelet: Solid H-Links, Push-bottom clasp with micro-adjustment holes
Hands: Diamond-cut, Polished gilt hands
Other: Viton caseback gasket, Drilled-through lugs, two-tone date wheel
Warranty: 24 months
Full kit: Nodus watch box, Microfiber cleaning cloth, Warranty and regulation cards
The case of this watch has been meticulously designed. Within the dimensions of the case there are some absolute strokes of genius. A 39mm case width will bring a smile to just about every enthusiasts’ face. Take a stroll through the Instagram comments of just about any 40mm plus release by an enthusiast brand and you will see comments “I’d buy if it was 39”, “Are you guys going to make a 39mm version?”, and so on. If 39mm sold as well as comments like that would make you believe, more 39mm watches would be made. Contrail II enters the chat. Yes, this watch is 39mm but in the specs this is accompanied by the additional description of the bezel diameter being 40.5mm. Oh wow, 1.5mm difference, big deal, who cares. Nodus cares, and you 100% should too. On wrist this is undoubtedly the most comfortable watch I have ever owned. I could not figure out why it was so comfortable, and even put off writing this review until I did. The secret lies in this 1.5mm difference and the curved lugs that we will get to. Take a look at this watch on wrist from straight on.
The 1.5mm is subtle, however, you realize when looking at the watch straight on that only the top is visible. The top of the watch makes the outermost line your eyes follow. You are not able to see any portion of the watch that is actually touching your wrist. The entire case slopes inward on all sides. Sloping inward like this is not common, many watches have the opposite effect. The reason this is important is because when you think about why a watch feels a certain way on wrist, the skin contact is important. The footprint of the Contrail II on my wrist is that of a 39mm watch and has the comfort of one. The visual imprint on your eyes/brain is that of a 40-ish mm watch. Nodus has managed to bottle all the benefits of that mythical 39mm feel while maintaining the aesthetic advantages of a 40mm-ish watch.
The lugs curve downwards from the case to hug your wrist. This curvature is something Nodus has incorporated into most of their watches and lets the watch finally show that affection back to you that you show it. The watch is literally hugging you at all times. Straight lugs work just fine and are a classic design, but the comfort of these curved lugs is undeniable. Once you have your watch hug you like this all day, it can be difficult to go back to a watch with straight lugs. The top of the lugs are beveled and polished, which continue into the bracelet. There are drilled lug holes to make strap changing without scraping up your lugs easy. I truly do not understand why this is not an industry-wide standard. There are plenty of brands that do this, but many forgo the lug holes. In my opinion, the people who are never swapping straps and bracelets fall into the general public, of which most would not notice the holes anyways. On the other hand, the community that does enjoy changing them is faced with the minor inconvenience of not having them. There is truly no downside to having them, but a minor inconvenience in their absence.
Between the lugs you will find a polished case edge, a nice touch for a watch that comes on a bracelet. Nodus does not just acknowledge that their customer base may change straps and provide drilled lugs, but they go one step further with polishing this space normally covered by the bracelet, making sure your watch looks fantastic regardless of your preference of strap or bracelet. Probably the starkest contrast would be something in line with Rolex, even with their dress watches (Datejust, Oyster Perpetuals) they do not finish between the lugs at all. Even at an arm’s length, when a Datejust is on leather, the space between the lugs being unfinished is noticeable. That watch is around $8,000 while the above pictured Nodus is $675.
Lastly let’s talk about the work of art that is the Contrail’s caseback. I mean come on. The combination of the polished contrail with the textured metal is fantastic. Possibly my favorite quality of Nodus watches in general is exploring the typically ignored details of a watch that Nodus decides to run with. This is much improved from the previous case back of the original Contrail and I expect it to be further updated when the inevitable Contrail III is released.
The specific color way I chose was the Gilt/Obsidian Black. The black was also offered in silver rather than gilt. I have long been in the market for a gilt dial though. I remember vividly when my father bought a two-tone Rolex sub. It was his first “nice” watch and definitely the first watch I ever remember him wearing. He bought that watch, put it on, and never took it off. He works construction and still grinds daily, and that two-tone sub is still on his wrist regardless of circumstance, over a decade later. The ultimate cool guy move (lol). Needless to say, when my personal favorite microbrand dropped a gilt dial, I couldn’t help myself. The indices are raised with gilt on both sides of a generous application of lume. This is mimicked on the handset as well. A thin second hand is all gilt aside from the tip, but this is a small gripe because it tends to get lost in the dial. Depending on the angle, the second hand may shine with great visibility or appear completely invisible. Not a huge deal for most but it has been slightly annoying while photographing. In typical Nodus fashion, all text on the dial is also raised. The perimeter of the dial is a light grey that provides a fantastic boundary between the deep black of the dial and silver chapter ring. The chapter ring slopes inwards towards the dial center and has markers running from 13 to 24. If you don’t know why, the reason for this is to provide a quick conversion from military time to 12 hr. time, i.e. 13 is 1p.m.
The trapezoidal date window also has gilt along the entire perimeter, forgoing the lumed perimeter on the Retrospect II. Within this window is not only a color matched date wheel but something else oh-so-enticing. This date wheel is what one could call a “Roulette Date”. Bear with me while we take a trip down memory lane through the mid-20th century to explain what exactly a roulette date is. If it is of no consequence to you, feel free to jump to the next section. At the minimum, peruse the pictures to get a sense of what this does for you aesthetically.
What a roulette date entails is an alternation in color from red to black on odd and even days of the month. My Contrail II, specifically, alternates between red on even days and gold on odd days. Each dial variant has different date colors.
This was popularized by Rolex’s 1945 Datejust, which featured this alternating color of the date. These were never outright called a roulette date by Rolex and the term was coined by enthusiasts. So why did Rolex do this? There are a couple theories but none are 100% certain and I was not able to find anything from Rolex directly. If you know for sure, have a different fun theory or think I am totally off base with my research, please do hit me up at @frendymgee. One theory is that this was done for rationing. During WWII, much of Europe was under ration restrictions for purchasing certain necessities i.e. milk, sugar, and the like. If you had one of these watches, you would be able to look down at your wrist and quickly realize it was an odd or even day by the color and know whether you could go and purchase your milk.
There are several issues with this theory, for one Rolex didn’t release this watch officially until after the official end of the war in Europe. Perhaps the watch was in production and by the time they finished the war was over. To me, the idea in general that someone would be purchasing a Rolex to keep track of their rations just seems like a ludicrous idea, but we enthusiasts know any reason can be used to justify our luxury watch purchases if we try hard enough. The other popular theory is that it has nothing to do with the war and was simply a cool aesthetic that Rolex used. The alternating date is used on all colorways of the Contrail II and harkens back to the above theory on rationing. 2020 was crumby and we can all remember what it was like trying to source toilet paper, the idea of being put on rations at any point last year was not too farfetched. Personally, I could not take the chance and picked up a Contrail II to be safe. (wink)
Regardless of whether we were put on rations, looking down at my watch now in 2021 this serves as a constant reminder that we were able to get through 2020. It also reminds me of all the small businesses the world over that struggled with all their might, clawing and scraping to get by, Nodus being no exception. A true testament to humanity’s perseverance, there is nothing that exemplifies the human spirit more to me than putting forth the effort to do something special and unnecessary to our survival during dark times. History has taught us that a great measurement for the stability of society can often be measured by the pursuit of the arts, sciences, and the like. The Contrail II serves as a reminder that even during what we considered an awful year, humanity not only got by, but was thriving. If not, how do you explain the production of what should be rightfully described as art for the masses. I do not mean to belittle all the bad in the world or the lives that were lost, only trying to add a little bit of optimism with a different perspective.
In a constant pursuit of improvement, the bracelet on the Contrail II is an upgraded H link to what was used on the Duality and Retrospect II. The end links fit with tighter tolerances to the case than either of the aforementioned models. Additionally, the clasp has been upgraded to a push button release, forgoing the folding lock. The sides of the bracelet are beveled and polished in a continuation from the lugs. This prohibits any irritation on your skin from any sharp unfinished edges of the bracelet. The polished edges also upscale the bracelet to a bit dressier of a look. If the bracelet is not your thing, the Contrail II also comes with a rubber strap and I picked up a TecTuff direct from Nodus.
The TecTuff strap has a rubber liner giving it added resistance to water, oil, and stains. It is flexible and comfortable. When first wearing it, the band was a little stiff but after a few wears it quickly became my go-to for 20mm watches.
The Contrail II also crushes it on NATO or other leather, it is truly a strap monster. Personally, I can’t beat it on the original bracelet though. It feels like such a complete watch on metal. I will take breaks from the metal and wear other straps, but it consistently finds its way back to the bracelet.
The bezel is a 12 hour, 90 click bi-directional bezel with ceramic ball bearings. What this means is you can rotate the bezel in either direction to quickly track a second time zone. Pictured above and in all the other photos I am tracking EST while I reside in MST (2 hours behind EST). For those that have seen 12 hour bezels around and are not sure how to use them and are too afraid to ask a “dumb question” I’ll explain quickly. Seen in the above photo the watch reads 10:08. If you read the hour hand off the bezel rather than the dial indices, the watch reads 12:08. By rotating the bezel forward or backwards you can adjust the separate time zone.
This method differs from a GMT watch in that you do not have an additional hand, to me this is easier to read than a GMT watch but when tracking a time zone more than a few hours it can be difficult to tell whether it is AM or PM in the second location. For example, tracking EST for me doubles as tracking Malaysian time which is 14 hours difference for me. I consistently forget if its AM or PM though, so when I message my friends over at KC&JonJon a lot of times they are sleeping. The edge of the bezel is very easy to grasp because of that 1.5mm difference between case diameter and bezel diameter. The bezel definitely has a different feel than a traditional click-spring bezel, but the 90 clicks is a great medium between 60 and 120. 120 clicks is what a tradition dive bezel would be but seems like overkill for 12 hour tracking, while 60 clicks feels too few for the bezel to be used as an egg timer.
The bezel insert is a fully lumed sloped sapphire insert. I chose to emphasize the word sloped because this was one of the features Nodus worked hard to upgrade from the previous contrail. The insert slopes down and away from the crystal in all directions, something difficult to achieve with a material like sapphire. By sloping the sapphire, the result is a more refined aesthetic compared to a flat bezel, giving the watch greater depth and creating more contrast between bezel and the boxed crystal. Numerals on the bezel are color matched to the gilt dial and lumed. This is a feat that to my knowledge has not been attempted by any other brand, micro or otherwise. A color-matching lumed sapphire insert is notoriously difficult, let alone to do so with something like gold. Typically, what would be done is there would be a lumed pip with a different color accompanied by a metal inlay for numerals to achieve the correct color matching. While this would ensure proper color matching, you are forfeiting the lume. So, with something completely new and difficult how did Nodus do?
The color is ever so slightly off and the lume on the bezel could be brighter. This is probably the biggest shortcoming of the watch, however, understanding that this was a huge risk I give them a pass. When these were initially released Nodus sent out an email and said the gilt variant would be delayed. The reason was they were not happy with the color matching and opted to reorder all new for the gilt and delay the shipping. To go to such lengths to do everything in your power to create something great is something I can appreciate. I am not sure if this is something across the other variants that is also lacking in terms of lume brightness so I cannot comment.
An addition of a raised lumed pip at twelve would at least allow use of the bezel in the dark after the dimmer lume of the numerals faded. The lume / color issue is something that I am sure they are continuously working on improving, so potentially a non-issue for restocked models. Within the Contrail II is a Miyota 9015 movement that like all other models is regulated in four positions during assembly. It is something I haven’t seen many other microbrands do, and ultimately, it’s them going above and beyond the standard.
The Contrail II is jam packed with details and features that have not ceased to leave me surprised and smiling. The watch is an absolute joy to photograph and wear. In fact, it has even developed a completely new role within my collection that I was not even aware I needed. Because of how comfortable the watch is and the type of other watches I tend to wear, the Contrail II is the perfect “breather” watch for me. Maybe one day I feel like wearing my hulking 44.3mm Doxa 750t GMT, by the end of the day sometimes I don’t even want to wear anything at all. The Doxa is so bulky and heavy I’m borderline tired from wearing it. I throw on the Contrail II and it’s like a taking a breath of fresh air. Light and unassuming on the wrist, the lugs hug your wrist and the watch just melts away. The watch I wear most is an Explorer II 216570 and the Contrail II has the exact same effect after wearing that a few days in a row. With the alternating date, there’s a 100% chance it feels like a different watch than it did yesterday too. I find myself gushing over the whimsical date constantly, working it into conversations where no one asked. I would go so far as to say this is the best and most complete watch for under $1,000 I have ever owned. I am continuously surprised by how much Nodus can achieve at this price point. The other dial variants can be found on their site, if you are not interested in something not as serious as gilt and want something truly unique, check out the laguna sand dial.
For Team Matick,