DAMASKO DA37 AUTOMATIC PILOT

After reading a hundred and one reviews to arrive at a decision for my first mechanical watch, i thought i would contribute one of my own. I'll try my best not to be too subjective but really, and i'm sure fellow watch-lovers can attest, objectivity won't be easy on a new arrival especially as it is my first mechanical watch!

My Story (of no real significance to review)

Before staring my search for a good watch to commemorate my first paycheck, acceptance into a graduate program, and moving in with my girlfriend, i knew little more of the world of quality watches beyond Rolex, Omega, and Breitling. My budget didn't allow for a Navitimer, my longtime favourite, and what started as a hunt for an alternative grew quickly into a small (my girlfriend would say huge :P ) obsession. The more i read the more i was drawn towards the clean functional designs and quality/value of German automatics like Sinn, Stowa, and Steinhart. After looking at hundreds of watches and reviews, i found that i keep coming back to Damasko's DA37, and with A LOT of luck i was able to locate one from the last North-America-bound batch.

History/Brand (of little significance to review)

One of the charms of quality mechanical watches is its long and rich history, but there is a certain appeal to a young family-owned watch company where the founder/watchmaker still inspects and adjusts every watch that leaves its doors. Both "Damasko Metallbearbeitung” (Konrad Damasko) and “Damasko Feiner Uhrenbau" (headed by wife Petra Damasko) are family owned and established around 1994. The mechanical background of the company in producing high grade precision metal products for the medical industry no doubt also aided Damasko's development of multiple technical patents for use in fine mechanical watches. These include the use of the uniform strength, "ice-hardened" steel in their in-house watch cases. Recent developments also sees Damasko applying for further patents, including EPS polycrystalline silicon's use in hair springs, escapement wheel, lever, and double rollers, and a completely new patented winding mechanism. In the months to come pallets, wheels, pinions, barrels, rotors, bearings, balances, escapements, and surface treatments will be produced in-house at Damasko, in addition to already Damasko produced cases, crowns, pushers, and tubes. It is hard to find a small company so devoted to innovation and quality! (information via Damasko's German site and forum reviews/updates by members such as mike s.)

(photos pulled from Damasko's German website www.damasko.de)

Technical Summary

-ETA 2836-2, 25 jewles, 28,800 bph
-Small sweep second, Day/Date window
-Whole-dial Luminova™C1 (white)
-Sapphire cyrstal with double AR coating
-40 mm diameter, 11.2 mm height, 20 mm lug, 72 grams
-Ice hardened, case to 60 HRC or 710 Vickers, bead blast finish
-Shockproof (DIN 8308 standard)
-Anti-magnetic cage(DIN 8309 + @ 80,000 A/m {1000 G})
-Water resistant to 10 bars or 100 metres (DIN 8310 standard)

Case:

The bead-blasted gray took a bit of getting used to, but the smooth, almost chalky finish on the screw-down caseback actually feels quite nice on the wrist and doesn't stick to or feel slick on the wrist when slightly wet or sweaty. It's suppose to be nearly impossible to scratch or dent the finish but i won't deliberately test it. I can say though that banging it around with my leatherman while taking pictures (and trying to open the caseback without the proper tools!) did nothing to the finish. Calling it a finish is however an injustice since the Damasko pioneered "ice-hardened" steel has uniform hardness throughout. This uniform hardness prevents the denting and flaking that harder finishes such as tegmented steel is prone to. The downside to ice-hardening is the gain in the material's magnetism. This is solved by an integrated anti-magnetic inner cage that is resistant to fields under 1000 Gauss (the highest anti-magnetism i've seen on a watch), which has the added advantage of protecting accuracy when resting the watch over laptops, screens, and weaker magnets.

Crown:

The crown (+ stem and tube) is hardened in the same process as the case, giving it an uniform in addition to the slightly larger look provided by the protective shoulders. The Damasko-designed permanent lubrication cell and its use of Viton gaskets and o-rings ensures longevity of the movable parts and waterproofing. The crown unscrews somewhat coarsely, but the rotation is smooth once it's engaged. Position one manually winds, two adjusts the day (English or German) and date, and three hacks the second hand and adjusts the time. A small imperfection is that the "D" engraving on the crown is slightly off centred when screwed down as far as it can go. I suspect i may be tightening the crown down slightly past its design.

Crystal:

At most angles and soft light you can hardly tell there's anything above the dial due to the double AR. My only problem with the coating is that it dirties easy so i find myself constantly wiping it. Though AR coatings are not scratch proof, i have yet heard/read any problems with Damasko coatings. I'm not about to test it intentionally either but can say that hard synthetic winter jacket sleeves, Velcro, ice, and my incessant cleaning with any fabric on hand has not harmed it thus far. The crystal rises less than a millimeter above the case. This rise (and perhaps the lack of AR at, or the angle of, the raised edge) gives the outer edge of the crystal a shine that I mistook as chips and scratches at first. It's neither a nuisance nor a plus in my opinion. The shine is often the only thing that reminds me there is a crystal at all.

Dial:

The numbers and minute markers, cross-hair, Damasko logo, and day/date are all painted in a raised, shiny, and textured black paint. Looking close in bright light reveals that the texture likely comes from the dial itself. The three hands are instead matte black which looks a darker black if you will and almost draws your gaze into its shadows contrasted against the white dial. White is definitely not the default aviator/pilot, but i wanted a functional watch that will not look out of place in both casual and dressier settings. I found it hard to find a white-faced tool watch that does not look pretentious worn with a leather bomber, but the DA37 dial fits the multi-functional mark perfectly in my book. The white goes well with a suit jacket or buttoned sleeves yet the dark black hands and large arabics are in good contrast for easy reading in daylight and casual settings.

Having gotten used to the day/date function on a previous quartz watch, the DA37's day/date that sits below the cross hair on 3 is familiar and welcoming. I do not agree with others that the cross hair is purly decorative. It certainly fills the dial face nicely but also allows for very quick readings of minute and seconds hands by quadrant in any orientation.

Movement:

As this is my first automatic i am obviously no authority in watch movements. I was (and am still) excited enough to hear the escapement tick back and forth, feel the slight twang of the shock absorber, and click when the automatic winding reverses direction. Damasko's pamphlet that came with the watch described additional finishing on the movement including Geneva stripes and pearlage. ETA 2836-2 is common and reliable enough to require no additional introduction. I was surprised though at the change of the day and date. It was a very crisp and audible split-second jump around midnight. I'm not sure if hacking changes when this jump occurs as it does not seem fixed and varies within 10secs of midnight (my noisy ]youtube video of the change). I'd have to pay more attention but can at least say for sure that half-cycled day/dates cannot be seen on this watch.

Lume:

Luminova C1 is nothing to be amazed at but it serves its purpose. I was worried that the whole-dial illumination with give the white an ugly green glow in slightly darker room lighting, but that wasn't much of an issue. The whole-dial lume instead made it quite easy to tell the time in low light and at night. The lume lasts for at least 4-5 hours after holding it to the lamp for 2 seconds just before lights out, but i've yet to check for longer durations. My only beef with the lume is that the white on the day/date dial is either not painted or painted very poorly, making reading the date near impossible in darkness. Not perfect but it's uncommon even in watches known for good lume to paint the day/day and since the need to tell the date in pitch blackness is admittedly minimal, it's not a deal-breaker or even really a flaw.

Strap:

The bead blasted and ice-hardened buckle matches the case well but i can't say i like the Damasko leather strap. Black suits the white dial i find but there is a definite emphasis over functionality here in using water resistant leather lined wrist-side with non-slip and comfortable silicone. The leather in turn looks synthetic, bit over-padded, and cheap for a lack of a better word. I also found that the stitching on the inside of the second, mobile ring is very uncomfortable on the wrist. So although it's ugly, i've flipped it over stitch-side up. Damasko reported the possibility of ice-hardened steel buckles before but i believe that dream was delayed by the effort that's going into producing in-house movements. I've got the watch on a black NATO right now and have a dark brown leather deployant for for formal occasions, plus i'm working on a few thin/soft leather custom straps.

Size:

The DA37 wears larger than other 40mm watches i've tried on (40mm is about the limit of what my small wrist can handle...) and rises seemingly a bit higher than other 11mm plus watches too. Maybe it's the contrasty white dial, the DA37 commands a real presence on the wrist. I would have to spend a lot more time with it though to give a more objective take but it's already winning praise and inquiry from friends (and a very skeptical girlfriend!)

Accuracy:

During high activity ~ +1 per 12 hours (sports, etc)
During low activity ~ +2 per 12 hours (desk work)
Resting horizontal ~ +3 per 11 hours
Resting vertical (9 down) ~ +2 per 11 hours
For the first week the watch ran fairly consistently at +4 to +5 sec/day for ~30 sec/week. This isn't bad considering the high activity and movement i've subjected the watch to (Novice snowboarding can giggle the wrist a hell of a lot, and i also wear the watch on my right hand (dominant hand)). What's odd though is that resting the watch seems to cause it to gain more time. However, for the past 2 weeks the DA37was going at +2 sec/day... It's gotten more accurate after the initial breaking in :-)
........ Six months later, it's running at ~+1 seconds per day. Not bad at all!

Summary:

Damasko lived up to its young but highly praised name in the DA37 and i believe i've found the perfect blend of functionality and dress in this automatic pilot. I'm definitely getting more than my money's worth on this one and it's a neat feeling to be wearing a quality watch that likely you alone know its real worth, as oppose to advertising a brand name. Damasko's yet to be revealed A35 in-house movement will be something to look forward to (though Damasko is known to make you wait!), and will mark the company's future direction pending its look, review, and price. The 100 or so DA37 and 300+ DA36 watches will be Damasko's historical first and last ETA (and likely most affordable) automatics.

I'm still partial to busy sliderule aviators and will empty my pockets for an automatic chronomat in that tradition eventually, but the DA37 will be on my wrist for now and i suspect more than any other watch in the future. Better still, this tool watch will likely still look new when i pass it on to my kid's kids someday.

A shout out to Greg at Watchmann.com (mods please remove if inappropriate). I ordered 2 DA37s from watchmann but the first package that arrived was damaged and the box containing the watch was missing. Not an hour after notifying Greg by email he called to understand the situation and immediately offered a refund. Luckily (and quite strangely really) the watch arrived 2 weeks later with another tracking number. I would recommend Watchmann.com to any WIS looking for quality and piece of mind. THANKS GREG!!!

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