I’ve now owned the Nomos Tangente 38 for about 8 months, so I feel like its about time I wrote a bit about it. I’ll first say that I had been eyeing Nomos for some time before I pulled the trigger. Nomos is in many ways the “it” brand in relatively affordable watchmaking today. This small German brand has made a name for itself with well made affordable watches with in-house movements. While the pros and cons of an affordable in-house movement could take up a series of posts alone it is enough to say for now that Nomos is trying to compete with the heavyweights of the watch world at a price point Patek, Vacheron, Rolex, Omega, even Tag would never touch. As a watch guy then this had been on my list for a long time. It was a trip to Europe (and the accompanying VAT reimbursement) that finally got me over the hump and I’m glad it did.
First to the looks of the watch. Of course looks are largely subjective, but the desired appearance of a watch is also informed by its purpose. For me, the Nomos Tangente was not going to be an everyday wearer, it was a more formal piece for those days where I had to put on a suit. In this respect I think the Nomos fits the bill perfectly. At 38mm it is on the smaller side for me as a big guy, but perfect for situations where I want a more understated look. The slim case and small seconds serve to reinforce the more formal tone of the watch. That said, the most striking aesthetic of the watch is the beautiful bauhaus dial. I suspect the bauhaus style is not for everyone (and if it’s not for you Nomos is probably not your brand), but to me it is an excellent combination of formal and casual that gives this watch its character. If I were to describe bauhaus in one word it would be clean. The dial is simple and elegant with long thin hands that feel like they were machined with German precision, but there is also no undue formality to the dial. Some would say this watch would look as good with jeans as it would with a suit, I don’t know if I would go that far, but looking through the range of Nomos watches its clear that their dial style is a chameleon and definitely gives you the flexibility to avoid this becoming a special occasion only watch.
The fun with Nomos watches really begins though when you flip them over. The Tangente has an in-house made 17 jewel manual wind movement with around 40 hours of power reserve. I would have been fine with 10 hours of power reserve though because winding this watch is fantastic. The ratchet action is smooth yet distinct and the feel when the watch is fully wound is enough to ensure you don’t over wind. Setting the watch is also great, the crown pulls cleanly and the hands move smoothly with no jumping when you reset the crown. While the movement is not chronometer certified, I have timed my watch at chronometer tolerances at all stages of the power reserve. Most if not all watches at this price point are going to contain some variation of an ETA movement. To be clear, I love ETA movements and own a number of watches with ETA variations. They keep great time and are real workhorses, but Nomos clearly brings more to the table when it comes to movement construction and decoration.
There are certainly some small things I’d like to change about the Tangente. I wish the lugs were a bit more robust (it feels like a little too much pressure and I could bend them). The lug width is also a rather annoying 19mm, meaning that its hard to find any third party straps that will fit properly. The two most significant issues with Nomos though are a product of the nature of a small fish competing with the big sharks. Nomos prides itself on producing beautiful in-house movements at a low price, but without the scale of the ETAs of the world any little change or problem with Nomos’ production results in a big price. This first manifests itself if you want any added features on your watch. The base Tangente is about $2000 (you can get it for less at some authorized dealers), but if you want a date feature it’ll cost you an extra $500. Want a power reserve, that’ll be $600 more. Want both, that’s $1500 more. What about an automatic movement, that’s $1500 more as well. The price difference to get these features on an ETA watch is probably $50-100. That difference is driven by the fact that a new calibre requires a lot of investment for Nomos and a chunk of their assembly line. They just can’t do that as easily or affordable as the big guys. The second big downside is servicing. When I brought my watch back to the US it was running ~20 minutes fast a day. Fortunately there is an authorized dealer near where I live and the watch was under warranty so I brought it in. To get it fixed they had to send it back to Germany. While I didn’t have to pay I didn’t have my watch for nearly two months. ETA has multiple services centers in the US and many authorized dealers can fix ETA movements themselves in less than a week. Again, the downside of being a small manufacturer is that you just can’t have the infrastructure of the big guys to provide that type of service.
The Nomos Tangente was and remains the most expensive thing (other than a car) that I have ever purchased for myself. Even if in the watch world its relatively affordable it is still real money and its important to know that you are getting your money’s worth. The Nomos is in my mind the regular man’s Patek Calatrava. It is a thin, elegant, hand wound watch from a really interesting brand that you’ll be happy to see on your wrist. While the brand certainly faces some challenges and some growing pains it represents what I hope is the future of watchmaking. Nomos is trying to change the game in independent affordable watchmaking, and I’m glad I supported that effort and got a pretty damn nice watch to boot.
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