Damasko DA38 hands-on review
The Damasko DA38 is a relatively unknown German watch from manufacturer Damasko. It’s one of a pair of watches distinguishable from each other only by the colour of their seconds hands (the other being the yellow handed DA36) and it’s spectacular.
From that opening paragraph you’d be forgiven for thinking that this review will be nothing but glowing. And mostly you’d be right. I’ve been wearing it for 9 months now and it’s by far my favourite (without being the most expensive) of the pieces I own. However it’s not perfect, so read on to find out exactly what I found so great about it and which small flaws I am willing to put up with.
Let’s start with a negative – the packaging is disappointing. A basic piano black finish case within a white cardboard box with the Damasko logo on top. There is nothing wrong with it, it’s just uninspired, functional and dull. If you spend 10 minutes on Alibaba you’ll find hundreds of almost identical cases that will ship to Europe for next to nothing. Which is fine if you’re selling a £300 watch, but this starts at £900 and the model with the bracelet that I have now starts at £1,380! That’s nearly $2000 USD and frankly for that kind of money I want to feel like I’m opening up something really special.
Other than the watch, the box contains a warranty card and a small tool for changing the links on the bracelet. The tool is custom made and is hollowed out to allow you to store spare screws within it. A nice touch.
Once you’ve got it out of its boring box, the first things you notice about the DA38 are the finish to the stainless steel and the weight.
Due to Damasko’s own in-house stainless steel ice-hardening process (we’ll get in to this later), the finish of the piece is hard to describe but the closest I’ve seen elsewhere is a blasted titanium. It’s dull and matt and really rather beautiful. It certainly stands out from the thousands of polished stainless steel prices you see, and even from the current flood of titanium watches that seem to be invading the affordable watch scene.
And the weight. Oh my god it’s heavy – almost stupidly so on the bracelet. The case only has a 40mm diameter – not big by any means – yet I’ve never been more aware of the fact that I’m wearing a watch. It’s always there, giving my left arm a constant workout and smashing in to my hand when I move too fast. On the leather strap it’s pretty average, but on the bracelet it feels heavy and solid and oozes build quality. I love it, I feel like I’m getting my money’s worth, but it’s going to come down to personal taste. If you want your watch to blend invisibly in to your life then a Damasko on a bracelet is the last thing you want to own.
But let’s get to the details. The finish of the whole piece is of exceptional quality. Damasko make their watches themselves in Germany in their own factories – this isn’t a watch made in a Chinese factory and then sold at vast unjustifiable profit – and the result is a quality and and finish would be perfectly acceptable on a watch twice the price. Corners are sharp, the crown (using Damasko’s in house self-lubricating technology that I don’t really care about) feels great to use, and every detail looks perfect when zoomed in on.
Then we get to the famous ice-hardening process that Damasko have developed themselves for the stainless steel and is unique to their watches. Despite reading about it in depth, I don’t fully understand it and neither do the other reviews than bang on about the details unless they all happen to have done the same degree. So let’s just worry about what we get from it. As a result of the ice-hardening, Damasko stainless steel is around 4 times harder than standard 316L stainless steel. Other brands have their own hardening processes which are applied to the surface of the metal. The difference here is the hardening is done throughout, meaning that the watch is not only pretty much scratch proof, but it’s almost impossible to dent as well. The watch in the photos used in this review has been in almost daily use for almost 9 months and it looks like new. It’s really impressive technology, especially when you’re as careless with your watches as I am.
Finally we get to the dial. And it is what it is – simple, incredibly readable in all conditions, and perfectly nicely done. But not exciting. It shows me the time and it displays the day and date, and most days I’m delighted with it. I can look down and know that everything I need is right there and perfectly laid out for me. But there is a little bit of me that occasionally wishes that there was just something small extra – a bit of depth or a bit of texture or _something_ to excite rather than just impress me. I have no doubt that Damasko knew what they were doing, and that this watch is a spectacular tool watch, but sometimes a chap just wants to be excited!
I ordered the DA38 with both the bracelet and the leather strap, and I like both.
The bracelet is made of the same ice-hardened stainless steel as the case and is custom designed by Damasko. It’s 20mm the whole way along – it’s doesn’t taper at all – and is easy to adjust as every link is screwed together and is therefore easily removable using the included tool. All of the links are solid and as a result it weighs more than any other bracelet I’ve ever encountered, but it looks and feel great in almost all circumstances. The only criticism I have is that there is no micro adjustment meaning that getting a perfect fit can be a little hit-and-miss. It adds a significant cost to the watch (getting the DA38 on the bracelet costs £480 more than getting it on the leather strap) but for me it’s worth it.
The leather strap is comfortable, is backed with silicone rubber and has a bead blasted buckle. Damasko claim it’s water resistant but I’m not willing to test it to find out what that really means! It’s nothing special but does the job fine and I haven’t bothered to replace it with a third party one, which I usually do.
The DA38 uses the Swiss made ETA 2836-2 automatic movement. It’s got a high beat rate of 28,800 bph resulting in a super smooth seconds hand sweep, and in day-to-day use I’ve never seen it lose or gain more than a couple of seconds in a day. There is plenty of detailed movement reviews out there, and this is not meant to be one, but suffice to say that it’s Swiss, it’s accurate and it’s smooth. The watch has a solid case back so the design is not visible at all.
I held off on reviewing the DA38 for a long time as I was convinced that over time I’d get less impressed and that my initial love would fade, but it just hasn’t. It’s subtly beautiful, can be worn in most situations and never lets me down. I’ll always have more fun watches that will come and go, and watches for use in very specific situations (it wouldn’t be my choice to wear formally with a suit, for example) but I can’t see myself ever wanting to not have a DA38 in my collection, and if anything I’ll be adding more Damaskos over the next few years. I simply can not recommend it highly enough.
Make: Damasko (see our profile)
Case diameter: 40mm
Lug width: 20mm
Movement: ETA 2836-2 automatic 28,800 bph
Crystal: Sapphire with anti-reflective coating (inside and outside, optional of inside only)
Strap or bracelet: Bracelet or leather strap
Water resistance: 10ATM
Price: £900 on leather strap, £1,380 on bracelet from Page & Copper