At five years old, Axel Schijns found a dive watch during a stroll through the forest. He gave it to his father, who used it as a tool watch for decades. After he got the watch back a couple of years ago, Schijns decided to see if he could make his own watch, inspired by that old diver. That became Retras Watches. Meet a microbrand that started out as a homage and that makes choices even harder for those looking for a vintage-inspired diver.
Retras Watches introduced its first model in late 2019. The entire development was privately funded by owner Axel Schijns (53), who works as Director of Sales & Marketing at a food ingredients company in the Netherlands. He has been a watch lover for some time now. That started at a young age when he found a dive watch that he gave to his father who had been wearing it to work. Schijns had already forgotten about the watch, but decades later his father returned the watch to his son, telling him it was his. The watch was in very bad shape, but it worked. After having thought about it for about half a year, Schijns decided he would get the watch restored. He even started wearing it sparking positive reactions from his business colleagues. And that got him thinking. “The reactions to this watch and the craze for retro and vintage divers inspired me to start my own brand,” he says. “A watch with 1960s and 1970s style translated with new materials.”
Clean and vintage-inspired
The first (and so far only) model for Retras is simply called the “Dive Watch”. It is powered by the Swiss STP 1-11 with date, an ETA 2824-2 clone. It’s just as simple yet as reliable and accurate as both the ETA and the Sellita SW 200. STP is owned by Fossil Group and has, since its foundation in 2008, quietly established itself as a grown-up competitor to the aforementioned more famous producers of ébauches.
Design-wise, the Retras Diver takes typical cues from 1970s dive watches. The overall look is clean and tool-ish. It has a black bezel, domed Plexiglas, short lugs and a relatively big crown. The dial has applied indices and baton hands with lume. The colour of the dial is something best described as grey-faded olive green. This colour was quite an exercise to obtain, says Schijns. “I really wanted it to match the colour of my father’s watch. But because his glass had been broken for a while and moisture and sunlight had affected the colour of the dial, it was very hard to get the right colour. It took us quite some samples to finally make the colour by ourselves.”
The straps highlight the vintage inspiration. The watch is delivered with two different straps: one fabric NATO strap in green and black, the second one is made of dark brown ostrich leather with a distressed look.
The movements are made in Switzerland, the cases and dials are coming from Germany and the assembly of the watch is done in a small workshop in The Netherlands. All of the watches are also tested before they are shipped.
The case construction
With the addition of this Retras Diver, the field of vintage-inspired divers is getting even more crowded, which raises the question of how Schijns plans to differentiate his product from others. One of the big differences, he says, is the case construction. “When we started to disassemble my father’s watch, we found that the case construction was quite interesting,” Schijns says. “So we started to reproduce this case model that wasn’t available anymore. We had to make all the technical drawings and made our own version of it. I think this unique case construction really makes this watch quite special.”
Mr Schijns also expects this case construction of the Retras Diver to play a central role if he decides to make more models after this one. “If this works well, I’m going to see if new models will follow suit. I wanted to make this watch as good as I could, and we’ll see where we will go from here. At the moment, I am fully focused on this current model. But if a next watch arrives, it might well be a GMT, with this same case.”
Price and availability
The watch is not the cheapest one for a microbrand working with STP movements, but still quite reasonable. The price is EUR 1,199, and the watch comes with a 2-year warranty. The production is limited to 50 pieces, and as of this moment, about half of that is sold. For more information, please visit www.retraswatches.com.