If you’ve been following the resurgence of U.S-based watchmaking companies in recent years, you’ve no doubt heard of Devon, the Pasadena-based maker of electro-mechanical timepieces called Tread 1 and Tread 2 that are made with belts instead of hands and a dashboard display instead of dial.
Devon, of course, is intentionally countering traditional watchmaking with its Treads, and the differences go far beyond what’s visible when a wearer slides up his cuff. The company’s materials are sourced from medical and aeronautics suppliers based in California, not Swiss component firms, and its designs spring from non-horological engineers and racecar enthusiasts, not watchmakers. (Devon’s work caught the eye of those traditionalists in Switzerland in 2010 when the Tread 1 was nominated for a Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève watch design prize.)
But there are several aspects of Devon’s Treads that are familiar to those who usually wear traditional watches. Not long ago, I compared the usual with the unusual when I strapped a Tread 2 Nightmare to my wrist for a week or so to enter Devon’s Southern California-based world of alternative wristwatch design.
Unlike many alternative time displays that feature minimalist designs with lights, dots or colors, the Tread 2’s alternative retains digits – large, exceedingly visible ones – to display the hours and minutes.
My lens-augmented eyes very much appreciated the belt-set large numeral arrangement. I could quickly note the hour and minutes on the Tread 2, a welcome change from so many alternative watch dials that require additional calculations or the spatial insight of a Bauhaus designer in order to deduce the time of day.
It’s not simply the large size that assists with instant time recognition. Hours, on the horizontal belt, are placed just to the left of the minutes, which rotate on the vertical belt. As a result, the wearer (and the many onlookers this watch will attract) instantly grasps the time. The Tread’s digit delivery system, unusual as it is, nonetheless positions the hours and minutes as they are usually and intuitively read. The words Minute and Hour emblazoned alongside their respective displays help guide the eye while also providing a bit of graphic symmetry. Hash marks provide individual minute indications between larger, digital five-minute numerals.
The Tread’s minute belt softly (and satisfyingly) clicks into place each sixty seconds and can even be transformed into a seconds indicator, though at the peril of quickly diminishing the lithium-battery power supply. Less power is required to operate the chronograph, since it reverts back to standard timekeeping at eleven minutes. Without the charger (supplied with each watch) at hand, I didn’t test the Tread 2’s power limits, but Devon promises twenty-eight days of timekeeping per charge during normal operation.
To keep track of the remaining power reserve, Devon ingeniously enlists the minute belt, which becomes the battery life indicator after the watch is turned off by a quick press of the crown. If the battery ever runs too low, the watch automatically shuts off in order to retain the time internally. This guarantees that the time is automatically reset after it’s recharged.
The Tread 2’s 42mm by 44mm tonneau case is punctuated by a crown and a lever, and each does its part to activate one of the above-noted functions. The lever is used to enter and adjust the chronograph or the seconds mode, while a press of the crown turns the watch on or off and also enters the time-set mode.
These modes and settings are less intuitive than reading the time, but as with many multi-function watches, a bit of practice and a careful reading of the user’s manual quickly clarified how to navigate the features and functions.
The Tread 2 fit my wrist easily and comfortably, which initially surprised me. This model is considerably smaller than the first Tread, which I’d seen on wrists previously. The black leather strap makes the DLC case seem somewhat dressy, offering a sleeker fit than I imagine would be the case with a rubber strap.
I understand fully why the Tread 2’s case size has attracted so many new fans to Devon. And beyond the new size (and lower retail price), the brand’s homegrown techno style takes a fresh approach to micro-technology that any watch enthusiast can appreciate.
The Tread 2 is offered with its numerals in several agreeable colors and with a variety of case finishes, including black DLC, white ceramic and brushed steel (see devonworks.com for choices) and with interesting and apparently thematic names like Murder, Shining, Ghost and Bloody Mary. Price: $11,450.