Field Report: The DuFrane Travis
If asked, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you just how I came across DuFrane. I do recall that my exposure to the brand came about by way of one of their dress watches, the Waterloo, which I placed an order for almost right away. I didn’t have many dress watches in my collection at the time (there really aren’t a lot of micro brands doing dress watches), so it was an easy decision, especially with the nice introductory price that DuFrane was offering at the time.
Shortly after, I reached out to the brand and asked if they had a review unit I could borrow for a bit. Steven, DuFrane’s founder, mentioned that he had a Travis that was available for me to borrow and much to my delight, the Sky version of the watch arrived just before I left for a vacation to Italy.
Four weeks and several thousand miles later, here’s the tl;dr version of this review: The DuFrane Travis is a winner. Buy it. I did.
The retail version of the travis arrives in fairly nondescript packaging; there's actually no outer branded cardboard box or inner hard case. Rather, the watch arrives in a green leather travel pouch that was wrapped well in bubble wrap and placed inside the shipping box. I kind of appreciate this; I don't like throwing watch boxes away as that reduces the value of the watch and not having one to store makes things a bit easier.
The leather travel pouch is well made and has a slot for the rubber strap that accompanies the Travis. I think a color other than green would have been nice; black or another neutral color would have made a better pick. However, the pouch is functional and solid, so it's a small complaint.
The Travis isn't your run-of-the-mill dive watch. A number of thoughtful design elements separate it from the pack. Let's get into it.
The Travis — named after Austin's Lake Travis — doesn’t present as a “standard” dive watch. The Sky variant is accompanied by two other colorways; there’s Juniper, a light green that is inspired by the color of the trees surrounding Lake Travis, and there’s Dusk, which is drawn from the “evening calmness and tranquility” around the lake. All three colors are striking; the Sky variant was the review unit I had and, while it’s not typically a color I go for, I found that I came to like it a lot. I still bought the Dusk for myself; something about that dark center dial and the way the orange just pops off it called to me. It wasn't even a close call.
The watch feels hefty in your hand. With the steel bracelet, it comes in at 151 grams sized for my 7-inch wrist. The finish is almost entirely brushed with a few polished edges here and there. That steel is pretty pervasive; the Travis has a solid caseback and even the dial — which I would describe as a combination of a sandwich and sector dial — continues that steel motif.
All in all, the first impression is that of a burly, yet very clean timepiece that had me wondering if this really could be classified as a dive watch. I have since come to the conclusion that while you absolutely could take this thing diving - it has a water resistance rating of 656 feet - I'd classify it more as a dress diver.
The Watch Face
As I mentioned above, the Travis doesn’t present as a “standard” dive watch. It honestly looks like it would be just as appropriate under the cuff of a dress shirt as it would be over a wetsuit; that’s not something I can say about many dive watches. In fact, I can’t remember a single moment when I was wearing it and thought, “I should have gone with a different watch for this occasion.”
Part of this I attribute to the clean, sparse surface of the watch. The sapphire bezel is color-matched to the center of the dial and has just five markings: a white bullseye at the 12-o'clock position, three simple white dashes to mark the quarter-hours, and an orange arc marking the first quarter hour that is color-matched to the seconds hand. The choice of sapphire for the bezel is ideal; it enhances the colors on both the units I got hands-on time with.
The 120-click unidirectional bezel also has a very nice clicky feel to it. The review unit was a bit stiff, but when the Dusk version I bought arrived, I was pleased to see that the bezel moved more freely without losing any of the solid tactile feedback I liked in the review unit. Additionally, the markers line up perfectly and there's almost no backplay.
The center (or inner sector) of the dial is a sunburst teal while the outer sector, which houses the hour and minute markers, is the same brushed stainless steel as the rest of the watch. The indices are simple and graphic, consisting of applied black markers outlined with lumed borders. The cardinal markers are bar-shaped, while the rest of the hour markers are circular.
The three colorways on the Travis seem to have been chosen with some care and then executed really, really well. While I didn't have hands-on time with the Juniper colorway (which apparently has a linen-esque dial), the Sky and Dusk units are excellently executed. The color rendition on them is excellent; the Sky is a great shade of teal and the sapphire bezel and dial give off great reflections while staying legible. It's a glossy sunburst teal that reminds me of the reflections off some of the lakes I spent a lot of my youth around. It's definitely eye-catching in a really good way.
To me, however, the Dusk colorway — which is basically a matte black center surrounded by the stainless steel ring that bears the hour and minute markers — is the real star of the three. Where the orange seconds hand and the quarter-hour arc on the bezel pop off the Sky's teal, on the black background of the Dusk timepiece they feel like they both stand out and yet are being swallowed by comfortable inky darkness. The end result is a highly legible face that is understated and stands out even more because of it.
Side note: the hour markers on all three versions are black with white outlines, a combination that looks far more at home on the Dusk unit. I imagine it would be a bit much to suggest that the other two should have matching color markers, especially since that's not something that stood out to me until I got my Dusk watch. Regardless, that still reinforces my position that the Dusk is the best-looking of the three.
The handsets are also the same on all three. They are polished rhodium, filled with X1 SuperLumiNova. The minute hand is sword-style, while the hour is an arrow-style hand. The counterweight on the seconds hand has a small lume-filled pip but the hand itself doesn't have any other lume.
In addition, the cardinal markers on the bezel are also lumed and bear no other markers other than the quarter-hour orange arc. It makes for a very clean looking surface that is further enhanced by the small text bearing the watch's name, the word "automatic" in lowercase, and the depth rating (656 feet) above the six-o'clock marker. The logo for the watch is a simple affair: two polished rhodium arcs sit above the "DuFrane" word mark under the 12-o'clock marker.
Purists will appreciate the lack of a date complication; it does enhance that clean look, but I would've honestly preferred one anyway. One thing purists won't like is that the Swiss-made Sellita SW200-1 movement does have a "ghost" position for the date setting. This doesn't bother me in the least and it never has. I refuse to ding any brand for this.
The caseback is a stainless steel screw-down affair with the five-pointed Texas Star on it and "Assembled in Austin" etched prominently alongside the steel class and hardness rating. This is one of the few things I'd change about the Travis (along with that date complication I mentioned); I'd have much preferred an exhibition caseback - though, to be fair, this is my gripe about all watches, no matter the movement inside. You could hand me a quartz watch and I'd likely mutter something about wanting to see the battery and circuits without taking the back off or some such.
Bottom-line: this is a watch that manages to feel more prominent than its specs indicate and looks great doing it.
Size, Shape, and Build
At 39mm wide, 12mm thick, and 47mm from lug-to-lug, the Travis is, at least on paper, very much in keeping with the current trend in independent and microbrand watches. Sub-40mm cases seem to be the norm and the rage right now, with 36mm watches suddenly being the hot new ticket for a lot of brands. For me, the Travis' 39mm is a sweet spot for dive watches.
That 39mm case is made with 316L stainless steel and is coated with what DuFrane calls "D | Protect", a Diamond-Like Carbon (DLC) coating that takes the standard hardness rating of 316L steel from 152 on the Vickers scale to a very impressive and satisfactory 800 HV. This means that the case and the bracelet are both much more scratch- and scuff-resistant than many of the Travis' contemporaries. Even on the review unit I was sent (which had made its rounds with other reviewers), I couldn't spot any obvious marks or scuffs.
The watch wears a bit larger than the indicated 39mm, but only by a hair or two. It feels like a 40 or 41mm watch on my 7-inch wrist, mostly due to the slim bezel. That gives the dial more room and for the colors on that dial ample opportunity to shine.
Another thing that deserves to be called out are the Explorer-style lugs. Some dive watches (a lot of them, actually) have lugs that protrude prominently from the case. This is often not a bad thing as you then have a lot of room to thread even the thickest of NATO-style straps, for example. In the case of the Travis, the lugs flow seamlessly into the case, looking less like protrusions and more like natural outflows of the case itself.
Even better, there are two separate sets of holes for spring bars on each lug. This allows for a seamless fit for both, the included bracelet and the rubber strap. Presumably, if you can find a curved rubber strap for the Travis (I'm already hunting for one), having two possible options to attach it should make things easier.
Additionally, the tops of the lugs curve down aggressively to meet the bottom, causing the case to meet the curves of my wrist in an extremely ergonomic way. As I type this, the Travis is on my wrist, resting on the pad for my keyboard and it feels extremely comfortable.
One more thing to note about the size and shape: the watch measures a pretty standard 47mm from lug-to-lug. Because those lugs aren't unreasonably long, the dial and bezel have — you guessed — more room to spread out, which — again — contributes to this watch wearing a bit larger than the on-paper size of 39mm would indicate.
Once on the wrist, the Travis straddles the fence between having substantive wrist presence while not feeling overly hefty or bulky. This isn't a watch you're likely to forget you're wearing, but neither does it feel like you've got a watch-shaped anchor at the end of your arm. Sized for my 7-inch wrist, it comes in at 151 grams on the bracelet. Not lightweight, sure, but it wears so well, the weight isn't a problem at all.
Playing the Strap Game
The bracelet the Travis comes on is something I need to call out. Stainless steel bracelets are a mixed bag for me. They don’t usually stick around long on the watches I buy or test, mostly because my wrist tends to swell or my skin starts to chafe and most bracelets can’t be adjusted on the fly unless you plan on carrying a spring bar tool (I do carry one but that’s not the point!). Worse, most bracelets don’t _quite_ fit me perfectly; there’s always just a half-link’s worth of adjustment I need that I can’t quite get, even if the bracelet has half links.
In fact, there are maybe two or three other watches that have bracelets that do fit me well enough that I’m not constantly undoing them and putting them back on. There’s the Christopher Ward C65 Aquitaine bracelet, which has a great on-the-fly adjustment. My Monta Atlas has another standout bracelet that adjusts on the fly as well. And now I have the DuFrane Travis’ bracelet that’s so perfectly fitted, it honestly makes it feel like it was made specifically for me.
Side note: I can now add the bracelet for the DuFrane Waterloo to this list as well, since it’s the same mechanism as the Travis’.
The mechanism for adjusting the bracelet on the Travis is simple and easy to use. Flip the watch over and look for a button that says "Push". Push down on it and slide the opposite end of the bracelet outward to expand. To shrink it, simply push the same end of the bracelet inward without pushing on the button. The ratcheting system makes a very satisfactory sound and provides excellent positive feedback as you adjust the size of the bracelet. I estimate that the bracelet has about 9mm of adjustment, which is more than sufficient to handle my ornery wrist.
For the most part, the Travis review unit stayed on the excellent bracelet that it came with. In fact, all through my Italian vacation, I only put on the rubber strap that's included with the watch once.
On the Dusk, just about anything looks... workable. Black goes with everything, so it's hard to find something you can put on the Travis and go, "Yeah that looks awful." Instead, the trick is to find something that you can put on it that makes you go, "YES!"
For me, that turned out to be something that dresses it up significantly: my black leather band from Christopher Ward with the Omega-style deployant clasp.
Here's the thing, folks: you've heard of watches that are "strap monsters", right? These are watches that look good on just about any strap you throw on them. Well, this strap is a "watch monster". I've yet to put it on a watch that it didn't completely match; even some rough-and-tumble watches like my massive Yema Superman GMT cleans up nicely when wedded to this strap. I may have to order a second one, just to have a spare in case I lose or wreck the one I have.
That strap is currently married to my Zelos Vitesse chrono, so I needed to find a substitute. Fortunately, I had a black top grain leather band from Ritche that was a close match for the CW band, sans deployant clasp. On that, the Travis looks like it was made to slip under the cuff of a dress shirt. It has since been living on this strap, coming off just long enough to be photographed with its original bracelet.
Under the hood, the Travis rocks a Swiss workhorse. The Sellita SW200-1 movement is perhaps one of the most versatile movements out there, powering divers like the Travis while also being the base some truly interesting timepieces like the Christopher Ward C1 Bel Canto are built on top of. Tuned correctly, it can delivery excellent performance - which the Travis definitely does.
How I Test
I use a Weishi Multifunction Timegrapher No. 1900. The watch is placed, with the strap attached, onto the clamp and tested in four different positions: dial up, crown up, crown down, and the 12H index pointing down.
Each position is tested for 1 minute, with the results averaged to give me the final score.
Table of Results
No watch is perfect. Even my favorite watches in the world have some things I pick apart. The Travis is no different.
It's important to note, however, that my nitpicks are just that - mine. I don't make any claims that my reasons are somehow objective; reviews are, by their nature, subjective, so take this one with your appropriate level of salt.
I would have liked a display caseback. In fact, in my opinion, unless you're talking about a watch with a chiming or sonnerie au passage movement that needs a solid caseback for sound resonance, there's no reason not to go with a display caseback. In my opinion, anyway.
Gimme a date complication. Seriously, why not? The movement supports it! And there's plenty of room on the dial.
Tolerance between the bracelet and the case is super-tight. I was worried about scratching either or both while swapping it out for a strap. Good thing the Travis has that hardening coating.
That's it. Pretty short list of nitpicks.
Conclusion and Final Score
I come full circle to what I said near the beginning of this review: the Travis doesn't present as a "standard" dive watch. It definitely looks and feels more like a dress diver, but that 300m water resistance is not something you can ignore. Couple that with the hardening coating and this is by all means a solid tool watch. It just happens to be a really good-looking, almost formal tool watch.
DuFrane has managed to check off a lot of boxes with this one. From a hardness coating to sapphire crystal, to outstanding water resistance, to one of the best bracelets on the market, the Travis punches WAY above its weight class.
At the introductory price of $599, it was an absolute steal. That price has since gone up to $699 - a price at which it is still a bargain. I absolutely give this one both thumbs up.
The Scoring Scale: I don't bother posting reviews of watches I won't recommend. So, anything that I review on this blog will have a score of 5 and above and means that it is a watch I would recommend. In fact, if I bother writing up a long-as-heck Field Report (in excess of 2000 words) instead of a Fast Impressions post, it's likely a 7 and above. With that in mind, here's the scale I use.
5: Worth looking at, but has some significant negatives. Still, something about this watch makes it worth the money.
6: Recommend, but with some caveats.
7: Absolutely recommended, with just a few nitpicks that are totally subjective. A score of 7 and above is the equivalent of "just throw your credit card at the screen".
8: Excellent, the kind of watch you would want at first glance and one that hits almost all the key points you'd want it to.
9: Class-leading. Ticks every box and then some. Worth every single penny and is likely one of those you'll want to pass down to future generations.
10: No idea. No watch has every made it to this score.
Final Score: I give the Travis a 7.5.
You can buy it here.