Field Report: The Traska Freediver
I have two dive watches in for review and am about to get a third. Honestly, I thought I was done with dive watches and was ready to focus on GMTs and chronographs - and perhaps some dress watches and other such timepieces.
It's good to have a plan. The reality though is that no plan survives first contact with reality - and that's exactly what happened when my plans made said contact.
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That "contact" was with the Traska Freediver. I spent a solid six weeks with it and it is now among my three favorite dive watches.
Case Size: 40.5mm
Lug Width: 20mm
Case Thickness: 10.5mm without crystal, 12mm with crystal.
Case Material: 316L stainless steel, solid end-links, with scratch-resistance coating.
Crown: Signed, screw-down
Caseback: Screwed-in with individual serial number.
Colorways: Carbon Black, Arctic White, Sun-Bleached Orange, and Mint Green.
Bracelet/Strap: 316L stainless steel with fully articulating bracelet and scratch-resistance coating.
Water Resistance: 200m/660ft.
Dial: Lacquered dial.
Hands: Diamond-cut, three hands, polished hands with BGW9 Super-Luminova lume.
Crystal: Double-domed sapphire
Bezel: Polished Ceramic
Movement: Miyota 9039 (date) and 9019 (no-date)
Additional Data: Perlage finish on microadjust buckle, available in both no-date and date versions.
Price: $635 USD
Traska is known for having one of the best spec sheets in the indie/microbrand world. Jon Mack of Traska seems to take a look at watches that often cost many times what he charges, then go, "Hold my beer."
Looking down the list, there are only two things I wish were on this list: an exhibition caseback and a toolless microadjust on the bracelet.
Now, while I pine for the two items that aren't on this spec list, there is, quite literally, absolutely nothing on this list that I even mildly disagree with. That is honestly a surprise because literally every potential objection I might have to any of the above specs is put to rest by a stellar implementation. For example, the bracelets don't come with quick-release pins, but Traska's drilled lugs make detaching the bracelets very easy and putting them back on is just as simple. Plus, one of the things that worries me about removing and reattaching bracelets - scratching up the case - is not at all a concern here, given the scratch-resistant coating on the case.
Now, let's dive into how these specs translate into...
Look and Feel
The specs don't really do justice to how good the Freediver looks on my wrist. On the bracelet, there's something vaguely reminiscent of a 1970s skin diver aesthetic about it. It wears pretty close to the 40.5mm size, but I had a hard time believing that the lug-to-lug length was indeed 48mm. So, out came the calipers and... 47.9mm.
That was pretty surprising, since it wears much closer to a 47mm or even a 46mm lug-to-lug piece. It sits very comfortably on my 7" wrist with no overhang whatsoever. It might not sit as well on wrists 6" and smaller, but the slim profile of the 10.5mm case (12mm on my calipers with the crystal) should still go a long way towards overall comfort and appearance.
My review unit is the Carbon Black colorway of this watch - which is what I've already preordered. The only difference is that the review piece is a no-date model, while I've opted for the date version. Either way, the dial used for the Freediver is a lacquered dial and it shows. The black is a deep, bottomless, pitch black with an almost mirror finish that, under the right light, engages in a really spectacular dance of reflecting the polished edges of the indices and handsets with the double-dome crystal. In fact, for a while I wondered if this pre-production unit didn't have any anti-reflective coating, but nope, it's that amazing dial.
Side note: I think antireflective coatings are overrated. I'm not a Navy SEAL that worries about the glint of my wristwatch giving away my position, nor am I bothered by having to turn the watch a few extra degrees to read the time under bright conditions. I know I'm in the minority on this one, but... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The dial face houses a minimal amount of decoration. There's the Traska word mark and logo, the word "Automatic", and the water resistance rating of 200m/660ft. That lacquered dial is given plenty of negative space to stand on its own and this is absolutely the right decision.
To me, minimalism executed well is elegant. That's what the Freediver manages to achieve; it's not a spartan minimalism, it's just what's needed and nothing more. The dial surface, indices, and hands are the star of the watch surface and keeping everything else to the bare essentials is something you just can't go wrong with.
Speaking of the indices and hands, I do have a tiny bone to pick here that has nothing to do with the Freediver itself but rather the other dive watch in Traska's lineup. That would be the newest generation of the Seafarer. I bought the first gen and absolutely fell in love with the skyscraper handset. Then Traska comes out with this one and now, the Seafarer and Freediver share that overall handset appearance. To me, that's kinda sad - I really really liked the Seafarer's Gen 1 handset and am happy to have that in my collection.
Back to the Freediver; the indices here are hand-applied and the edges are rhodium-plated. Trapezoidal in shape, the indices are filled with BGW9 Super-Luminova lume and in the dark, they absolutely shine. This is not the hyper-aggressive green lume that can act as a night-light; rather, this is an application that makes the watch face eminently readable in almost every condition. The lume lasts a decent amount of time too; I have woken up in the middle of the night and glaced at my night stand to find the gentle blue of the lume still shining enough to get a read on the time.
The handset design matches the indices really well. The hour and minute hands are both sword-shaped, but tappering to a very slim, but noticeable, flat edge. What's cool about them is that the hour hand actually seems to mirror the hour indices on the dial, which is a nice visual. They are filled with the same blue lume as the indices and edged with the same rhodium plating. In bright conditions, the shiny hands make the time easy to pick out, while in dark conditions, well, see above 🙂.
The seconds hand that sweeps smoothly around the dial thanks to the high-beat Miyota movement features a lume-filled pip about two-thirds of the way down. That pip is actually visible in the dark. It's a pretty delicate hand that would've looked out of place on a dive watch but on the Traska, it jumps out alongside the other high-polish hands and is therefore a pretty solid match.
I have the no-date version, but my preorder is for the date version. Here's my only complaint about the date dial: I would have preferred it to be color-matched. The white date dial looks a bit out of place, but I'd rather have a date than a no-date watch.
I nerd out over bezels. That's a good thing, given that these days, bezels in the microbrand world have exploded in color, quality, materials, shapes, thickness, and finishes. From Christopher Ward's curved sapphire inserts to Formex's matte-finish ceramics, there's no shortage of variety these days.
Unfortunately, a lot of microbrands also get a lot wrong here. Some go with ceramic bezels but don't bother to finish them properly. Others pay little attention to alignment and backplay, resulting in a very floppy feel to the rotation. Some friction-fit bezels - which I actually like quite a bit, by the way - simply don't have the right amount of friction and end up either being waaaaay too loose or way too tight.
So I'm pretty delighted when I get a timepiece with a bezel that's really good quality.
The bezel on the Traska?
It's not good quality.
It's great quality.
Seriously, I love this bezel. On the Carbon Black colorway, the ceramic insert is finished to a mirror sheen that is just dazzling in the right light or goes pitch dark with a slight change of angle. The numerals at the 15, 30, and 45-minute mark are actually cut into the ceramic, as are all the other markers on that bezel. They are filled with lume that shines every bit as well as the application on the indices and hands.
The coin-edge bezel has been made a bit sharper and has transitioned from a gloss finish to a brushed one from the previous iteration of the Freediver. It is easy to grip and, when turned, moves with just the right amount of resistance to it. The sound of the clicks is clean and bassy, with zero backplay and perfect alignment.
I'm plagued with OCD for some very specific things. Marker alignment on watches — or, rather, misalignment — triggers me like nobody's business. No matter how often I spun that bezel, that round pip at the 12 o'clock position always came and rested perfectly where it was supposed to.
At this point, I'd remind my readers that this is NOT a production unit that's seen no other users. It's a pre-production unit that has spent time with other reviewers and so has seen a lot of use. It's also been with me for six weeks now and I've not been gentle with it. That's kind of a precondition for doing a Field Report; I have to have the watch on loan for at least a month, otherwise I can't do a full Field Report. Six weeks later, the Traska looks and feels - and performs - as well as it did the day I got it.
Let's get my one complaint out of the way: there's no toolless microadjust. In this day and age, I feel like that should come with every bracelet. My wrists tend to swell and it's annoying to have to carry a tool with me to adjust the bracelet.
Yes, I do carry a strap change tool with me. Yes, everywhere. Don't you?
Okay, with that tiny complaint out of the way, let me spend a few sentences raving about Traska's bracelets in general. Made from 316L stainless steel and coated with the same stuff that Traska coats all of their watches with, it not only holds up really well, it just completely kicks ass. For one, my year-old Traskas still look as new today as they did when I got them and that's not something I can say about every watchmaker. They look handsome as well; solid end links grace the 20mm lug size that tapers down to 16mm. The clasp is just a bit larger at 18.2mm on my calipers and without question, looks smooth and svelte with linear brushing and an engraved logo.
Dual release buttons reveal a very nice and very much appreciated touch: perlage decoration on the inside of the clasp. This is something no one else but you will see, but it'll put a nice smile on your face every time you see it. It's one of those thoughtful touches that makes Traska owners fans of the brand.
The sides of the clasp are polished to a mirror sheen and this is something I was worried about getting scratched easily before I remembered that the bracelet has the same scratch-resistant coating as the rest of the watch does.
Side note: This is something I think all manufacturers should start adding to their watches.
Five microadjust holes in the clasp offer a very useful 10mm of adjustment. Coupled with the fully articulating links, this means that finding the right fit for your wrist shouldn't be hard at all. The links themselves are connected with screw pins and I had no issues adjusting the bracelet with a simple jeweler's screwdiver.
The end-links are solid and connected flush against the case, which is pretty good. I've seen a few watches of late where the bracelet doesn't _quite_ sit right, so this little detail is appreciated.
From a wearability perspective, Traska has always made one of the most comfortable bracelets I've worn and this one is no different. I tend to wear bracelet watches a hair looser than needed, especially if they don't have toolless microadjust. I end up with an imprint of the bracelet on my wrist anyway, but it's worse if I don't keep it slightly loose. With Traska, though, I'm not sure what it is but these bracelet barely leave a mark. The links aren't especially rounded or anything but nonetheless, they don't feel uncomfortable in the least.
The Watch Case:
This is kinda interesting: I feel like all Traska watches share a sort of common design base. Front to back, from the lugs to the crown, they all have that same Traska DNA that makes their watches recognizable pretty quickly. The Freediver shares that DNA and adds that first-rate bezel, setting it slightly apart from the other watches in the lineup. It's still recognizably a Traska, though, and that's good.
The case sides have gone from being brushed with a polished chamfer to being entirely polished to a high sheen. Normally, I'd worry about a surface like this getting scuffed easily, but the coating once again saves us from that potential issue. The polished sides also add a measure of bling to the piece, but in a subtle way.
The rest of the case is brushed and the combination of the polished and matte finishes works really well. The back is the same solid screw-down case back with pertinent details around the circumference, such as serial number, water resistance, etc.
I've said this before and I'll say it again: I wish this had a display caseback. I get that it would have added a couple of millimeters to the case thickness, but at under 11mm without the crystal, I do feel like there's some room to spare. That said, Traska has never done a display caseback and honestly, I doubt they ever will. So this is really more wishful thinking than anything else.
The crystal that this generation uses is a box-style double-domed sapphire job and it is just right for this watch. Sitting just slightly proud from the bezel, it has no distortion to speak off, does a decent job of negating reflections, but has one interesting flaw: for some reason, light bouncing off the highly polished indices and hands seems to carom between the polished dial and the underside of the crystal. This often led me to do a double-take, thinking that the crystal had somehow, improbably, gotten scratched. Once I realized what it was... well, I still did a few double-takes but got used to it.
A few words about the crown: I friggin love it. All watches should have crows like this: large, grippy, and well-finished. It's signed with the Traska logo and screws in and out of the case like a dream. There's no wiggle here that I can discern, so it catches into the threads in the case perfectly and there's no misalignment at all. The movement it attaches to is butter-smooth and I imagine the date version of this timepiece will have the same kind of fluid manipulation as well.
Speaking of that movement, let's talk about it. Anecdotally, I had no issues with it; it kept time as well as I'd expect a workhorse high-beat Miyota movement to keep. Power reserve was also right in line with the advertised 42 hours and I really didn't see anything to complain about. There is a tiny bit of play when you are setting time, but honestly, it's better than some watches I've paid three times that amount for.
On the timegrapher, the results were consistent with what I saw anecdotally.
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. Here’s the table of results:
An average of about +5 seconds a day is about what I noticed too and that’s a pretty good result. It’s no COSC-certified Chronometer, but it wasn’t designed to be one. I’d rather a watch gain time than lose it and the only time the watch recorded even one negative number was in the Crown Down position. I’m totally happy with the results.
Conclusion and Final Score
I thoroughly enjoyed the Traska Freediver. I do have a preorder in for it (date version, natch) and can’t wait to get it. It is absolutely, 100% the kind of watch I would grab when I can’t decide what to wear. Right now, that distinction goes to only perhaps four watches: the Monta Atlas, the Christopher Ward Trident 300, the Lorier Neptune IV, and now the Traska Freediver. Any of these watches can be used as a GADA (Go Anywhere, Do Anything) timepiece and the Freediver sits very comfortably in those ranks.
The thing about Traska that you have to understand is that Traska’s watches are designed and produced with a careful eye. Every design element is considered carefully - just read the page about the 2023 collection, as an example. Someone who obsesses about the width of the hands being “7.5% wider to give them an ever so slightly more aggressive look” also spends a lot of time obsessing over every other detail - and the Freediver shows that attention to detail.
I love the fact that this watch can - to use an oft-used cliché - be as comfortable under the ocean as it is under a dress sleeve. For my needs, I’ve worn it with a blazer a few times, with jeans and a button-down a few times, and even with pajamas on a lazy Sunday afternoon a few times. It is literally that versatile.
I absolutely love this watch and I think you will too.
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.
With that in mind, I give the Traska Freediver a score of 8.
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