Bremont versus Damasko
Today we compare two chronographs known for their extreme toughness and aviation design heritage, the Bremont Michael Wong Heli-Chrono and the Damasko DC66 Si. This is England versus Germany with two watches that are strikingly similar, yet surprisingly unique. The Introduction
Our newcomer is the Damasko DC66 Si. As you may know from our other reviews, Damasko is an up and coming German brand known primarily for their ultra-tough cases, but they're increasingly known for their cutting edge movements as well. This watch, like the Bremont, uses a Valjoux 7750, but with a twist: the actual time keeping elements of the watch have been replaced with advanced Damasko technology.
Our English entry is the Bremont Michael Wong Heli-Chrono special edition. We chose the special edition because it allowed us to put two black DLC cases against each other, but you can get a very similar watch like the ALT1-P without the coating, so most of what is said here can be applied to that watch as well. This watch too uses a 7750. It lacks the functional enhancements of the Damasko, but don't count it out yet--this 7750 is chronometer rated and is in house decorated by Bremont. The Face
Both of these watches are aviation inspired and feature extreme contrast, black dials and Arabic numerals, as well as rotating bezels, but they're more stylistically different than you might think.
We'll start with the German newcomer, the DC66 Si. Like almost all Damaskos, this watch is available in black dial versions, like the one we have, and a different one (with a unique model number) with a white luminous dial, and with or without a black coating. Opt for the black dial like we did and you'll be treated to an extremely matte finish. The dial never looks dull or rough, unlike much of the competition's black matte dials, but does provide excellent clarity against the white hands and numerals.
In very bright light, the dial actually comes off as slightly gray. If you look at many other matte dials under a loupe, you'll see that their matte finish was achieved by basically making the dial rough, which as a byproduct, looks cheap to me. Damasko's smooth dial, however, actually looks really nice and it really makes those hands and numbers jump out at you.
Chronograph dials are inherently busy, due to the requisite addition of at least two, but usually three, subdials. 7750s in general produce busy dials because they have three subdials, a day and a date. Nonetheless, Damasko has done an excellent job of keeping things very clean and minimalist--or, in other words, it's very German.
The dial, like most of their watches that feature silicon technology, features tasteful red accents. Three dashes of red have been added in the form of the luminous red pip, a small Si logo in the southwestern quadrant, and most notably, the red chronograph seconds hand. These touches are more subtle on the black dial, but I think the red goes better with the white dialed variant personally. In either case, I actually like having a dash of color on my watches--I like having a touch of playfulness to interrupt the deadly seriousness of most pilot watches.
The hands are of the typical Damasko sword hand variety, almost fully lume coated after the stem. I really like Damasko's approach of painting the beginning of the hands with the same matte material as the dial--it blends in with the dial so well that the luminous tips appear to be floating with no connection to each other. I would suggest to Damasko that when they choose a different color for chronograph hands, that they use it consistently, effectively color coding their complications. For instance, since a red chronograph seconds hand is used, I would give the chronograph minutes and hours registers red hands as well. Still, that may merely be my preference.
I really like the seconds subdial as well. I like that they went ultra-minimalist with it, because, after all, you won't be timing anything with the main seconds hand on a chronograph, so why put 60 tick marks on it. Also note that the beginning of the seconds hand is matte coated, again, giving it the appearance that it's floating. It reminds me of a vintage radar display.
The day and date complications use the same bold white paint as the numerals, and like the numerals, they are not lumed--as I've pointed out elsewhere, this is a missed opportunity to go the extra mile, but this is a very minor observation--pretty much no one else has luminous dates either.
The Bremont, though similar in overall style, is altogether more playful than its Damasko counterparts. Imaginative seconds hands, red and yellow accents throughout and an internal rotating bezel make it a much more adventurous design.
The dial is somewhat busier than Damasko's, with full subdials, a very elaborate (read: cool) main seconds hand and the internal rotating bezel, although not technically the dial, contributes to this attribute. To help legibility, Bremont has utilized a Soprod module on their 7750 that allowed them to rearrange the position of the subdials, contributing to symmetry, as opposed to the characteristically unbalanced look of the 7750 as seen in the Damasko.
As I mentioned earlier, a big part of this dial is its coloration. The numerals are green and luminous, the tip of the chronograph seconds hand, the entire chronograph minutes seconds hand and the tip of the main seconds hand are all red. Furthermore, the "12:00" marker (30, 12 and 60) of each subdial is red. This design commits basically the same sin of the Damasko--there's no cohesive design decision on where to use like colors. In this case, red seconds hands used just for the chronograph function would be a great way to make the complex dial more readable. If anything, the Bremont's dial is a bit more confusing than the Damasko's, since red is used intermittently throughout. That said, the seconds subdial is the only one that uses any yellow on the whole watch, which does make it stand out.
One thing about the Bremont's dial is that it cuts off numerals. With rare exceptions, I would prefer watch designers to use indices whenever they can't use a full numeral. On the plus side, the number-cutting is very minimal--just a hair of the 2, 8 and 0 (of 10) are cut off, so it's not that noticeable. Really egregious number-cutting, like on the old Portuguese Chronograph, is much more objectionable--in watches like that, so much of the number is cut off that there's nothing recognizable left--the only reason you know their was a 6 there was because you know that there's normally a 6 there. So this particular incarnation doesn't really bother me, but given the choice, I'd rather have Damasko's approach.
The Bremont's hands, like Damasko, are stark white and offer great contrast against the dial. They're much narrower than the Damasko's sword hands, which is probably smart on a chronograph because they obscures the subdials less often. Due to the nature of Damasko's design, furthermore, they look nicer--more expensive, if you will. This is simply because you can see the painted metallic hands, whereas with almost all Damasko hands, there is no polished or reflective surfaces at all.
The seconds subdial is quite the opposite of the Damasko's understated approach. Here not only do we get a propeller, part of the helicopter motif, but we get both red and yellow accents. It actually looks very cool. I think, as a matter of preference, I'm more of a fan of simplicity and understatement, so personally I prefer the Damasko visually, but that's just me--both are pretty striking.
Unlike the 7750 in the Damasko, the module-modified Bremont has only a date, wedged between the 4:00 and 5:00 markers. I think the decision to use date only is smart on chronographs since there's already so much going on, but I think Damasko's placement is neater--I like a little void in my watch dials, and there's just no space left in the southeastern quadrant of the watch. On balance, I think the approaches are fairly evenly matched, Damasko bringing the stock 7750 layout of day/date, which I find more appealing, but Bremont removing clutter by retaining only the more important date. The Bezel
The only thing these two bidirectional bezels have in common is that they're both very high quality--otherwise, they couldn't get much more different.
The Heli-Chrono's rotating bezel is internal, like a slide rule. The crown at 8:00 rotates it in either direction. It's got an extremely smooth operation and still has detents that lock onto the dial's indices. Don't worry about the alignment in the photo, they are misaligned intentionally just to show it rotates. The only criticism I have for this approach, and it's a very small criticism because I genuinely like this design, is that it has the effect of making the dial appear busier since you're pushing all that writing under the crystal. One very real advantage of this design is that there's no bezel to scratch or get grime in--what's left is Bremont's hardened steel on the outside and everything else is protected by sapphire.
The DC66 Si's bezel is much more conventional, but Damasko has impressed me from day 1 with their bezels. They are covered with their ultra-hard proprietary Damest coating, but what I really like is the action. It's got such a solid click into each detent, but it never feels rough when in transition--it's very smooth. Also worth mentioning is that you can order your Damasko with either the hours bezel, like we have here, or a minutes variety, featuring 5-55 markers. The Movement
The movements in question offer a very interesting contrast. At first glance, nothing could be more boring--they use the same ubiquitous 7750 movement--but don't be so sure about that. The Bremont uses a Soprod module, is chronometer rated, and is beautifully decorated in England. The Damasko, conversely, uses extremely sophisticated materials and designs to create a more stable movement. Which is better?
We'll start with the more photogenic of the two, the Bremont Michael Wong Heli-Chronograph (should I abbreviate that the MWHC?). Bremont is the only watch here that graced us with a display back, which is fortunate, because they do a great job cleaning up their movements.
The red rotor is a nice, distinctive touch as well. As you may already know, Bremont is now well into its long term plan to produce movements in house. As a consequence, they have all the skill and technology required to decorate their watches in England as well. What you may not know, however, is that all Bremont movements are this well decorated, whether you can see them or not. It's a commitment to quality and craftsmanship that's impressive. But Bremont's 7750 is more than just a good looking movement.
Although the movement isn't functionally modified by Bremont, it doesn't mean it's a slouch. First off, as I mentioned earlier, a module is used to give it a distinctive layout. Furthermore, like all Bremont movements, it's chronometer rated, meaning you're guaranteed a consistently high degree of accuracy. The 7750 may not be the most exciting movement in the world, but it's easily the most battle proven chronograph ever made, a factor that didn't go unnoticed by Bremont.
Unlike the Bremont, Damasko hasn't graced us with a view of their movement, which is curious. We know from our reviews of the A35 and H35 that Damasko can do a really good job with in house decoration, and there's no reason to believe that this watch would be any different, but until some intrepid owner decides to unmask their 7750, we will never know. So enjoy this case back instead.
Don't let that lack of a visual dissuade you so quickly, however. This movement is heavily modified. A lot of brands talk about modifying their movements, but when you really get down to it, you can hardly find any difference at all, visual or otherwise. This is not Damasko's case. This 7750 is radically reworked--virtually none of the parts responsible for keeping time have been retained. Instead, they've been replaced with a Patek-style Gyromax free-sprung balance, replacing the regulated/smooth balance in the stock 7750. This design should have improved stability by keeping the hairspring at its optimum length, using four tiny weights on the balance itself to change the rate instead of a regulator.
As the Si logo on the dial would indicate, Damasko's advanced in house silicon hairsprings are used as well. Because silicon is lighter, it is less affected by gravity, and the way silicon is produced allows much more consistent and fine control of the shape and thickness of the spring. As if that weren't enough, it's immune to magnetism.
Damasko also uses their in house rotor which is borne on their ceramic micro ball bearings. I don't know if there's any inherent technical advantage to the Damasko rotor, but it doesn't matter because it looks awesome. This makes it even more frustrating that they didn't give us a display back.
In terms of the specs of the Damasko, it, like the COSC-rated Bremont, is adjusted in 5 positions--accuracy specs beyond that are unknown to me. In the brief time I had the watch, it ran about 3.5 seconds fast per day, which is a very good result, particularly for a watch not advertised as a chronometer. The advantages of the Damasko design, however, should be more prominent in real world use--basically, the design and technology used in the Damasko should make it relatively consistent day to day. But is that enough to overcome a chronometer rated competitor? Because I don't own these watches, and therefore don't wear them daily, I can't say--it's one thing to perform well dial up in a watch case, or to do well stationary on a timing machine, but quite another to perform well in the real world.
Which one would I take? That's a tough call--the Bremont is a known quantity--it's beautifully finished, it's time-tested, it's chronometer rated--you know you're going to get a great movement. The Damasko is much more exotic, which is cool in its own right, but will it meet or exceed the chronometer spec? I can't say at this point. I think the coolness of the Damasko design might pull me into its camp, but it's a close call. The Case
The cases are what really put these two companies on the map. They both use proprietary hardening methods to make their cases far more scratch resistant than ordinary steel. In this case, they both use extremely tough DLC coatings--but you can also have either of these watches without the coating if you'd prefer. Let's take a closer look to see what these watches have in common and what sets them apart.
Let's begin with our old friends at Bremont. Their cases feature two interesting technologies, namely Trip-Tick construction and the B-EBE2000 case hardening tech. Trip-Tick is an interesting design approach that gives Bremont above average flexibility in designing their cases, both aesthetically and functionally, by using a unique "barrel" that surrounds the bulk of the case. Contrast this with most designs, where the bezel is a unified element with the rest of the case (case back notwithstanding).
Because the Michael Wong special edition is coated in DLC, you can't appreciate the Trip-Tick construction as much as you otherwise might, at least from a visual standpoint. Interestingly, the barrel is DLC coated whether or not you get the Michael Wong version or the regular ALT-1P, the difference is that the other areas of the case in our example are coated--and this difference highlights the advantage of Trip-Tick. You're able to treat each third of a case (bezel, back and barrel) individually to get unique combinations like that.
The other technology that makes Bremont special is their B-EBE2000 treatment. This high-tech approach to case making uses heat treatment, like on a blade steel, but then diffused with carbon and "bombarded with electrons." I have no idea how that works, but it results in a steel 7 times as hard as a conventional component. Furthermore, a DLC (diamond like carbon) coating is applied, which is even harder. So with or without the tough black DLC treatment, these cases are much, much more difficult to scratch than the average watch.
Techno-babble aside, the 43mm case offers a great look and is stylistically similar to the Damasko as well. The size is about right for this watch, because you must keep in mind, the 7750 is quite thick--the smaller the watch, the thicker it looks, so 43mm is a good overall size for watches using this movement.
The use of their propeller logo on the crown is a nice touch, and from the side you can appreciate the cool "teak" lines in the barrel around the watch.
The case back, luckily for us, gets out of the way and lets us enjoy that beautifully decorated movement.
With all that in mind, it's hard to imagine that Damasko could compete--but it does. Damasko uses a very different hardening method, which they call ice hardening. The specifics of it are unclear, but they start with a special steel alloy and heat treat it to make it as hard as a premium blade steel. The primary advantage of the Damasko approach, however, is that the entire case is hardened all the way through. Bremont, and other companies like Sinn, use only surface hardening techniques--if you are unlucky enough to penetrate that outer hard layer, the steel underneath is basically ordinary, and scratches cannot be repaired. Underneath the surface of a Damasko, however, is just more ultra-hard steel, meaning if you scratch it, Damasko can repair it for you. With that said, I must offer a small caveat--due to the steel being ultra-hard, and the use of a bead-blast finish, refinishing these watches by yourself is not advised. The good news, conversely, is that Damasko can clean the watch up for you down the road, for a fee of course.
Like the Michael Wong, this watch has an ultra-hard DLC coating. Unlike Bremont, however, this uses Damasko's in house Damest material, which is supposed to be even tougher than regular DLC. The primary weakness of DLC coatings isn't the hardness of the material, which is incredibly difficult to scratch, but the ability to remove the layer from its steel substrate. Damest aims to fix this, by adding an "ion implantation zone" which is what connects the actual coating with the metallic case. Furthermore, Damest is "flexible," (relative to similar coatings), allowing some degree of stress without fracturing. Ultimately, it's probably correct that the Damest coating is tougher than Bremont's DLC, although there's no way to know for sure without actually trying to scratch them. If anyone wants to donate their Bremont or Damasko to the cause, just let me know.
This particular Damasko comes in at 42mm, roughly the same size as the Bremont. However, I would suggest that it wears more than 1mm smaller, probably due to the appearance of a small dial (using an external rotating bezel, as opposed to the internal in the Bremont), so if you're looking for something more like 40mm, this watch will actually probably fit the bill well.
I really like the signed crown on the Damasko, and as much as I like the propeller on the Bremont, this one wins it for me. The crown is made of the same super hard material as the rest of the case and has some other tricks up its sleeve as well. Mainly, it has a permanent lubrication cell which contributes to smoothness when tightening it. This is also aided by the fact that, like all Damaskos, the crown decouples while screwing it in, meaning the watch does not hand wind when the crown is depressed. This makes it require much less effort than it otherwise would take.
The case back may not have as much to look at as the Bremont, but it does offer an anti-magnetic shield inside, so you do get an upside to the loss of a display back. This watch should actually be extremely antimagnetic, since the weakest component in a watch in terms of magnetism is the hairspring, which is now silicon. Damasko doesn't say exactly how antimagnetic it is, just that it meets the minimum standard for antimagnetism, but I would bet it's impressive. Furthermore, the entire watch is sealed using chemically resistant Viton gaskets. It's a really tough, well thought out case. The Strap
The straps are surprisingly similar--both are black with red exposed stitching. They look great.
Both are very comfortable, but I've grown particularly found of the soft lining inside a Damasko strap.
Also interesting is that they're both on buckles instead of deployants. Both buckles are high quality, but I do like that Damasko went the extra mile in DLC coating their buckle to match the case. The Conclusion
So we end up with two extremely tough watches with a lot in common, yet a lot different as well.
In terms of movements, the winner will depend on your mindset. Will you go with the beautiful, visible, and proven chronometer 7750 in the Bremont or the high-tech, hidden and anti-magnetic movement in the Damasko? It's so hard to pick a winner between them in this regard--I'm inclined to favor Damasko, if only because the movement is more interesting, but I love to see the movements too--that's one of the real perks to sticking with a mechanical watch these days. I really have no idea which movement I would pick.
These watches are so evenly matched in every other way, as well. Stylistically, I find myself squarely in the Damasko camp. I love how legible the dial is and how they managed to keep it from being cluttered despite having three complications. But the Bremont is a much more playful design and is the only of the two to feature luminescent numerals, which is very odd since Damasko uses white paint for their numbers. The Bremont is more fun, the Damasko more serious. I'm really surprised with how close this race was. I can't declare a victor on a race this close, but I think personally I would walk away with the Damasko, mostly for stylistic reasons. Which would you pick? The Video
Check out our video of the Damasko DC66 Si in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0-8fxHN_cY
And when you're done with that, check out our video of the Bremont Michael Wong Heli-Chrono in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ls-esYXKljI