This summer, a guy in my watch community posted a wrist shot with the comment “what about a watch that has never been featured here before?”. I was a bit puzzled, because it was a bold statement in a community with more than 60 000 members and hundreds of posts each day. Turns out, the man in question – Lars E Hansen – had received the prototype of a watch he had designed himself: The Froskemann (Norwegian for Frogman).
It took me about two nano seconds before I’d manage to reserve one as it is limited to 100 pieces. I was lucky; they were almost fully booked. I’m perhaps even more lucky, as I’ve now gotten to borrow the prototype for a week for this review. And, worth mentioning, this watch has likely changed my idea of watches profoundly. I might never, ever, see a watch in the same way again.
Bragdur – just another micro brand or something completely else?
Bragdur is for all practical purposes primarily a one man-show by Mr. Lars E. Hansen. He spent approximately a decade in the watch and jewelry business, knowing already from the onset that he aspired to design his own watches one day. Fast forward to 2017 (after many years of being a watch enthusiast and watch collector), the first drafts of the Froskemann and its sibling the Jernmann came to light.
When talking to Mr. Hansen, it quickly becomes obvious that his passion for watches translates into a meticulous quality focus. Almost to the extent of being obsessive compulsive, which, in this context, is only an advantage. In the long run, it might be a decisive factor. If one wants to gain a foothold in the medium and high-end segments, this is necessary.
Hansen has interesting and refreshing ideas about the watches and the development of his concept and company. The Froskemann and Jernmann are both limited to exactly 100 pieces in their current design. Next year, a slightly smaller diver, Stål (meaning Steel) will be launched on Kickstarter in larger volumes. A third limited edition also being released soon is the Bronso, in addition to a very different, less sporty but very colorful series called Sfaere (Sphere). Common for all watches is that they’re all designed entirely by Hansen and have virtually all print in Norwegian.
But it doesn’t stop there. Provided that the Covid-19 situation permits, Hansen plans on a launch party for the two first watches. He has also established an accessories brand, Gral Oslo, that supplements Bragdur watches offering in an interesting way.
Now, there is a myriad of micro brands and there’s a fair risk that Bragdur might get lost in the crowd. One might therefore wonder what’s different with this new brand. A (too) common path for many micro brands is to launch watches that are close to copies of established designs. Another path is to offer very affordable watches in a nice wrapping and sometimes in an original design. Bragdur is doing neither of these. As shall be seen, the Froskemann is a very highly specified watch. Although it bears resemblance to other watches, it’s obviously not an homage. Not by a mile.
The general idea is that Bragdur offers watches to the fairly narrow and small Norwegian market that appreciates a strong Norwegian association in the watch. However, if Mr. Hansen can keep up the standard, this brand might be associated to the high quality of its time pieces instead. Perhaps it can also obtain international acclaim?
Let’s turn back to the watch itself.
Already at the unboxing, one gets the idea of how interesting the whole Bragdur concept is. The Froskemann doesn’t come in a box. As Hansen explains, the boxes are normally left in the bookshelf or on the attic; only to be used again when and if the watch is being sold. Instead, the high-end Bragdur watches come in a leather travel case (of Hansen’s accessories brand Gral Oslo). Not only is this good for the environment – it’s also very practical for anyone who has set out on a journey carrying more than the watch on the wrist.
Among micro brands, one of the most common ways to keep the price down is to base the watch on an inexpensive (but reliable) movement, such as the NH35. Lars E. Hansen has a fairly good idea of what he expects his target market to want and has instead chosen the Sellita SW200 (38 hours of power reserve) that is more common in mid-range watches, for example Oris and Sinn.
Case, crown and glass
The first and most obvious feature of the Froskemann is its unusual case design. It features straight upper and lower sides that give an almost hexagonal impression of the watch. The lugs point downward in a sharp angle making them less exposed when viewing the watch from above. My immediate association is to some 1970’s watches.
The idea of the case is quite interesting. The geometry of the lugs makes this 44mm beast fit my 17.5cm wrists quite well. The case is made of 316L stainless steel and is brushed vertically. This gives a very nice and crisp impression. The lug width is 22mm, the lug-to-lug 53.5mm and the case thickness 13.3mm.
In addition to the case geometry, there are two items that require mentioning: the case back and the crown guards. The case back feature only text in Norwegian: Froskemann, Selitta SW200 (Sveits), Automatisk rotor, 300M, XXX/100, safirglass, arc ss 316L. Inside the circle of text is the image of a frog. Now, this might look ordinary, but a closer look reveals a nice 3D-structure of the frog. This is enabled by the case back being embossed by a hydraulic press instead of simply engraved. For those that are not familiar with manufacturing, embossing is much more expensive compared to engraving.
The other detail is the crown guards that are screwed-on instead of being part of the solid case. A small detail perhaps, but something that adds significantly to the general impression of the watch. The crown is large, 7mm and has well-spaced teeth.
As mentioned, Bragdur is about quality and high-spec. The glass is therefore sapphire glass with five (5) layers of anti-reflective coating on the inside. The watch is rated to 300m, which is well above the typical rating among divers of 200m. A small, but important and very positive detail is that the glass is flush with the bezel edge. This minimizes the risk of accidentally chipping the glass, while also giving a very high-quality impression.
Dial and hands
The dial is the next thing that makes this watch completely unique. Closest to the 12 o’clock marker, the hexagonal Bragdur “b” logo is found. Immediately beneath is written “bragd” and then Froskemann in capital letters. On the opposite side, it says “automatisk rotor” which is Norwegian for automatic rotor and then the depth rating. On opposite sides of the 6 o’clock marker it’s written “Oslo” and 1986. A date window is located 3 o’clock.
The dial is jet black and gives little to no reflection without any matte texture. This is another good design element common to professional divers. What is a bit peculiar though, is the hour markers. These indexes are large and filled with BGW9 Superluminova and are all shaped like tapered rectangles, except for the 12 o’clock marker, which has a bespoke design. I’ll get back to the indexes, but one important point to notice here is that they are large and that the edges of the markers are all polished.
The hour and minute hands are classic Proplof hands that have seen a revival in several other micro brands’ watches. The seconds hand is also like the one used on Omega Proplof but has a smaller arrowhead. The hands are polished/blank, and like the indexes illuminated with BGW9 that gives a nice blueish color in the dark.
Now, I have two problems with the hands and indexes. The general idea of a diver watch is the utility of counting elapsed minutes. That’s why most dive watches come with a unidirectional bezel with an illuminated 12 o’clock pip and illuminated hands. The Proplof hands have an augmented minutes hand and a narrow and short hours hand to eliminate the risk of misreading one for the other. So far, so good. However, together with the bezel with illuminated markers, the in-dark reading is obscured by the large hour indexes. Especially when the minute hand is over one of the hour markers, it’s difficult to exactly ascertain the correct minute position.
The other problem I have with the markers and hands is more cosmetic. I mentioned that they are blank – this means that they are shiny. When playing around in ambient light, this will play very differently compared to the beautifully brushed case. Each by itself, the design elements are excellent (and make no mistake: they are of perfect quality here!). But together, the mix doesn’t quite harmonize.
Bezel: you’ve got to feel this!
The bezel is perhaps one of the greatest telltales of the high spec and high quality of the Bragdur Froskemann. Bezel is quite similar to the Tudor Pelagos bezel and has the same integrated illumination. The main difference is that the teeth of the Froskemann are fewer and larger. As for the Pelagos, it has a ceramic insert (another professional diver trait) and the bezel action can only be described as extremely satisfying: 120 very distinct clicks.
There are (to my knowledge) no other micro brands that have so sophisticated bezels on their divers. At least not in this price range.
Strap & Bracelet
The Froskemann comes with a 5-link steel bracelet and a soft rubber strap with butterfly clasp. I haven’t tried the bracelet, so here’s only a short note on the strap. The idea of a rubber strap is a typical professional diver trait and I like that it’s part of the package. I also like its butterfly clasp. However, the strap is not large enough to pass through both strap holders, and I don’t even have monstrous wrists. Considering that this is a massive piece (44mm), this strap is likely to be too small for some owners. One option could be to remove one of the holders.
Another note on this topic is the lugs. Due to its geometry, this watch may perhaps not wear well with standard NATO straps.
Wearing the Froskemann
The Froskemann is not a small piece and will probably be too large for quite a few. Still, the geometry makes is fit my wrist quite well. Another risk with large watches is that they might be uncomfortable. Not in this case (pun intended). During a full day of wearing, I barely feel the need to remove it any time.
There are four schools when it comes to wearing dive watches:
- Those who think that you can wear a diver with anything, including a suit
- Those who would wear the diver with anything, except for a suit
- Those who think divers should primarily be for casual or sporty wear
- Those who only think that a diver shall be worn when doing water sports
I’ll leave out my speculations about people wearing watches like this with a suit. However, it works remarkably well with business casual and, of course, as a leisure time watch. Unless you are a banker or lawyer, this watch can do a pretty good job as an everyday watch. It can also be a great conversation starter. Guaranteed.
Price, buying and options
The 100 owners of the Froskemann shall consider themselves lucky. Bragdur has chosen a (comparatively) low price to secure a good entry and build-up of a fanbase. This watch will cost just short of 500 EUR. The way I see it, in its current form the Froskemann is equivalent to watches 4-5 times that price. Mr. Hansen hints to that the subsequent models are going to be pricier.
I’ve selected three watches that may be good options depending on what you’re after.
- Bruvik Svalbard – Norwegian professional diver
- Valhalla of Norway V3 – maximum Norse appeal
- Spinnaker Dumas – affordable, 70’s homage diver
The most obvious option is the professional diver from another Norwegian brand: Bruvik Timepieces. The diver of the Svalbard series is well placed in the midrange segment. Bruvik has managed to balance high quality with a unique (or at least unique enough) design, although the resemblance of some of its design elements are obvious. For the Norwegian market, I believe Bruvik will be Bragdur’s main local competition.
If your primary appeal to the Froskemann is the Norwegian connection and if you like the mystique of the Norse mythology, the Valhalla of Norway V3 might be a good option. Valhalla has been quite popular (locally at least) since their inception in 2013. Common for all their watches are old Viking and Norse symbols incorporated as design elements, often along with ornamental features. The V3 is the professional diver from Valhalla, with a lot of resemblance to various Seiko watches. A microbrand primarily focused on the Norse connection, it cannot compare to the high degree of sophistication in Bragdur Froskemann.
If the Norwegian association is subordinated to the 70’s design features, a good option could be the Spinnaker Dumas. Similar case geometry (and lugs), 44mm size and Proplof hands at an entry-level pricing of 315 USD. Except for the design elements mentioned, the Dumas cannot compare in any other way with the Froskemann as it is a much simpler and significantly less sophisticated watch. Both technically and esthetically. It’s still an option though.
Six smashing features about the Froskemann and probable critique
Before I go the conclusion of this review, and since this is the first watch from a new brand, I want to bring out the probable criticism this watch may face. However, before doing so, I want to remind you of six features that stand out:
- The embossed case back
- Five (5) layers of AR coating on the backside of the sapphire crystal glass
- BGW9 Superluminova
- The screwed-on crown guards
- The perfect 120-click bezel action
- Ceramic bezel
Most people that have seen the watch have been as ecstatic as I am. However, some have pointed out that one can get the impression that the watch looks like a combination of established design elements found in other watches:
- Case: typical 70’s case
- Hands: Proplof hands
- Indexes: similar to some, amongst others, Seiko and TagHeuer models
- Bezel: typical contemporary high-end bezel
I find it difficult to disagree with this observation. However, I can’t find any combination of these elements in another watch (let me know if you do!). There is plenty of micro brands out there, so bringing something new to the market isn’t easy anyways. Which brings me to the conclusion.
Conclusion: I’m lucky to be on the list
Remember how I wrote in the beginning of the review that this watch has changed how I view watches? Already after wearing the Froskemann for couple days it felt like more exclusive, in a way, than anything else showing up in my feed. The reason being, I think, the combination of the design, the Norwegian touch, the limited edition and, above all, the high quality.
Apart from some subjective thoughts on selected design elements or their combination, there is really nothing negative with this watch. It is a tough, professional-esque diver watch with very distinct features. It’s there to make a statement – and not just any kind of statement.
I have been asked about the quality of the watch and how it could compare to well-known brands. My immediate association was to the quality level of TagHeuer, for good and bad.
This is the first watch I review where I rate two aspects at the highest rank. The bezel and the pricing are both 10/10, with the unboxing 9/10 considering the ingenious travel case the watch is presented in. There’s a fair chance that we’re looking at a new iconic piece here. Future will tell…
Total score: 7.7 – keeper!