Circula has really hit its stride in the last couple of years and its most recent release, the ProTrail, is a modern field watch that showcases what the brand is capable of.
Circula is a family-owned business, based in Pforzheim, one of Germany’s oldest horological centres. If you’re not already familiar with the brand, it may come as a surprise to hear that they’ve actually been around since 1955. Now under the watchful eye of Cornelius Huber, the grandson of the original owner, this brand is beginning to attract significant attention thanks to its concise but compelling line-up of divers and field watches.
A Field Watch For The Twenty-First Century
Field watches seem to be having a bit of a renaissance as of late, something that I’m delighted about. However, many manufacturers understandably look to the designs of military-issued field watches from the 1940s or 1970s eras. As a consequence, if you squinted, you’d struggle to pick one out of a line-up. It’s refreshing then, when you come across a brand such as Circula that takes the essence of everything a traditional field watch should be, but bring it kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century. This is exactly what they’ve done with their latest release, the ProTrail, by combining their own unique design language, with strong specifications and advanced engineering technology. But is the end result a success? Let’s delve in and find out…
Case Design And Wearing Experience
The ProTrail has a 40mm diameter and a wrist-friendly 46mm lug-to-lug measurement. These proportions will hit the sweet spot for many. However, proportionally it is relatively thick, at 13.4mm. Slim enough to fit under all but the tightest of shirt sleeves, but it does make the watch head feel fairly weighty.
The stunning 316L stainless steel case blends angular geometry, compact integrated lugs, and distinctive details. The mostly sandblasted finish looks good and minimises reflections, something that is traditionally important in field watches, as it minimises the risk of giving away your position to the enemy! A robust, scratch-resistant surface treatment is also applied, which gives the case an impressive hardness rating of 1,200 Vickers, approx. five times that of stainless steel.
The unconventional case is a breath of fresh air, with sharp angles throughout the mid-case and lugs, giving it a thoroughly modernist look. The sides of the mid-case also have a cut-out design with a coarse-grained finish, which contrasts against the rest of the case. This clever detail also helps visually break up the mass. The lugs curve slightly downwards, and the case steps down between the lugs and is cut straight across. This is a design trait I like as it means that, provided you fit a suitable strap, there are no unsightly gaps between the strap and the watch head. If you’re the type of watch enthusiast who has a bulging strap drawer, you’ll have some fun trying different looks out on this watch!
The bezel is conventional with a flat top, straight sides and a chamfered edge which is polished, but has the appearance of something more akin to satin, due to the Kolsterization hardening process. The sapphire crystal has a bevelled edge and sits slightly proud of the bezel.
The caseback and crown are both screw-down, helping the watch achieve a water resistance rating of 150m, which is very respectable for a watch of this type. The solid caseback features a contour map design which is lightly etched into the steel, and the conical-shaped crown features an engraved Circula logo filled with Swiss Super-LumiNova® BGW9!
Circula ProTrail – Dial and Hands
The sector dial design is dual-layered and features 12-hour and 24-hour displays, in-keeping with a military style field watch. The 24-hour display sits at the centre of the dial on the bottom layer and comprises orange Arabic numerals on a background of concentric circles, which gives the appearance of a dark grey colour. Outwards of that, the main dial features the 12-hour display and sits on the upper dial level. Large Arabic lume-filled (Super-LumiNova BGW9) numerals are printed in white against a semi-matt black background, and a white printed circle helps visually separate the two sections of the dial. Finally, a railroad track at the outer perimeter counts the minutes, with every hour/5-minutes denoted by Orange printed dots, except for the cardinal points which feature orange arrowheads.
The custom handset is bold and distinctive, yet graceful. The hour and minute hands are brushed and feature a longitudinal crease down the centre. They’re also filled with strips of Super-LumiNova BGW9 that echo the shape of the hands. The painted white seconds hand is a simple stick shape with an orange tip. The orange tip perfectly spans the width of the outer dial, and this purposeful design choice is a great example of the attention to detail that elevates Circula from other brands at a similar price point. In fact, all hands are perfectly proportioned and the perfect length too. That maybe sounds like an odd detail to point out, but it’s amazing how many brands don’t get this right!
Dial text is fairly minimal with the brand name printed in white on the inner dial above the pinion, ‘Protrail’ (printed in Orange) and ‘Antimagnetic’ (printed in white) below the pinion, and ‘Made in Germany’ underneath the six o’clock marker.
Legibility is exceptional thanks to the large Arabic numerals, high contrast colours and double coating of anti-reflective treatment to the underside of the scratch-resistant, slightly domed sapphire crystal.
Everything appears to be well executed, with precise printing and nicely finished hands. The dial design is cohesive and pleasing to the eye. It also has great balance, with no date window to interrupt the symmetry. The only real negative here is that, surprisingly, the lume on the numerals doesn’t seem to be all that bright and fades quite quickly.
The ProTrail is fitted with the Sellita SW200-1 Swiss automatic movement, a mainstay for many brands due to its reliability, availability and relative ease of servicing. It’s hacking, hand-winding and beats at 28,800 vph, giving a nice smooth sweep to the seconds hand.
Where Circula differ to most though is that, rather than using the basic movement, they have opted for the Elaboré version which has Incabloc shock protection. Circula also regulate the movement to three positions to improve out-of-the-box accuracy, ensuring a very respectable tolerance of -5/+7 seconds per day. And the icing on the cake? The movement is encased within a soft iron cage to provide an anti-magnetic rating of 80,000 A/m (roughly equivalent to 1000 gauss).
Final Thoughts on the Circula ProTrail
One thing that has become evident as I’ve spent time with this watch is that no area is left as an afterthought. This approach doesn’t just go for design, but also for the engineering. The team at Circula have done a fantastic job with this watch. For circa €755 at the time of writing, the ProTrail is a well-considered and beautifully balanced package that combines good specification, cohesive design, and nice attention to detail. It’s also a watch that’s very much its own thing and not a homage to anything else. What’s perhaps even more surprising is that the ProTrail is a watch designed with significant input from the watch enthusiast community, an approach that if not steered correctly, could quite easily have backfired. As it is, Cornelius expertly steered it to very successful conclusion!
Any negatives? Yes, but very few. For the next generation of the ProTrail, I’d love to see the thickness reduced. Although the ProTrail is a robust field watch, it feels premium and relatively refined for a tool watch, so it’s surprising to me that it’s thicker than many other field watches on the market. The anti-magnetic cage might account for some of this thickness, but regardless, it does detract slightly from the wearing experience.
I’m also not overly keen on the sailcloth strap. Aesthetically it suits the watch and it’s of good quality, being backed with leather and with a nice custom hardened buckle. However, it’s a light strap that is slightly at odds with the heavy watch head. Thankfully, since sending my review watch, Circula have launched a solution in the form of a great looking quick-release bracelet with micro adjustments. Whilst this does add to the cost, it’s definitely the option I’d choose as I think it completes the package and will make the watch more balanced on the wrist. I also think that this is a watch that would work very well in titanium, so this might be something Circula could consider for the future. Finally, I think the caseback design could be executed better by using deeper engraving or embossing for a more premium look, bringing it more in line with the level of finishing on the rest of the watch.
If Circula could make these refinements for the next generation ProTrail, for me personally, it would be the perfect modern field watch. As it stands, it’s still a great time-only GADA (Go Anywhere, Do Anything) watch. In fact, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better modern interpretation of a field watch!