Updated: Feb 24
Romania used to have a respectable standing in the watch world during its communist era. State-owned factories used to make fine quality, affordable watches using movements from the Soviet Union and communist China. However, alongside the end of communism in Romania, its watch enterprises like Orex or Optimef have also gone extinct.
Recently, the Optimef name was acquired and it started making (or rather, selling) watches again. Although the designs are nice and inspired by Bucharest's architecture, the pieces themselves are basic quartz, mineral-glass-having watches sold for automatic Seiko prices. There is also Noah, with nice Romanian-inspired quirks but also costly, quartz and most notably wooden. Safe to say the Romanian horology space has been quite desolate since the fall of Orex.
Alongside these more contemporary brands there is the newcomer Nostru started by Octavian Popîrțac, and here is their first model. After a month of using it, we feel that we can finally articulate an in-depth and honest review.
The brand started with innovation in its mind. In Romanian "our watch" is "ceasul nostru", hence the name. The story is that Octavian was displeased with the value-for-money ratio that the current Romanian brands provided, as well as a lack of innovation. Therefore, he made the first wide day display watch where the wheel is in Romanian. An important horological effort, but does the result hold up?
Compared to its competitors, Nostru is sporting the same class of movement, namely a quartz Miyota 2350 but that's where the construction similarities end, because unlike others, Nostru is sporting a full stainless steel case and bracelet with solid links, solid end links, a signed crown and the well-known Chinese butterfly clasp which is (laser) engraved with the nostru logo. Moreso, the crystal is sapphire, which is unheard of in the Romanian watch brand space all whilst the watch is about half the price of its competitors. As you might have already guessed, all this is possible due to the manufacturing giant that is China. How much does it matter that "our watch" isn't all that Romanian? You have to decide that for yourself. Octavian mentioned how in the future the Nostru brand will try to make its watches in Romania. We hope that is the case, at least for assembly.
This is where we have to delve into the watch's weaknesses. Sadly, the bad isn't reserved just to its non-Romanian manufacturing. Somehow this watch feels like a half baked cake. The design process should have been more meticulous and the incubation period longer. First of all, the case is too big for the movement. We are all familiar with the Day-Date format: the date should take the place of the 3rd o'clock index and the day should be displayed between the 11 and 1 indices. This just looks awkward and shows that the movement was made for a more modestly-sized watch (which would have been a bonus overall, as the oversize trend is quickly dying out and people are returning to <38mm for dress watches and 40-42mm for divers. At 40mm with a narrow bezel it just looks massive.) Even this stretched dial is extended even more with a supplemental ring so that it fits with the case.
The logo is clean and very well done. The faux blued hands are understandably small due to the limitations of quartz (a smaller case size would have helped the hands) but the text is where it all went downhill, and I don't just mean the missing spaces on the case back. Does that say "laapă" (???) or "la apă" (to water)? You be the judge.
First of all, We have to start at "Spirit Romanesc" on the lower half of the dial. If a foreign brand like Seiko did a special Romanian edition watch, these errors could be understood (as the diacritics of the Romanian language can be confusing at times) but the self-proclaimed Romanian watch should be very well acquainted with the importance of these details. Here, the history of the Romanians is explicit on the significance of differentiating between român (Romanian citizen) and roman (roman empire citizen). Therefore, writing "Spirit Romanesc" (Roman Spirit) instead of "Spirit Românesc" (Romanian Spirit) feels like something that should not have happened.
Second of all, and the biggest problem of the watch, in our opinion, is sadly tied to its redeeming feature. The day wheel has incorrect grammar and it is even worse than the roman spirit because Romanians do forgo diacritics on many websites that don't allow special characters. Having erroneous diacritics when you are a patriotic brand, especially right on the watch's most important and innovative feature is just inappropriate. In Romanian, Saturday is "sâmbătă", not "sămbătă". Again, it would have been a minor issue if there was anyone else making the error. The other issues are negligible compared to this and could be easily forgiven whereas this should have been an unambiguous send-back-the-prototype moment. Also, who thought it was a good idea to use lowercase lettering on a wide date display?
Where does that leave us, then? The value-for-money aspect of the watch is great at 350 LEI (70 EUR) for having sapphire glass, a solid bracelet, a nice box with a signed note from the founder and a nice patriotic gimmick. The 30m water resistance means "never get it wet", the movement is basic (but understandable since wide-day options are not very easy to come by at this price segment) and the watch is plagued by grammar errors, but compared to the competition (which exceeds double the Nostru's price), for the average Romanian salary of 3500 LEI (700 EUR), this is a good choice.
We have heard that the second Nostru is on its way. We are optimistic that, if done correctly, Nostru has the potential to be great. It does a lot of things well and the most important thing it does is take the first step. Although not flawless, Nostru has opened the gateway to more great and innovative Romanian watches and we hope that some of them will be from Nostru themselves because with accurate grammar, smaller proportions, better dial layout and an overall more cohesive design this could really be ceasul nostru.