When you think of throwback military watches, the World War II era usually comes to mind. At the high end, there are watches like the Breguet Type XX, while Hanhart and many others offer more accessible counterparts. If you’re looking for something super affordable that doesn’t cut corners, Hamilton offers a wide range of Khaki field watches. Some go back to the mid-1930s, a time between the wars, like the Longines Avigation Watch Type A-7 1935, but few venture into the first war like Vario’s World War I Trench Watch. Period correct styling with plenty of dial and strap options make this an intriguing proposition, now available on Kickstarter with affordable prices in tow. Today, we take a closer look at a watch that stands out from the crowd.
The dawn of men’s wristwatches started in World War I when pocket watches proved to be too unwieldly in combat conditions. Time had to be immediately accessible while both hands were occupied, and a wrist-worn watch was the answer. These weren’t the first wristwatches, which were generally considered a lady’s accessory, but they ushered in a masculine wave that was soon adopted by civilian consumers. It was an experimental time for such pieces and many early 20th-century wristwatches were simply converted pocket watches, but trench watches (or wristlets as they were called) were dedicated wristwatches and the first of their kind to be mass-produced. Styling was distinct with large Arabic numerals for legibility and radium, an early radioactive luminescence. Simpler than later World War II pieces with 24-hour dials and additional features, wristlets served one purpose – to easily relay the time.
Vario is a microbrand based in Singapore that has been crowdfunding watches since 2017. Its two prior collections are the Retro Eclipse and Empire Automatic, which are a world away from the Trench Watch with retro-modern and Art Deco styles. Company founder Ivan Chua has found success with unique designs that are built from scratch without off-the-shelf components (minus the movements, of course). Leveraging both Indiegogo and Kickstarter, watch enthusiasts have consistently exceeded his crowdfunding goals, leading to Vario’s third and arguably most impressive collection to date.
Design & Case
The 316L stainless steel case of the Vario Trench Watch has a softer, rounder aesthetic than the norm, a common element of early wartime watches. The almost bulbous design is small by today’s standards at 37mm in diameter and 10mm in height, but considerably larger than original wristlets. So, while not entirely accurate in regard to size, the smallish diameter still makes it feel authentic. A rounded, polished bezel blends into an otherwise brushed case with a screw-down onion crown unconventionally positioned at 4 o’clock.
Most original pieces had a more common placement at 3 o’clock, but this certainly adds character without being a distraction. Curved wire lugs complete the century-old look and a solid caseback has a nice image of a World War I soldier, although blank casebacks will also be an option for personal engravings. A double domed sapphire crystal and the screw-down crown allow for contemporary water-resistance of 100 metres, but modern yet subtle touches are never a bad thing.
Dial & Hands
Accurate to the period, this is a simple time-only watch with small seconds at 6 o’clock. There are four dial colours (white, black, grey and cream) with six variants in total. All have oversized Arabic numerals with Super-LumiNova C3 in lieu of the original radioactive radium, although three models have a faux radium colour. The version we have on hand has a white dial with off-white numerals outlined in crisp black, while the 12 o’clock numeral is outlined in red. Black, period-correct cathedral hour and minute hands are filled with white Super-LumiNova.
The seconds sub-dial at 6 ‘clock partially cuts off the 6 numeral, although most original watches had a lower sub-dial and removed that numeral entirely. A minor quibble that takes nothing away from the overall aesthetic. A thin railroad minute track spans the outermost perimeter. Notwithstanding a few modern tweaks, the case and dial combination perfectly encapsulate the World War I look.
Another modern touch is the movement, which is an automatic Miyota 82S5 (original watches were hand-wound). This reliable workhorse is both affordable and easily accessible to smaller brands and features 21 jewels, 21,600vph (3Hz) and a 42-hour power reserve. Functions include central hours and minutes and small seconds at 6 o’clock. Accuracy is rated at -20/+40 seconds per day, which I dare say is better than it was a century ago. The watch I have is one of several prototypes with an exhibition caseback, but the production models will all have solid backs.
One of the highlights of the Vario World War I Trench Watch collection is the straps. There are two styles available: a NATO piece or a bund strap, both made from crazy horse leather that will show a patina over time. Colours include Coal Black, Ash Grey, Indigo Blue, Forest Green, Mahogany Brown, Cinnamon Brown and Camel Brown. The bund strap can also be used as a conventional two-piece strap without the central section, which is my personal preference.
Vario has really hit a home run with its third effort, straying entirely away from its prior two collections. These watches really look the part and are every bit as impressive as more expensive military-inspired pieces from the likes of Longines or Hamilton. Modern touches are necessary as a softer silver or brass case and fragile glass crystal would be impractical (not to mention radioactive lume), and the 100-metre water-resistance makes this a robust tool watch. A 37mm diameter is indeed small for a modern wrist, but also keeps the overall vibe authentic as a larger watch just wouldn’t look right. It’s rare for any brand to dabble in World War I designs and I applaud Vario for such a well-executed collection that finds a perfect balance between old and new.
Availability & Price
The Vario World War I Trench Watch collection is available to order from Kickstarter starting on 11 November. Campaign prices start at USD 250 with a future retail price of USD 368. Additional straps can also be ordered. All watches come with a one-year warranty and a 14-day return window. Deliveries start in February 2021. For more information and to place an order, visit Vario’s Kickstarter page here.