Earlier this summer, we looked at Singapore-based microbrand Vario and its second watch collection, the Empire Automatic (the Retro Eclipse was first). It was successfully funded via Indiegogo and company founder Ivan Chua stated that it hit the production goal in just five minutes. This automatic series is the follow-up to a hand-wound variant that was previously funded via Kickstarter (the stretch goal was reached to move forward with the automatics). Back in June, we were pleased with the retro theme, restrained proportions and nicely finished dials, along with the upgraded Seiko automatic. We now have a watch on hand and can give it a more thorough rundown, so let’s take a closer look.
In spite of the collection’s affordable price, corners certainly weren’t cut with the design. In fact, the entire Vario Empire Automatic was built from scratch with no off-the-shelf parts (notwithstanding the movement and crystal). The case, dial, hands and crown are original designs.
The version we had features a silver dial and blue coloured hands, and there’s an old-school vibe with an Art Deco flair. The 316L stainless steel case is well sized at 38mm in diameter, perfect for a dress watch or more casual occasion on the weekend. It’s a little thick at 11.5mm but will disappear under a cuff without a fuss. That height also makes it wear a bit larger than the dimensions suggest, so those who prefer something in the 40mm range may be pleased. There’s a polished, rounded bezel that falls on the wider, round middle case forming a step, reminding me of the Art Deco Chrysler Building in New York. The sides of the Vario Empire Automatic are brushed and there’s a solid caseback (with an Empire State Building motif), and a classic onion crown rounds things out. The sapphire crystal has an interior anti-reflective coating and the watch is water-resistant to 50 metres.
The dial has a nice “guilloché” pattern in the centre, and although it is stamped and not engine-turned, it’s precise and well-executed. This is a multi-level dial with a raised outer ring featuring applied Arabic numerals in a 1930s font. This dial really is the main attraction of the Vario Empire Automatic and is superbly executed given the affordable price of this watch.
An outermost chapter ring falls to the level of the centre section with raised dots marking the minutes. The skeletonised hour and minute hands have separate styles with a syringe hour hand and alpha/lance-style minute hand, and the seconds hand is a narrow lollipop affair. It’s a cool, unique setup.
There are five colour options in the collection, including the present silver dial with blue hands, gunmetal tuxedo dial with silver hands, white dial with blue hands, white tuxedo dial with silver hands and black tuxedo dial with silver hands. The colour differences give each piece an individual character. Two strap variations are available, including Italian leather with a slight bi-colour effect (20mm taper to 16mm) or Harris Tweed (20mm taper to 18mm). The present Vario Empire Automatic has navy blue leather with off-white stitching. The strap is beautifully made and supple.
The heart of the collection is a Seiko NH38A automatic, replacing the earlier (Kickstarter) hand-wound Miyota 6T33. It has 24 jewels, beats at 21,600vph (3Hz) with a 41-hour power reserve. Functions include central hours, minutes and hacking seconds, and notably no date complication so there’s not a ghost position on the crown. This is a proven workhorse from a legendary Japanese brand, readily available for smaller brands and easily serviced. It has a simple, interesting aesthetic, but is hidden behind the steel caseback.
Indiegogo Early Bird prices of USD 278 are still available (retail USD 348) with discounts on multiple purchases as well (USD 486 for two). For more information or to make a purchase, visit Vario’s Empire Automatic Indiegogo page or website. All models come with a one-year international warranty and 14-day return window, and shipments are expected to begin in September 2019.