Review: Vario Goes to the Trenches

When I got the call asking if I’d be up for reviewing the third watch by Vario, the WWI 1918 Trench Watch, I was genuinely excited. I remember seeing Vario’s second watch, the Empire, and being really impressed with the build quality and value that it presented.

Military watches have proven a lasting interest of watch collectors. In the last few years, once watch nerd only terms like the “dirty dozen” (the 12 manufactures who created WWII watches for British military) have now become common place in watch collecting circles. It’s clear to see why the interest in them has never dissapated. Military watches usually have great stories attached to their design, which is purpose-built, not unlike dive watches, but less clunky. And since our great watches were in the first half of the last century, they tend to be smaller watches which are now in vogue again.

While I’ve seen literally dozens of black dial military watches inspired by watches worn in WWII or later conflicts, the Vario WWI 1918 Trench Watch gets its inspiration from even farther back. To me, that’s what makes this watch so compelling in the first place. If you want a watch that harkens back to the very emergence of wristwatches, but aren’t a dress watch sort of guy, this trench watch is perfect.

Lume is very even and bright. I’m torn if I would have liked a small dot on the sub seconds hand to see the running seconds in low light.

My review watch came with 2 pass-through straps and a black leather bund style strap to try out. The first thing that becomes readily apparent when you switch out a strap is the watch has actual solid wire lugs. The same sort that you encounter on a Panerai Radiomir, but with those they are screwed on and come off in two parts. The Vario sports the real deal, just like the original watches it’s channeling. No worries about spring bar failures here, there are no spring bars! While wearing the watch for the week I had it, I really liked the bund strap the most. While it lifts the watch up some, the bund also adds a bit of width that visually helps the watch on my wrist. I have big wrists, measuring at 7 1/4″. The pass through straps that are available are great and of high quality, but I found they lifted the watch up too high off the wrist. It felt a bit top heavy to me. I tried a regular nylon NATO and it felt right at home.

Trying it out on one of my personal 18mm NATO straps.

But really, I’m getting ahead of myself. The strap is not the first or second thing you will notice about this watch. For me, the first was the dial. Mine was a really beautiful light blue/white enamel with greenish/white lume. The 12 was outlined in red, while the other numerals were outlined in black. All of the dial and numeral combinations being offered, there’s six in total, all look really nice. Personally, my two favorite are the cream dial with orange numerals/lume and the black dial with orange numerals/lume. A sub dial at 6 o’clock shows the running seconds. You don’t normally think about it, but moving the seconds to its own sub dial really makes telling the time super quick with just two hands going around the entire dial. Speaking of hands, I’d be remiss not to mention the cathedral style hands really complete the look.

The second thing I noticed was the case itself. It reminded me a smaller Ikepod. Extremely well machined, and bevels on both top and bottom. No flat sides here. I think the watch case could double as the world’s best skipping stone. It’s a real joy to hold in the hand and admire the brush marks and how seamlessly the wire lugs go into the case. The crown is at 4 o’clock. I found it easy to unscrew and work, since the knurling is easy to grasp, but not too big as to overpower the overall design of the watch.

Here you can really appreciate there case shape and curved wire lugs.

The heart that beats inside the Vario WWI 1918 Trench Watch is a standard Miyota 82s5 automatic winding movement. Robust, serviceable, ability to be hand wound as well as by the rotor, and hacking seconds really provides everything a collector would want. Mine had a display back as you can see in the photos, but most will have a solid case-back with a picture of a WWI soldier or you can get it plain. With the plain case back, there’s even laser engraving for an additional nominal fee ($20). The engraving examples Vario highlights on their Kickstarter page look really nice and go way beyond your typical engraving of just initials in block print.

What surprised me the most, is while the watch has an almost jewel-like quality given its size. and with the holes in the case for the wire lugs, it actually has 10atm water resistance; well done Vario! And let’s talk about the size for a minute. The specs from Vario quote 37mm case diameter, and a lug to lug length of 45mm. With my calipers it came closer to 32mm width, 43mm lug to lug and the heigh with the domed sapphire crystal at 13mm. With the bund strap or thicker pass through straps the height becomes 15mm, still exceedingly wearable. If you’re worried about these specs being too small, a larger “medic” model is in the works where everything has been enlarged to incorporate a pulsometer scale on the outer edges of the dial. I think this is a fantastic edition.

Not too big, not too small with the bund strap on my wrist.

So what’s my opinion of the watch? The asking price is at launch is $250, which represents a 30% discount from the post-launch. For that money you definitely get a unique watch, that I can almost guarantee is nothing like what you may already have in your watch box. The wire lugs will be something you either will love or hate, since they preclude the ability to use any normal two-piece spring bar straps you may already own. It’s definitely a conversation starter and stands out without being garish. For an admirer of early vintage military watches, that wants one for daily wear, I really can’t find any faults with this one. The small little touches like the enamel dial, sub seconds and overall case shape really push home what an excellent value it is at $250. There’s also some compelling stretch goals with the campaign, like a twill stripe NATO strap, and possibly even a run with brass cases. For me, the bigger problem, isn’t just deciding which is the best dial/hand combo out of the six, but given its dimensions and design, is being able to keep ahold of it, since my wife was immediately drawn to it!

Wondering if I send it back, will I be in the dog house with the boss?

Specs from Vario:
WWI 1918 Trench Watch
          Case diameter: 37mm (I measured 32mm)
          Case thickness: 10mm (I measured 13mm with crystal)
          Dial: Enamel
          Crystal: 2mm double domed sapphire with inner AR applied
          Lug width: 18mm 
          Lug to lug: 45mm 
          Lume: C3 Lume
          Case Material: 316L stainless steel
          Caseback: 316L stainless steel with option for empty caseback and laser engraving at additional cost
          Crown: Screw-down crown (enlarged in final version for easy handling)
          Movement: Miyota 82s5 automatic movement with hand-winding and hacking seconds. 21 jewels 21.6kpbh
          Water resistance: 10 atm
          Strap: Crazy horse leather with bund pad (80mm/120mm) or single pass (270mm)
          Warranty: 1 year global warranty

Initial price at launch: $250


    • Alexander, thank you for reading and your comment. I just know what I saw on my calipers when I measured it, but perhaps you’re right, there are tick marks for every 5mm, and perhaps I was off by five when reading them. I unfortunately don’t have the review watch any longer, but if I come across another one, I’ll re-measure and post an update here.

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