“Why don’t you ride a Harley?” Good question. I espouse buying American but ride Japanese. The short answer: “Because I don’t like Harleys.” Their products don’t suit my preferences. I want to support my countrymen, but I also want what I want. Which brings us to the American Vaer C3 36mm watch . . .
Having read about the American Waldan watch, I knew of Fine Timepiece Solutions and their Ameriquartz movements. Being a quartz fan, I looked into the company’s client list. I had the Harley problem. The watches didn’t appeal to me – except for Vaer.
Vaer is not the most American of names. Usually capitalized, it looks like an acronym. The website fails to explain the name’s meaning. So I asked. Being a microbrand, a founder responded.
Vaer is a nordic word – it has quite a few meanings. “To Be”, “We” and “Weather” are all ones we relate deeply with, as we really believe it spending time outdoors with others. We also simply love the sound and look of the word.
To be pedantic, that should be Vær – which would befuddle search engines and annoy review writers. In another “I can’t believe it’s an American company” choice, Vaer’s model names are brief alphanumerics, akin to German sport sedans. I haven’t totally cracked the code, but C3 stands for “Custom USA Quartz (36mm).”
Custom means you can’t get a normal full Arabic dial. Sorry, I like the Standard dials with their two color printing and at least half the indices numbered. But sacrifices are made for the domestic provenance.
The Tradition black dial only gets three numbered indices, a flat Rolex Explorer pastiche. All other markers are inward pointing arrowheads. The website shows them as the familiar pale lemon-lime lume paint color.
I still can’t decide if the tester is tan on black or if the paint has a salmon tint to it. Not to be colorist, I’d prefer white, even if the flesh tone color gives off an old radium look.
The watch doesn’t glow like radium though, as Super-LumiNova C1 isn’t the brightest. As the C3 slipped under shirt cuffs as well as much dinkier, chintzier watches, it never naturally charged.
I let the Vaer C3 36mm and the Stührling Cobia 996B run overnight after a few hours of ambient light and half a minute of flashlight soak. I remembered the similarly priced Cobia’s lume impressing me. The next morning both fared equally, dim but legible at short distance in low to no light.
Microbrand logos are often a sore spot. Maker’s are proud of their mark but it means nothing to almost everybody else. Vaer has the humility – or taste – to skip a questionable logo. Dial, crown and buckle all bear the four letter name, but do so discreetly; whispered, not shouted.
The lugs are beautifully slim, curvy, with polished chamfered edges. Like my own sides, the Vaer C3 case sides bow out a bit, for a more sculpted shape than straight cylindrical. But looking square on, the bezel is all you see, just a beveled rim. It has an unfortunate institutional wall clock look to it. A step or radius or something here would have helped greatly.
As noted on the Stührling, the case sides between the lugs have noticeably coarser finish than the outer sides. Normal people probably don’t gaze into this indecent area but I can’t help it.
But it’s a $199 watch. Actually, not even. You can spin the wheel online for a discount. I tried several times and couldn’t max it out. Leaving the watch in the shopping cart, unchecked out, led to a text message the next day hinting at a deeper discount.
I didn’t pursue that since Mr. Farago reminded me that he’d already secured a Vaer C3 36mm for review. The packing slip shows that he got the full 20 percent off, $159.20. I don’t know if that was the Front Lines Discount, simply requesting it, or a lucky spin. [Ed: lucky spin.]
But wait, there’s more! Get a second band for free! Except for the American made Horween leather ones. Those or the steel bracelet cost extra (Note that the steel bracelet is the default image on the site, but not the default option).
All signs point to the standard being a private label Barton Elite, which retails for $20. Vaer sells extras at the exact same price. Furthermore, they didn’t screw us over with an odd size: all their watches have a 20mm lug width.
Textured black silicone has an amazing ability to attract and highlight dust. It looks used almost instantaneously, but should last a good while. It’s not as perishably comfortable as that toy thermometer watch‘s silicone band, but the security and durability were never in doubt so that’s an apples and oranges comparison.
I exercised the quick-release lugs to swap in the khaki nylon band for that old-school military look. Despite the presumed OEM using the oxymoronic name of “Two-Piece NATO” it’s mercifully devoid of extraneous metal hardware. And no thick webbing jacks up the watch height.
The Vaer C3 36mm’s short lugs minimize that peekaboo bit of skin from showing between case and band. Fitment was so snug that the ribbed web rubbed the case enough to ratchet in gravity-defying poses with the rigid band.
The domed crystals in my life have been acrylic, substantially raised but quickly plateauing to a flat top. Sapphire seems to do things differently with a shallow constant wide radius.
It passed for flat unless viewed at a shallow enough angle that the lower half distorts to a lava lamp swirl. I still prefer it to the desolate pane glass with the cold sterility and uniformity of a microscope slide.
Black dials really highlight fingerprints on the crystal. There’s a bluish tint visible in reflections, but Vaer doesn’t mention a reflective coating and how could that exist at this price point? Did I mention the screw down crown and caseback for that 10ATM water resistance rating? I’m a cheapskate that didn’t even pay for this one, but they really deliver for the price.
Something about the styling kept me from absolutely adoring this watch. My fusty sensibilities quietly objected to the mild updates to the standard field watch design cues. I really wish it had a plain Jane field watch dial layout.*
For the most part, the Vaer C3 36mm is as if it had been made to suit my tastes. Slim, conservatively styled, usable lume, a quality case in a sensible size. The fact that it’s powered by the American made 6130 High Torque movement and was assembled here too is a meaningful bonus for me. But that fact slipped from mind as the product itself delivered more than the backstory.
A friend recently asked about Shinola and I gritted my teeth. I think they sell jingoism, not desirable watches. I want the good watch, but I’m happier if I support some American workers along the way.
Two guys that started a company in 2016 are doing what Timex (previously U.S. Time Corp.) should be doing. They are making something American that succeeds on its own merits. If anyone is begrudgingly buying these out of guilt of obligatory support, they’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Model: Vaer C3 36mm Tradition
Case Material: 316L Steel
Crystal: Sapphire Single Domed
Strap Size: 20mm
Weight: 1.98 ounces (56 grams)
Movement: Ameriquartz 6130 HT
Battery Life: 40 Months
Accuracy: -10/+20 sec/month
Lume: Super-LumiNova C1
Water resistance: 10 ATM
Warranty: 24 months
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Design * * * *
It’s hard to get too excited about the age-old field watch layout, but quality and details prevent it from looking generic. Maybe your mind can adapt to a 3-6-9 dial better than mine. It’s all very visible, but big numerals and smaller indices gave me pause. Good enough lume.
Comfort * * *
Finally, angled lugs to fit the wrist as they should, and on a reasonably sized case! The bands may break in and stop having me between holes someday, I hope. They’ll last though.
Overall * * * * *
Buying American doesn’t have to feel like eating your vegetables when it’s a passionately designed field watch spec’d out beyond it’s pay grade. Free shipping, free second band, land of the free – USA! USA!
*UPDATE: Literally the day after this review was posted, Vaer introduces the limited edition C3 Korean War Field Watch which looks to be the same watch with a full 12 hour (oddly no 24 hour markings) arabic indices and a special case back for ten dollars more.
I’m kinda digging the 3 numerals and arrowhead indices, actually. Different strokes, eh? Though 36-mm may be too small for this G-Shock-acclimated user. My 38-mm Breitling Colt Ocean already feels really small.
It’s funny, when I first opened the box I have to admit I thought it looked small. On me, it looked a tad large despite feeling fine. But I’m wearing my fallback 35mm Casio MW-59 today, so different tastes.
I was just on the VAER website and couldn’t find any watches utilizing the Ameriquartz movement. I saw Rondas, Miyota 9XXX series and ETA 2824s. That’s not bad, mind you. But have I misread something in your review? As for the watches, they seem like solid values. But I have a number of Hamilton field watches that have me covered in this category.
The info on the website is not perfectly presented, but the reviewed item’s page states under the American Assembly header:
The C3 line is currently powered by an FTS Ameriquartz 6130 HT quartz movement, which offers both a higher torque and longer battery life than the comparable Swiss quartz Ronda 713 movement.
and in the specs:
Ameriquartz 6130 High Torque
This watch needs a California dial.
Agreed, it’s a California company! I know it’s a polarizing design but it would be more ‘custom.’
Please share this advice with them using the contact form at https://www.vaerwatches.com/apps/help-center#
They responded to my dopey inquiry on the name meaning.
I don’t think the name meaning is a dopey question at all. “Timex” really says it all. Vaer? That could be a mutual fund or a laundry detergent.
Microbrand fun fact: Vaer seems to have come around a couple years before Florida-based Traska, whose name means traipse in Swedish. I consider the use of Scandinavian words as brand names a little odd. My question was a fairly irrelevent and could’ve been ignored, but wasn’t.
Swatch group has a pretty compelling mechanical California dial for $170. It is Swiss Made, but actually Swiss Made (thanks to Swiss robots), not Swiss assembly (compared to American assembly for this Vaer).
Here’s another watch that is assembled in the U.S. from U.S. and imported parts – and using the Ameriquartz movement. The same price range as the VAER quartz watches as well. I wouldn’t mind reading a review from TTAW. https://waldanwatches.com/
Robert reviewed their Heritage Professional in black, a handsome color that posed a unique problem. Waldan needs better publicity, as there are unreleased crowd-sourced microbrand watches that have garnered more media attention than their whole lineup.
There is a strong argument for America to become more manufacturing independent for things that really matter like advanced semiconductor fabrication.
However, making crappy, outdated movements for dumb quartz watches is just Kabuki theater. It in no way advances real American manufacturing anymore than standing up a buggy whip shop.
Interestingly given the “American Assembly” caveat this quartz movement is likely encased in a Chinese case and crystal.
Apple, which sells a much more compelling non-mechanical watch, employs around 150,000 people in the US directly, many more indirectly, and has generated trillions of dollars for US investors.
My opinion is that backshoring is often a re-learn to crawl before walking and running process. Presumably there is a bit more domestic labor input here than done by Shinola, so that is a step in the right direction.
I might prefer it if Apple didn’t contribute to at least twice as many Chinese jobs as American ones.
Apple employees about 10,000 people in China, so they employ 15 times more people in the US than China. Most offshore Apple production is highly robotized and will likely come back to the US soon as robotics get even cheaper and shipping across the Pacific gets more expensive.
America has the most advanced manufacturing in the world, it does not need to crawl before it runs, we are already the fastest runner.
Automation has drastically reduced the amount of people required for manufacturing, so obese middle aged men (like they could even handle standing on an assembly line) living off their wives in the upper Midwest “feel” like we don’t make things anymore, but that is a lie.
It’s like pretending that the US is not an agricultural superpower just because only 1.3% of the US population works in farming and ranching.
America manufactures more than it ever has in history. By some measures, thanks to automation and other competitive advantages, the US is the most competitive manufacturer in the world:
Making the kind of basic dumb quartz movements that the Japanese and Swiss are trying to get away from as a shrinking, dying business, and then packaging them in a Chinese case and crystal does absolutely nothing to advance American manufacturing and is just a stunt.
I use to work for Apple in the late 90s up until 2002. Products were then and are still designed in California but at one time their computers were completely assembled there as well, which is no longer the case.
I think their watches are fantastic. The customer service is first rate. And I have trouble getting close to matching the specifications for the dollar. I have two of the 36s, and I have the dirty Dozen watch.
Have never understood the giant watch styling for men. There is a practical side of me that knows how much smaller a watch can be. Most G-Shocks are bigger than my great grandfather’s pocket watch.
I don’t completely agree with your review, but nice job. I also don’t know how anyone’s having trouble finding Ameriquartz movements on the site. They do have a mix. They started with Swiss Rhonda gold movements, and have moved gradually over to Ameriquartz as they can.
One of my favorite things about the company is the transparency. If you ask details, it is usually answered by one of the owners. Also, they have some great videos on not only certain watches, but on American production etc.
I still have this watch and it is probably the one I choose most. It just works. It’s comfortable, practically styled, and tough enough to not raise concerns. My only gripes remaining are very subjective. I’d really prefer a dial with full numeric indices (like the Dirty Dozen) and a white or ivory dial. That’s a minority opinion, but I’m more dressy than tactical. Also the blue tint of the crystal is irksome to me.
I have to agree with the Hodinkee take on the brand. They are not about niche enthusiasts and novelty collectors. Vaer makes utterly usable watches for normal people to use everyday. Did I mention how I love the utter discreetness of the branding? Way too many microbrands get this wrong and slap big funny logos and/or overly prominent text on the dial. Vaer’s are the next best thing to sterile and generic.
Unlike the typical flash-and-dazzle gimmick, this is the sort of well designed and executed item that appears humdrum at first but serves so well that appreciation grows with time. The brand has staying power and the customers tend to be devoted for good reason.
I own four of their watches now. Outstanding service, products, transparency! They’re constantly expanding their lineup also with some beautiful dive watches.