“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 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.