We frequently discuss “value” and what makes one watch “worth” more than another here at WristWatchReview and on our podcast The HourTime Show.
A quartz-powered Timex, for example, likely tells better time than your run-of-the mill Seiko diver, but you can buy a Timex for less than $100 while a solid, entry-level Seiko (say, the 5KX or “Dress KX”) will easily run you several hundred dollars. Is that good value?
These sorts of considerations have been on my mind over the past few days while wearing the recently released D5, a $499 dive watch from Los Angeles-based Vaer. Available in several variations, I asked for the Artic for review in part because my bias is toward simple rather than complex dials and I’m an unapologetic fan of that aged (and controversial) “fauxtina” look.
So, back to value: I think this is a strong package with a lot to offer. Some minor quibbles aside (which we’ll get to in a moment), this feels like a solid watch for the type of person who reads watch blogs in their spare time, is a fan of the artform, and for whom $500 is an amount of money that can be safely saved in a month or two. To me, it sort of occupies the same level as Seiko: affordable but not cheap.
So much of this watch screams retro that it’s hard not to smile. Well, unless you’re not a fan of retro-inspired design.
It’s a 39mm diver with 200m of water resistance, which fits very well on my annoyingly small 6.5-inch wrist. (It’s a problem I’ve discussed in some detail on the podcast.) Inside beats a Miyota 9039 (hacking but no date) with 40 hours of power reserve. You can wear it, set it in your drawer, and pick it up a day or two later to find it still ticking away. The double domed sapphire crystal makes the dial and sword hands (including the Submariner-esque minute hand) truly pop. The lume? SuperLuminova X1 Old Radium, which glows mightily once properly charged. The bezel? Aligned!
The D5 is rated at -5/+15 sec / day. That feels right after a few days, though I have to admit that, with nowhere particularly to go nowadays (unless you count the trek to the mailbox), I’m not terribly concerned with getting my watches synced with Time.is to the second.
When I spoke with Vaer’s founders last week, we spoke at length about, well, a lot of things, including what it’s like to build a watch brand from scratch in the age of social media influencers, the similarities between watches and tech (as it turns out, our backgrounds are in tech), and the importance of American assembly to Vaer going forward.
“It’s something that a lot of people really enjoy and that none of our competitors have,” Vaer co-founder Ryan Torres told me over video chat. “That in and of itself sets us apart.”
There’s an assembly team in Arizona. Print assets are handled in Los Angeles. Leather straps are made in Florida and South Carolina. Fulfillment is out of Kansas City.
All told, Vaer co-founder Reagan Cook says, you’re looking at 60 percent US source origin for some of its catalog, including its C5 watches with Ameriquartz. My D5 unit, with its Miyota movement, is naturally less US-sourced.
In other words, there are less expensive ways to build a watch if you were so inclined.
“Our idea is, in the long run and at a really base level, that foundation of brand identity will pay off.”
As much as I’m a fan of the D5, there are a few things that could be better the next time around.
For one, the crown… isn’t great. I’m used to crowns popping out with a real pop and this one just sorta slinks out, if that makes any sense. Actually turning it is fine. Screwing it back in also isn’t great. It’s not that it’s gritty but more like you’re never really sure if the threads have caught. Imagine trying to find your keys in the dark, and that’s the sensation you have here.
The lume on the bezel is also worth mentioning. As you can see, it glows very bright and I have no problem there. But when not glowing, and catching the light just so, the lume is a little splotchy. Is that something you’ll notice during the normal course of wearing the watch? Highly unlikely. I didn’t for several days, at least, and it was only after I was twirling it around in direct sunlight, with my face maybe two inches away from the bezel, did I notice it. But, it’s there and should be improved with the next iteration.
Again, all in all, I think there’s a lot here.
The SKX has been discontinued, and I’m not sure it makes a ton of sense at this point to pay upwards of $400 for a non-hacking, kinda janky (and I mean that will all due respect!) diver here in early 2021. The 5KX ($230-ish), meanwhile, has a Hardlex (a sort of hardened mineral) crystal, “only” 100m of water resistance, a non-screwdown crown, and other compromises that have divided the Seiko faithful (though I don’t mind it). The Orient ($230-ish) matches up well spec-for-spec, but it doesn’t have the same retro-inspired design. The Swiss-assembled Lorier does have a similar retro aesthetic, matches the specs, and costs about the same.
The choice is yours, of course, but as I said before: minor quibbles aside, the D5 is a strong package with a lot to like.
Feb. 22, 2021: This post has been updated to clarify the the sourcing percentages of Vaer watches.
The Specs from Vaer
Watch Model D5 Arctic
Case Diameter 39mm
Bezel Diameter 40mm
Dial Color Black
H+M Hand Color Brushed Steel
S Hand Color White
Case Material 316L Steel
Case Back Sapphire Exhibition
Sapphire Crystal Double Domed
Bezel Cermic w/ Lume
Case Thickness 11.6mmThickness w/ Crystal 13.7mm
Case Weight 66 grams
Weight inc. Strap 84 grams
Water Resistance 20ATM (200m)
Movement Miyota 9039
Regulated Accuracy -5/+15 sec / day
Lume SuperLuminova X1 Old Radium
Strap Size 20mm
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