As you probably surmised from that title, I have a thing for alliteration. Well, several types of word play, but we have what we have on hand. Know what else I have a thing for? As it turns out, it’s watches with a slick vintage feel. Show me a watch with a thin case, minimal bezel, and a visibly domed crystal, and I am definitely paying attention. This is a style that we see pop up now and again, and I do not get tired of running across it. The latest iteration find itself with a Swiss-made heart, and goes by the name of the Vapaus Veli.
Curiously, I could have sworn I had written about the Vapaus Veli previously, but I could not find anything in the archives. I do know that I’ve had several conversations with the brand since I first came across them, and know that they have had a winding road to refine the look and feel of their watches. These definitely have the vintage look and feel down – which I could tell from the photos – and spending time with some samples only reinforced that idea. For starters, the case of the Vapaus Veli is a modest 38mm. This is absolutely tiny by today’s standards, but it works quite well for watches of this style.
Second, you have the overall thickness. The case itself is just under 7mm thick, and when you add in the crystal height, you’re at a touch over 9.5mm. Any way you slice it, the Vapaus Veli is a thin watch. With – as I mentioned at the outset – a very domed crystal. This does not have the hard bend that you might see on true vintage examples, but that is because the crystal is sapphire, rather than the plastics that were used back in the day. This gives a smooth look (and feel), and of course is an upgrade the modern watch fan is going to look for. All told, it makes for a compact, 40g package.
Third, have a look at that dial. A sunburst with simple stick indices fits with the older look, and the date display unobtrusively pops in down at 6 o’clock. Then, there’s the handset. This has been one of the more contentious design decisions the brand has had to deal with. There are two styles – the very familiar “Alpha” hands, and then the more unusual “Paddle” style. While the Alpha hands certainly fit the era the Vapaus Veli draws inspiration from, I find myself liking the Paddle handset, as it’s just unusual. It’s also unusual that I like the hands, as I tend to find foreshortened hands with needle extensions not to my liking. Here, though, it does work.
Inside the slender case of the Vapaus Veli, you will find a Sellita SW215-1 hand-wound movement. The inclusion of a Swiss movement fits in with the overall “upgrade” the Vapaus Veli is applying from the vintage forebears. The movement is the first big issue I ran into with the watch. Or, more precisely, the crown and interacting with the movement. First, it took some doing to ensure I was getting the crown pulled out to the right position for setting the date and time. More importantly, I had difficulty getting a good grip on the crown for winding (as it’s very close to the case at this point). For a hand-wound movement, giving you difficulty in winding the watch seems like an oversight. While the crown is thick, it’s relatively small diameter makes it tricky to get a good grip on it. Just something to be aware of with the watch, particularly if you have thicker fingers.
One other nit I had to pick with the Vapaus Veli came to light with it’s lume. Now, on a vintage-style watch like this, it’s a welcome surprise to have any lume at all. On the hands, it’s great, and works just as you’d hope. On the dial, though, the slender points they used (at the inside of the indices) are almost too little. I mean, yes, they’re there, and they glow (and they don’t stand out when viewed in full light). In the dark, though, they just left me wishing they were larger. Had they not been there at all, though, I would not have minded, as it fits the era and the handset lume would be plenty.
Fortunately, though, most of the day is spent in, well, daylight. And in that arena, the Vapaus Veli really shone. While I feel the white dial version really fit the design theme the best (and was the one I ended up preferring), I think the grey dial has a lot to offer. The dark grey sunburst dial is fairly unique, and putting the paddle-style handset on it is another twist you would not expect from a watch of this “era”. For me, personally, I was not as much a fan of the gold tone that they used on the handset and indices, but to each their own. I did rather prefer the suede strap on the grey Vapaus Veli, and I would heartily recommend backers check out that strap option.
All in all, I found the Vapaus Veli to be an interesting addition to the world of 1950’s-inspired watches. While the crown could do with some adjusting, I think there is something here for those who are fans of watches from that era. For those looking to back the project, the recent Brexit vote is actually working in your favor, as Vapaus is a British brand. Therefore, the converted pricing (from GBP) ends up being $691 for the earlybirds. Current funding (project page) is at 92%, with the project wrapping up on August 17th. Whether or not you’re a fan of this style of watch, please do sound off below on these watches, and in particular, what you think of the paddle handset showing up on a watch like this. vapaus.co
- Brand & Model: Vapaus Veli
- Price: Earlybird pricing starts at $691
- Who we think it might be for: You like the old school cool of 1950s watches, but want something with a modern movement (and reliability)
- Would I buy one for myself based on what I’ve seen?: Ultimately, no. Having trouble with the winding action (on a manual wind movement) is a deal breaker for me
- If I could make one design suggestion, it would be: Fix the crown so it’s easier to wind the movement – either make it a bit bigger, or have it stand off a touch from the case when in the zero position
- What spoke to me the most about this watch: That groovy vintage vibe
Tech Specs from Vapaus
- Case diameter: 38mm
- Lug width: 20mm
- Height to apex of crystal: 9.65mm
- Case thickness (excluding crystal): 6.85mm
- Crystal: Sapphire, high-arched dome (2.80mm to apex of dome) with AR coating
- Case material: 316L stainless steel
- Dial: Sunburst dial – 4 colours – Deep Blue, Ice Silver, Space Black and Slate Grey; slightly convex
- Strap: 20mm premium French calf leather
- Movement: Sellita SW215-1 (hand-wound)
- Manufacture: Swiss Made