Exploring the world of watches on a budget

Visitor Vale Park Officer

I’ve wanted a Vale Park Officer from the moment Visitor Watch Company owner/designer Phil Rodenbeck showed me the prototype. If you recall my preview last March, I was mightily impressed with what I saw. The initial batches sold out quickly, and I did not put myself on the waitlist until October, but when my name came up in January, I plunked down my $800, and the watch was at my doorstep in two days. It is every bit as good as I remembered.

Phil’s design ethos is unmistakable. Like the popular Duneshore series, the Vale Park’s case is a study in arcs and angles. The sides of its roughly octogonal case fall away from the corners, sweeping low to expose the central barrel. Unlike the deceptively large Duneshore, the Vale Park is just 39.5mm wide, 47mm long, and 11.6mm thick. Its rolled, perforated lugs are even more pronounced here than they are on the Duneshore, giving the watch a distinctive stance. I love the contrast between their broad, flat appearance when viewed from above, and their slim, curved profile. A combination of brushed and polished surfaces accentuate the Vale Park’s elegant lines. Fit and finish are top notch, perfectly crisp without any unpleasantly sharp corners or edges. It's gorgeous.

One of the entertaining aspects of the Vale Park is tucked around the back. Once you unscrew the crown, you can pop open the backplate to view the decorated Miyota 9015 automatic movement with its gold lions’ head rotor. The door is perlage finished on the inside, and the exhibition window is sapphire glass, just like the one up front. Everyone I showed it to "oohed" and "ahhed” over the display. I didn't think twice about its function until I was describing the mechanism to my horologically indifferent friend Geoff. “So it has a little door on it,” he said, “and this does... what?”

Ok. It does nothing. You can argue that it protects the window, but God only knows why. It's not like a sapphire crystal needs protection - particularly when it is on the side pressed against your wrist. Still, as William Hurt said in The Big Chill, “Sometimes you have to let art flow over you.” Maybe the little door isn't art, but its a cleverly executed detail that puts on a good show. That’s enough for me.

As sculptural as the Vale Park's case may be, it doesn't veer too far into dress watch territory. That mid-sized case has enough straight lines and hard angles to convey a substantial, purposeful presence. The sizeable cylindrical crown works well here, screwing down to settle between its flat, shallow guards, and repeating the vertical lines of the case sides.

The Vale Park's dial is a sandwich of matte black and C3 SuperLuminova. Only the brand name and railroad track index are printed. An uncommon combination of droplet- and dot-shaped markers are cut away, as are the crosshairs. Its black hands are wide, straight, square-tipped like cricket bats, and filled with lume. The second hand is black except for its small pointer, so it disappears against the dial. Fortunately, the head is just large enough to remain legible. Like the case, the dial is a uniquely attractive design. It is highly readable, and just a little bit weird without being too alien or off-putting. Because every element is lumed, it really comes to life at night. 

On many watches, microbrand and mass-market alike, the strap often seems like an afterthought; little more than an easily sourced catalog piece of middling quality and forgettable design. Not so here. Phil has put an uncommon amount of creative effort into this piece. Like the dial, it is layered. The black leather center is trimmed in brown that is stitched up the sides and terminates in a perforated wingtip at the tail. Three holes punched in the tip mirror those in the dial, and the buckle echoes the same themes set out in the case. More often than not, my first job with a new watch is to remove the lackluster strap it came on and swap it for something more interesting. In this case, I'm going to leave the strap alone (for now) and shop for a matching pair of wingtip brogues instead.

The mid-size Vale Park Officer is a perfect fit for my 6.5" wrist. I am sure that many prospective customers who found the Duneshore too large will discover the Vale Park to be right on target. As I mentioned in my first review, the watch is hard to classify, straddling a line between tool and dress watch. It is too pretty for a beater, and its 50m water resistance rating would give me pause as well. At the same time, it is a bit too bold for a dress watch. I'll just lump it into the deliberately ambiguous "dress-casual" category and leave it at that.

As for me, I plan to wear my Vale Park Officer as often as I can. If you want one too, head over to www.visitorwatchco.com and join the waiting list. Trust me, it is worth the wait.⬩

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