Vario 1918 Trench Watch

As a brand, Vario has more than a few irons in the fire, but I tend to think of them in two parts. One part is straps and accessories and this is where the brand got its start. In this area, Vario has been prolific, expanding their product lines to offer a remarkable array of leather, Cordura, Harris Tweed, elastic, rubber, and printed nylon straps as well as jewelry, quality leather accessories, and even watch-themed t-shirts. The other part develops watches, and here Vario has taken a more measured approach, producing only two models, the Eclipse and the Empire. As I have said in my reviews, both are among the best in their class. Indeed, I own one of each. For my review today, I have a prototype of Vario's third offering, the 1918 Trench Watch, and I will tell you right now that Vario has outdone itself.

Vario 1918 Trench Watch
Trench watches occupy a unique position in the watch world. They are arguably the original wristwatch, born of wartime necessity. Pocket watches that were the norm for a turn of the century gentlemen were ill-suited to the field of battle. When time is a matter of life and death, you can't go fumbling in your waistcoat pocket. So, soldiers welded wire lugs to the cases and secured them to leather straps and cuffs. The practice may have originated as early as the late 1800s (check out these amazing photographs), but it certainly gained wide acceptance during World War One. Vintagewatchstraps.com has a rather comprehensive article on the subject. 

Vario 1918 Trench Watch brown and green bund

I have reviewed about a dozen variations on the trench watch theme, including one that was literally a converted pocket watch. Most feature the key elements of a round case and wire-style lugs fitted with modern spring bars. It is a good formula; Vario took it a step further. The 1918 merges modern materials and technology with a design that is faithful to the originals that saw service in the actual trenches of the Great War.

Vario 1918 Trench Watch

The watch measures 37mm wide and 10mm thick. This may seem small by contemporary standards; however, it was quite the norm until relatively recently. It is also closer in size to a real trench watch. Pocket watches came in a wide range of sizes, but chances are, your great-great-grandfather did not strap on a 45mm wrist anchor before the battle of Verdun. More likely, it would have been between 34-38mm. The 1918 falls neatly into that period-correct range. I think it is perfect on my 6.75" wrist, particularly on the supplied Bund strap.

Rounded, brushed sides with a polished bezel, crown, and lugs all serve to underscore the antique pocket watch connection. This is further enhanced by the fact that the wire lugs are, in fact, wire lugs. You will find no spring bars hidden inside. As a result, the lugs are thinner than faux wires would be, making the watch appear smaller than its 45mm length would suggest. Solid wires also mean that you cannot fit a conventional two-piece strap. Your options are either pass-throughs or straps with securing tabs. Is it limiting? Yes. But that's the price of authenticity, baby. 

Fortunately, Vario is prepared. The watch will come standard with an 18mm Bund strap that attaches with Chicago screws. Of course, Bunds are not for everyone, but you can also wear it as a two-piece strap without the center pad. Vario also sent me an optional one-piece leather pass-through for a slimmer fit. Both strap options are well crafted and fitted with signed buckles. The leather is Crazy Horse, which is a good choice given the way its matte finish looks broken-in even when brand new and continues to gain character as you beat it up. 

Vario 1918 Trench Watch

My only caveat is that the strap sections of the Bund are 80/120mm. That is just fine if you are using them alone, but the pad takes up space, and once it was fitted, I had barely enough tail left to tuck into the second keeper. Anyone with a wrist bigger than mine will be looking for a longer strap. I've discussed this with the brand and they are considering some changes. Assuming things remain as they are, my pro-tip for the large-of-wrist would be to order both a Bund and 270mm single-pass in the same color, then use the single-pass with the Bund pad. Problem solved. 

The enamel dial fairly screams "vintage." Its cream color appears anywhere from off-white to warm ivory depending on the light. Those oversized and stylized Arabic numerals will likely remind you of pre-WW2 pilot's watches, but that typeface graced pocket watches first. Cathedral hands are a must, and I'm pleased to see the minute hand's needle tip reaches right to the railroad index on the perimeter. A recessed small seconds dial offers a clue as to the movement within; a Miyota 82s5 automatic (21 jewels, 21.6k bph, hacking, hand winding). The only hint of modernity is the Vario logo, and even that manages to look at home here. 

Vario 1918 Trench Watch

For all its antique trappings, the 1918 is actually equipped with everything you would expect from a modern tool watch: that signed and fluted bun crown screws down, the 2mm double-domed crystal is sapphire with anti-reflective coating on the underside, water resistance is a healthy 100m, and the lume is bright Swiss SuperLuminova. There is no reason to baby it as you would the genuine article. Frankly, the Vario 1918 is better suited to trench warfare than any watch actually worn in the trenches of 1918. 

Right now, the prototype is about 99% complete as the case back is a work in progress. The prototype came with a display window that will be replaced with a solid lid in production. Vario has a rather sharp illustration of a Doughboy ready to go for a solid back, but the factory is working on improving the engraving. Extra, plain case backs will also be an option for those who want a personalized engraving.

Vario 1918 Trench Watch case back illustration

And then, we have the variations. In addition to the cream and orange lume shown here, Vario will also offer white with orange, white with white and a red 12, grey and white, black and white, and black and orange. Mix that up with seven different color Bund and pass-through straps and I think you would be hard pressed to not find a combination you like. 

Vario 1918 Trench Watch

But wait, there's more! Look for a Medic version with a pulsometer and Seiko NH38, or possibly even a Seiko VD78 quartz option, or a 40mm case, or maybe even a brass case? There are some very cool variants being kicked around and Vario is still soliciting customer input.

Pre-orders for the Vario 1918 Trench Watch will not commence until November 2020, but when they do, you can expect the automatic to be around $250 or so, rising to $350ish after the campaign ends. This is almost irresistibly cheap for what you are getting. If you are interested, head over to Vario.sg, check out the selection, register for updates, and maybe weigh in on whether any of the options grab you. I'm in. Are you? ⬩
 
Vario 1918 Trench Watch

Vario 1918 Trench Watch

Vario 1918 Trench Watch

Vario 1918 Trench Watch

Vario 1918 Trench Watch

Vario 1918 Trench Watch



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