My introduction to Vaer came through their ads. Every day, outdoor-fashion-catalogue-style photos of men doing sporty, sometimes shirtless, outdoor activities popped up in my browser. Often, the watches were small props within the frame. I was completely put off by this style-over-substance marketing. Clearly, their watches would reflect this: attractive and rugged at first glance, but lacking quality, features, and finish. “Fashion Watches,” I thought. Once cursed with this unforgiving moniker, watch enthusiasts will – quite rightly – close the door on a brand. Yet, I continued to see Vaer showing up in review blogs, Instagram, and forums, minus the dreaded association with fashion watches, and I decided to give them a second look.
BRAND HISTORY & VALUES
Founded in 2016 by Ryan Torres and Reagan Cook with their personal savings, Vaer started selling watches in 2017. Later that year they moved assembly from China to the USA, allowing them to better oversee production. They became known for their durable quartz field watches and in 2019 added mechanical offerings, including an interesting “Dirty Dozen” homage. This culminated in the 2020 release of an automatic dive watch lineup after two years of development.
From a brand integrity point of view, there is a lot to like: They’ve been up-front about where they source their parts, going as far as posting pie-charts on their journal to illustrate the point. Recently, they’ve taken to YouTube with exhaustive design run-downs of each new release. They have responsive customer service, offer a two year warranty, and as good microbrand owners do, wear their own watches exclusively to better understand the customer experience.
This brand ethos is clear in core traits across their collection: As close to made/assembled in the USA as possible, military/heritage-inspired aesthetics, moderately sized cases between 36mm and 40mm, and rugged build quality with at least 100m of water resistance, sapphire glass, screw-down crowns and casebacks, at mostly affordable prices. While these are great selling-points, they are similar to other affordable vintage-inspired microbrand watches in this price tier. Though I was sold on the brand and it’s founders, I had yet to find one of their watches compelling enough to become a customer. That changed with my first sighting of the D5 Pacific Diver, an irresistible mashup of homages to famous dive watch references.
Offered in two basic models and price tiers, the D5 is American Assembled with a Miyota 9000 series movement for $499 ($549 on steel), and the D7 is Swiss Made with an ETA 2824 for $799 ($879 on steel). There is a discount code generator on their website only that offers 15% off.
Apart from the movement, the Swiss Made D7 is identical to its cheaper sibling and seems a bit of a stretch in terms of value. The D5 is cheaper and better aligned with the brand goal of American assembly. It was a sensible choice for me to gamble on Vaer’s first dive watch effort. Opting for the rubber strap and steel bracelet, I put in my order and immediately began second-guessing my choices. By the time the watch arrived, I had decided to return it. I’d been moving my collection away from homages and this felt like a regressive addition. Nevertheless, I opened the box to take a peek.
IMPRESSIONS & DIMENSIONS
Despite the core vintage inspiration, my first impression was “This is a modern watch.” It wasn’t simply the materials and finish that left this impression, but the way it tamed some of the exaggerated quirks of the references that inspired its design (more on this later). To my surprise, it appeared smaller than other 40x48mm dive watches I’d tried. I ditched my plan to return the watch and threw it on my wrist for some chores around the house.
Later that evening, I discovered the D5’s measured dimensions varied slightly from the spec sheet. Listed at 39mm, the case diameter measures 40mm, equal to the bezel diameter. At 46mm, the actual lug-to-lug length is slightly shorter than the advertised 48mm. The watch is a surprisingly chunky 13.5mm thick, the lug width is a strap-friendly 20mm, and the crown has a large 6.8mm diameter. No wonder it wore smaller than expected!
Through a sapphire display back, a Vaer signed rotor spins atop the decidedly utilitarian Miyota 9039 automatic movement. What this movement lacks in sexiness, it makes up for in solid specs. Offering a 40hr power reserve and ticking away at 28,800bph, it strikes a good balance between a smooth second-hand sweep and a decent power supply. With a 3.9mm thickness and a low hands clearance, it’s thinner than the comparable Seiko NH35, allowing a potentially slimmer case design. As the 9039 is the no-date version of the Miyota 9000 series, there’s no ghost date crown position to turn your hairs white. However, you will have to occasionally endure the heavy spin of the unidirectional rotor. Out of the box, these movements run from -10 to +30 seconds per day, but Vaer regulates them during assembly to run -5 to +15 spd. Indeed, mine is well within spec, clocking in at +2 to +6 spd from normal daily wear.
At first glance, the case design is entirely Omega. The D5’s “twisted” lyre lugs are an Omega signature going back to mid-1960’s Seamasters. Less prominent, but equally important, is the curved taper of the mid-case borrowed from the Seiko 6105-811X “Willard.” The taper starts at the top bevel of the mid-case, curves down towards the case bottom, ending almost seamlessly at the rounded caseback edge. This ergonomic design ensures the case does not dig into the skin. The watch feels somewhat “edgeless” during motion, especially when bending your wrist. These competing influences resolve with an intriguing additional “twist” where the tapered case undulates to meet the tip of the lugs. This is a subtle feature that is unique to this watch as far as I know. Vaer adds a large unguarded crown and fully brushed case to the mix, culminating in a sleek simplified case that appears to recede from the dial. This results in a smaller wear than the 40mm diameter suggests.
The mashup continues with the sloped profile and scalloped edge of the Rolex Submariner-inspired bezel. The 120-click unidirectional bezel action is crisp and loud, with no back play, and a tight resistance. With a cantilevered effect reminiscent of vintage Subs and Omega Speedmasters, the bezel rises above the case revealing a high-polished underside. This separation along with angled, sharply engineered, knurling make this bezel incredibly easy to grip – even in the wet. This polished ceramic bezel insert is used across Vaer’s entire diver lineup, and it’s my biggest complaint (more on this later). The double domed, inner AR-coated, sapphire crystal contours to neatly match the angle of the bezel insert, giving the watch a somewhat bulbous profile.
DIAL & HANDSET
Our homage tour comes to an end with a dial and handset interpreted from vintage Omega Seamaster 300’s from the 1960’s, specifically the 166.024 “Big Triangle.” Gone are the Arabic numerals at the 3, 6, and 9 positions of the original, and the size of the triangle at 12 is reduced to match the approximate length of the hour indices. Aside from the omission of the broad sword hour hand, the brushed pencil-shaped minute hand and white arrowhead second hand are nearly identical to the original. The dial is finished with a flat matte texture, with applied steel-framed indices and thickly printed indices adding depth. All hour indices are coated with 15 layers of X1 C1 SuperLuminova, which won’t fire the loins of lume aficionados, but will hold a dim charge throughout most of the night. Overall, the printing and lume application is crisp, providing a clean aesthetic with minimal text, and good contrast for high legibility.
NEGATIVES & POSSIBLE IMPROVEMENTS
Straps are an area where many brands tend to cut costs. The Vaer D5 strap options are no exception. The standard 124/72mm tropic strap has a signed brushed buckle and quick-release spring bars, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. A large molding mark is prominently visible where the strap meets the lugs, and while the strap is comfortable enough for all-day wear, it could stand to be more pliable.
The three-link oyster-style bracelet is functional and conventionally attractive from a distance, but its flaws are a turn-off up-close. Tapering from 20mm at the lugs to 18mm at the clasp, with 3mm thick links, the bracelet is nicely proportioned. The end-links have a handy quick-release system, and the flip-lock clasp offers 4 micro-adjustments. However, the pin-and-collar links rattle, the edges of the stamped outer clasp feel jagged, and the male end-links don’t match the contour of the lugs, adding 6mm to the lug-to-lug measurement. Overall, the bracelet is easy to use, has a masculine presence, and keeps the watch on your wrist, but I’d gladly pay more than $50 for a higher quality option.
Vaer has chosen to emphasize the plain looks of the Miyota movement with a display caseback. According to Vaer, it doesn’t impede the 200m water resistance and appeals to first-time mechanical watch owners and watch enthusiasts alike. However, it tends to add more thickness than a closed caseback. This helps raise the D5’s sharply machined bezel to a height that easily snags on shirt cuffs as if it were a circular saw. A closed caseback with a more subtly domed crystal on top could shave some thickness while preserving the pleasing contours of the case.
Next, the glossy ceramic bezel insert seems out of place. Not only is mine literally misaligned, but it doesn’t sit well within the D5’s brushed/matte finish and military tool watch aesthetic. The scratch and fade resistance of ceramic is well known, as is its ability to pick up smudges and catch harsh reflections. I have found this distracting when trying to quickly read the time, especially in sunlight. Vaer uses this same bezel insert design in all their automatic divers, pairing it with four different dial layouts. It appears better suited to some of these dials, but not the D5 Pacific. The bezel and dial indices are of a similar shape and thickness, tending to compete with one another. A matte or brushed bezel insert with thinner markings and some form of etched relief (or lume pip) in the triangle would let the dial breathe and enhance legibility.
Similarly, the use of the same handset for almost all dials doesn’t entirely work here. The long hour indices of the D5 Pacific dominate its dial space, causing the comparatively thin pencil hands to get lost at times. In particular, the brushed tip of the minute hand nearly reaches the edge of the deep-set dial where it tends to be obscured by shadow. Filling the minute hand to the very tip with white lume and using a thicker hour hand would differentiate the hands and enhance their presence atop the dial.
If Vaer can clean up these design and finishing details, it would mark a large cumulative improvement to the watch. Days before this post, Vaer released a solar entry to its diver series that addresses many of the above issues. It’s an encouraging sign that the automatics might receive the same upgrades.
I’ve covered most of these points, so I’ll summarize. The D5 Pacific is functionally excellent with a well-regulated movement, tight bezel action, and an easily manipulated screw-down crown. Rugged specs and solid build quality promise worry-free reliability and scratch-resistance for the long-term. The tactile elements provide a satisfying contrast between crisp machining and satin brushed finishing. Forgiving ergonomics meld with the wrist for comfort on long physically active days. The black and white colorway and 20mm lug width give this watch excellent third-party strap compatibility. Ultimately, the watch is attractive, well-made, and offers good value for the money. Vaer gets most of the big stuff right.
If this piece isn’t for you, and vintage Omega is off the table, I’ve got you covered. Interestingly, I’ve found no alternatives at any price-point that combine the best-loved features of Omega, Rolex, and Seiko. As a result, I’m focusing on 166.024 “Big Triangle” alternatives, as it’s the core inspiration for the D5 Pacific.
1980 CWC Royal Navy Diver: If it’s genuine heritage you crave, this reissued Royal Navy dive watch took the place of the Rolex Mil-Sub in 1980.
NTH Odin: If you don’t care about twisted lugs and want a more faithful “Big Triangle” dial, handset and bezel with modern touches. Just be patient, as these are only available on the second hand market.
Doxa Sub 200 Sharkhunter: If you only care about twisted lugs and prefer an established dive watch brand with a long, eventful, history.
WMT Mil-Spec MK1: If you’re all about fauxtina and want a new watch that looks like it went through a war.
Each homage element of the Vaer D5 Pacific is toned down or modified from the originals, rejecting an incompatible patchwork of faithfully reproduced parts in favor of a unified design. This may appeal to those collectors who appreciate vintage style but want a more subtle modern aesthetic they can take anywhere. Those who prize history and authenticity above all else – embracing the honest quirkiness and earned patina of true vintage pieces – probably won’t be satisfied with the D5 lineup. First-time mechanical watches owners may be drawn to the watch itself, discovering the references that spawned it as their enthusiasm grows.
If, like me, you are drawn to the D5 Pacific to sooth pangs of nostalgia, it could unsettle your watch collecting philosophy instead and cause you to question the value of provenance. For a watch that has been criticized as generic, I’ve found it surprisingly thought-provoking. For the record, I still don’t know how I feel about it. The debate continues.