At a party this past Halloween, I was talking with a bunch of people in a circle, and one of the guests pointed out my watch and asked me what kind it was. I told him it was an Ollechs & Wajs, that I’d gotten it at an estate sale (an easier explanation than the reality), that it was vintage from 1970, and at the bottom tier of their catalog. He told me he’d seen it from across the room and was a watch guy himself, and we geeked out over watches for about 10 minutes while his wife knowingly rolled her eyes. He was wearing a huge TAG Heuer tuna can, but mentioned he’d slowly been collecting nice watches as his business became more successful. It was cool to talk with him, and we shook hands and parted ways.
Watches have been in the back of my mind for a while, but I’m very hesitant to buy anything when we have so many other essentials and priorities around the house these days. That’s not to say the manufacturers haven’t been trying. My Instagram feed is sprinkled with watch porn among the Scouts and #vanlife and occasional post from someone I actually know, and I admit I’ve followed some of those links and looked seriously at some of the examples until I saw the price. That’s usually enough to end the investigation in its tracks. Horology is expensive.
One of those Instagram trips led me to Vaer watches and I’ve been looking at them for the last couple of years. I was drawn to their line but never thought about buying one because of cost and size—most of their line are 41mm cases, which is too big for my wrist. And half of their stuff is assembled in Switzerland so it’s $700 beyond my price point. They specialize in modern updates of classic design patterns without being too fussy, gaudy or supersized. Their divers look really good but I’m betting they’d be sized the same as the Timex I tried last year, although it was more about the proportions on that one that soured me.
In 2021 they introduced a throwback Korean War era field watch, smaller in size and taking cues from Bulova and Waltham designs made for the Army. Those watches were used hard, and working survivors are expensive. Usually they’re inoperative and need to be rebuilt. I’ve had an alert set on Watch Patrol for months but never found the right one. I looked over the Vaer watch and considered it carefully, then bookmarked the link and let it go. But I kept on going back to the page to look at it. That’s usually never a good sign. I was strong until I got a huge sale alert from Vaer after New Years, and I figured I’d never get a better chance and ordered one.
Buying watches sight unseen is tricky and they usually are larger than I’d prefer them to be. Overall I really like the size and shape of this case; it seems larger than something advertised as 36mm, but on my wrist it looks to be just the right size. In comparison with my other watches it’s right between the Hamilton and the LL Bean in scale. The case thickness is perfect—I don’t notice it getting caught on sleeves or bumping into things on my wrist.
The case is shiny, something I’m not as thrilled with—I’d prefer brushed metal to polished, but it doesn’t sour me on the design. The face is where the throwback design really comes in. They mimicked the big fat hand-painted tritium numbers from the 1950’s with a secondary set of hash marks around the outer edge, which I like. The numbers are colored slightly brown, which matches the tan Vaer strap I put on it. The strap looks nice but is twice as thick as it needs to be; wearing it out of the box pinched my radial artery painfully until I worked stiffness out of it like a baseball glove. It has no date feature, setting it apart from the other field watches I own, but I don’t mind that. It’s an extremely quiet movement and keeps excellent time; I’m really happy with it and haven’t taken it off my wrist since it got here. So I think I’m set for field watches.
Meanwhile, the movement in the Ollech & Wajs has gotten bound up, so I’ve got to bring it back in to the watch guy who originally fixed it to have him sort it out for me, and then I have to be more careful about how I wind it.