I’ve always had a fascination with military uniforms.
As a kid, I rarely played video games, couldn’t finish a book, and refused to sit through 30 minutes of TV.
I only wanted to put on camo, grab a toy gun, and hike into the desert foothills behind my home. So that’s how I spent most of my childhood—hiding in the bushes with binoculars, spying on lizards.
In my teens, I went (voluntarily) to a military camp. The food was so terrible that I decided serving my country was out of the cards. My interest in all things Army died down.
But every now and again, something sparks that old deep fascination.
Which brings me to VAER Watches.
Their military-inspired field watches piqued my curiosity the moment I saw them. While I liked the look of the product shots online, I picked up the C5 and S5 models to see if their function matched the aesthetic. (And a year later, I picked up the C3 and the D5).
So what’s the verdict? Keep reading for my full review.
What Is VAER Watches?
VAER Watches launched their first design in early 2017. Since then, the founders Reagan Cook and Ryan Torres have been consistently tweaking and refining their vision.
In 2019, the brand hit its stride, becoming known throughout watch-enthusiast communities for their USA-assembled, military-inspired field watches.
While their watches were rated in labs to withstand 10atm of water-pressure, VAER went the extra mile to actually
It’s refreshing to read through their site. The founders share the failures and setbacks they’ve encountered while trying to create a watch they’re proud of.
I talked with Ryan Torres on the phone, and he said a big inspiration behind VAER is in creating something he can wear every day.
Ryan, based in Venice Beach, California, starts his day on a surfboard. For him, having a watch that can take a beating but still look clean and professional is a must.
If you've got a watch addiction problem like us, taking just one watch on vacation just isn't on the cards. When I want watch accessories, I look to my favorite watchmakers, and French favorites Baltic make my favorite watch roll. It's made from supple lined calf leather, safely fits up to four watches, has a really elegant feel, and is perfectly small enough to not take up too much space in my luggage.
VAER sends their watches with two straps in a large blue box with soft foam padding and a packet of documents.
The C5 comes with a certificate of authenticity verifying the watch’s 10atm (100m) water-resistance. They also pack in a tri-fold pamphlet describing their USA-assembly process, as well as care and maintenance notes.
It surprised me to learn that VAER is a member of 1% for the Planet, too. While it’s not prominently displayed anywhere on their website, they commit to donating 1% of their total sales to environmental non-profits.
VAER uses the same case across all their models, so the C5 and the S5 have the same specs. The case is 40mm in diameter and comes in just under 10mm in height (9.4mm). It’s quite slim considering its water resistance.
Made with brushed 316L stainless steel, the brand has added a high-polish along the bezel chamfer and the lug curves. It’s a subtle detail that’s easily overlooked, but it adds a sophistication that pushes this beyond a mere tool watch.
The C5 features a 3-point screw down crown with an easy to grip knurling pattern. It’s important to note that if you accidentally leave the crown unscrewed, you risk flooding the movement with water if you go for a dip.
It’s fairly obvious if the crown isn’t tightened, but I’ve been giving it a check before jumping in the shower anyway.
The crown is secured with a rubber gasket, which is one method VAER uses to get such great water-resistance ratings from such a slim watch.
The case back is also screw-down which adds to the water-resistance. Unfortunately, the case back doesn’t line up perfectly on either my C5 or S5, but this is a minor gripe as I’ve been using the single pass nylon straps, which almost completely cover the back anyway.
Inspired by the field watches worn by US soldiers in WWII, the C5 has the look of a watch you’ll want with you on your next camping trip.
It’s easy to spot the similarities between the C5 and the classic Hamilton Khaki field watch. But VAER isn’t dealing with a 33mm case diameter, so their design is much more balanced and spacious.
While I’ve been enjoying the functionality, the look of the dial is my favorite thing about this watch. As I mentioned in the intro, I’ve always had a soft-spot for anything with a military aesthetic, so the black C5 field model is a home run.
The white numerals, minute hand, and hour hand are coated seven times in Swiss lume pigment. When the lights go out, these have a soft aqua glow that’s strong compared to the lume in other watches in my collection.
In all my previous watch reviews, UNDONE is the only other watch brand that compares on the lume front.
One of the subtle differences between the C5 and S5 is the domed crystal. While both models have anti-reflective coated sapphire glass, the C5 has a slight dome in it, which I like.
Having a flat crystal is fine, but the dome adds a touch more refinement. Domed sapphire is more expensive, and that’s just one reason the C5 costs more. But to me, this sort of crystal in a sub-$200 watch is solid value.
In my discussion with the founder of VAER, he mentioned that they’re insistent on including Swiss movements. As such, the C5 features a Swiss Ronda 715 quartz caliber.
While I personally wouldn’t have minded a Japanese quartz (the S5 features a Miyota—another cost saver), I love that the founders forego some of their profit margin to create a watch they’re excited to wear.
Strap and Wearability
Two nylon straps are included with every purchase, or you can choose a nylon and a Horween leather strap for a slight increase.
I loaded up and tried every type of strap VAER has to offer: nylon single pass, nylon quick release, silicone quick release, Horween leather single pass, and Horween leather quick release.
Of all these straps, the nylon single pass is my favorite. I love that I don’t have to worry about damaging or stretching it out—it’s been keeping up with me on runs and workouts, and I don’t have to think twice before I jump in the shower or do a round of dishes.
The brand aims to build a watch that can move seamlessly from the ocean to the office, so I appreciate the leather (good Chicago Horween leather, no less) options, too.
I like the quick release leather strap, but the single pass leather strap is disappointing. It feels unfinished and isn’t stiff enough to pass through the metal guides.
The silicone strap is solid, but I just love the field watch look with the nylon NATO strap.
As I went through some online forums to see what other people thought about the brand, I noticed curiosity around the extra bit of length that comes up on the nylon straps.
VAER has these manufactured with extra length because they’re often wearing the watches with a wetsuit—whether that’s for diving, spearfishing, or surfing. When you don’t need the extra length, you can just fold it back under the metal guide-ring.
Featuring a Swiss Ronda movement, domed sapphire crystal, and coming with two straps, this military-inspired field watch by Vaer is easily one of our favorite affordable timepieces.
After owning the VAER C5 for over a year, I’m convinced that this brand is one of the best kept secrets. But they’re getting more popular, and I wanted to see if they could keep up their quality with more and more demand.
They released a smaller version of their super popular C5: the C3. It has many of the same hallmarks: military aesthetic, 10atm water resistance, screw down crown, domed sapphire crystal, but it’s in a smaller 36mm package.
Also, the movement is USA-made, and the watch is assembled right here at home.
I’ve had the C3 for a few months now, and I’m digging it.
As I mentioned, the VAER C3 is a 36mm field watch, which is more in line with field watches of the WWII, Korean War era.
In fact, VAER just recently released a field watch that’s based on the military standard issue during the Korean War, but I skipped it because it’s quite similar to the C5 I already have (it was still hard to resist, though, because I love that style).
I picked up the C3 Tradition Black, which is a little more simple in its design.
The case is 316l stainless steel, and I love the 36mm diameter. It’s not as imposing as a 40mm, and I think it’s perfect as an everyday watch.
And I have been wearing it as my everyday timepiece for three months. I got mine with the stainless link bracelet, and the combo makes for a workhorse watch that can take a beating.
Because the case is smaller, it never presses on the back of my hand and it’s super comfortable to wear.
There’s such a gap in the market for watches under 40mm—it’s fairly common to find dress watches at the 36 to 38mm range, but rarely do I see a tool watch that’s not “super manly 40mm and above.”
It’s refreshing, and the 36mm case is precisely why I wear this watch so often.
The crown screws down and locks, which helps give this timepiece its 10atm (100m) water resistance. Just make sure it’s screwed all the way before you jump in the shower with it to avoid fogging.
I got the Tradition Black color option, which has a matte black background with khaki indices, numerals, and graphics.
There are three hands: hour, minute, and second, and I like that the second hand is a striking white.
The indices resemble compass arrows, which gives the C3 a distinct adventurer/military vibe that really resonates with me.
All the hour indices and hands have seven layers of strong Swiss SuperLumiNova lume painted on, and the dial is easy to read throughout the night.
There’s nothing austentatious about the dial—it’s basic, utilitarian, and it’s not trying too hard, which is exactly what I want from an everyday timepiece.
The C3 features a domed sapphire crystal, which is super rare amongst watches in the $200 price range.
Even looking at the well-known value-driven brands like Citizen, Seiko, and Orient—they make solid watches, but any domed crystals you see are most-often mineral.
It’s a minor detail, I know, but if you’ve ever owned a watch with a domed crystal, it’s a subtle bit of design elegance that’s hard to move on from.
The sapphire lends a lot of scratch resistance, and I’ve really put it to the
The C3 uses an Ameriquartz 6130 HT movement. Haven’t heard of it? Well, it’s brand spankin’ new and it’s made in Arizona.
That’s right—a movement that’s not Swiss, Japanese, or Chinese.
Americans are making watching movements again for the first time in the 70s.
There isn’t a lot of info on the longevity of the movement, but it’s highly accurate (+10/-20 seconds per month) and it has a 40 month battery life. I haven’t had any issues with the timing, and I think it’s really cool to wear one of few watches around with a USA movement.
More brands are starting to pick up on Ameriquartz, but it’s still rare.
The case measures 39mm, though the D5 really comes across as a 40mm watch when you consider the wider bezel.
It’s made mostly with 316l stainless steel, though the bezel is a neat black ceramic with etched indices (that are also painted with aqua blue lume—it looks super cool at night).
I like the shape a lot—it’s a dynamic piece that looks and feel rich. The chamfers on the bezel make gripping it easier, but more importantly, they add a rugged sophistication to the style.
Like all VAER watches, the case features a screwdown locking crown, which adds water resistance. But the D5 can dive down to 200m with water resistance, which is impressive considering the display case back.
I doubt that I’ll ever find myself 200m below water (unless I piss off the Italian mob again—I own a lot of shoes, none of them cement). But it’s still nice to know that if I ever have to “sleep with the fishes,” my watch will keep on ticking like a champ.
VAER got me again with their sexy matte black dial and khaki indices (Arctic). I don’t know why, but I can’t stop myself. It just looks so good to me.
There are a few other D5’s though, including a white and black dial (Atlantic), and a really interesting white chapter ring version (Tropical).
They also feature two different versions of their Pacific line (one khaki, and one white).
But I’m happy with the Arctic.
I liked the stripped back minimalist look, with alternating circular and obelisk indices—no numerals.
This bad boy boasts 15 layers of X1 Old Radium SuperLumiNova lume, which is a beautiful aqua blue color and shines clearly through the night. I can practically use it as a night light.
While this is helpful on land, it’s more important for actual divers as they get to murky depths.
That’s one thing I really appreciate about the D5—while most people will buy it for its style, it has the ability to act as a functional dive-watch, too.
I keep mine on a NATO nylon strap for just that reason. It’s funny—I never really wanted to go diving until I had a sweet watch that’s just begging to go swimming.
The D5 has a double-domed sapphire crystal movement, which is quite pronounced. It’s super clear and has a nice sparkle to it, and I love the shape.
Because the watch is a little bigger (40mm) and the crystal has a sizable dome to it, I’ve hit my wrist on a few door-jambs, so that took some getting used to.
But as I said for the C5 and C3—it’s hard to go back to a flat crystal after you’ve dabbled in domes.
The crystal has an internal anti-reflective coating, which I’ve found makes it really hard to take pictures of, but also gives it a dazzling look in daylight. I’d rather have the shiny beautiful glass in real life than photos, anyway.
The VAER D5 runs on a Japanese Miyota 9039 movement. The brand says they have plans to move to an American made movement in the future, though as far as I know, there are no US-made automatic movements available.
Still, the Miyota 9039 is an excellent movement—with 24 jewels and a 28,800 beat rate with hacking seconds, it’s fun to watch the second-hand sweep around the dial with an effortless grace.
Plus, with the display case back, you get to look at the movement in all of its awesome complications. That’s the only issue I have with my preferred NATO straps—they block off the display case back.
It’s fairly accurate for an automatic (+5/-15 seconds per day), and holds its power for about 40 hours.
As much as I’m enjoying my quartz VAER’s, having an automatic in the rotation is perfect for those upscale casual evenings out—especially when I pair my D5 with some crisp black Chelsea boots. It’s hard to beat that combo.
Technically the D5 has a 39mm case, but because of the ceramic bezel and double-domed sapphire crystal it wears like a 40 or 41mm piece. With US assembly, 200 meters of water resistance, and 15 layers of lume, the D5 is far more than just a stylish piece---it's a functional work horse, too.
The VAER S5 is very similar to the C5, but there are a few key differences. Rather than repeat myself on things like the case and crown (40mm, 100m water resistance, 316L stainless steel), I’ll just focus on what separates the two.
At the time of writing, the S5 is 70% the cost of the C5. VAER created some savings in three areas:
- Instead of a Swiss Ronda movement, the S5 features a Japanese Miyota quartz.
- Rather than domed sapphire glass, the S5 has a flat sapphire crystal.
- The S5 isn’t USA assembled like the C5. But if you choose a Horween leather strap, those are still cut, sewn, and crafted in the US.
At the time of writing, there are only two S5 dials available—both leaning more toward the field watch look.
Rather than getting another black dial, I picked up the white dial with orange, navy, and mint accents.
The minute and hour hands have a very interesting shape, and I love the look of the orange second hand.
Even at the less expensive price point, the S5 still has a 100m water resistance. Combined with the hard-to-scratch sapphire glass and nylon strap, this timepiece can take quite a beating.
If I were to buy another VAER watch, I would choose the C5. While I’m happy with the Japanese movement in the S5, the domed crystal and the US-assembly is well worth the extra cost in my book. Plus, the specific dial I got in the C5 is right up my alley, and it’s not available in the S5.
If US-assembly isn’t important to you, I’d still consider the C5 over the S5 because of the crystal. The S5 has great quality glass (many brands at a similar price use lesser-quality mineral glass), but the dome adds a subtle richness to the wearing experience.
With both models, the materials are among the best you can find for the price, so the value is strong.
The S5 is VAER's budget counterpart to the impressive C5. Featuring Miyota Quartz movement, a flat sapphire crystal, 100m water resistance, and a sturdy build, it offers impressive value for money.
My Overall Thoughts on VAER
What I Like
The C5, C3, and D5 are all assembled in the US, and the Horween leather straps are all made by hand here in the states (and the C3 even features a USA-made movement, which is super rare).
I love the vintage military-inspired dial designs.
The value of these watches is excellent—where else can you find a USA-built timepiece with a domed sapphire crystal for $200?
Each model comes with two straps—one base strap and a second option you can choose. After experience will all of them, you can’t go wrong.
VAER offers a solid 30-day return policy, plus a generous 2-year warranty.
What I Don’t Like
Shipping on certain watches can take a week—this is more common in their A5, A7, and A12 models which I didn’t review.
The unlined Horween strap has a unique look to it, but I had a hard time getting behind its rough nature. I much prefer the lined Horween strap, which is a pleasure to wear.
Between the four, it’s really hard to choose. But I wear the C3 the most often.
The C3 and C5 are very similar, and the biggest consideration is size: do you want a 40mm, or a 36mm? I prefer the 36mm because it feels more like an everyday watch to me. Also, the C3 uses a USA built movement, which I haven’t seen in many other brands before, so it’s a unique watch all-around.
But I’m also a massive fan of the D5 and it’s smooth automatic movement. It looks super cool, and I can’t wait to take it diving.
Still the S5 is a great buy: it is. 100m water resistance, two straps, and a sapphire crystal is an excellent package under $150. But given the quality you can get with just a few extra bucks, I’d go back to the C5 or C3 every time.
VAER also offers Japanese and Swiss automatic models which are worth looking into if you’d like to venture out of quartz-land.
I’ve been wearing my C3 almost every day since I got it—it’s rugged and durable so I don’t have to worry about dinging it or water-logging it in the shower. And I have over 30 watches at this point, but the C3 just speaks to me as my casual go-to.
VAER is a prime example of the shift in watchmakers toward quality and affordability. As a small brand, there are some struggles around shipping times, but their field watches offer killer value that’s hard to find elsewhere.
Where can I buy VAER watches?
You can find VAER watches on their online storefront. The brand used to be available on Huckberry, but they quickly sold out. Head over to the VAER online store for the latest price.
What types of VAER watch bands are there?
There is a lot of variety in VAER watch bands. You can choose nylon single pass, nylon quick release, silicone quick release, Horween leather single pass, or Horween leather quick release. Leather bands are available in black and brown. Silicone bands are available in navy and black. Nylon bands are available in olive, khaki, orange, navy, black, sand, and red.