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.
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
I’ve been wearing VAER’s C5 and S5 models for the past three weeks. While I’ve mainly been stuck inside the whole time, I’ve been doing my best to
In all seriousness, after three weeks, my opinion is set. Here’s what I thought.
VAER C5 Unboxing & Review
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.
VAER S5 Review
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.
My Overall Thoughts on VAER
What I Like
The C5 is assembled in the US, and the Horween leather straps are all made by hand here in the states.
I love the vintage military-inspired dial designs.
While the S5 is less-expensive, it still has excellent quality materials like sapphire glass and strong performance with 100m water resistance.
Each model comes with an extra complimentary nylon strap—or you can get a discount on a Horween leather strap.
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 single pass Horween leather strap didn’t have enough structure to wear easily. Perhaps more burnishing along the edges would’ve helped as it’s hard to get through the metal guide ring. I had no problem with the quick release Horween leather strap.
Between the two, I’m a fan of the C5.
To me, it’s worth a small extra cost to get the US-assembly and the domed sapphire crystal. The C5 also has a Swiss Ronda movement, which I know is important for a lot of watch fans out there. I’m fine with a Japanese movement myself, but different watch-lovers have different priorities.
But just because I prefer the C5 doesn’t mean the S5 isn’t a great buy: it is. 100m water resistance, two straps, and a sapphire crystal is an excellent package under $150.
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 C5 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.
When summer comes, I’m definitely busting out the camping gear, strapping my VAER field watch on, and heading into the mountains for some much needed fresh air.
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.