Watch Review: VARIO 1918 Medic Trench Watch (White Dial)

From Vario’s Website:

When World War I began in 1914, soldiers faced a novel problem. In the chaos on and off the battlefield where precise timing was integral to routines, communications, and synchronizing attacks, reliable and accurate timepieces were vital. Many officers had pocket watches, but these had many shortcomings on the battlefield. They were cumbersome to pull out and to open the protective lid with gloved hands, requiring officers to pause their duties. The dials were impossible to read at night and the glass crystals broke easily. In a setting where a second could be the difference between life and death, it was clear that an alternative was needed. Thus, in the muddy trenches of the First World War, the wrist-watch was born.

I couldn’t even imagine what it must of been like during trench warfare. The constant chaotic nightmare that never seemed to end, the unknowing of if it’s going to be your last moment, all the while trying to keep a level organized head to keep trudging forward. Take all of that into consideration, along with what limited technology was in 1914. The wrist watch was a tool that was heavily relied upon during that chaos. Vario was inspired by the history of trench warfare and how the wrist watch was used as a tool of “modern technology” The history was so much of an inspiration that Vario set out to create their own interpretation of the trench watch. Ivan Chua, the passionate man behind Vario set out on a mission to bring out a trench watch with modern details but also retaining that vintage magic of the watches of yesteryear. Ivan’s watch mission started in Singapore back in 2016.

What initially drew me to this piece was how Vario was able to pay tribute to the designs of the past and interpret them into a modern piece without it feeling forced or gimmicky. The choice of using an enamel dial was something that really grabbed my interest. The enameling process of a dial is an extremely fascinating to watch process. A process that is from the days of watch making yesteryear. For me that process is like an art form, an almost forgotten art form at that. If you have a chance to check out videos of the process online please do so. The enamel/glaze that is used nowadays doesn’t chip or crack as easily as the enamel did on the trench watches of the past. The important role the trench watches played was extraordinary during WW1. These watches were the advanced “technology” of the times and were relied upon for precise timing of wartime missions of various degrees. Not only did these watches have to be mechanically sound but they also had to be legible. Vario did an excellent job recreating the legibility of the dials of yesteryear. The white enamel backdrop works in beautiful tandem with the orange numerals that mark the hours.

I like that Vario uses the same numerical font style on this modern trench watch that is almost identical to the font found on the vintage trench watches. The large numbers are extremely easy to reference and read whether if it’s done with a quick glance or an extended gaze. Assisting in the legibility department are the classic styled cathedral hands. The hands are so beautifully designed and executed. There is no need to worry about legibility at night or poor lighted environments because the hands and the numerical markers are they are all treated with the latest generation, non-radioactive non-fading Swiss lume. The trench watches of the early 1900’s were treated with old radium paste which slowly poisoned the dial painters, and needed re-coating after ten years. That’s another homework assignment I am giving you all. Please research the story of the women who used to apply the old radium paste. It is truly a sad story but needs to be read so that these individuals get the recognition that they are so deserving of. (Just as the brave souls who were on the front lines of the war so that we can enjoy our freedom today)

This version of Vario’s trench watch is the medic model. What does that mean and how does it function? Back in the day these types of watches were used by doctors to measure a patient’s pulse. The scale found along the outer edge of this dial is used in conjunction with the watch’s seconds hand to provide the medical information on the patient. This pulsometer scale is calibrated to 30 heartbeats (or pulsations). To use this measurement scale start counting the beats/pulses when the second hand reaches 12 and stop when you get to 30 beats/pulses. Whatever number the second hand is pointing to is the measurement that you record.

What’s a dial without a case to follow?!? The case follows in the vintage footsteps of the dial. Those size who are size conscious will definitely appreciate the 40mm diameter case and those who appreciate overall design will also appreciate the gems found throughout this case. VARIO merged together a nice blending of polished and brushed finishes here on their trench watch. The polished finish borders the dial and sapphire crystal with precise uniformity as does the brushed finish section of the case that wraps around the middle of the case. The domed crystal finishes off the profile of this case with precise design execution. It’s that exact kind of small detail that makes a huge impact on the overall look of this watch when it both on and off the wrist. There’s a certain kind of magic when a watch is on your wrist which is obvious but that magic of when you take off your watch and rotate it around with your fingers admiring the details. The real magic happens when you discover an overlooked detail that you haven’t noticed before. That “how in the hell did I miss that” thought comes into your mind. That’s the shit I love as a watch loving nerd. The stainless steel case is more historically accurate versus the brass version that is also available via VARIO’s website.

I appreciate the crown placement choice at the 4 o’clock position on this case. The screw down crown has both function and design that makes it appealing to look out and operate. I personally would have liked to see an oversized crown used in the design of this watch. That preference comes strictly from a functional standpoint. This watch was my sidekick during a recent camping trip and also was there with me on several hikes, climbs and river fun. I would periodically stop for a photo opportunity and I would reset the time to 10:10. I probably screwed/unscrewed this crown a million times and I think an oversized crown would have made that a lot easier. I would imagine during trench warfare that the increased crown size would have been valuable as well especially with gloved hands. The edges of the crown is designed with grooves to increase the ability to grip and operate with ease. Not all the crown details are with the functional design in mind either, VARIO added a nice aesthetically pleasing detail with signing the crown using their ‘V’ logo. The crown placement does give a bit of a modern feel on a case that has an overall vintage design language. That vintage aesthetic can definitely be felt on the solid wire lugs. I love that VARIO went for the authenticity here. When a watch goes for that vintage feel with wire lugs but then use a spring bar to hold the strap in place, it loses something for me personally. Either go authentically vintage in design or go with modern lugs. Don’t half-ass it in other words. The watch came on a bund style strap that has removable screws (flathead) giving you options that are open to a plethora of nato and ballistic nato style straps. If you are worried that this limits your strap options then this vintage style watch probably isn’t for you and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

VARIO gives you an option of a caseback for your trench watch allowing you to have it blank for those of you who want that more historically accurate design. There’s also an option for those of you who prefer a more personalized flare. VARIO with add a personalized engraving for an up charge. The last option, and my personal favorite is the engraving seen in my picture above. A picture honoring the brave soldiers who fought during the battles deep in the trenches of WW1. I have mentioned it in previous reviews that a solid caseback is an excellent opportunity to extend the “personality” of the watch. Unless it’s a grand complication, I really don’t care to see the movement of a watch. I prefer an engraved picture that tells a story that relates directly to the watch itself. Ticking away underneath this engraved caseback is a Seiko NH38A automatic movement with hand-winding and hacking seconds. 24 jewels 21.6kpbh more than 40 hours power reserve.

The amount of design details that are executed throughout this watch makes me look twice at the $348 usd price. I know we toss around the “bang for your buck” statement quite easily but this watch is a true example of “bang for your buck”. The vintage design language of this watch is well executed by VARIO without that gimmicky/done in poor taste feel. The watch functions without flaw. I mentioned earlier that an oversized crown with assist with the overall function which would add to the wearing experience of this watch. The trench watch is extremely comfortable on the wrist no matter what your wearing style is. VARIO made a great/“no-brainer” design choice by going with a sapphire crystal Vs going the historically accurate glass route. The crazy horse leather strap with bund pad is done with that precision VARIO straps are known for. I have yet to experience a better quality ballistic style nato strap than the one VARIO produces.

Vario pours their passion into every project that they do and their take on the trench watch is no different. This would be a great piece add to the collection of those history fanatics out there or those who appreciate a watch that would fit nicely in with their EDC. I love that this watch is something different than the same designs we keep seeing over and over again in the watch industry. Yes this is something old but it’s definitely refreshing to see. It’s a well designed and executed watch with no major deal breaking flaws. I appreciate the vintage charm of this watch and how beautiful that charm truly is. It’s a perfect grab and go watch that will be a reliable companion on your day’s adventures……adventures that are personal to you.

Woodpecker, birds and gunshots

I did a short interview with VARIO CEO Ivan Chua. I hope you enjoy it:

What was your inspiration for doing the trench watch series:

Ivan: “I served in the army (mandatory for all males) and we had medics all around us. So I drew parallels and imagined they (the medic trench watches) must be important too during wars”

What types of injuries did you see during your time in the military?

Ivan: “There were cases when trainees would get heat stroke or faint.. they’re the 1st point of contact for any medical help”

Where did you start the planning process for the trench watch, specifically the medic version?

Ivan: “I googled and I came across a doctor’s watch that was from the WW1 era, but I didn’t see any trench styled watches with pulsometer”

So did you decide to combine the doctor’s watch with the trench watch from that same time era?

Ivan: “So i was thinking pulsometer complication may not have been made during WW1 in terms of a trench watch and thought it would be a cool upgrade for medics on the field.. I think only doctors and officers had the watches originally.”

Was this version your first and final design?

Ivan: “I did try a 15 base pulso because I thought it was a good idea but i didnt manage to make it work.”

What didn’t work about the 15 pulso?

Ivan: “I felt it looked too cluttered compared to the production design that you reviewed.”

15 pulso


Case diameter: 40mm
Case thickness: 10mm
Dial: Enamel
Crystal: 2mm double domed sapphire with inner AR applied
Lug width: 20mm
Lug to lug: 48mm
Lume: C3 Lume
Case Material: 316L stainless steel
Caseback: 316L stainless steel with option for empty caseback and laser engraving at additional cost
Crown: Screw-down crown
Movement: Seiko NH38A automatic movement with hand-winding and hacking seconds. 24 jewels 21.6kpbh more than 40 hours power reserve
Water resistance: 10 atm
Strap: Crazy horse leather with bund pad (75mm/120mm) or single pass (270mm)
Warranty: 1 year global warranty


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