Disclaimer: This watch was sent to me to review, and I was not incentivized in any way to make this review. This is in no way sponsored by Vario or any other entity. All opinions here are my own. Since this watch was worn/used by other reviewers, please make note that the experience might differ from that of a brand new watch.
Vario is a micro-brand based in Singapore and they’ve been around since 2016, so they’re definitely not a new player in the micro-brand world. They’ve been designing some excellent looking watches, mostly in the dress and formal watch category. They also have a stunning WWI trench watch prototype that will go live on Kickstarter very soon. I hope to also get my hands on one to review, so stay tuned!
The Vario Empire is their range of Art Deco inspired watches, that in my opinion, has definitely captured the aesthetics from that era of exuberance. I was sent the hand-wound Gold and White Tuxedo model, which looks like it was taken out of The Great Gatsby. In particular, this watch is inspired by the Empire State Building, one of the many monuments that still symbolize the era.
The United States showed particular interest in the movement, and its influence led to the creation of the Empire State Building as we know it today. The tallest building in the world from the time of its completion in 1931 until 1970, its geometric exterior and ornate gold and silver interior designs have made it an iconic masterpiece that still draws millions of visitors, decades after its creation.https://vario.sg/pages/art-deco-watch
Although this is a dress watch, the case has a sporty look to it, with a lot of interesting layers and excellent use of polished and brushed surfaces. The case is 38mm in diameter, 46mm from lug-to-lug and 11mm tall. It appears to be a three piece case construction, with a curved bezel that houses a flat sapphire crystal with inner AR coating.
The midcase has vertically brushed sides, but high polished top surfaces. This is another element that gives it a bit of a sporty look, allowing for the watch to easily pass off as an everyday piece as well.
The lugs rise out of the midcase and dramatically curve down towards the wrist. The lug and case joint is accented by an interesting design that makes it appear as if the lugs are independently attached to the case. This is a very neat and subtle design element that adds tons of character to the watch.
There is an onion style crown at the 3 o’clock position that is conservatively proportioned with a 5.75mm diameter, but is very easy to grip and operating. The crown operating experience is excellent considering the price of the watch and I didn’t notice any crown or stem wobble.
Flipping it over you have an sapphire crystal exhibition case-back with a great view of the Miyota hand-wound movement that powers the Empire. The case-back screws down into the case but the crown does not. This watch is rated for 50m of water resistance.
I really like the dial on this watch. Everything about it seems to come together very nicely, even with bold choice of black and gold. There is a narrow chapter ring that alternates between large and medium sized black dots against a golden yellow background. The chapter ring has just the perfect amount of color without being overpowering, but not disappearing into the dial either.
The next element is the black ring that hosts the gold Arabic hour numerals. The contrast between black and gold is a perfect throwback to the Art Deco design era. The finishing on these numerals is good for the price. Under my macro lens, I did notice some slightly uneven surfaces on the edges, but for a $350 watch, this is more than acceptable.
Let’s move onto the most beautiful part of this dial – the guilloché style center plate that appears slightly recessed from the rest of the dial. The color is a perfect shade of off-weight or beige, and it pairs with the gold elements on the dial very well. The finishing on this piece is excellent and I could find no problems whatsoever.
We then have a set of simple and narrow skeletonized hands that are also in gold. The seconds hand has a large circular counter weight, and both the seconds and minute hands extend over the hour numerals to the chapter ring.
While they don’t extend over the chapter ring, it is still very easy to read given the contrasting colors sharp hands. As dress watches go, this is more easily legible than most.
The overall finishing is very good for the price. I noticed some micro particles on some of the dial elements but this is acceptable for a watch of this price. The primary elements like the guilloché style plate and the hands are very well finished with no irregularities. Impressive work from Vario!
This watch is using a Miyota 6T33, something you don’t see very often in micro-brand watches. This is a skeletonized hand-wound movement and for an affordable watch, I think it looks pretty cool. There is no glamorous finishing, but the actual raw and unfinished appearance of the material definitely has an appealing charm. I also like complicated appearance, and it sure makes for better eye candy than a Miyota 8xxx or Seiko NH35 even. This movement is also very smooth to wind and does not feel cheap, like a Seagull ST19.
I logged the accuracy of this watch over a 4 day period and observed roughly -15 spd. This isn’t the most accurate movement, but still very reasonable performance for the price category. Personally, just based on how it looks, I think I would take this movement over a better regulated automatic Miyota.
On The Wrist
As you would expect, the 38mm diameter and 46mm lug-to-lug width case is very comfortable, and has perfect dress watch dimensions for my 6.25″ wrist. The 11mm thickness and flat case-back help it sit low and I think the dimensions are perfect for a slightly sporty dress watch.
The Empire ships with one of Vario’s excellent leather straps. The strap has a dramatic 20mm to 16mm taper, but it suits the 38mm diameter case very well. The strap is comfortable and requires no breaking in. You can pick from five different options and I was sent the Pewter Grey and Onyx Black to check out. I had it on the Onyx Black the most as it suits the dial really well in my opinion. For a bolder look, you can even try the Mahogany Brown.
I definitely approve of this watch. I love the aesthetic, and I think it has been executed really well for the price. The guilloché style dial looks amazing, and the choice of colors across the dial is spot on. The case has a semi-sporty design that will allow for this to be an everyday piece if you want it to be.
For the price, the movement is a pleasure to look at and maintains a reasonable level of accuracy. If this doesn’t work for you, you can also look at the automatic variant of this model that houses a Seiko NH38A. This comes at the cost of an additional 0.5mm of case thickness. In my opinion, the hand-wound movement adds a lot of character to this watch, and if I had to pick between the two, I would get the hand-wound.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a watch like the Vario Empire at a price of roughly $350. It is all about the design with these watches, so if you like how it looks, you’re most likely going to love owning it.
Thanks for reading!