The Vario 1918 Pilot takes on a post-war angleFergus Nash
Vario have quickly become one of my favourite microbrands, excelling through their flippable, affordable Versa and more original designs such as the Empire True GMT. Their releases seem to be dialled into what watch enthusiasts love, capturing specific eras of vintage watchmaking without feeling uninspired or unoriginal. For their latest effort, they’ve modified a previous release, the 1918 Trench Watch, to commemorate the first year after WWI. Although it’s called the Vario 1918 Pilot, its jaunty angle and bund strap reference the first transatlantic flights made in 1919.
For the planes which survived WWI, many were decommissioned from military use and sold off in 1919. After modifying a Vickers Vimy heavy bomber, the aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown became the first to complete a transatlantic flight despite numerous mechanical failures and terrifying conditions. Later that same year, brothers Ross and Keith Smith managed to fly a similar plane all the way from England to Australia, even though it took them nearly 136 hours of flying over 28 days. As a tribute to the adventurous and often improvised nature of that era, Vario have modified their WWI-inspired trench watch design into a pilot’s watch.
Even though pilot’s watches are an established genre at this point, there was a lot more experimentation going on in the first half of the 20th century. Similar to some ‘driving watches’ of the time, the dial has been tilted 45° clockwise so that it can be more easily viewed while your hand is outstretched in front of you. Traditionally they are worn under the wrist, but the angle is still convenient when worn conventionally. The only drawback is that you can’t really wear the watch on your right wrist if that’s your habit, as the dial will be more or less upside-down.
Whether or not you appreciate the dial’s angle, its execution is wonderful. Made from a glossy enamel, the old-style numerals positively glow even if you ignore the luminous paint within them. The cathedral hands and minimal printing also help to complete the vintage-accurate look, but the Vario logo can sometimes look a little bit out of place because of the stylised ‘V.’ It doesn’t distract too much though, and overall it’s a gorgeous dial in white, black, or a more modern blue.
Many of the trench watches in WWI were improvised or produced quickly, and the easiest way to make lugs was simply to solder on some wire which retained a strap. The result is a case which is perfectly circular, and suspended simply by the wire lugs. The bezel has been given a polished finish to stand out from the brushed and curvy mid-case, which also adds a touch of sophistication. The onion-style crown also has some nice, thick knurling without being oversized and is located at 12 o’clock to mirror pocket watch traditions. The Vario 1918 Pilot is a 40mm watch with a 20mm lug width and 48mm lug-to-lug length, however the brand plan to produce a 37mm version if the first batch is successful.
In addition to being a watch company, Vario are also known for their straps. That gives them an advantage over many other brands who’ll cheap out on the strap option, as their strap-making reputation needs to be maintained as well. Paired with the Vario 1918 Pilot is a bund-style strap made from crazy horse leather, or a simple single-pass strap. The three shades of leather all give off very different personalities, those being black, an almost-orange tan, and chocolate brown. The wire lugs do limit strap choices to ones which don’t use spring-bars, however the 20mm lug width should provide plenty of options.
Ensuring that the physical experience of the Vario 1918 Pilot watch remains satisfying, they’ve used a hand-winding calibre from Miyota called the 8N33. For a movement which is in Miyota’s budget range, with a 3Hz beat rate and 42 hours of power reserve, it’s surprisingly attractive from the sapphire caseback. Unfortunately you have to remove the strap to look at it, but it probably helps contribute to the 10mm thickness, as does the 50m water resistance. The 8N33 is actually no longer in production, meaning the Vario 1918 Pilot will be a limited release with no specific number in mind.
The Vario 1918 Pilot pricing and availability:
The Vario 1918 Pilot is currently listed on Vario’s website, launching after 9pm SG, December 4th, 2023. You can use the code 1918PILOT8 for an 8% discount until December 31st, with delivery expected in 4-8 weeks. Price: US$388
|40mm (D) x 11mm (T) x 48mm (LTL)
|Sapphire front and back
|White, black or blue enamel
|Crazy horse leather bund, single-pass NATO-style
|Miyota 8N33, manual winding
|Hours, minutes, seconds
|Limited due to movement production