The Vario Empire True GMT is an Art Deco-inspired travel watch for design purists The Vario Empire True GMT is an Art Deco-inspired travel watch for design purists

The Vario Empire True GMT is an Art Deco-inspired travel watch for design purists

Jamie Weiss

Founded in 2016 by award-winning graphic designer Ivan Chua, Singaporean microbrand Vario is all about revelling in the retro. Vario’s entire range is inspired by pre-1950s watch designs, from the trench watches of WWI and the field watches of WWII to 1930s jumping hour watches. But Ivan’s biggest inspiration is the Art Deco movement of the 1920s and 30s, especially in the United States… And there’s no greater example or more famous monument to the Art Deco movement than the Empire State Building. As the name implies, the Vario Empire is a homage to this era in design history as well as the famous skyscraper – and it now comes in a GMT variant, the Vario Empire True GMT. This is Vario’s first take on a GMT watch, elegantly executing the complication without compromising the Empire’s distinct Art Deco aesthetic.

The case

vario empire true gmt case

The Vario Empire True GMT features a compact 38mm stainless steel case which is uniformly polished, to an impressive standard. 38mm might be somewhat on the small side for modern tastes but would be positively gargantuan for a watch from the 1930s, so there’s a degree of creative license there. The onion crown is another nice period touch. The Empire True GMT’s case isn’t really its biggest selling point, though – it’s its dial that’s really worth talking about.

The dial

vario empire true gmt range

The Vario Empire True GMT’s dial is the main event. Available in four vibey colours – Winter White, Spring Green, Summer Blue and Autumn Salmon (which no doubt will be a fan favourite) – it features a guilloched centre section surrounded by a discreet GMT track and an hour track characterised by concentric circles and 2-hour sectors. Thankfully, Vario hasn’t messed with the Empire’s design too much with this GMT variant of the watch. The guilloched centre section is particularly impressive, especially at this price point.

The skeletonised hour and minute hands and lollipop-counterbalanced seconds hand from the time-only Empire return, with a pleasantly unobtrusive arrow-tipped second hour hand now joining the party. While these hands work harmoniously, I personally feel as if the standard hour hand could have been made slightly longer to help differentiate it from the second hour hand, but this doesn’t significantly impact legibility.

The movement

vario empire true gmt back

The Vario Empire True GMT is powered by the Miyota calibre 9075, a member of the 9100 family of calibres that the well-known Japanese manufacturer designates as one of their “Premium Automatic” movements. As the name implies, this is a ‘true GMT’ or ‘traveller GMT’ movement, which means its main hour hand is independently adjustable – that is, it has a jumping hour hand that will also advance the date window, like a Rolex GMT-Master or a Tudor Black Bay Pro. This is a desirable feature for a GMT watch, as it makes it easier to accurately adjust the time as you jump across different time zones.

It’s also worth mentioning here that the Empire True GMT, unlike the standard Empire, is made in Japan, a first for Vario. The pieces are still designed and inspected in Singapore.

The strap

vario empire true gmt strap

The Vario Empire True GMT comes mounted on a vintage-style Italian leather strap that tapers from 20mm down to 16mm, which is quite handsome. It also comes with a metal bracelet, which features a faux seven-link design characterised by alternating brushed and polished ‘links’. The inclusion of a metal bracelet is generous but we feel the watch looks best on leather, which suits its dandy-ish aesthetic.

Vario Empire True GMT pricing and availability

The Vario Empire True GMT is available now, limited to 300 pieces among the 4 different dial colours, with blue and green in smaller quantities. Price: AU$1,108.

Brand Vario
Model Empire True GMT
Case Dimensions 38mm (D) x 12mm (T) x 46mm (LTL)
Case Material Stainless steel
Water Resistance 50 metres
Crystal Sapphire with inner AR coating
Dial Winter White, Spring Green, Summer Blue, Autumn Salmon
Strap Steel bracelet / Italian leather strap
Movement Miyota 9075, ‘true’ GMT, automatic
Power Reserve 42 hours
Functions Hours, minutes, seconds, GMT
Availability Available now, limited to 300 pieces
Price AU$1,108