There are plenty of American watch companies out there, but few are truly American-made. Vaer stands in the elite circle of the latter, offering some of the most affordable American watches on the market.
If you’re anything like me, the company behind the product is almost as important as the product itself. I like to support small businesses with passionate entrepreneurs and big dreams, and Vaer Watches checks all of those boxes (and then some).
Vaer is a relatively new company, founded in 2016 by Reagan Cook and Ryan Torres. Dismayed that they couldn’t afford the premium watches that caught their eyes, Cook and Torres did the only logical thing they could — pool their life savings to start a watch company.
As California natives, it shouldn’t be surprising that Cook and Torres wanted to build adventure-ready watches that could handle everything from surfing and diving to hiking and mountaineering. That’s why their watches eschew the traditional push-pull crowns that rarely live up to their 10ATM waterproof rating, instead using a locking screw-down crown that’s often found in luxury dive watches.
In 2018, Vaer brought their watch assembly to the United States, making them one of the few watch companies crafting American-made timepieces. In addition to Swiss and Japanese movements they even offer timepieces with American movements, so you can get a watch that’s red, white and blue from top to bottom.
About the C5
Vaer’s best-selling model, the C5 is a custom timepiece with an American-made FTS Ameriquartz movement. It’s designed to be the ideal EDC field watch, boasting enough class to stand out at the office and more than enough rugged durability to handle any weekend adventure.
The C5 features a screw-down crown that’s rated at 10ATM, meaning you can wear this puppy free diving down to 100 meters. Of course, most people don’t spend much time on the ocean floor, so to the average Joe that means it’s a solid choice for surfing, fishing, boating, and sailing.
Like all Vaer watches, the C5 is backed by the company’s two year warranty and is guaranteed waterproof. It’s assembled in the USA, and every new watch comes with two interchangeable bands in the box. The standard is a black silicone strap, while the second can be your choice of nylon, leather, or stainless steel.
What We Like
- Guaranteed waterproof with 10ATM water resistance rating
- Scratch-resistant sapphire dome crystal
- Made and assembled in the USA
- Interchangeable straps with four materials and a variety of color options
What We Don’t Like
- While more affordable than other American-made watches, the C5 is pricier than the average field watch
- Attaching and detaching the stainless steel band can be challenging
- Color options cover the classics, but are still limited
Unboxing my Vaer C5 felt like I was opening an Apple product. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the guys at Vaer drew their packaging inspiration directly from the Apple Watch because it’s nearly identical. That’s not a bad thing — it elevated my impression of the company from the moment I opened the box, building the same internal anticipation I’ve felt when opening any new Apple product.
Regardless of which band combination you purchase, the watch head is initially attached to the standard silicone strap. I opted for the stainless steel band as my second choice, so that was in a nice box right next to the main one. I also got a nylon band and two Horween leather bands, which came separately packaged in small manila envelopes.
My first impression of the C5 was just as I expected based on the product photos and description. That may not sound exciting, but in an age where modern marketing often oversells a product and disappoints in person, hitting par was a solid victory. It looked and felt well-made, and having multiple watch straps almost made it feel like I was getting four different watches in one box. Needless to say, I was excited to start swapping out the bands to see which was my favorite.
The Silicone Strap
The default band for every C5 is the black silicone watch strap. It’s a sporty look and feel, similar to an Apple Watch band or Fitbit band. In my opinion it’s noticeably more durable than those examples, while offering a similar form-fitting style that tends to stay in place better than the leather and stainless steel watch bands.
If you’re wearing your C5 watch to the beach, lake, or morning jog, this is the band you’ll want to wear. The waterproof material can handle sweat, freshwater and seawater, and I really like the subtle pattern that gives it a more rugged look than your average sport band.
The Nylon Strap
If you don’t want to pay anything beyond the standard retail price for your second band, opt for the nylon strap. Constructed with a dense nylon weave that’s waterproof and even more durable than the silicone sport band, the nylon strap is a fantastic everyday-wear option. It’s classy enough to dress up and wear to work, casual enough to pair with jeans on a Saturday, and hardy enough for trails and beaches on the weekend.
The nylon strap might be my favorite band in the lineup when it comes to weekend watches. I prefer the leather bands when I’m suiting up for work, but when it comes to everyday wear with jeans and a t-shirt this is my go-to option. The nylon band is comfortable, breathable, doesn’t have any wrist slippage issues (which is sometimes an issue with the leather), and it completes the classic field watch esthetic in a way that the leather and stainless steel can’t pull off.
I’ve worn the watch and nylon band on several spring hikes, and I’m happy to report that it’s plenty comfortable when sweat and water come into play. The silicone sport band is certainly more comfortable when I’m really working up a sweat, but the nylon is still a great pick for casual hikes and lounging by the water.
I will say that the nylon strap is pretty stiff out of the box, so it takes a while to break it in. Just think of it like you’re breaking in a new pair of leather boots — the first few wears may be a little uncomfortable, but soon enough it’ll form to your wrist and reach peak comfort.
The Leather Strap
When it’s time to dress up your field watch for the office, nothing beats the leather straps. The Horween leather is buttery soft, unbelievably breathable, and handsome as hell.
My only complaint for the leather straps is that my wrist is a little too small for the standard sizing, meaning that even when I have the band tightened to the smallest size it occasionally slips and slides along my wrist. It’s not too bothersome, though I tend to notice it the most when I’m typing and the watch catches the edge of my keyboard.
The Horween leather bands are still my favorite when it comes to looks and comfort, but if you have smaller wrists be prepared for a loose fit.
The Stainless Steel Bracelet
Last but certainly not least is the stainless steel bracelet, the newest addition to Vaer’s lineup. Normally you don’t see this kind of option tied to a field watch as the genre is normally suited to nylon and leather, so it’s really neat to have this option at your disposal if you want to expand your style arsenal.
The stainless steel band is handsome, well-made and comfortable, but I found the quick-release mechanisms to be significantly more challenging than the other quick-release straps. Don’t get me wrong, all of the quick-release bands require finesse and practice to connect to the watch head, but the stainless steel bracelet was particularly troublesome for me. In the end, I need my wife’s slim, nimble fingers and long nails to successfully connect the band to the watch head.
Once it was connected, the stainless steel band looked fantastic and I loved wearing it. But after reconnecting the nylon straps for a hike a few weeks later, I have to admit that I haven’t been up for the task of reconnecting the stainless steel bands.
Take this advice with a grain of salt, but if you plan to frequently swap out the watch bands, I’d recommend sticking to the leather, sport, and nylon bands. Save the stainless steel band for those who plan to keep it connected most of the time.
At its core the C5 is a field watch, so I did my best to take it into the field every chance I had over the past few months. I’m not fortunate enough to live by the beach so I can’t speak for the surf and diving capabilities, but when it comes to mountains, lakes and wooded trails, Utah’s Wasatch Front turned out to be a great testing ground.
I’ve splashed around in a pool, jacuzzi, and freezing cold lake, and the C5 handled the water like a champ. No leaking, no fogging up the glass, and no mechanical issues after it air-dried. I can’t speak for the 100 meter depth rating, but it made it to the deep end of the pool just fine.
I subjected my C5 to sweat far more than fresh water, and I’m pleased to say that the watch was comfortable on every hiking trail and ski slope that I tackled. The silicone strap was by far the most comfortable on such occasions. The nylon was rugged enough to handle dirty trails and perspiration, but it did get a little itchy from time to time, so I’d recommend using the silicone band anytime a sweaty wrist is in the forecast.
I haven’t had any issues with scratching or chipping the sapphire crystal watch face, though to be honest I haven’t exactly been intentionally running into objects to test that. Suffice it to say that after a few months of average daily wear the crystal looks just as clean and clear as the day I opened the box.
The C5 features seven layer C1 Super-LumiNova hands and numerals, which in my experience performed as well as I’d expect in low-light settings. I never had any issues reading the watch outdoors at night.
The only time I’d say visibility was an issue was indoors in a completely darkened room, but that’s par for the course without battery-powered lighting. When I “charged” the watch by shining a flashlight on the face for a few seconds before shutting off all of the lights, the glowing numerals and hands were crystal clear.
If you haven’t already picked up on my cheery tone, let’s set the record straight. I love my C5 watch, and I’d absolutely recommending investing in one if you’re in the market for a field watch.
I’m using the word “investing” intentionally because yes, the C5 is a little pricier than your standard-issue field watch. Here’s the thing, though — it’s anything but standard, and the inclusion of a second nylon strap for no additional charge means you’re basically getting two watches for the price of one. Add a leather band and stainless steel bracelet, and now you have four ways to wear it.
I can’t say that you’ll be able to notice the difference between the C5’s American movement and a cheaper international alternative unless you’re a true timepiece aficionado, but knowing that you’re sporting an All-American watch is still pretty damn cool.
“I wore my VAER Classic throughout our pilgrimage across Spain’s Camino de Santiago. We hiked 500 miles and weight, performance and functionality were critical. The timepiece performance was exceptional and the water proofing features came in handy during rain soaked days. The mix of bands was an excellent solution for this adventure. The nylon bands were perfect during the day and the leather strap was a nice upgrade for after hours R&R.” – Tom G.
“The style of the face is minimal and clean which gives a classy ascetic vibe. The strap can interchange from leather for work to nylon for after work activities in a matter of 15-30 seconds. The durability is top notch, I’ve bumped the watch face into a lot of different surfaces and it still looks brand new. If you’re looking for a watch for all your life adventures, this is the watch for you!” – Seth H.
“The silicon watch band it comes standard with is very comfortable out of the box. I ordered the unlined leather band as my second band and love it too. It took a few days to break in, but now it is very comfortable and my daily watch band. I wear the silicon band when I know I’ll be in and out of water or working in the wood shop.” – Anonymous Reviewer
I was skeptical about the quick release bands but they actually feel solid. They hit the sweet spot with the release mechanism. It’s easy enough to use while feeling secure.” – Adam
“Overall the watch is very classic and looks great on wrist, especially with the leather strap. That said, the only annoyance I have with the watch is that my hour hand is slightly off at the 12. I understand the seconds hand being off and that people are adding the hands to the watch in which there is possible human error, but I will admit, it does catch the eye.” – Benjamin B.
I have carefully inspected two Vaer watches and haven’t seen any errors like this, but no assembly line is perfect. I will disagree with Benjamin on one point, though: hand assembly tends to produce fewer mistakes than an automated assembly line. It’s a lot easier for craftsmen to catch small mistakes and issues than it is for a machine to catch them, so I’d wager that you’d see far fewer mistakes like this than with big-production factories.
“I like the overall look of the watch, however the band is not very comfortable and is an awkward length. The crown is very uncomfortable and has caused an irritation to my hand and it is now sore from only a few weeks of wearing.” – Jason B.
I’ll touch more on the crown size in a moment. For now, let’s talk about the bands. Yes, I do experience some wiggle room with the leather band even when it’s on the smallest size. It’s a little annoying, but I’d fault my small wrists before blaming that on the manufacturer. The silicone and nylon bands fit perfectly, as does the stainless steel band once you have it sized at a jeweler.
In short, if you have smaller wrists you may not get the greatest fit with the leather bands, so keep that in mind when you’re selecting your second band. As long as you go for the nylon or stainless steel band, that shouldn’t be an issue.
“Loved the watch. Beautiful fit and finish. But the crown. No matter if i wore it higher or not. It would dig into my wrist. I know it was for grip. But a less abrasive approach would’ve had me wearing this watch every day- weather in the office or on the water.” – Anonymous Reviewer
This is a common problem for me with other watch brands, to the point that I often take my watches off when I’m typing on a keyboard. So, it means a lot when I say that I personally didn’t experience this issue with the C5.
In terms of general size, I’d peg this crown as a medium. As long as you have a good fit with the band that let’s you keep it in place on your wrist, this shouldn’t be an issue for most people. If you’ve had a problem with larger crowns in the past, the only way you’ll know for sure is to give it a try. Thanks to Vaer’s 30-day full-refund policy, there’s no risk in buying one to try out for yourself.
“I thought the display was readable at night and it is not at all. Unless of course you shine light on it.” – Gary M.
And the Ugly
“I love the look of the watch – but it doesn’t tell time unfortunately. I have to constantly adjust the time forward to alight with the correct time – so it’s “slipping” backwards.” – Adam W.
I’ve had my Vaer C5 for a little over 2 months now, and I haven’t noticed any time slipping. Hopefully that means this is an isolated incident for Adam W., but in the rare case you find yourself with a defective watch it would certainly be covered by the company’s two-year warranty.
I included a fairly even mix of positive and negative reviews here, but it’s worth noting that the community consensus is not this even. At the time of writing, the C5 boasted an average 4.8 stars with almost 1,000 5-star reviews, so it’s safe to say that the community consensus is overwhelmingly positive. The negative reviews are few and far between, and even then they tend to praise the style despite the mechanical flaw they identified (which I’m sure Vaer subsequently fixed and replaced).
It’s also worth considering that Vaer has relied on Kickstarter campaigns and returning customers to expand their product line. I’m not saying every successful Kickstart campaign is a home run, but when you see the kind of campaign success that Vaer has seen with crowdsourcing, it’s clear that they have a loyal fan base that’s willing to put their money on the line to fund new projects.
Vaer Automatic Watches
The C3 and C5 watches are Vaer’s bread and butter, but if you’re a timepiece aficionado I’d highly recommend checking out their line of automatic watches. There’s the American A5, the Swiss A7, and the crown jewel of the collection, the A12 Swiss Dirty Dozen. You’ll shell out twice the cost of a C5 for the A5 and more than 3x the cost of a C5 for the Swiss models, but it’s worth every penny if you can afford to splurge.
If you’re unfamiliar with watch lingo, traditional watches like the C5 run on a battery while automatic watches like the A5, A7, and A12 never require a trip to the jeweler to replace a battery. Instead, your natural arm movement keeps the automatic watch ticking on its own. If you go a few days without wearing the watch and the energy runs out, you can either wear it for a few minutes to charge back up automatically, or you can manually wind up the movement via the crown.
I know, it sounds like magic. And if you’re in my boat where you hate having to take all of your watches in for new batteries every few years or putting on your favorite watch in the morning just to realize it’s dead, getting an automatic watch will be a game-changer for you.
In terms of style, the A5 and A7 are identical to the C5. They’ve available with the same classic field watch faces, the same color variations, and the same band options. The only major difference is the A12 Dirty Dozen, which sports the same Heritage Black face but with upgraded Horween leather bands and an alligator strap. In short, these automatic watches are the same sleek beauties on the outside but with vastly improved mechanics that elevate them to heirloom-quality timepieces.
Vaer Dive Watches
If you’re looking to deviate from the classic field watch style, these dive watches are your best choice as they have more in common with a Rolex than standard-issue field watches. In addition to exuding some envious James Bond vibes with their sleek style, Vaer’s dive watches offer twice the water resistance rating at 20ATM. That means real-world depth exposure, and specs that put $2k dive watches to shame.
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Editor’s Note: Vaer supplied our writer with a C5 Tradition Black USA Quartz Watch (40mm) with silicone, steel, leather, and nylon straps for testing purposes, as is common with practice with gear reviews. However, our writer’s opinions are entirely his own; our writers don’t profit off sales. We strive for honesty and transparency at all times.