The Vaer R1 is a time traveler’s dream from the wild days of the ’60s.
Do you know the difference between a simulation and a simulacrum? With credit to Jean Baudrillard and Wikipedia, a simulation is something that mimics a “real-world process or system over time,” like the video games where you pretend to be an airline pilot.
A simulacrum, on the other hand, is kind of its own thing. They’re items that, while based on earlier concepts, “either had no original, or that no longer have an original.”
Origins, processes, time — all of this sounds so terribly interesting. Yet Vaer (a watchmaker founded in 2016) and its new R1 Racing Chronograph ($399) have found a way to make me revisit those college philosophy courses.
The watch is inspired, the company says, “by the spirit and durability of the iconic racing watches of the 1960s … our new Vaer R1 Racing Chronograph is an all-purpose meca-quartz timekeeper blending the aesthetics and functionality of a modern Chrono with the durability, water resistance, and everyday practicality synonymous with our brand.”
The ’60s, you say? I wasn’t around then, but I hear it was a wild time. And rather than creating a direct copy of a watch that was there, Vaer put together its own take on the era’s motoring aesthetic. So, when the founders reached out with an offer to test a preproduction model, I leaped at the chance to look (and sound) like the cool cat that I am.
Or at least, the one that I simulate.
In short: The Vaer R1 Racing Chronograph is an interesting, colorful design that captures the spirit of an era while operating solely on its own charms. Its trio of color schemes, multiple strap options, and choice of 38mm or 42mm case sizes represent one of the best new/old blends on the market. Assuming, that is, that the brand has solved one nasty issue from the preproduction sample.
Vaer R1 Racing Chronograph Review
- Case dimensions: 38mm x 46mm x 12.2mm
- Case material: 316L stainless
- Crystal: Bubble-domed sapphire w/internal AR coating
- Movement: Seiko/Hattori VK-63 Meca-Quartz
- Water resistance: 100 M
- Case weight: 54 g
- Lume: C1 SuperLuminova
- Lug Width: 20 mm
At first glance, the R1 is deceptively simple: You’ve got syringe hands, three sub-dials, and no date window or fancy outer rings to speak of. This, according to the maker, was intentional.
“The choice to avoid a tachymeter and bezel,” says Vaer, “were important distinctions and allowed us to deliver a legible and accessible chrono design, that is colorful and complex without being overwhelming or crowded.”
And you know something? The brand is right. Of all the chronographs that have passed through my hands, this may be the most readable.
This admirable level of restraint carries over to my tester’s case, which was sized at a perfect 38 mm. This is another throwback, harkening to the days when watches were more “work accessory” and less “fashionable tuna can that bangs into doors.”
But if you’d prefer something a bit larger, fear not — Vaer offers each version of the R1 in 42 mm, with no increase in price. Note: the 38s are available now, while the larger models are still up for preorder.
Speaking of price and cases, the R1 has some of the nicest finishing I’ve encountered at this cost point. It features an interesting blend of polished and brushed surfaces, the most noticeable of which radiates around the sapphire crystal.
And this crystal is gorgeous. Its domed surface makes up between perhaps a quarter and a fifth of the watch’s total profile (by the eyeball measurement), which should give you an idea of just how slim this timepiece is.
Beneath the glass is an attractive, multilevel dial, with shallow recesses for each of the sub-dials, including a 24-hour clock, the standard seconds, and the 60-minute chrono timer.
These are powered by a Seiko VK-63 meca-quartz movement, which gives you a sweeping second hand while retaining the durable accuracy of quartz. While the module and the other various components are sourced from around the world, all watches in the R1 line are “fully assembled in the USA.”
A word about the straps: Comfortable. Gorgeous. Versatile. Okay, that’s several words. But in fairness, Vaer themselves seems enamored with its designs.
Each watch ships with two, from rubber and canvas to Jubilee steel and Horween leather. The premium options do lift the price, but I found the standard Tropics rubber to be my favorite of the bunch.
If you couldn’t tell from the paragraphs above, I was ready to give this watch a more or less perfect recommendation. But as I was writing up my initial review, something went wrong.
As you can see, the Chrono hand detached — and yeah, it’s a pretty big deal.
I reached out to Vaer, and the company assured me that the fault was due to the preproduction nature of my tester. They shipped a production model immediately and, as you can see in the comparison photo, the two watches appear to be identical.
In fact, most of the pictures you’ll see here are of the initial piece. There are a few subtle tweaks to the final product — some improved case polishing, and a straighter alignment on the red Chrono hand. But more or less, the prototype rang true.
Should you encounter any issues with your production model, Vaer offers a respectable 2-year warranty. And I’ll admit, I want to believe this was a simple error on the pre-release version because … I really, really like this watch.
Vaer R1 Racing Chronograph: Conclusion
For me, the pairing of a classic 38mm case with the modern advances of meca-quartz and Super LumiNova are nothing short of pitch-perfect. Vaer’s materials, workmanship, and aesthetics combine to create an attractive simulacrum from a bygone era.
If you have the cash to spend and a thing for vintage watches, then the R1 Racing Chronograph is absolutely worth your time. And be on the lookout for the 42mm models, if you’re after something a little bigger.