Homage watches can be a tricky thing. Many watch enthusiasts (myself included) frown upon makers that employ “borrowed” designs with mediocre materials and quality control. But there are some manufacturers that bring a measure of credibility to the table.
It was with these examples in mind that I reached out to Vario Watches. Chances are you’ve seen this company’s ads — with an early 20th-century aesthetic — floating around social media. I typically scroll right past, but when I glanced at its latest offering, the Vario 1945 D12 ($368), what I saw was enough to make me scroll back.
In some ways, it was the following tease that got me: “The Vario 1945 D12 is a tribute to the purpose built Dirty Dozen timepieces,” the ad teased, “a collection of Swiss and British watches built specifically for the battlefields of WWII.”
I’m a sucker for history (and movies), so referencing both a Lee Marvin flick and the 1940s made the D12 a compelling target for review. Prepare to be briefed!
In short: The Vario 1945 D12 is a well-made, deceptively attractive, and surprisingly easy-to-wear field watch with a backstory worthy of exploring. Its reliable automatic movement and top-tier legibility make for an excellent entry point into the world of mechanical timepieces. The provided strap will be a bit undersized for those with large wrists, and the lume could be a bit brighter. But when it comes to homage watches, the D12 offers a great one-two punch of historical and temporal accuracy.
For more info about the field watch market, check out GearJunkie’s guide to the best field watches.
- Case diameter 37mm
- Case thickness 10.5mm
- Lug to lug 45mm
- Lug width 18mm
- Crystal Sapphire
- Case 316L stainless steel
- Movement Miyota 82s5 automatic (40+ hours)
- Water resistance 100m (10 atm)
- Strap CORDURA
- Historic design
- Attractive case and dial
- Offset crown
- Small (but swappable) strap
- Just adequate lume
Vario 1945 D12 Watch Review
History of ‘Dirty Dozen’ Watches
I’m not going to dive too far into the origins of the “Dirty Dozen,” neither the 1967 film, the E. M. Nathanson novel on which it was based, nor the real-life “Filthy Thirteen” from which both stories are drawn. But there is a World War II tie here, which I’ll cover from the altitude of a Boeing B-52.
In wristwatch circles, “The Dirty Dozen” refers not to soldiers, but to a group of 12 Swiss manufacturers who supplied timepieces to the British Military during the conflict. Hodinkee provides a handy list of these brands: Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Lemania, Longines, IWC, Omega, Record, Timor, and Vertex.
But rather than create 12 different designs, each company was required to build the watches to spec.
Luxury watch retailer Teddy Baldassarre lists the requirements for a Dirty Dozen timepiece, put forth by the Brits: “A black dial with Arabic numerals; small seconds at 6 o’clock; railroad-style minute track; luminous hour and minute hands and indexes; a proven precise movement, preferably regulated to chronometer standards; hand-wound movements with 15 jewels; a shock-resistant, water-resistant case with shatterproof plexiglass crystal; and a waterproof, easy-grip crown for use with gloves.”
Homage for the Modern Age
As you’d imagine, these historical timepieces command a high price on the collector’s market. But for those of us without a war chest, homage makers such as Vario have stepped up to the plate. Compare the company’s 1945 D12 Field with the specs listed above: Check, check, check.
And yet, Vario managed to inject a bit of uniqueness into what is, by definition, a set design. The syringe-style hands, textured dial, and upward shift of the 12 o’clock arrow combine to create a surprising amount of visual intrigue, coming across very well in person.
Meanwhile, modern “quality of life” upgrades include 100m water resistance and screw-down crown, which has been moved to the 4 o’clock position. I’m especially fond of this shift, as it keeps the protrusion from impacting my wrist.
While the original watches came in a single color, Vario offers a palette of four. Mine came in Shadow Grey, but three additional colors are available — Raven Black, Sand Beige, and (naturally) Army Green.
Other upgrades include a sapphire crystal, along with 316L stainless steel case and Miyota 82s5 automatic movement. This hand-winding and hacking mechanism features a power reserve of “more than 40 hours.” I found its accuracy to be more or less on the money, generally running about +4/6 seconds per day.
Most chronographs utilize a small seconds dial, but this is a first for me on a field watch. And frankly, I was surprised at how much I liked it. The sweep is smooth, and the absence of the typical dial-spanning seconds hand makes the hour and minute readings really pop.
The at-a-glance legibility of the D12 is off the charts, which makes sense considering the original intent of the design.
Nitpicks and Context
Typically, I’d lodge a complaint regarding the lack of a date window. But not only would it be out of place given the historical context, but I think it would break up what amounts to a wonderfully subtle dial.
Unfortunately, there’s one thing about the D12 that’s perhaps a bit too subdued. Its outer indices appear to be painted rather than applied, which would make sense if we’re harkening back to the mass-produced nature of the originals.
Now, I’m not against this in principle, so long as the painting is well done (as it is here). But things start to get a bit iffy when we come to the luminosity of said markers. Vario’s application of C3/BGW9 lume isn’t exactly airstrip-bright. It’s certainly functional and will remain at least partially visible overnight.
But it falls behind a few of my more affordable favorites, such as the Citizen BM8180.
In the end, my biggest complaint with the D12 comes down to its strap. It’s not that it’s poorly made, uncomfortable, or unsuited to the timepiece it holds. Vario succeeds on each of those particular fronts. Rather, I’m troubled by its length.
My wrists are reasonably svelte (somewhere in the neighborhood of 7.5 inches), yet I’m pushing this CORDURA close to capacity. Buyers with anything over an 8-inch wrist will need to look at adding a larger strap to their cart. And while the quick-change springbars are convenient, they’re integrated into the stock strap, which means you’ll also need another set of bars.
Conclusion: Vario 1945 D12 Field Watch
Let’s close with a bit of an exercise. Pull up eBay and type in “Dirty Dozen Watch” or another relevant term. Now, check the price on running, good-condition examples from any of the 12 historic manufacturers.
Chances are, you’re looking at well north of $1,200. In this context, the Vario 1945 D12 Field makes a lot of sense.
As I said at the outset, homage watches are tricky. For all the adherence to source specs, materials, and designs, we as buyers know we’re not getting an original.
The key to success, I’d argue, is sincerity. And by offering a thoughtful, well-done tribute piece at a reasonable price point, Vario knocked it out of the park with this one. Yes, the strap is a bit small, and it could do with another coat of lume. But at the end of the day, the Vario 1945 D12 is not only an excellent field watch but is also one of the most interesting homages I’ve seen.