The Vaer Arctic Tan D5 is a solid vintage-inspired dive watch. Here’s our full review.
Let’s dive in…
Vaer D5 Arctic Tan
Founded in 2016 in Venice Beach, California, Vaer’s story goes as follows: Two guys from California couldn’t afford any watches they liked, and they didn’t like any watches they could afford.
They set out to start their own company and create affordable, well-made, and robust mechanical watches.
The name “Vaer” was inspired by similar-sounding words in various European languages, all tied together with a loose theme evocative of nature and adventure.
Their current catalog features field and dive watches. Each category utilizes one standard case design with a variety of dials, complications, and movements. Drawing inspiration from classic military designs, their watches are practical and ruggedly cool.
This is further emphasized through their promotional marketing, where they’ve recruited surfers, divers, and general outdoorsmen as brand ambassadors.
In a world of increasingly expensive luxury watches and highly competitive microbrands, we’ll be taking a look at one Vaer diver to see if the company has earned their stripes.
The watch comes packed in a flat slate blue box, within which two white boxes are snugly fit. With isolated product shots on the lids, these are very evocative of Apple’s packaging.
The unboxing experience is enjoyable. Also included in the box is a signed certificate of assembly, an instruction booklet, and a separate card with instructions for the bracelet.
I enjoyed flipping through the booklet because it’s exactly the kind of thing I would’ve loved as a budding watch enthusiast.
It includes detailed information about operating the watch, changing straps, water resistance, and an FAQ section. There’s even an illustrated description on how to properly fold and tuck a NATO strap. Bonus points for that.
- Case size: 40mm
- Case size w/crown: 43.2mm
- Lug width: 20mm
- Lug to lug: 46mm
- Case thickness: 11.6mm
- Thickness w/crystal: 14mm
- Case weight: 69g, 96g on rubber strap, 133 grams on bracelet (sized for my 6.5” wrist)
- Bracelet weight (all links included): 75g
The case borrows design elements from two titans of the Swiss dive watch industry: Rolex and Omega. Visually, the D5 appears like a cross between a Submariner and a vintage Seamaster 300, with some unique twists that help it stand on its own. It’s a bit of a mish-mash, but I wouldn’t call it an outright homage watch.
For example, the case is directly inspired by Omega’s watches with their “twisted lug” design, while the bezel and insert are very Rolex. You could call the sword handset the middle ground, as both Rolex and Omega have technically used it in the past.
Though, the white seconds hand is also a nod to the Seamaster 300. While the dial on the D5 Arctic is Vaer’s own design, the D5 Pacific’s dial is much more “homage-y” to the Seamaster 300, if you feel like going that route.
In profile, the sides of the case are brushed horizontally. Instead of a flat edge, the D5 curves inward toward the caseback. This is a nice touch that makes the overall design a little more unique. The edges between the lugs, however, look a little weird.
There’s a distinct break in the curve, making the watch look a bit… chubby. I’m not sure what the idea behind this design was. Regardless, this is an area you’ll seldom be looking at, particularly if you wear the watch on the bracelet.
Case finishing is one area where this watch punches above its price point. Machining of the 316L stainless steel case is precise, and it features a mixture of finely brushed and polished surfaces that speak of refinement. There are no crown guards, but the crown is just slightly recessed into the side of the case.
The crown action isn’t great. When unscrewing it, you can feel a mildly off-putting tactile grittiness and resistance.
When the crown is pulled out to its second position, it has a little wobble to it. Each time that I’ve screwed the crown in, I was a little apprehensive of cross-threading it.
I understand that the grittiness of the winding action is inherent to the movement, but the crown threading can be improved in the manufacturing process. I’ve owned cheaper watches with much smoother crowns.
You get 200m of water resistance with this watch, the baseline standard for a watch to be considered a diver. Realistically, this rating means that it should be okay for swimming, snorkeling, and short dives.
The D5 features a 120-click unidirectional bezel. Modeled after Rolex’s iconic design, the bezel teeth are machined sharply and bite when you grip them. The ceramic insert is fitted to the bezel with no visible gaps. Both the bezel and insert are sloped to flow with the curve of the crystal.
While the inspiration behind the bezel insert is clear, some aesthetic tweaks have been pulled. Vaer has dropped the individual minute markers from 0 to 15, making the bezel more symmetrical.
Instead of plain batons, the markers at each “5” position are gently tapered and filled with lume. The shape resembles an arrow tail, and 12 o’clock is the arrowhead: a big triangular marker filled with lume.
The bezel action is nice and snappy. The clicks are crisp and well-defined. The bezel is tight enough to prevent accidental turning but still easy to grip and use. Operating it with wet hands should be no issue.
However, there is some slight play. If turned slowly, the bezel sort of slides into each click and requires a clockwise half-turn to get it seated in the proper position.
Once seated, though, it stays rigidly in place. Because of the crystal distortion and depth of the dial, it can be tricky to determine if the bezel insert is aligned correctly. On this particular watch, the insert is just marginally misaligned left of center.
The black dial takes on a subtle matte texture. Like the bezel, arrowhead and tail markers appear on the dial with the addition of circular markers at the 2, 4, 8, and 10 o’clock positions.
The 6 o’clock marker is a stubbier arrow tail, perhaps to break up the design and help with orientation.
All of the indices are applied, and the edges peeking out around the lume appear to have a bead-blasted finish. They’re very low profile and could be mistaken for printed indices if not for the sheen they give off in the light.
The sword handset has a strong military association and lends itself to the rugged tool-watch aesthetic. The minute and hour hands were given a brushed finish, while the seconds hand is painted white. The finishing of the hands is decent.
The grain is a bit large, and the hands look a little rough around the edges. Personally, I think a polished handset would have been a little more lively.
On my watch, the alignment of the hands also appears to be off. The hour hand is slightly ahead of where it should be on each hour. The easiest way to check this on any watch is by setting the hands to 12 or 6 o’clock.
The use of printed text is nice and minimal, with “VAER” standing alone under the 12 o’clock index.
The format of the depth rating is another design element borrowed from Rolex, followed by “Automatic” and “American Assembly” at the bottom of the dial. Though it’s a bit clunkier than “Swiss Made,” it’s nice and symmetrical.
A standard minute track is printed in white with bold hash marks at each five-minute marker. Encircling the dial is a brushed flange just reflective enough to mirror the minute track.
The flange appears quite tall when viewing the watch at a 45-degree angle. This is partly a distortion of the crystal, but it does give the impression of dead space between the crystal and dial.
Though the watch is well proportioned, it wears a little thick. It makes me wonder if some height could have been trimmed off.
Here, we have a double dome sapphire crystal with an anti-reflective coating. The blue of the AR is quite eye-catching, and it has actually earned me a couple of compliments while wearing the watch day-to-day.
In profile, the crystal and bezel insert curve in unison to create one clean arc. A small bevel at the edge of the crystal acts as a step between them. It’s thoughtful details like these that make the D5 look like a much more expensive watch than it is.
Caseback & Movement
It’s been a popular choice for watches at this price point to feature display casebacks, and Vaer has done just that. This likely serves to generate interest in automatic watches among newcomers. It’s always cool to flip a watch over and peek at the movement ticking away.
The sapphire window is also a nice touch, as some brands opt for mineral glass to cut costs. Around it, the caseback is pretty standard; it’s radially brushed with engraved specs that encircle the glass.
As far as display-backs go, this one is pretty slim. It doesn’t add too much extra bulk to the watch.
The Vaer logo is engraved on the rotor, adding a touch of personalization on an otherwise stock movement. Though the Miyota 9039 isn’t much of a looker, I can imagine the Sellita featured in the D7 to be much prettier.
I appreciate that Vaer offers their watches with multiple movement options at different price points. For a few hundred more, you get a Sellita SW200 and the “Swiss Made” stamp of pride with it.
Alternatively, if you want a more practical and affordable watch, you can go for the D4. It packs a no-fuss solar quartz movement, which is great if you want a quality vintage design but you’re not into the whole setting-your-watch-all-the-time deal.
Some love to hate Miyota movements, but the 9000 series offers great performance for the price. I’ve owned a few watches with the 9039 in particular, and they all ran consistently. Rated at -10 to +30 seconds a day, Miyota offers moderately better accuracy over a Seiko NH35. My movement gained about 14 seconds per day on average.
This movement is notorious for being noisy. It only winds in one direction, which means it spins freely in the opposite direction. If it gains momentum, it can spin out for several seconds like a helicopter.
The watch does a pretty good job at muting the rotor sound, but it can sometimes be heard as a rattly whirring sound at the flick of the wrist.
The indices, hands, and bezel insert are all treated with Old Radium SuperLuminova X1 which emulates the patina that vintage watch watches are loved for.
Faux patinas are always polarizing, but personally, I think it’s tastefully done and appropriate for this design. In any case, you can opt for the Vaer Arctic White if you prefer a clean modern look.
As for the application, the lume is serviceable but feels a little inconsistent between different elements of the watch.
The bezel insert and hands glow the brightest and longest, while the dial is somewhat dimmer and spottier. Some of the indices also suffer from misaligned lume plots. This is most prominent on the 6 o’clock marker and a few of the circular indices. Since this is a QC issue, your mileage may vary.
To nitpick the design, I find the lumed areas on the bezel insert slightly odd. The numerals aren’t lumed, and the only lumed markers fall on the ‘5’s.
In the dark, you have to remember to count “five, fifteen, twenty-five,” and so on. It’s just not very intuitive to read. I’d like to see a fully lumed bezel in the future.
Bracelet & Strap
Vaer’s premium bracelet features solid endlinks, screwed pins, and a milled clasp with a double-pusher release. Both the bracelet and rubber strap implement quick-release springbars for easy strap changes.
The oyster-style bracelet tapers from 20mm down to about 16mm at the clasp.
The midlink of the endlinks extends a little farther than the lugs and bumps the watch’s wingspan up to about 52mm. I still find it very wearable on my 6.5” wrist, but it’s something to consider.
The clasp features four points of micro-adjustment. It’s the standard dive-style clasp typically found on microbrand watches. It’s not flashy, but it serves its purpose well. No diver’s extension, but I personally prefer my bracelets without them. It cuts out the extra bulk for a feature I know I’ll never use.
Unfortunately, I didn’t quite connect with the bracelet. It’s lightweight, which causes the watch to feel top-heavy and unbalanced on the wrist. If you like to wear your bracelets a little looser, you may have issues with the crown digging into the back of your hand.
On the other hand, the Tropic-style strap is one of the most comfortable rubber straps I’ve worn. The rubber is supple enough to conform to the wrist without feeling flimsy.
On this strap, the watch wears great and feels balanced. The clasp and tang are milled, which is also a nice touch. If I had to critique it, I’d say the texture could be a little more pronounced and I’d like to see it gradually taper more toward the tail.
The flip lock of the bracelet as well as the buckle of the rubber strap are engraved with Vaer’s logotype. In addition, the rubber strap has raised lettering on its underside.
I do appreciate Vaer going the extra mile to personalize their accessories. It gives the general presentation a more premium feel.
Also, it should go without saying that the watch is awesome on NATO straps. It’ll match almost anything you throw it on, especially earth-toned military colors.
Conclusion: A Great Microbrand Watch
The D5 is a superb watch. It’s solidly built, and all of the design elements unite elegantly. One of the best aspects of this watch is the light play between the bezel, crystal, and polished surfaces.
The movement is reliable, and you should have no issues with water resistance. Most of my critiques have been nitpicks and have involved quality control (and I’d love to see stronger lume). Realistically, you’ll always encounter QC issues at this price point.
I believe the design falls short in a few areas, like the aforementioned height of the case.
It’s less prominent in photos, but at times when you look down at the watch, it will be at the angle of peak crystal distortion, thus exaggerating the height of the watch. And while it’s not the most original design out there, it accomplishes what it aims to do without being too derivative.
Design aside, my biggest issue is with the crown action. Operating the watch is a significant part of the user experience, and I hope Vaer can improve in this area in the future.
When you consider their place as a microbrand, I think Vaer is doing many things right. They have an active social media presence, and they come off as approachable to newcomers.
They’re very transparent about their products, including highly detailed spec lists and origins of manufacturing. They’re also very in touch with their customer base, sending out periodic company updates and annual surveys where the community can give feedback on new designs in the works.
There aren’t many American watch companies, and it’s nice to see one succeed that keeps their customers in mind.
Questions? Comments? Leave them below!