Not everyday you will get to see brands producing or designing watch of case diameter smaller than 40mm these days. I am fortunate to be in a country where there are so many new and old microbrands in the watch industry, so Vario is no exception. The brand is owned by Ivan and Judy, started in 2016 with the idea of creating a strap that they weren’t able to find to match their expectations. Their newest model – Empire Automatic inspired by Art Deco is currently in the mass production phase and would be ready to be shipped by end of September, and I am lucky to be loaned with a prototype to give it a thorough review.

Technical Specifications

  • Diameter: 38mm
  • Lug to Lug: 46mm
  • Thickness: 11.5 mm (NH38A)
  • Strap Width: 20mm
  • Movement: Seiko NH38A Automatic
  • Crystal: Sapphire with inner AR coating
  • Water Resistance: 5 ATM

Here’s My Detailed Review

Case : I am definitely not a big fan of small wrist watch cases, and there are no watches below 40mm in my collection today. However, after trying out Vario’s Empire, I have a mix feeling about my perception towards small wrist watches. With my Asian size wrist of 6.5″, I would say it’s a bit weird for me to wear a 38mm case size, but the slight oversize onion crown kinda balance it up. I also like the idea that I could finally have a watch to share with my wife, as she too enjoyed wearing it when I wasn’t. Sneaky ! As I have highlighted, the onion crown is definitely a fitting choice as the slight oversize makes it easy to push and pull and gives an edgy feel to the overall dress watch concept. I like how Ivan considered a drilled lug to allow easy removal of the straps. I like how it’s not as slim as other dress watch is designed, but the thickness of 11.5mm and the lugs curving fits nicely on my wrist.

Caseback : The art deco concept doesn’t stop at the dial, it is also on the caseback with a 2d empire state architectural concept. I also like how Ivan included some geometrical design surrounding the empire state to give it a different artistic feel to it. Afterall, Ivan was previously a designer himself and I feel the caseback definitely live up to Vario’s overall art deco concept on the watch.

Dial : I think the uniqueness of the watch comes from the dial. The version that was loaned to me was the black tuxedo dial (sunburst silver with guilloché pattern in black). The multi-level dial with a raised outer ring featuring applied Arabic numerals is definitely eye-catching when viewed closely. I like how Ivan designed the hour index using 1930s font to match the iconic Empire State building architecture reflected on the caseback. The overall dial may seem simple but it was thoroughly designed to give the whole watch a vintage iconic feel.

Strap : Ivan provided me 2 straps made specifically for the Empire – Grey Vintage style Italian Leather Provincia di Vicenza tapered down to 16mm, quick release function and is both stain and scratch resistant. The other strap is a Coal Harris Tweed tapered down to 18mm. For me, it’s my first time trying Harris Tweed material strap and I’m intrigued with it. Both straps are made of top quality material and felt comfortable on my wrist. The brand Vario started off with making straps and it’s no wonder I am impressed with it. There are so many options available on Vario store today.

Conclusion to my review : 

After a few weeks wearing, I have been convinced by Vario’s Empire 38mm size. That’s how I would sum up my review with a simple 1 liner sentence. If you are just like me, not a fan of small wrist watch sizes, then you should really consider Vario Empire and give it a chance. Small watches are making a comeback in today’s watch industry, not only the microbrand but also some of the well-known Swiss brands. Vario definitely offers value for money at SGD383 (~ USD279) currently on indiegogo and was advised that the campaign will expire end of September with delivery expected to be almost immediately as well.