First Look at the Vaer Automatic and “Dirty Dozen” Collection

Vaer, based in California, has seen success over the last few years that seems to surprise even the brand founders, who staked their life savings on making basic but attractive quartz watches that could exist easily within the surfing community they came from. As their business grew, more and more customers, naturally, requested mechanical timepieces, and Vaer is finally at a point where they’re ready to introduce their first series of automatic watches. They retain the same attractive features and stealthy ruggedness that has become the brand’s calling card, but with a traditional mechanical movement beating away inside. Launching on Kickstarter to give their fans first crack at these long anticipated timepieces, the new automatic watches from Vaer come in a dizzying array of options, so let’s jump right in and take a closer look.

Vaer Automatic Series

Miyota, Swiss-made, and “Dirty Dozen” — three tiers of Vaer’s automatic series.
  • Case Material: Stainless steel
  • Dial: Black, white, or navy (Dirty Dozen is black only)
  • Dimensions: 40mm
  • Crystal: Sapphire 
  • Water Resistance: 10 ATM
  • Crown: Screw down
  • Movement: American assembly: Miyota 9015; Swiss made: ETA 2824/2895; Dirty Dozen (also Swiss made): ETA 2895
  • Strap/bracelet: Various, including Horween leather and nylon
  • Price: American assembly: $299 on Kickstarter, $449 at Retail; Swiss made: $449 on Kickstarter, $599 at Retail; Dirty Dozen: $599 on Kickstarter, $849 at Retail 
  • Expected Release: Kickstarter ongoing; Delivery around November 2019


There are three tiers in the Vaer automatic line, offering American assembly and Swiss made designations. The first and least expensive tier ($299 on Kickstarter, $449 at retail) is assembled in the USA and makes use of an affordable Miyota 9015 movement. This is a thin, workhorse movement with a date complication that is easy enough for any competent watchmaker to tinker with, and offers a robustness that is important to Vaer and their customer base. This tier gives the owner the option of four different dial variants, including black, white, and navy options with different layouts inspired by military and field watches of the past. There’s truly something for every taste. 

An assortment of dial options available here.

The second tier is a little more expensive, $449 on Kickstarter and $599 at retail, but offers a true Swiss-made movement. Kickstarter patrons have their choice of date or no date (ETA 2824 vs. ETA 2895) movements with three different dial options. Again, Vaer is offering lots of customization and choice here, while providing their customers with an affordable but high quality and proven movement. 

The top tier, and the watch that we’re particularly focused on here, is Vaer’s “Dirty Dozen” homage. Taking design cues from the famed war watches issued to British soldiers in World War II, this watch is available to Kickstarter backers for $599, and will sell for $849 at retail.

Vaer’s Dirty Dozen is an homage to 12 legendary mil-spec watches.

When you consider Vaer’s commitment to making rugged but attractive “outdoor” watches, the decision to make a Dirty Dozen homage part of their initial mechanical offering makes a lot of sense. An issued watch, in many ways, is the ultimate outdoor watch. It has to contend with obstacles far more difficult to predict than today’s sports watches, while maintaining perfect legibility and reliability. 

Vaer’s take on the genre is simple and tasteful. They’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, and the founders clearly have a respect for the history they’re tapping into. Vaer’s Dirty Dozen has a stark black dial with bright white Arabic numerals all around, and a rail style pattern counts off the minutes on the dial’s perimeter. The sword hands are well lumed and the minute hand reaches all the way to the minutes track, a small but important detail that greatly increases the wearer’s ability to tell the time at a glance and set the watch for maximum accuracy. A small subsidiary seconds dial at 6:00 is well integrated, and branding is discrete and barely noticed, which is entirely appropriate for a Dirty Dozen inspired piece, as these watches were originally produced by a variety of watchmaking firms to common standards. These were not showcases for a particular brand’s design aesthetic, but pure form following function. 

The Vaer Dirty Dozen (and the rest of the automatic watches in the range) feature a simple vintage-inspired case design that is largely brushed. Because of the thin movements used by Vaer, these watches come in at just 10mm thick with a diameter of 40mm. There isn’t a lot of hard geometry here — the lines flow smoothly, and the lugs twist ever so slightly. There are thin, polished bevels on the bezel and top side of the lugs, but it’s subtle finishing work and the polished elements aren’t flashy. This won’t be mistaken for anything other than a tool watch. The case takes its style cues from the 1940s, but it’s a modern size that allows the brand to use big, wide open dials that are extremely legible in a variety of conditions. These watches should fit a variety of wrists really well. 

It’s definitely a smaller-wearing 40mm.

The folks at Vaer have done their homework and seem to have hit all the right notes in creating a modern interpretation of the highly collectible Dirty Dozen pieces. While those vintage watches climb in value, owning a wearable and value oriented version with modern watchmaking tech becomes more and more appealing if you’re a fan of the general design. Rather than creating a strict replica, Vaer has internalized the big picture design choices made 75 years ago out of pure necessity, and come up with something that’s uniquely theirs but also unmistakably a tribute to something else. 

Vaer’s Kickstarter campaign is live right now, and has already hit their goal. As of this writing there are still plenty of early bird packages left to choose from, so check those out here. Watches are expected to ship in November.

Thoughts on the new Automatic series from Vaer? Let us know by dropping a comment below.

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Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.