First Look: Vapaus Vorcut Chronograph

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Brothers Oliver and Rudi Laing are the minds and movers behind Vapaus, a British watch company that is now onto their second Kickstarter campaign with a 38-millimeter chronograph they call the Vorcut. The Laings are unabashedly trying to capture what they call 1950s and 60s watch style, but there’s an interesting psychological theme here, too.A Rorschach ink-blot adorns the solid case back of the 38-millimeter Vorcut. Herman Rorschach, a Swiss psychologist, devised his test in 1921 as a way to help psychologists peer into the unconscious. By the 1960s peering into the unconscious had become a convention among intellectuals, and indulging in psychoanalysis was as chic as driving a Porsche 911, wearing a black turtleneck, smoking a pipe, and discussing abstract expressionism.

The Vorcut captures that 1960 retro-psych-chic and puts it into a playful light that could only shine in this new century. I wouldn’t call the Vorcut a work of irony, but it does seem to wink knowingly at us with those strange Rorschach lashes. Indeed, the Vorcut is flirting with our sense of irony, and its ability to keep things platonic points to the subtle sophistication of this watch.

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Take, for example, the dial. A familiar, highly legible, two-register layout comes in a number of colors, which Vapaus describes wittingly as “the dark, brooding dials of the Atomic [orange] . . . to the effortless cool of the [teal] Duke.” Those are the two models I have in hand, both entirely novel colors that fade from trippy, radiating iridescence at the center to near black at the edge of the seconds track. Recessed, multi-level sub-dials are home to a 60-minute totalizer at nine o’clock and a 24-hour register (which remains coupled to the central time) at three—all laid out in familiar two-register fashion thanks to the Vorcut’s VK64 meca-quartz movement. Despite that familiarity, the Vorcut’s dial is unlike any I’ve seen from the 1960s. Even in the relatively conventional panda and reverse panda variants the Vorcut fails to look familiar, and in Salmon pink it’s entirely unto itself.

Upon closer inspection, its becomes more apparent that no single attribute can account for the Vorcut’s unconventional appearance. Instead, an array of subtle details give this all-too-familiar dial layout its dreamy vibe.

The proprietary syringe hands with their long needles and ample vials of lume are straight out of a medical nightmare. The sub-dials, however, are entirely hospitable; the long, narrow markers of the sub-dial at three offer arm’s-length legibility, and the square markers on the sub-dial at nine playfully bear no resemblance to any other detail. At 12 and six o’clock are applied indicators which are echoed around the seconds-track by tiny applied triangles atop an even tinier bit of bright color. Meanwhile, the lack of a date aperture keeps the big picture dreamy, and the box sapphire crystal contributes visual and physical depth. Not one of these details does much on its own, but when viewed as a whole this dial invites introspection just as readily as the Rorschach blot around the back side.

At 38 millimeters with a lug-to-lug of 44 millimeters, and with tastefully stout drilled lugs and a height of just 9.55 millimeters, the Vorcut is a versatile watch. The 316L stainless steel case is vertically brushed—except for the mirror polished chamfered bezel, which is a closely studied and beautifully executed 1960s detail. The signed crown and pump pushers are unremarkable in a good way, doing their job without drawing attention away from the mesmerizing dial.

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The Vorcut’s 20-millimeter French calfskin racing strap is underwhelming, and I don’t quite get why one would perforate the top layer of leather other than to look a little bit like the rally strap that it isn’t. Fortunately, one can choose from a wide variety of straps, and some of the available combinations are stunning; the pink dial with the thick light brown calf leather strap, for example, is particularly nice.

For those who aren’t familiar with meca-quartz movements, check out Mark McArthur-Christie’s in-depth article on them. These are battery powered quartz movements which incorporate the levers, hammers and gears of a mechanical chronograph. This configuration delivers quartz accuracy and some familiar mechanical behavior, and meca-quartz movements are generally far more affordable than their mechanical counterparts, which is reflected in the very reasonable price of the Vorcut (currently on Kickstarter, you can secure one for about $358).For us watch-heads—especially those of us into mid-century tool watches—it’s easy to get mired in the orderly, utilitarian side of the 1960s and forget how powerfully psychedelic and mind-expanding that time was. The Vorcut is a playful reminder that among the 20th century’s greatest pioneers—right up there with the astronauts—were those who ventured deep into the human mind. Vapaus Vorcut via Kickstarter

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At age 7 Allen fell in love with a Timex boy's dive watch his parents gave him, and he's taken comfort in wearing a watch ever since. Allen is especially curious about digital technology having inspired a revival of analog technology, long-lasting handmade goods, and classic fashion. He lives in a one-room schoolhouse in The Hudson Valley with his partner and two orange cats.
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