Hands-on with the Vapaus Veli

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A little over a year ago I was sent some renders from a brand that was in the design stages of creating their first watch. This happens from time to time, but these renders caught my eye. The watch was well considered with a restrained, vintage aesthetic. Over the course of the following year, I was sent a few more renders here and there with updates to the design as well as more details about the build and plans for the watch. Now, I’m excited to have the watch in hand (or on my wrist to be precise) and the opportunity to review it as the brand brings it to market.

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The brand was Vapaus and the watch is the Veli. A 38mm vintage-inspired design with a massive domed crystal, it’s a spiritual blend of the Orient Bambino and something perhaps by Stowa or Junghans. A fun, but serious watch built with watch enthusiasts in mind, the Veli is Swiss-made and features a Sellita movement and a domed sapphire. Vapaus is currently (July, 2016) seeking £100,000 through Kickstarter to get the Veli off the ground. With a price tag under $1,000, this is a watch seriously worth a closer look.

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$650

Hands-on with the Vapaus Veli

Case
Stainless Steel
Movement
Sellita 215-1
Dial
Blue Sunburst
Lume
Yes
Lens
Domed Sapphire
Strap
leather
Water Resistance
NA
Dimensions
38 x 44mm
Thickness
9mm
Lug Width
20mm
Crown
4.5 x 2.5
Warranty
Yes
Price
$650

Case

An obvious highlight of the Veli is the vintage inspired, small-sized case design. Measuring 38 x 44 x 9mm (to the top of the domed sapphire crystal), it’s finally a watch with proportions that are akin to mid-century watches. Yes, there are a few others out there, but most of the time “vintage-inspired” ends up around 40mm, for some unknown, likely due-to-compromise reason. 38mm, though it would still be large for something form the 50’s, is a great size for a smaller modern watch. Perhaps more importantly though, is that the watch is nice and thin, thanks to the Selitta 215 manual wound movement. Without the crystal, the case is only a bit over 6mm.

The design of the case is simple and minimal, but different enough to have its own personality. The mid case is a cylinder with slabs sides that breaks into a small gap just before the bezel. This gap keeps the proportions of the case sides in check, aiding in the perceived thinness of the watch. The bezel angles up, leading into the gorgeous domed sapphire crystal. Standing 2.8mm over the case, the crystal rises up quickly, then flattens out to a more subtle curve. It’s double domed too, to prevent distortion. It’s a beautiful piece of glass that really adds to the overall look and feel of the watch, though I did find it a bit overly reflective despite having internal AR.

The lug design chosen for the Veli is a nice and uncommon spin on the wire lug. The lugs are square extrusions that come straight out of the case, curving down a bit for ergonomics. Then. like a wire lug, they turn inwards, creating a 20mm gap for a strap. They are very nice looking, complimenting the overall design and adding a bit of masculinity without resorting to bulk or faceting. Like wire lugs, they give added emphasis to the dial and mid-case, which sort of floats between the ends of the straps.

On the right side of the case is a very small pull-out crown measuring 4.5 by about 2mm. The crown is toothed along its edge to aid in grip and features an etched logo on its flat side. Given the thickness of the watch there was limited space for the crown, which is why, I imagine, they went with such a small size. That said, it’s a bit too small to my eyes, and certainly makes winding the watch a bit awkward. You have to pinch it between your pointer and thumb in an odd way, and I did find it slipping at times. A few more millimeters wide would have helped with this. Since it’s a manual watch, you will be using it regularly.

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Flipping the Veli over, you’ll find a snap on case back. It’s solid, with a mirror finish and an etched design. The sample here is one of the first 80, so the art features a being with their arms spread, mirrored at top and bottom, with the watch number in the center. The open stock caseback will have the same being under a sun. It’s nice to see something different

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Dial

The Veli dial reflects the mid-century concept with a refined design that focuses on proportions. There are four colors to choose from, silver, gray, black and blue. Clearly, we have the blue here. It’s a deep sapphire color with a sunburst finish that shifts colors in the light. Though I’m not the biggest blue dial fan (I like them, just don’t often love them), I did find this one attractive once I got used to it. I will say though that the reflective nature of the surface doesn’t make the glare on the crystal any easier to take.

The primary index consists of long thin lines per hour, doubling at 12, in a rose gold color. The color compliments the blue well and is an interesting change of pace from white or other typical printed colors. Around the outer edge of the dial is then a minutes/seconds index with numerals every 5 units in a tall, thin type and dots in between. It’s all very well balanced with the lengths of the lines playing off of the width of the dots, and the numerals just hitting the right size to be legible. The quality of the printing is also clearly apparent as marks and numerals this fine would have been a mess otherwise.

Off of the lines at 12, 3, 6 and 9 are small blocks of lume. These aid in visibility at night, but also give you a slightly bolder reference for reading on the fly. Below 12 is a “Vapaus” logo also in rose gold. It’s a very thin typeface as well, and is sized appropriately. At the bottom of the dial you’ll find something not often seen on crowdfunded watches; “Swiss Made”. But perhaps the most impressive detail is just above the marker at 6, the date window. Vapaus not only managed to put a date window at a location that worked well with the design, they also customized the disc to match the dial! Yep, the surface is blue with a white date. This makes the number standout while preventing the disk from disrupting the dial.

For hands, Vapaus gives two options: classic alpha and quirky syringe style. The sample includes the latter, which I was happy to see. Both the hour and minute hands are long rectangles in polished rose gold with additional pointer stems (the needle of the syringe, if you will) that reach their respective markers. The wider portions are also lume filled. This design works very well with the dial and watch overall, while adding just enough weirdness to give some additional personality. Mid-century watches were a bit more adventurous than today’s offerings (just look at Hamilton’s asymmetrical cases), so details like this feel very welcome. The seconds hand is then a long thin stick in rose gold with a diamond shaped counterweight.

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Movement

Though we’ve seen many a Sellita movement here at w&w, this is one of our first times coming across their hand wound 215-1. In terms of design, if the 200 is a clone of the ETA 2824, the 215 is a clone of the 2804, which is the date version of the 2801. These are generally less commonly seen largely because brands air towards automatics. But, like the “retro 40mm”, that’s playing it safe, a watch like the Veli is better suited to a hand wound movement.

As far as stats go, the 215 is a 19-jewel manual movement with hacking, quickset date, 42 hr power reserve and a frequency of 28,800 bph.

Straps and Wearability

The Veli came mounted to a 20mm brown calf leather strap. It’s a very formal style with folded edges and no stitching at all. It’s thin, but has a nice stiffness to it, making it feel like decent quality leather. The strap features a 2mm taper, though I think 4mm might have suited the design a bit better as the strap looks a bit wide compared to the case. It’s not bad for a more dressy option, though I’d likely put it on a more casual style design and with more textural leather.

On the wrist, the Veli wears exceptionally well. The size is spot on. 38mm with a wide dial looks great on my 7” wrist: it has presence, but looks appropriate. The lugs then only come out a bit, and quickly curve down accommodating the shape of my wrist. The watch then feels very thin, easily fitting under a shirt sleeve. 38mm is just the perfect size for an easy to wear watch.

And it looks great too. The big, domed sapphire crystal has a unique presence, giving the case a wild glossiness that throws reflections around. The deep blue dial then pulls you in with its shifting sapphire hues. The play of the blue with the rose gold markers and hands gives the watch a distinct look. The blue actually comes across warm, with the rose gold emphasizing this, while contrasting for legibility. Because of the size and restrained aesthetic, the Veli works as both a casual and a dress watch. Put it on a suede strap and it will look great with jeans, throw it on a flat leather or cordovan and it would pair well with a blazer.

Conclusion

With their first watch Vapaus has proven that they are not your typical crowdfunded brand. They are setting out to establish something real that will endure. The Veli is not the watch of a brand looking to make a quick buck. It’s the watch of brand with some vision and know how. Swiss-made with a Sellita hand-wound movement and a domed sapphire that rivals what you’ll find from old, established brands; the Veli is a well-made, well-designed watch.

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It’s also one of the few vintage-inspired watches we’ve seen that got the design right, pretty much all around. There aren’t any major hang ups, like it being too big or having an ugly date. With their thin 38mm case, they nailed the vintage-inspired modern watch. Add in the attractive and well executed dial, unique hands, that crystal and the quality Swiss movement, and you really have a great package. Sure, there were a few things I would improve, such as the small crown, but none really took away from the enjoyment of wearing the watch.

Of course, that would all be for nothing if the watch cost an arm and a leg. Luckily Vapaus has priced the watch with value in mind, keeping it under $1,000. That’s a great deal at this point for watch with those specs. To make it further tempting, during their Kickstarter campaign prices start at £499, which is about $650. So, if you’re looking for vintage charm in a modern watch, the Veli is seriously worth considering.

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Zach is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of Worn & Wound. Before diving headfirst into the world of watches, he spent his days as a product and graphic designer. Zach views watches as the perfect synergy of 2D and 3D design: the place where form, function, fashion and mechanical wonderment come together.
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