Vario Revives the World War I Trench Watch, with Modern Upgrades

Vario’s newest watch (their third) takes inspiration from a period of time that doesn’t get a ton of attention from contemporary watch designers: the World War I era. The new timepiece, simply and descriptively called the 1918 Trench Watch, is modeled after – you guessed it – trench watches that were frequently worn by soldiers during the “War to End All Wars.” With a full century of distance from the conflict, it becomes less and less understood by the average person walking around in 2020, as vanishingly few of us have firsthand experience with someone for whom the war was a formative event. Unlike, say, World War II, where the current crop of watch collectors is sure to be no more than two or three generations removed from someone who either fought in the war or has clear memories of the time period, World War I is nearly erased from our collective memories, simply due to the passing of time. That gives a product like this the curious quality of an artifact, or something completely out of time, and it might just strike a chord with watch fans who are interested in discovering history through objects (even if they are recreations). 


World War I is credited by some as the event that gave birth to the wristwatch. Now, it should be noted that depending on who you ask, there are a variety of factors that moved watches from the pocket to the wrist, and we probably can’t give full credit to a single event, but nevertheless, the fighting conditions in WWI certainly necessitated easy access to a durable timing device, preferably not having to pulled from a pocket. Large Arabic numerals and hands, illuminated with radium, are the stylistic calling card of these watches. Cases were simple and utilitarian, with wire lugs being employed for additional security. 

Vario’s approach to the trench watch is simple and tasteful, with a design that appears to be authentic to the WWI period. I particularly like that they have gone all-in on the wire lug design, and even make these watches available on bund straps. They’ve also resisted the urge to upsize the watches for a modern customer, sticking with a 37mm diameter that is conservative by today’s standards (though larger than most WWI era trench watches). A total of six color variants will be made, three of which use radium colored lume, which I think is appropriate for a watch like this, even if I’m typically skeptical of faux-lume treatments. The 1918 Trench Watch runs on a Miyota 82S5 automatic movement.

Vario is marketing these watches as an upgrade to a very old concept, similar to how we’ve seen other brands generate interest in their vintage revivals as wearable versions of older and more delicate watches that might not stand up to the physical demands of modern life. Those who say, “Well, if it could stand up to World War I, surely it can survive an office environment!” should remember that many of these watches did not survive World War I. Look at any auction catalog listing for old trench watches, and observe that in many cases condition notes will list movements as “not running,” or something similar. Not to mention damaged crystals, dislodged hands, and so forth. Trench watches are from the earliest days of wristwatch manufacturing, and are a different thing altogether from midcentury dive watches, for example, which can still be used as intended today with proper servicing and new gaskets. (Please, please, be sure to have new gaskets installed before you dive with a 50 year old dive watch). All of that’s to say, a vintage recreation from this time period feels fundamentally different than an homage to something more recent. 

Watches are expected to be delivered as early as February of next year, with a full retail price of $340, although discounts will be available to early-bird backers on Kickstarter. For more information on the 1918 Trench Watch, and to sign up for Kickstarter notifications, check out Vario here.

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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.