If you’ve got a passing interest in watches, you’re probably familiar with the freewheeling stylings of the 1970s, an era that birthed the Patek Philippe Nautilus and Vacheron Constantin 222, among other funky designs. The decade right before it, however, produced just as many iconic and equally covetable silhouettes, especially when it comes to the racing chronographs worn by guys like Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and the Apollo astronauts. Designed to precisely time sporting events like Formula 1 races or, in a pinch, help you land a lunar module, the TAG Heuer Monaco, the Omega Speedmaster, and the Rolex Daytona were just a few of the most enduring drops of the decade. More than half a century later (thanks to the MoonSwatch and Paul Newman’s infamous Rolex) these pieces are in higher demand than ever, and anyone looking to add one to their collection can expect to do serious damage to their savings account. With its era-appropriate looks and $399 price, however, the new Vaer R1 is a lock for podium position in your rotation at a fraction of the cost.
For those unfamiliar with Vaer, the California-based brand specializes in rugged sports watches with premium features like sapphire crystals and locking crowns, all assembled in the USA and Switzerland. Our introduction to Vaer was their limited-edition A-12, a tribute to the so-called “Dirty Dozen” watches of WWII with a historically-faithful design right down to the hand-wound Swiss movement. As the brand’s homage to the best chronographs of the ‘60s and ’70s, the Vaer R1 is very much cut from the same cloth (so to speak), with period-correct details like a cushion-shaped case (available in both 38mm and 42mm sizes), a domed sapphire crystal, and an optional steel Jubilee-style bracelet.
Just as enticing as the R1’s trio of minimalist dials, however, is what’s beneath them: a Seiko meca-quartz movement. Pioneered by luxury Swiss watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre in the 1980s, and used by big names like IWC and Breitling in the 1990s, meca-quartz movements rely on quartz technology for the hours and minutes, with an added mechanical module to power the chronograph function. With the same mechanical feel and sweeping seconds hand as an automatic chronograph, and the superior accuracy of quartz, a meca-quartz movement is a best-of-both-worlds solution that makes the R1 more reliable, more durable, and—most important– more affordable than its mechanical counterparts. It also makes the R1 a clear winner for anyone looking to get their hands on an affordable ’60s-style chronograph, no matter how far you find yourself from the grid.