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A brand’s story : Vario by Extropian

Brand's Story
Vario watches
automatic watch
A brand’s story : Vario by Extropian

In focus: Vario.

Today we are going to look at one of the brands that we care about the most, Vario. A brand born in Singapore that believes in quality and unique design on an affordable price. The brand has been around for almost 8 years now and has brought to market watches that blind us with nostalgia. If you are a vintage aficionado, this is a brand that could offer an authentic look with modern capabilities. Let us explore in detail.

How it all begins?

The brand begins with founder Ivan Chua and his wife Judy. Ivan is a graphic designer, and while Singapore was going through expansion and changes, the architectural boom really caught his eyes. Also, with the raise of technology, mobile phones became the primary source to read the time. After a while, Ivan felt that he needed something different and started to wear his old watches. With the straps disintegrated and in bad shaped, he put his design experience to work and started to offer straps and watch accessories. With this major step in 2016, Vario was born. Vario is a name that comes from ‘’vary’’, to change from one condition to another.

After seeing the success on the accessories side, the vintage bug is was with him. Ivan decided to design his first watch. A mixture of Bauhaus and Art deco are always flying in his head, you can see this reflected on their designs.

Since its conception, Vario now offers a great variety of models and sizes. The quality control is one of the most important elements. Ivan and Judy take pride on their QC process. This is why they have been around so long; the reviews are extensive and positive.

Vario is a very successful project. The watches have been sold over 80 countries. From the UK to the US, they have a unique approach to neo-vintage watches. The upcoming projects are bold, and Ivan doesn’t plan to stop there. We are looking forward to see what is coming.

Who made it happen?

After founding his own business and working for many publicity agencies, Ivan ventured to watches. His idea is to bring modern touches to vintage pieces, not only in terms of design but also in reliability.

His wife Judy is key to the project. She looks after the quality control of every item shipped, does not matter if is a strap, a watch or a buckle, everything must be perfect.

The experience in small details and entrepreneur nature helps when starting a brand. This is shown when you see that nothing in the catalogue looks like another watch out there. Ivan and Judy have thought well on how to develop Vario into a comprehensive brand.

What is the brand philosophy?

Vario philosophy is simple but powerful. Make a reliable watch, affordable with high quality inspired by vintage design. It is not simple to do but I believe they are on the right track.

Looking at each part separately, reliability is key to watches and specially to vintage ones. When you own a vintage piece, you are always concerned of water resistance, accuracy, and provenance. They have also become expensive thank to the raise in popularity of the pre-owned arena. And the quality of materials from the past is not as good as the ones we have today. Take all these adversities and we have a gap in the market. A gap that Ivan is filling nicely at the moment.

Keeping the cost down seems necessary for these days. With a lot of competition, it has become a race of who has the cheapest offer, but we as watch collectors, have suffered in the quality department. We see cheap watches that look good in renders but when you do the hands on, this is not the case. Vario gives us that quality edge at a price that is not that common for unique designs. The current line up really takes advantage of the eye for details of the founder.

Another part on Vario’s philosophy is how friendly they are. Is not an elitist brand that caters only their customers. It is a brand that is approachable, not only in price but in contact. If you send a message, it would be Ivan responding, always happy to help and to build a rapport, he enjoys hearing where his watches are going and what we are doing with them, he has a special attachment with every one of the pieces. At the end it is a family brand.

Their style and design

Vario is focus in the past. Art deco and Bauhaus are the main sources of inspiration. Their watches are very ornamental per nature, but they do not feel overloaded. They are simple but well thought out.

Another way to describe how they bring product to market is by eras. They have look at elegant/chic designs from the 20’s and 30’s. Also, for this period, they have recreated military watches. What I like about Vario is that they not only design the watches to look from a specific time, but they also use techniques such as enamel and guilloche to be period correct.

Currently they have moved to the 1940s. Military watches are great inspiration for design and function. They needed to perform, but they are also aesthetically beautiful.

To keep the cost down the watches are powered by Miyota and Seiko movements. They are robust and some of them include an exhibition case back which is appreciated, specially in manual wind versions.

All of these watches are very lucky to have Vario as a strap manufacturer. The techniques and design are not enough, you also need the correct strap to complete the look. They use Italian high-quality leather that doesn’t require a ‘’break in’’ period, they are soft from the moment you put them on. This of course is in the brand DNA.

Who is their target audience?

Vario’s target is the vintage watch enthusiast. It would be the person that is looking for those nostalgic cues but also wants to wear the watch without being afraid of damage it. We have seen watch collectors with old Patek references that have a Vario in their collection, but we have also seen people who are just starting in watches and do not wat to commit to a six figures watch.

The watches also can be considered unisex given their size. Most of their cases are under 38mm which means that can accommodate both male and female alike. The straps also help with the ease of wear, they tapper dramatically and have a good comfort effect.

You would say because this is a brand that uses vintage inspiration the buyers would be older but that is far from the truth. If you follow the auction world for vintage watches, you will see that many of the bidders are under 30 years, and this is the same for Vario. The attention that they get has a broader spectrum, justified also by the prices.

Coming back to that price point, Vario offers watches from 250 USD up to 700 USD. This is a crowded place in the microbrand space but the quality and unique design it is what really stands out.

Their current line of products

Proudly design in Singapore, Vario currently offers good variety of products. They are divided by 3 categories: auto, mech and quartz.

The Auto

In here we can find those watches powered with an automatic movement, the ones that really stand out are:

  • The 1918 trench medic with big numerals, and centre seconds hand

Vario 1918 Trench Black Dial with Orange Lume Watch

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  • The 1945 D12 which is a Vario interpretation on the dirty dozen, a modern take on a classic.

Vario 1945 D12 Army Green Field Watch

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  • The Empire True GMT, which is their latest release their latest release, it includes the new Miyota calibre 9057 which is a true GMT travellers watch.

Vario Empire Seasons True GMT Winter White Automatic Dress Watch

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Another very fun addition to this category is their Popeye x Navi collaboration, this has a jumping hour module using the characters hands, it is unique and well executed.  All these watches are feature details such as enamelled, guilloche and textured dials, unique at this price range.

The Mech

This category is based on watches with hand wound movements, and on our opinion, they give Vario the edge:

  • The 1918 Pilot which is one of my favourites, is a tilted dial pilot watch with lots of character, is the one we are looking forward to see in the metal.

Vario 1918 Pilot

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  • The Eclipse is the watch that started all for Vario, a Bauhaus recreation with minimal looks putting all attention to the dial.

Vario Eclipse Pyrite Silver Handwound Dress Watch on Harris Tweed Watch Strap

Eclipse Marble Silver01 1024x1024 B0c69a63 6375 4e35 90e9 029b92812e93

Vario Empire Mother of Pearl Inner Black Handwound Dress Watch

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The Quartz

As the name suggest, in this category we have battery powered watches with a twist, which are:

  • The Versa, which is a rectangular watch with 2 faces and 2 movements, a classy dual time watch with lots of character.

Vario VERSA Reversible Dual Time Silver-Purple Watch

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  • The Empire Chrono. A new empire with a new face and a meca-quartz movement, mechanical feeling wit electronic soul.

Vario Empire White Tuxedo Gold Chronograph Dress Watch

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What is coming?

Approaching its 8 years, Vario seems to have found its design language. There are many watch brands doing vintage recreation, but we believe that there is a good balance that needs to be achieve. Too much design elements and the watch can appear clustered but apply less and you at the risk of being a bit common, a bit boring. We think Vario has achieved this balance with proprietary design, never copying another brand. Inspiration is the purest form of complement, and Vario has done this respectfully. We are looking forward to see what comes around the corner.

Created the 2023-11-13

Modified the 2023-12-01

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