Hands-On Vieren Automatic Rectangular Dress Watch

The Skinny

  • $1800 / $2500 (with diamonds)
  • 27mm wide, 9.2mm thick
  • ETA 26712 autowinder with date
  • 3atm waterproofness
  • 4 models, limited to 100 pieces each

An independent watch brand making a dress watch isn’t entirely rare, but such watches are rarely any good. There is a gaping canyon between big brands making quality pieces and a slew of trashy brands making trashy dress watches, or as some say, “fashion watches.” By contrast, the tool watch scene is full of independent brands filling that gap – let’s say between $500 and $5000. With few exceptions, when it comes to indie dress watches there’s basically no scene to speak of in this price range.

So when I saw these Vieren watches, I was kind of intrigued. Here’s a brand using all Swiss makers and parts, using automatic mechanical movements, price hovering around $2000. All this sounds like a proper independent brand offering and alternative to big brands at good prices and with decent quality. I decided to check it out.

Vieren means “Celebration” in Dutch. The company was founded by Torontonians Jess Chow and Sunny Fong. Jess, the CEO, grew up in the world of watches, and eventually found herself consulting for watch brands. Sunny, who handles the creative side, is a fashion designer who won Canada’s Project Runway in 2009. Sunny flew to Switzerland to work directly with Vieren’s designers and manufacturers on their first offerings, which I have in hand here for review.

Toto, We’re Not In Tool Watch Territory Anymore

My first impression upon opening the box was very similar to my first impression upon opening most indie mechanical tool watches in this price range: a mixture of delight and disappointment. Delight because here’s a nice heavy mechanical watch of relatively good quality. Disappointment because the fit and finish rarely measure up to that found on the higher end watches I’ve grown accustomed to. Alas, this is the reality of this price range, whether we’re talking tool or dress watches.

However, I believe that tool watches may fare better within the inherent limitations of hitting this price point, and this may help explain this price point’s dearth of dress watches with mechanical movements from independent brands. It all comes down to the inherent differences of the design brief. A tool watch should be rugged, even bulky and chunky and, as I’ve argued elsewhere, inelegant; that’s not so hard to achieve with the relatively unrefined manufacturing and off-the-shelf movements available to independent tool watch brands. A dress watch, however, should be sleek, beautifully polished and/or brushed, and, above all else, elegant; that’s all a little harder to accomplish given the available resources.

Given those inherent limitations, the Vieren manages to achieve a pretty decent level of finish, but these watches are neither sleek nor traditionally elegant (and by that I mean understatedly refined). In fact, I’d almost argue that these watches achieve just about the same qualities most comparable indie tool watches achieve: they’re pretty chunky, the finish is ok but not outstanding, the movement is reliable (ETA 2671 Swiss autowinder with date), and generally you’re buying the design and not so much the craftsmanship. What’s so different with this indie watch – and I’d assume any dress watch – is how the priorities of the design brief differ from that of a tool watch. 

The Diamonds 

One obvious priority you’re pretty much never going to find on a tool watch at this price point is diamonds. It’s interesting to look through the loupe and see how diamonds get set in a watch costing $2500. These are bezel-set round-cut diamonds, and unfortunately the setting is nearly as chunky as the stones themselves, which forces the stones’ fire to compete with the shining steel that holds them. A few of the diamonds are askew in their setting, and many sit at different heights. The diamonds themselves have a broad “table,” which is the flat part on the top. The ratio of that top surface to the whole diamond’s diameter will impact the fire (or sparkle), and it’s fair to say that these diamonds have a pretty low flame. The overall effect is underwhelming. I’d opt for a model without diamonds for these reasons, and save the $700 premium you’d pay for them.

The Bracelet

Another design priority is the effort put into the bracelet. Doxa and a few other companies make relatively complicated bracelets for their tool watches, but very few make bracelets with so many pieces as are found on this watch’s 7-row mesh style affair. Do not underestimate how much of this watch’s cost went into that bracelet, which remains the standout feature for me.

No, this isn’t the kind of bracelet where every link is handcrafted, allowing it to taper all the way to the butterfly clasp. You’ll have to spend five-figures minimum for that. For the money, however, this bracelet is darn impressive. The first three rows of links (including the end links) do taper, and from there it’s a straight shot to the clasp.  Impressively, the links are held in by screws, which is a higher end feature, for sure. I’d likely opt for a leather strap over the black DLC bracelet, but on the polished steel models the bracelet becomes as important to the vibe as the watch-head itself.

The Case

I think Vieren has run into the same problems with casework that so many independent tool watch brands do: the edges between surfaces are soft and (because the watch is so thick at over 9mm) the case is slab-sided. On a big fat dive watch or a maxi-cased pilots affair, these problems are easily overlooked – even part of the vibe. On a dress watch’s case – and especially a rectangular “Tank shaped” case – these problems feel more at odds with the goals of the watch, which I assume are to achieve a level of elegance and luxuriousness.

However, this may be the trade-off for making this a mechanical watch. A quartz movement could have been wafer thin, affording the case the under-the-cuff sleekness we tend to associate with dress watches. My Cartier Tanks are a mere 4mm thick, and Cartier achieves this either with a quartz movement or with a rather expensive ultra-thin mechanical movement. However – and this feels very important to me – if this were yet another quartz watch, it would fall into a lower category all together. In fact, I don’t think I would have decided to even check it out, as the mechanical movement truly sets this watch apart in its category. I’m just delighted that people who likely don’t geek out on tool watches have another way to get intrigued by seeing that movement behind the caseback. That’s never a bad thing.

The Date Window

Even with my glasses on, it’s almost impossible to read the date. I’ve looked closely at thousands of watches, and I can’t recall a single one with such a tiny date window.  My suggestion: skip it, or make it bigger.  Location at 6-o’clock would be better for symmetry, I think, though I like the round aperture with the beveled edge.

The Chapter Ring

This is so interesting. It’s a gold insert that runs vertically up from the dial to the crystal, and it is engraved with a minutes-track. Huh. It’s almost impossible to see it at all on the white version, but the gold does cast an interesting hue onto the creamy white dial. On the blacked-out version, this chapter ring is far more visible, and though I can’t read the engraved numerals, I can see them there. My jury is still adjourned about this chapter ring, but I appreciate the obvious consideration that went into designing this feature.

My Conclusion – & A Message to Jess & Sunny

Folks, you did a bold and wonderful thing: you made the all-too-rare mechanical dress watch at an entry-level price point and you did it as an independent. And you did it in Switzerland with obvious love and care. Bravo! I imagine tackling this design brief – which includes hitting this price-point – was certainly a challenge, and one that I hope to see you guys continue to tackle with new models.

We dedicated watch nerd reviewers can be harsh, and we have grown spoiled with exceptional tool watches at this price from indie brands. I don’t know how much overlap will ever exist between these scenes, but I warmly welcome the possibility that this niche could get filled up with bonafide dress watch options. For that, I applaud your effort.

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