Lately, the where of a watch has, in some cases, become almost as important as the what. The origins of components, the names of designers, and the ZIP codes of assembly workshops are as much a part of the conversation as are the hours of power reserve and the diameter of a case. Witness the recent Shinola Built in Detroit ruling or Moser’s Make Swiss Made Great Again campaign, for example. What price do we put on honesty? Is a watch the sum of its parts? Are we willing to pay a little extra for a mostly American-made watch? These are all questions that come to mind when assessing the Vero VS-SS.
Vero is a small company based in Portland, Oregon. Started by a pair of watch enthusiast friends, Chris Boudreaux and Danny Recordon, the company frankly wasn’t even on my radar until they offered to send one of their watches to review. I was skeptical, given the sheer number of hit-and-miss micro brands out there, but I kept an open mind. Something that both gave me pause and also intrigued me, was the price of the watch they sent, the VS-SS. This simple time-only watch sells for $2,900. That’s pre-owned Tudor or modern Speedmaster territory, a nice Oris and a lot of cool collectible vintage watches can be had for that money as well. It’s $1,000 more than the high-quality Sandford I reviewed last year from that other small American brand, Oak & Oscar. So let’s see what you get for that money.
First off, the basic specs. The VS-SS has a 39mm case that flares out at the bezel to 42 millimeters with short sloped lugs for a tidy fit on most wrists (mine is 7.25 inches for reference). It’s constructed of polished 316L stainless steel with a screw-in solid caseback, drilled lugs, a flat sapphire crystal, and a push-pull knurled and signed crown, giving the watch a 50-meter water resistance rating. The bezel is narrow and the dial is very spare and modern, giving the watch a sleek, urban appeal. It’s less a sports watch and more a casual go-anywhere piece. If you’ve ever been to Portland, this watch’s hometown comes through in its appearance, seemingly at home with shirt sleeves and khakis or a sweatshirt and jeans (while riding a bike, naturally).
Up front, the dial is matte silver with printed Arabic numerals and small sticks all around, and a sub-seconds dial at nine o’clock too. The only flashes of color are a light blue seconds hand and the tiny inverted triangle at 12:00 that serves as Vero’s logo. Hands are simple batons of black oxide steel filled with SuperLuminova. Luminescence is here for movie theatre time checks, not cave diving.
The VS-SS comes with three straps in the box, and a rather nice Vero-branded strap changing tool. The watch comes mounted on a brown English bridle leather stitched strap and pin buckle, one of the nicer stock leather straps I’ve actually seen. It’s thick and supple, plenty long, and extremely comfortable. There’s also a black silicone strap for more sporty duty and a waxed cotton NATO style printed with a blue pattern that is decidedly an acquired taste and certainly its most casual mode of dress.
Up to now, you might be wondering what it is about the Vero VS-SS that merits its relatively high price. Certainly it’s handsome, and fit and finish are solid. Timekeeping, according to the hand-signed card in the package, falls between plus and minus seven seconds per day, and I didn’t notice much deviance from that in my time with it. The designers seemed to get details right the case shape is eminently wearable, subtly different in its flared architecture, and the dial has a nice shimmer to it when viewed from different angles. But three grand for a watch from a brand with little name recognition and questionable resale value? Vero is counting on the fact that the care they’ve put into the details of their watches and the provenance of their components and build will add up.
Slide open the rustic wooden box in which the watch arrives and you’re greeted with a line drawing of the watch itself, with callout arrows describing where each piece is from. And it is impressive. The case and crown are made by Vero in Portland, as is the dial, where the latter is also sprayed and pad printed. The sapphire crystal is made by Guild Optics in New Hampshire, the leather strap by Orox Leathers in Portland, and the waxed cotton by Suigeneric in New York. The only two components not sourced in the United States are the hands, which come from a supplier in France, and the movement, which is the Eterna self-winding caliber 39, from Switzerland. All in all, it presents a carefully curated set of bits and bobs that make up the watch. To make it even less ordinary, the watch is finished, assembled, and tested by Vero in Portland. All in all, it’s an ambitious undertaking, uncommon in the realm of small startup watch brands.
To return to the question of price and value, it really comes down to what is important to you personally. First off, you simply have to like the watch and a lot, if you’re going to plunk down $2,900. Then you need to decide if supporting a small brand trying to make in-roads in the not-so-easy matter of building a watch in America with mostly American components is important to you. The American watch industry is going through a bit of a renaissance, but in fits and spurts, with plenty of obstacles. Unlike in its heyday in the last century, there are no major case, dial, or movement makers in the USA. So, to take on the challenge that Vero is tackling is admirable.
Whether it’s admirable enough to sell watches at their asking price is another matter though. For some, brand heritage, prestige, name recognition, and resale are important boxes that Vero can’t tick. But, for others, it presents an opportunity to support the home team, the underdog, the little guy. And after all, isn’t that what makes America great? Time will tell.
Photos: Gishani Ratnayake for HODINKEE