While I love mechanical watches as much as the next enthusiast, I will freely admit that solar quartz movements are the superior option when it comes to flat-out practicality. Quartz watches are inherently more durable and accurate than their mechanical counterparts, and once you remove the need for routine battery replacements, you are left with a level of utility and autonomy that offers the best of both worlds. That said, solar technology is less readily available, and it has historically been the same handful of big-name Japanese brands that consistently offer affordable solar watches. While ample options exist from the usual suspects such as Citizen, Seiko, and Casio, some collectors are looking for something a bit less common, and one of the more compelling new releases for 2023 within this category is the Vaer C3 Korean Field, which pairs a versatile 36mm case with a solar-powered movement, and despite its firmly humble price point, it is assembled right here in the United States.
Across the board, Los Angeles microbrand Vaer consistently delivers strong value. I previously reviewed the Vaer G5 Meridian GMT, which is a fantastic option for those who want a durable sports watch with true “flier” style functionally, and who also want to keep their purchase within the realm of hundreds (rather than thousands) of dollars. However, it wasn’t until more recently that I realized just how affordable Vaer has made its entry-level models, and its least expensive watches are priced at under two hundred bucks. With that in mind, if you don’t mind paying just a little bit more, you can get yourself the watch feature here, which is the American-assembled version of the Vaer C3 Korean Field that takes things up a notch with a solar-powered movement.
The core design of the Vaer C3 Korean Field is based upon the standard-issue A-17 timepieces from the 1950s that were used by American soldiers during the Korean War. Consequently, the overall aesthetic is straightforward and utilitarian, and while the design is technically vintage-inspired (complete with tinted lume on the hands and hour markers), the overall appearance is so simple and traditional that the model largely just exists as a casual everyday watch. Additionally, at the time of writing, Vaer offers the C3 Korean Field in either 36mm or 40mm sizes, and while I chose to feature the smaller version in this article, those with larger arms can also enjoy this same budget-friendly model in a size that is more appropriate for their wrists.
Crafted from brushed 316L stainless steel with small polished accents on the bevels and rim of the bezel, the case of the Vaer C3 Korean Field measures 36mm in diameter by 10.4mm thick, with 20mm lugs and an overall lug-to-lug profile of 43mm. A gently domed sapphire crystal with anti-reflective treatment sits above the dial and brings the overall height of the watch up to approximately 11mm at its thickest point, while a solid screw-down caseback closes up the reverse side and is adorned with a deep engraving of the Korean Peninsula that has the words “Never Forgotten” and “Korean War” etched along the perimeter. Although many field watches offer relatively minimal water resistance, this is one area that Vaer never neglects, and on the 3 o’clock side of the case is a signed screw-down crown that helps support the C3 Korean Field’s 100 meters of water resistance, which the brand guarantees as part of its two-year warranty.
Just like the original vintage A-17 watches that serve as the basis for its inspiration, the Vaer C3 Korean Field is fitted with a simple time-only dial that features an entirely printed design with large Arabic numeral hour markers. The dial surface is matte black, and while the printing appears in white, the luminous elements are a burnt yellow color as a nod to the aged radium lume that can be found on surviving A-17 field watches from the 1950s. Dial text is kept to a minimum with the Vaer name appearing on the upper half of the dial, the depth rating on the lower half, and the only other words being “USA Assembly” to denote that this is one of the brand’s models that is built domestically in the United States using a variety of different imported parts.
At the center of the dial on the Vaer C3 Korean Field are a trio of syringe-shaped hands, and while the hour hand and minute hand are both brushed, the seconds hand is finished white for increased contrast. Proportions are just as you would hope, and the tips of both the minute hand and seconds hand extend all the way to reach each of the individual markers placed around the periphery of the dial. To provide the C3 Korean Field with ample low-light visibility, fifteen layers of tinted Old Radium lume are applied to the surface of the dial, and the same color of luminous material is also used on all three of the hands. Additionally, despite appearing as a burnt yellow color in the daylight, the lume on the Vaer C3 Korean Field emits a bright green glow in the dark.
Powering the Vaer C3 Korean Field watch is the Seiko Epson Caliber VS-22 solar quartz movement, which offers an accuracy rating of -10/+20 seconds per month. While solar quartz will never provide quite the same horological intrigue as a traditional mechanical movement, it is undeniably the most practical option for a drama-free timepiece, and it offers a true set-it-and-forget-it ownership experience. Six hours of sunlight will provide six months of autonomy, and just like other modern solar movements, the Cal. VS-22 can be powered by any light source, including candlelight. Additionally, since the C3 Korean Field is a no-date watch, the only instances where you will need to unscrew the crown to access the movement will be if you are changing time zones, or on occasions when you may need to adjust your watch by an hour to compensate for daylight saving time.
As with other Vaer models, the C3 Korean Field comes with two different straps/bracelets, and buyers can choose one of the two included options depending on their lifestyle and aesthetic preferences. All of the Vaer C3 Korean Field watches come standard with a black silicone strap that tapers from 20mm at the lugs down to 18mm where it meets its signed stainless steel pin buckle. As mentioned, Vaer takes its water resistance seriously, and all of the brand’s models come standard with some type of rubber strap so that their owners can easily wear them in the ocean. The overall design of this particular rubber strap is rather similar to what you might get from a Barton Elite Silicone band (which is to say that it is quite good), and the standard included strap is actually my favorite option among all of the various offerings.
For the second strap/bracelet option, buyers of the Vaer C3 Korean Field have their choice of either a black or olive green NATO strap (with a signed buckle) at no additional charge. However, for a small premium, the NATO can be swapped out for either a stainless steel bracelet or one of the brand’s premium Horween leather straps. Bracelet options include either a three-link Oyster or a five-link Jubilee, while the leather straps are available in either brown or black. Additionally, aside from the single-piece NATO straps that offer a pass-through style design, all of the various strap and bracelet options feature integrated quick-release spring bars to facilitate easy and tool-free strap changes.
The leather, rubber, and NATO straps are all quite respectable offerings, although I do want to make one small note about the design of the Oyster bracelet. As a whole, the bracelet is a solid step above what you would normally expect to find on a watch at this price point, and it features completely solid links, single-sided screws for sizing adjustments, and a machined folding clasp with a double push-button release. That said, the end links of the bracelet have a dramatic downward curvature to match the lugs, and while this is normally a welcome feature on watches with larger cases, this ultimately makes the bracelet feel slightly too small on an average-sized wrist, as it forces the first link of the bracelet to angle outward in a slightly awkward manner. While I haven’t seen the Jubilee bracelet and therefore can’t comment on whether its end-links follow the same design, I would only recommend opting for the Oyster bracelet on the 36mm model if you have smaller wrists and already feel that the Vaer C3 Korean Field might be pushing the upper limits of what you will be able to comfortably wear on a daily basis.
Vaer produces a fairly wide assortment of different field watches, and while its entry-level models with standard quartz movements start out at less than two hundred dollars, the brand also produces other field watches with Swiss-made automatic calibers that sell for more than four times the price of its least expensive offerings. That said, the new Vaer C3 Korean Field is positioned firmly on the affordable side of that spectrum, and it is accompanied by an official retail price of $259 USD, which applies to either the 36mm or 40mm version of the model. Should you want one of the brand’s leather straps or stainless steel bracelets, you can expect to pay a $100 premium, although the base price still gets you both the NATO of your choice and the standard black silicone strap. These days, we are spoiled for choices when it comes to field watches, and a number of quality options exist at very reasonable prices. That said, even when you compare the Vaer C3 Korean Field to similar offerings from the big-name brands operating within this space, it’s undeniable that this American-assembled, solar field watch from Vaer represents a seriously compelling option. For more information on the Vaer C3 Korean Field watch collection, please visit the brand’s website.