Over the last several years a good number of American watch enthusiasts have proven to be remarkably entrepreneurial. Often armed with original ideas, and at least some understanding of what people want, timepiece collectors can become timepiece producers more easily these days than almost any time in the past. One such brand is Virata, which offers a compelling design for a fair price. Virata is an Ohio-based brand, where the VRT models were designed. The watches also happen to be assembled by watchmaker and supplier LUM-TEC in Ohio.
Priced from between $650–$700 USD, the Virata timepieces are bold by design, and certainly not for everyone. I chose to review the Virata VRT1.6 model, which is just slightly more expensive than their other models due to the “silver mirror polished” steel case. I enjoyed the focus on legibility and comfort, along with a visual design that immediately asserts itself as being different from the crown. The challenge to make something legible, symmetrical, comfortable, and distinctive looking is a serious challenge that only watch designers fully appreciate.
Not everyone that saw the Virata VRT was a fan of the design. I attribute much of this to what I call “novelty factor” where people tend to approach new things with initial hesitation and skepticism. For whatever reason I am not perturbed by novel watch designs in the same way some consumers are, so I’m able to focus on whether or not new watches are breaking basic rules of design and utility. Virata gets things right in a lot of key areas.
In steel and 44mm wide on the wrist (water-resistant to 100m), Virata offers the VRT collection watches in a few case finishes from the pictured high-polish to brushed steel and also black-colored PVD-coated steel. The brand’s debut run of watches included six different versions of the VRT – each with limited edition volumes from 33 to 100 pieces.
Most of the novelty value in the VRT collection is the case design, which focuses on a bold octagonal bevel design. Four large hex screws in the bezel help carry the theme and further suggest a masculine industrial feel to the product. Geometric design dominates throughout the rest of the case as well as the dial. The guy who designed the VRT1.6 and other VRT models must have a serious aversion to circles and curved edges.
Without traditional lugs, the 44mm wide case wears smaller than you might think, and also appears to be thinner than its roughly 13mm thickness might imply. This slimmer wearing profile can be attributed to the tapering nature of the case where the middle section is wider than the top or back of it. 22mm wide lugs make for an appropriately sized strap given this case size. Virata offers a black perforated leather strap with some contrast stitching. The strap does a good job of helping the case feel sporty and modern, but I think creative owners could probably find other straps that help the watch fit their personality better (unless you wear a lot of perforated clothing or accessories).
Virata thankfully kept the dial clean, yet interesting. The outer minute marker ring is applied to add an additional layer of visual depth, and the dial itself doesn’t feel like a copy of any other particular design – even though it doesn’t attempt to blow you away with novelty. I like that Virata’s designer understood that with a more wild case design such as this, it was a good idea to keep the dial comparatively simple while making sure that the case and dial visually paired together harmoniously.
The VRT1.6 is among the most legible of the VRT models, which is why I liked it the most. The sunray-finished silver colored dial has high-contrast black hour markers and hands. Even the luminant in the hands is black (though in that color it doesn’t make for amazing darkness viewing). Virata chose to include a date window, which is among the only round elements on the entire case, other than things like the crown and screws. It uses a black date disc, which helps the dial look its best. Over the watch face is a flat AR-coated sapphire crystal. Another sapphire crystal is mounted over the movement on the rear of the case.
For the movement Virata chose the increasingly popular Japanese Miyota 9015 automatic movement. These are great movements for the money, and operate at 4Hz with about two days of power reserve. The movement is simple and undecorated, but serves as a reliable choice for the VRT collection timepieces.
Virata succeeded in doing something that few are able to do quickly. And that is to produce a different-looking timepiece that doesn’t ask its owners to sacrifice utility or comfort. Naturally the design of the VRT watches isn’t for everyone, but I personally admire and eagerly await reviewing new watch brands such as this because it allows me to see the intersection between watch enthusiasm and entrepreneurialism in a particularly satisfying way. Virata offers a bold and refined mechanical watch experience at a fair price, while the American-designed and assembled part of the story will likely allow them to further appeal to collectors in the States who want to support novel versus independent watch brands and designs. Price for the Virata VRT watches begins at $645, with this particular Virata VRT1.6 watch having a retail price of $709 USD. viratawatches.com
>Price: $645–$709 USD
>Size: 44mm wide
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes, when wanting to look bold while supporting small, American brands.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Fan of geometric shapes and modern design interested in a decently made sub-$1,000 watch from a US brand.
>Best characteristic of watch: Despite being novel, it gets a lot of the hard parts right in being a legible, comfortable, and wearable timepiece.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Design of the VRT collection case isn’t for everyone. Brand doesn’t do a great job at explaining its purpose, story, or design.