February 7, 2023
by Mike Razak
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso is one of a handful of watches that can truly be called iconic. Born of a practical need for polo players to protect their watches during play (because God forbid they take them off), the model has stood the test of time, spawning an entire collection that’s included every complication one might imagine, multiple sizes, and innumerable limited editions. Once a single-sided watch that swiveled to conceal itself, for some time it’s been available as a dual-face watch, one dial on each side. It’s one of very few watches, new or old, that offer this (another is the Hamilton Jazzmaster Face 2 Face, but that’s a different beast entirely). But it’s not alone in using a swivel. Notably, The Cartier Tank Basculante also allowed owners to swivel the watch to hide its dial, but also allowed the watch to be positioned for use as a desk or travel clock. But these watches are expensive, and depending on the model and the age, incredibly hard to find. To date, there have been scant (if any) options that offer what these watches do at a more affordable price. That’s what the Vario Versa aims to do, with a dual-face swivel display and styling from the same era as the original Reverso.
Vario isn’t new to the idea of vintage-inspired watches, but unlike most modern brands, it hasn’t looked to the 60’s and 70’s for inspiration. In fact, it hasn’t even made a dive watch. Instead of plumbing the rich depths of those decades, Vario has looked back much further. So far, it’s released a 1918-style trench watch on a bund strap, two Art Deco models, a chronograph and a three-hander. To its credit, the brand has also produced a few modern pieces, including an automatic jump hour design with Popeye on the dial. It’s the watches that take their inspiration from the early years of the 20th century that make the brand stand out amongst the sea of microbrands, however. The Vario Versa is a continuation of the brand’s fascination with pre-war design styles and should satisfy those looking for an alternative to higher-end dual-face models.
The case is, without a doubt, the best and most critical part of the Versa. At 26mm-wide and 40mm lug-to-lug, the Versa captures the smaller proportions of the watches from which it takes its inspiration. The styling, too, is on point. With a pronounced form defined by dramatic curving edges, the case recalls the height of Art Deco design. In particular, the Versa draws from the Streamline Moderne movement, which was defined by long, sweeping lines and rounded edges. The concept is simple: the outer case houses a swiveling inner case that contains the two quartz movements and their dials: red/silver, green/silver, or blue/silver. Unlike the Reverso and the Basculante, the Versa does not have a fixed back. Therefore, whichever dial is not facing up acts as the caseback. Swiveling the case is a cinch, though the dial-as-caseback means you’ll need to give it a quick wipe down when you do flip. There are two crowns, at their respective 12 o’clocks, which I found can be used to set the watch even when it’s on the wrist. The watch is fixed to a color-matched, quick-release leather strap fitted with a branded deployant buckle. (While there’s a sense of high-end watches associated with a deployant clasps, I would’ve been just as content with a simple pin buckle closure). I own several Vario straps and truly like them (the black one you see herein is my own), so wasn’t surprised to find the included red leather option satisfying. Importantly, it has an immediate taper from 20mm to 16mm. I’ve found that diminutive cases like this look much better on wrist with generously tapered straps, without which they feel even smaller than they already are.
What you need to know is that the Vario Versa is not a thin watch. While 12mm-thick may not seem hefty relative to your modern sports watch, given its other dimensions, the Versa is rather tall. (Consider that your typical modern dive watch is 40mm+ with the same thickness.) The thickness was immediately noticeable, but never a bother. The watch is still small, and still wears well, but stands up a bit more than one might desire or expect. This is an understandable and likely insurmountable obstacle when making a watch like this at such a price point. The watch relies on two Ronda Slimtech 1062s. These are jeweled quartz movements with a 6-year battery life that are meant to be repaired, not replaced. Making the watch thinner would have required far more expensive movements (and manufacturing) that would’ve pushed the price considerably higher. Given the realities of making a watch like this, I’m ready to forgive a bit of thickness.
As mentioned, the Vario Versa comes in three dial pairs: red/silver, green/silver, or blue/silver. (Anyone who’s been paying attention will note that the three color dials are the same as those offered by the smash hit quartz Cartier Tank Must released in 2021.) The enamel color dials are more refined and muted than the reverse silver dial, with polished steel leaf hands and a simple railroad track around the edge, accented with diamond cardinal markers. The silver sector dial is a bit more engaging. It features a brushed outer portion with the hours, and a solid central area surrounded by a railroad minute track. The leaf hands on the silver dial are blued instead of plain steel. While I’m partial to the busier silver dial, I’ll admit I found myself flipping between the two regularly, and sometimes struggling to decide which I wanted. Perhaps a two-face watch isn’t the best watch for a guy prone to choice paralysis.
At the time of publishing, all three models are sold out, so you’ll have to keep an eye out on the secondary market. You may ask why we would write a review of a sold-out watch. Well, some watches are noteworthy, and not just watches that cost six figures and have outrageously unnecessary complications. Sometimes creating a certain type of watch at a certain price point is worthy of closer examination. Making a reversible watch is no small feat. Making one for under $500 is incredible. There are, of course, technical issues that will keep a watch from an ideal form factor. Chief among these is the fact that below a certain price point, a brand is forced to just sandwich two movements together, as sourcing (much less developing) an integrated dual-face movement is cost prohibitive. So, what we’re left with is something like the Vario Versa, a dual-faced quartz-powered watch that smacks of Art Deco glory while doing its very best to offer a true alternative to classics like the JLC Reverso. In my opinion, it does a fantastic job all things considered, and while it wears a bit thick, it’s still a marvel to have on the wrist. The Vario Versa is priced at $428 and limited to 100 pieces in each version. While it is sold out, the collection will be expanded in 2023, so keep an eye out. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.
>Price: $428, limited to 100 pieces in each color
>Size: 26mm-wide, 12mm-thick, 40mm lug-to-lug
>When reviewer would personally wear it: To a Great Gatsby theme party.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Vintage lovers looking for an affordable alternative to the classics of the Art Deco era.
>Best characteristic of watch: The fact that the watch is reversible, obviously.
>Worst characteristic of watch: The thickness detracts from the elegance of the case design.