In the world of independent brands, we’ve seen an uptick in offering smaller watches. I would say that watches have been slowly—but surely—getting smaller, first sliding underneath the 40mm case diameter to a comfortable 39 and 38mm, then to 37-ish mm and even 36mm. (The latter being my Goldie Locks size for time-only watches.) Although the new RZE Valour 38 has, as its name indicates, a case diameter of 38mm, its thinness and angular case design make it look and feel more like a 36mm timepiece. So although RZE did not go down to 36mm (perhaps that will happen soon, who knows?), the brand managed to squeeze in a smaller, lighter, simpler, and cheaper watch within its existing catalog of four collections.
On the Wrist
The Singapore-based brand is a specialist in making robust titanium watches, and it has been so ever since the brand’s first release in 2020. With case diameters normally ranging between 40 and 42mm (the former in the Resolute collection and the latter in the now retired Valour chronograph collection,) RZE saw an opportunity to go smaller and better by releasing a 38mm titanium watch. As you can imagine, a watch of any size made of titanium is comfortable to wear, being lighter on the wrist, so imagine how comfortable a 38mm watch must be when it comes on a NATO or FKM rubber strap. It’s lightweight and comfortable to the point where I forget I’m wearing a watch.
The Valour’s dimensions aid this comfort and ghost-like wearing experience: besides the 38mm case diameter, it comes with a lug-to-lug distance of 45mm, a height of 11mm, and a lug width of 20mm. As mentioned above, the Valour 38 comes with a NATO or FKM rubber strap, and even if the rubber strap adds a few grams, you’re looking at the total package wearing well below 70g (the Valour on the NATO weighs 57g.) The Valour is light and easy to wear regardless of what strap it is on, and I prefer the rubber one. The latter comes with a honeycomb pattern on the back, which helps with breathability and managing moisture.
When I think back to the days of World War II and the creation of the first purpose-driven field watches, they were all on the smaller side of things and worn with a fabric strap. I never experienced a Dirty Dozen, but they were pretty light to wear given their smaller dimensions (35-38mm cases) and thin profile, thanks to having manual-wound calibers. What RZE wanted to do by releasing the Valour 38 was to bring a sense of ease to wearing a field watch, just like soldiers of the 1940s and 50s must have experienced. The brand did an excellent job at that.
RZE Valour 38 Specs
NATO and FKM Rubber
At first glance, there isn’t much to look at on the dial: Arabic numerals all around, thick fencepost hands, and a 24-hour track. The dial has been purposely stripped from any branding and text to ensure that it is legible despite its size. (In a sense, the more text you add on the dial, the larger the dial opening must be to keep things organized and clean.) The Arrowleaf Yellow dial color, black numerals, and hands ensure the highest legibility possible. I can easily read the time at a glance. RZE thought about the little details with this dial, for example adding black surrounds on the hands and pushing the 24-hour track as close to the hour markers as possible.
The lume is present in generous quantities on the hands (although this time, RZE did not provide much information about what type of lume it is besides “indicating Japan Lume” on the spec sheet) and in smaller dots at each hour marker on the minute track. The lume plots are easier to see on the other dial variants—the Valour 38 comes in six colorways, especially the Vervain Blue, Slate Grey, and Obsidian Black. The lume, however, shines well all around and long enough for my typical early-evening adventures. (By experience, the other RZE models generally come with better lume applications.)
Regardless of how good the lume is, everything under the sapphire crystal is easy to see. Multiple layers of AR-coating with which RZE endows all of its crystals. The oversized Arabic numerals, hands, and little surprise on the dial are easy to see: the fully-lumed “R” of the RZE logo nestled underneath the “6” o’clock marker. That is the only visible branding on this side of the watch, and it reminds me of the purposefulness of Serica indicating the brand name on the left side of the 6 o’clock marker.
Case, Strap, Movement
The angular case comes with a fine bead-blasted finish. The entire case is made of titanium that showcases a satin finish all around like it was the case on the Fortitude, the brand’s pilot watch. Before the Fortitude, RZE used to give all of their models a bead-blasted finish, and I’m glad they departed from that. (I find that satin finish makes a watch more versatile.) Regardless of the finish, the Valour 38 case comes with the brand’s proprietary hardness coating called ULTRAHex. This coating works so well with the dramatic angles on the case as it darkens the titanium a little bit, particularly on the case sides, lugs, and crown guards.
The Valour feels and looks like a proper tool watch.
I’m a big fan of the wide and flat chamfers around the case, and the fact that they are not polished makes the Valour 38 look like a piece of tactical equipment. This impression is further reinforced by the crown guards surrounding the deeply-knurled crown. The latter actuates the robust Seiko NH38A movement, which beats at 21,600 BPH (3Hz) and comes with 41 hours of power reserve. Perhaps not the most refined movement but one that works well and is easy to service. The Valour 38 is, after all, a field watch, something that is meant to be banged around and mistreated. Putting a simple and reliable movement inside makes total sense. (It also keeps the price down.)
Last but not least, the straps: the NATO style is decent, and I’ve got to admit that I mostly wore the Valour on the FKM rubber. I do like these kinds of straps. However, I found that brands generally struggle to make them pretty. RZE found a way to make this strap an interesting design in its own right: a molded line that runs across the middle of the top surface of the strap, only interrupted on the long side by the strap holes. The two floating keepers have angular sides, and the one closer to the buckle has the “R” logo and dedicated notches on the side of the strap to keep it in place more securely. The hardware is also made of titanium.
If RZE existed in the 1940s and were commissioned by the British Ministry of Defense to create a field-ready timepiece, they would have made the Valour 38. By our modern standards, this new release is a complete field watch that the brand offers at the modest price of $330 (currently available for pre-order with shipping slated for October.) For this price, you get the watch, the NATO and FKM rubber straps, and a Tarpaulin (waterproof material) travel pouch that can accommodate the watch, straps, and your favorite EDC. By releasing the Valour 38, RZE truly intended to bring back affordable, quality watchmaking to the masses and the brand’s first wave of fans. I would say they did an excellent job at it.
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