There has been a resurgence in 36mm sports watches in the past year. The conclusion could quickly be drawn to Rolex bringing back the 36mm Explorer, and as a trendsetter in this industry, Rolex can make other brands listen to their design cues. However, 36mm sports watches strike a perfect balance between small size and wearability for various wrist sizes. Without a rotating bezel to take up space, the dial has room to breathe with this case width.
Brands like Christopher Ward, Traska, and Vaer have all released 36mm versions of a watch in their lineup. Whether following Rolex’s lead or listening to what the market wants, these watches are surefire best sellers. The Traska Summiteer 36.5mm sold out in 4 minutes, and at the time of this writing, the 36mm Christopher Ward Sealander is on backorder for almost two months. The Vaer A3 36mm has also been difficult to source, but with the launch of the black dial, which we will be looking at today, there is a little breathing room in their catalog.
On the Wrist
You’re not buying a 36mm watch for wrist presence. Quite the opposite. A 36mm sports watch is designed to fly under the radar and be discreet. The A3 captures the essence of the inconspicuous watch perfectly. It is big enough to be legible yet small enough to stay out of the way. This is a watch meant to be worn all day, every day.
As mentioned above, creating a 36mm sports watch can be attributed in some ways to Rolex. Their influence on sports watches is undeniable. Vaer has found a way to give this watch its soul, which does not feel derivative. This watch is cohesively designed and well-executed from the marker and handset to the trapezoid date window.
I’ve never worn a 36mm watch daily. My only experience with one was the Traska Commuter, which felt more dressy than sporty. The A3 is 100% sports watch. I quickly grew to like the style and size of the watch. I loved seeing more of the bracelet on the top of my wrist, and something about the size made it feel more casual. You often hear of a watch being able to go from the board room to the pool, and sure, this watch could do that. However, I wore this with shorts and a t-shirt, and it felt effortless. I can’t quite put my finger on why this watch feels so much different, and while I’m sure it is the smaller size, it also made me remember why I like watches so much in the first place. It’s just plain cool.
Vaer A3 Specs
Rubber Strap & Bracelet
$659 (on Bracelet)
Vaer does an excellent job of creating simple dial layouts that don’t feel sparse. They keep their text to a minimum, which helps enhance the sporty vibe of the A3. Vaer is printed at 12 o’clock, and Automatic 10 ATM is printed at 6 o’clock. They include American Assembly, where one might typically see Swiss Made as a nod to their American roots without being loud about it.
The applied markers are perfectly sized to the dial and aren’t too big or too small. The markers coordinate with the date window as they also have a trapezoid shape. Each marker is flanked by a circle or triangle (the latter being at 2, 4, 8, and 10 o’clock). The markers and handset are filled with plenty of lume. There is something about lume on small sports watches that gets me excited. It must be the simple layout that projects itself so well at night when the lume is glowing.
Case & Bracelet
Vaer creates beautiful, understated cases. On the surface, they look simple and plain. When you get closer and look at the details, those details start to shine through. Vaer slightly rounded the sides of the A3’s case and gave it a small undercut. This cuts out any slab-sided look you might get (yes, this can happen on a thin watch) and helped bring the wrist-to-crystal down to 9mm.
The lugs are extremely thin, which is almost necessary on 36mm watches. If you slap some lugs from a 40mm watch on a 36mm watch, the watch will look like a rectangle. Vaer thinned out the outside of the lugs, which makes the case look more traditional from the top down. I find the watch more attractive on the bracelet than on a strap, as the bracelet completes the overall look.
The bezel is polished, which will likely become a scratch magnet, but we’re okay with that, right? It is a GADA watch. Vaer completes the execution of the case with a large, screwdown crown. This gives the A3 100 meters of water resistance. No crown guards are present, allowing an easy grip for winding and time setting.
It might be easy to classify the bracelet as unremarkable. It is a jubilee-style bracelet that tapers from 20mm at the watch to 16mm at the clasp. The links and endlinks are solid, and the clasp is serviceable. However, to call it unremarkable might be a disservice to the watch. The jubilee is the absolute perfect match for this watch. The polished center links complement the polished bezel and applied markers and help complete the look the A3 is going for, as I mentioned above. After all, that is what you want in a bracelet, to be an extension of the watch rather than something added to check a box. Vaer offers the A3 with multiple strap options, but get the bracelet if you’re picking one of these up.
The Rolex Explorer is a watch that is not in the cards for me. If nothing else, I’m not a fan of Mercedes-style hands. The current lineup of 36mm sports watches entering the market is the perfect substitute or dare I say, replacement.
The A3 is affordable, has the clean sports watch look needed in a watch like this, and accomplishes everything a 36mm watch sets out to do. If you’re looking for an easy and readily available sports watch that won’t draw too much attention, the A3 might be the watch for you. When this watch arrived for review, I didn’t think it would find itself on my wrist as much as it did, and I put it on and (in a good way) forgot it was there. When I took it off at the end of the day, I couldn’t wait to put it on again the next morning.
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