I never had an interest in fashion growing up. I skipped the prevailing hipster aesthetic of my college years—skinny jeans, button-ups, beanies—for baseball caps and baggy cargo shorts, looking like the classic frat bro I wasn’t and never would be. If nicer garb couldn’t help me better do the things I loved, like boogie boarding or judo, what was the point?

made in california seal
Michael Schwab

But I did find inspiration in three numbers: 007. I wasn’t too taken by the Tom Ford suits that Daniel Craig wore as James Bond in Skyfall—my favorite of the Bond films—or by his sky-blue swim trunks by the British outfitter Orlebar Brown. What mesmerized me was Bond’s Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M. With its stainless steel bracelet, bulky winding stem, and crenels on the bezel, the diver watch looked like just another Bond tool, yet its orange-tipped second hand, silver zero mark, and white trimmings indicated it was a work of subtle precision. The Seamaster gave Bond a rugged elegance that I flatly coveted.

As the name indicates, a diver is a timepiece designed for scuba diving, capable of withstanding pressure at depths of 90 meters or more. It’s also meant to look good paired with a suit or a T-shirt and jeans. The only problem for me was another set of numbers: I was a broke student, and the Seamaster cost upwards of $5,000. “This is fine,” I thought. “In a couple of years, I will get something just as nice.”

This article appears in the Fall 2022 issue of Alta Journal.

Ten years later, I’d amassed a modest collection of also-rans: a couple of Casio G-Shocks, a Nixon, a vintage Seiko Mickey Mouse, and a Hamilton field piece. Several times, I could have broken the bank for a Seamaster, but it never made sense while saving for a wedding, a car, or, more recently, a baby crib. I could have bought a more affordable diver, but hitting up Quora forums and visiting countless watch kiosks revealed that pieces at my $600-or-under price point looked like something you’d find inside a Happy Meal.

Then I discovered the Vaer D5 Arctic. With its sleek black dial, bold markers, and peach-dipped second hand, it certainly looked like a secret-agent accessory. I was shocked to discover that it was not designed on a Swiss mountaintop but in my hometown of Los Angeles. Vaer was founded by a surfer and a designer in Venice who met at a tech company. They poured their personal savings into a timepiece that looks and functions like a Seamaster but is, at $549, around a tenth of its price. I figured the D5 Arctic was quartz powered but then flipped it over: it’s actually an automatic. The apparatus behind automatic movement is intricate, but the basic idea is that energy from the wearer’s wrist actions is transferred from a weighted rotor mechanism to springs, literally making the watch tick. To showcase this process, the sapphire caseback on the D5 Arctic, etched with “Designed in Los Angeles,” is partially see-through. As for the diver function, the watch can plunge to depths of 20 ATM (660 feet). Its attractive face is encased within a double-domed sapphire crystal, increasing scratch resistance and enhancing visibility.

The company assembles its timepieces in California and Arizona, helping bring the craft of watchmaking back to the United States. That’s already an admirable undertaking, but in the process, Vaer has also helped make owning a designer watch attainable for many.

I’ve decided I have one last mission to complete before rewarding myself with a diver: scuba certification. The good news is that I won’t have to wait 10 years; I am on track to complete my training hours this fall. I could be diving off Catalina with the D5 Arctic as early as November, although it will be at a depth of only 35 feet or so, where the water is warmer and the little orange garibaldi are easier to see. Of course, this pales in comparison with the scene near the end of Skyfall in which Bond battles a henchman underneath a frozen lake without the help of a mask or a tank.

But hey, it’s a start.•

Ajay Orona is an associate editor at Alta Journal.