Hot on the heels of their Safari Special Limited Edition, Vero released a pair of officially-licensed Smokey Bear watches. Of course, Smokey is the American mascot of wildfire prevention with the famous catchphrase “Only you can prevent wildfires”. These Vero field watches – dubbed the Smokey ‘44 and the Smokey ‘64 – celebrate the beloved bear while giving back to nature: 10% of each sale goes back to the US Forest Service. Partnership aside, these are capable, wearable, good-looking watches at a competitive price point. Let’s check out what makes them so special.
The two watches are functionally identical, differing in their period-specific dial designs (and caseback engravings). The case is 38mm in diameter, 46mm lug-to-lug, and 12mm thick. If those numbers mean nothing to you, just know that they’re comfortable and compatible with most wrists. It lands in the “everyday” sweet spot for most. Adding to this watch’s everyday appeal is the addition of two straps: quick-release brown leather and single-pass canvas (both pictured above).
The watch features a screw-down crown and 120 meters of water resistance: a surprising-but-welcome addition at the sub-$500 price point. Inside the stainless steel case sits a Seiko NH38A automatic movement: hacking seconds, optional hand-winding, and rock-solid reliability. If you do happen to have an issue with the movement (or any other part of the watch), just let Vero know. Their 10-year no-questions-asked warranty is perhaps the best of its kind amongst comparable brands.
The watches differ in their eras of dial design: 1944 and 1964. The Smokey ‘44 celebrates the year of Smokey’s birth. The Smokey ‘64 (pictured above) marks the year that Smokey received his own zip code; he gets quite a bit of fan mail to this day. Besides their significance to Smokey, these years are perfect snapshots into the evolution of 20th-century field watch design.
Vero Smokey ‘44
The first thing you’ll notice on the Smokey ‘44 is. . . Smokey. His head appears at 12 o’clock, of course wearing his ‘SMOKEY’-inscribed ranger hat. This emblem – along with the graphics on the casebacks, packaging, and accessories – were designed by Matt Smith-Johnson (aka Teenage Grandpa). He did an excellent job honoring mid-century design while catering to modern tastes.
The Smokey ‘44 features bold arabic numerals akin to what you might find on American railroad watches of the 1940s. In that same vein, the watch features a cathedral handset. Unlike most cathedral hour hands, this design ditches the curved inner dividing lines, resulting in a clean simplified look. The Smokey 44's dial includes ‘Only You’ text, as well as a small tree emblem at 6 o’clock. On the back, an engraving features some tech specs and a pair of Smokey’s fire-prevention slogans.
Overall, I love the design here. It’s relatively uncommon for modern field watches to embrace early-20th century American design: most adhere to the British “Dirty Dozen” look or that of mid-century examples (see Smokey ‘64). This watch is super legible, well-proportioned, and best of all, it has Smokey on the dial.
Vero Smokey ‘64
The Smokey ‘64 is closer in looks to the "traditional" mid-century field watch. It has a sword-shaped handset and slimmed down numerals, maintaining the simple, high-contrast look of a field watch. By 1964, civilians commonly wore these military-style timepieces, many of which were offered in retail catalogs. The Smokey '64 feels like a relic of this time, albeit with the trappings of a modern timepiece (sapphire crystal, Super-LumiNova, etc.)
In place of Smokey’s face at 12 o’clock, the Smokey '64 features an inverted triangle. The dial makes up for its Smokey-lessness by displaying his full catchphrase “only you can prevent wildfires”. On the caseback, you’ll see the same catchphrase engraved with Smokey’s face in the middle: another awesome design from Matt Smith-Johnson.
Only when you take a closer look or flip over the watch do you realize its ties to America’s favorite bear (no offense to Yogi or Winnie-the-Pooh). Neither watch is particularly in-your-face about its theme, but the Smokey ‘64 is certainly the more subdued of the two. This subtlety is my favorite thing about the Vero Smokey Bear watches. They’re not loud or gimmicky like character watches can easily be. They tastefully integrate the Smokey theme without diminishing the watch’s wearability.
What Makes These Watches Special
It’s surprisingly uncommon for a watch to truly have an identity: one that makes sense. These Smokey Bear watches don't have that issue. Their suitability for the outdoors perfectly aligns with their Smokey Bear theme, as well as their mid-century field watch inspiration. Hiking and camping became wildly popular in early 20th-century America: hence the need for a wildfire-prevention mascot. Military timepieces were the obvious choice for these wilderness weekend warriors, so much so that watch brands made them commercially available. The Vero Smokey ‘44 and ‘64 honor this legacy, offering a rugged watch to those who love the great outdoors.
When it comes to rugged watches, Vero is a one stop shop. The Portland-born (but increasingly less Portland-based) brand specializes in hard-wearing tool watches. This philosophy is backed by their 10-year no-questions-asked warranty "against any damage". The Vero Smokey watches are what they say they are. Take them hiking, swimming, or building a campfire (safely, of course): these watches are up for the task.