Vratislavia Conceptum Review:
The PAN-AFRICA

By: Mike Razak

It turns out I wanted a green watch. How was I supposed to know that? You get into this hobby and there’s lots of shiny stuff; people telling you this is THE WATCH YOU MUST OWN; a million multi-colored vintage Oris’ on eBay that’ll ship to you, for free, from India, in two days, for just $15! But you push past the mire and get through your initial “Oh, watches are cool!” shopping spree, and you get a watch box, then another, then a third. Then you get a winder, and a four-watch winder, and a few travel pouches. And then you realize you don’t even know why you bought some of those watches. Because at that point you’ve started developing your own tastes, and you’re realizing that just because a watch doesn’t have a Greek letter or a Crown on it, doesn’t make it bad—it may even make it good. And so, you sell some stuff and you do some curating, get down to a nice core collection. And you look at our watch box(es), and you say: “I want a green watch.” So it turns out I wanted a green watch.

I’d been peripherally aware of Vratislavia Conceptum (the other VC) for a while but had never seen one in the metal until a meet-up in DC that I attend as regularly as it occurs. One of the attendees had the VC Heritage Chrono 3 (I think), and I was truly impressed with the quality and the playfulness of the watch—the colors, sizing, and overall balance were spot on. That watch wasn’t for me (not least of which because it was sold out), but it turned me on to the company, and I made a note to check them out the next day. And I’m glad I did, because I found the Vratislavia Conceptum PAN-AFRICA.

Vratislavia Conceptum was started in Wrocław, Poland in 2012 by Marcin Karolewski, who I had the pleasure of chatting with for this review. The Brand come’s out of his own passion for watches—just like many of us, he started small and as his collection and willingness to spend on watches grew, he found he was unable to find watches he loved at a price that worked. Now, obviously 2012 and 2018 are quite different for watches—the proliferation of microbrands (including VC) in that time has been staggering. But we can assume at the time, there just weren’t that many options. If you wanted something specific, you might as well have made it yourself. And that’s what Marcin did. As he told me: “I try not to follow the path of maximizing profits and what most people will like but the path of my own feeling.” Vratislavia Conceptum, then, is a brand driven by passion and one person’s tastes. It just so happens that he has good tastes.

Let’s dive in.
 

The Case:

The Vratislavia Conceptum PAN-AFRICA case design itself is somewhat reminiscent of King Seikos of old, but with modern dimensions. Delivered in 316L stainless steel—like every steel watch that doesn’t cost over $5000—its 40.5mm diameter and 46.5mm lug-to-lug make for a very approachable size, friendly to almost any wrist. While you don’t have a dramatic curve to the lugs that would hug the wrist, the shorter L2L will allow the Vratislavia Conceptum PAN-AFRICA to rest comfortably, which it does on my 7-inch wrist. Multiple finishes make for some excellent contrast in the light: polished fixed bezel, vertically brushed case top, and polished sides and chamfers. While the literature on the site will describe the crystal as “Super-domed” sapphire, I’d describe it more as “suitably domed;” it contours nicely to the bezel and keeps the lines of the watch clean, maintaining a dressier aesthetic.

At 3 o’clock, the crown is comfortable and unobtrusive, though it is so perfectly flush with the case that it can take some fingernail finesse to pull out – nothing troubling, just an extra half-second, if that. One thing I love about the case is the profile: there’s a slight cut-in from top of the Vratislavia Conceptum PAN-AFRICA to bottom of its case, leaving the watch slightly narrower where it comes to the wrist. However, I would like to see some more sharpness to the angles and corners on the profile; while certainly adequate and pleasurable, I feel the enhanced finishing would take this watch over the top.

Flipping the watch over, one is delighted by a very well-done engraving that leaves Africa sitting in relief. I’ve had and handled some watches with cut-rate “engraving” or etching done to the case back; elaborate designs that are very lightly cut into the case back, providing no texture or depth, as if they were simple drawn on with pen. Those are awful, and this is not that. Much like with the “VC” logo that graces the crown, Marcin has done an excellent job ensuring that the screw-down case back is a standout, albeit one that won’t be seen that much
 


 
 

The Dial:

The dial is, unsurprisingly, the star of the show here. Marcin explained that the “PAN-AFRICA” name came out of his desire to create a watch with this combination of green and yellow; the colors begat the name, not the other way around. In furtherance of the name, he wanted a wooden texture, something “raw” looking. And I think he nailed it: “Sunburst wood grain” is probably the best descriptor I can use. While it seems to be randomly textured, rest assured that there is a repeating pattern, though one must look for it and it isn’t easily discernible. The vibrancy of the green as the light hits it at myriad angels afforded by the texture is something I truly haven’t seen before. The mustard yellow accents a perfectly complementary, appearing in the “PAN-AFRICA” dial text, in 5-second increments around the dial, and of course, on the seconds hand.

The lume on the applied indices, minutes, and hours hands is evenly applied and adequately bright; you won’t be shining your way through the house in the dark a la LumiBrite, but you’ll be able to get a reliable reading after the lights go out. Though not a problem, I think the logo at 12 could stand to be very slightly larger. That aside, the proportions on the dial—the applied indices, the hands, the lettering—are masterfully executed.

The Movement:

Let’s not spend too much time here. We all know the Miyota 9015: Automatic, 24 jewels, 42 hours power reserve…a workhorse. It’s reliable, it’s functional, it’s Japanese. Oh, and that rotor is loud. And I love it, though you may not. But when I happen to flick my wrist while gesticulating wildly, and I catch the whir of the rotor, I get giddy. The 9015 also features a date, which is not seen on the dial. I think it was a good decision for the Vratislavia Conceptum PAN-AFRICA: disrupting the beauty of the dial for almost any reason would have been cause for boycott. But that comes with a trade-off, depending how picky you are: because the movement has a date function and the dial does not, there is an extra position to the crown. I don’t mind it, but I know some do.

The Strap:

I really don’t want to talk about this. The Vratislavia Conceptum PAN-AFRICA is so wonderful (seriously, look at the dial again!) that I want to just say “Don’t worry about the strap, just stock up on 20s and swap it out immediately.” But this is a review and ignoring it would be remiss. The strap isn’t good. It’s not even middling. It’s something less than that. My Timex Expedition leather strap is better.

The good thing is that the case design and dial make this easy to bear with tons of different straps. I usually stick to Reds and browns, though yellows and beiges would work well, too. I’ve had this on 5 or 6 straps that are very intentionally not the original, and I’ve been extremely happy.

Final Thoughts:

The beauty of the dial and the vintage-inspired angles and finishing on the case make the Vratislavia Conceptum PAN-AFRICA a clear winner. I’ve had this for some time now and have no plans of parting ways with it. While it’s probably not suitable for deep dives or rugged adventuring, it’ll go just about anywhere else, and it’ll look great every second. If you’re looking for a green watch that isn’t too in your face, and are looking for something that is decidedly affordable, this is the watch for you.

The PAN-AFRICA is available directly from the Vratislavia Conceptum site for $450 USD. 100 were originally made and at the time of this review (October 2018, there were 24 left).


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