The Gruppo Gamma Vanguard, now in its Mark IIII iteration, ups the ante with a Swiss ETA movement and a Italian handmade strap. Is it worth the asking price? Let’s find out.
Gruppo Gamma – the Brand
I previously covered Gruppo Gamma as a brand here, whereby I reviewed the latest Peacemaker in Bronze. I’ve also written an in-depth article on Gruppo Gamma’s history, which can be read here. I highly recommend giving it a read – I find Gruppo Gamma to have one of the most captivating brand stories in the microbrand sphere!
Gruppo Gamma Vanguard – Build Quality
I’m pleased to report that the build quality of the Vanguard is excellent! As compared to earlier variants of the Vanguard, the Vanguard MK IIII boasts an obvious improvement in build quality over its predecessors.
Firstly, the Vanguard utilises a double-domed sapphire crystal with an internal AR coating applied on the underside. As aforementioned numerous times in my previous reviews, I’m a huge advocate of sapphire crystal due to their inherent scratch-resisting properties. Personally, I always look for sapphire crystal in my modern watches as it adds greatly to the durability of the watch. Given that Gruppo Gamma watches are billed as the “Ultimate Tool Watch”, the usage of sapphire crystal here is apt as it allows one to bang the watch about without worry. In addition, the internal AR coating on the underside of the watch prevents pesky reflections from occurring, allowing one to admire the full beauty of the two-tone black dial (more on that later) in its full splendor. Elsewhere, the WR rating for the Vanguard is stated as 200M. This means unlike the bulk of Panerai watches on the market today, you can actually wear the Vanguard out (on a rubber strap please) to the beach/pool without worry. Given that Gruppo Gamma claims design and brand inspiration from the watches worn by Italian divers of old, it seems only fitting that their watches have a WR rating high enough to actually be worn out in the sea!
The Swiss-made ETA 2824-2 powers the Gruppo Gamma Vanguard this time around. This movement needs no introduction – commonly found in watches from higher-priced Swiss luxury brands such as Longines, Oris, Omega, Tudor, etc, the ETA 2824-2 is probably the most desired movement to be had in a microbrand watch. Some specifications: The ETA 2824-2 has 38 hours of power reserve, hacking feature, 4 Hz operating frequency, 25 Jewels and an ETACHRON regulator system. It is one of the most iconic movements in the watchmaking industry, so getting it serviced should be of no problem (aside from the cost). In addition, the relatively high beat rate of the movement translates to a smooth sweep of the watch’s second hand. Personally, I’m glad about the usage of ETA 2824-2 in this update of the Vanguard, which is a marked improvements over the rather pedestrian Seiko NH35 and Miyota movements that powered the previous iterations.
I have to say, the strap that came on the Vanguard is one of the best I’ve handled thus far on a microbrand watch. In a first for Gruppo Gamma, the Vanguard comes standard on a handmade Italian strap from Simona De Stefano. Some interesting trivia: Simona was actually the first manager of Panerai’s flagship boutique in Firenze! To say that she is familiar with such style of watches is a gross understatement. The strap feels supple on the wrist, and I love the bold nature of the stitching on the strap. The sides are nicely smoothed out and burnished too, likely by hand. This is one sturdy strap, and it complements the robust nature of the Vanguard perfectly. In addition, Gruppo Gamma also elected to include an aged steel buckle to match the case, which is a nice touch! The faceted angles of the buckle makes it one of my favorites till date.
Lume has always been one of the greatest assets of Gruppo Gamma watches, and the Vanguard certainly does not disappoint in this regard. Gruppo Gamma applied a generous layer of SuperLuminova C3 on the Vanguard, resulting in one of the strongest lume I’ve seen on a microbrand watch till date. Even the second hand and the bezel pip is lumed as well! Lume heads – you certainly won’t be disappointed with the lume on this watch.
Overall, the Gruppo Gamma Vanguard boasts terrific build quality. It has a sapphire crystal (with underside AR coating) to prevent scratches, a venerable Swiss ETA 2824-2 movement as its heart, strong C3 lume, and even comes on an amazing Italian handmade strap! In terms of build quality, there’s very little to pick on here.
Gruppo Gamma Vanguard – the Design
In my review of the Peacemaker Bronze, I stated that it was my favourite Gruppo Gamma design to date. Unfortunately, I think the Vanguard has leapfrogged the Peacemaker to take that mantle!
Like the Peacemaker Bronze, the Vanguard also comes with a two-tone dial – black in this variant. Otherwise known as a fume dial, the dial is lighter in the center, and darker around the edges. The black fume dial here is perhaps not as eye-catching as the green/blue found on the Peacemaker Bronze, instead taking on a more understated nature. I personally find the subtlety of the black fume dial to complement well with the field watch inspiration of the Vanguard. In addition, it pairs well with the aged steel case, giving a rather stealthy look overall.
I love the little nuances packed into the Vanguard. Firstly, I’m a fan of the numerals used here. Whilst drawing influences from the Rolex 6152 the Vanguard line is inspired after, Gruppo Gamma have managed to redesign the font such that it does not come across as a clear copy. It reminds me of the numerals on the Rolex 6152 – but it stops short of being an homage. That’s a difficult nuance to navigate, and I applaud Gruppo Gamma for doing well in this regard. In addition, I like the grey minute track as well as it complements the aged steel case (more on that later) wonderfully. Also, little indentations serves as minute markers – a smart play on depth and subtlety. Keeping in line with the colour scheme, the chapter ring is gunmetal finished as well! Elsewhere, the red second hand breaks away from this trend to add a pop of colour to the otherwise monochrome watch.
This variant of the Vanguard comes on what Gruppo Gamma calls an “aged steel” case with a regular stainless steel as well as bronze variant also available. Amongst the collection, this aged steel Vanguard would definitely be my pick. The bronze Vanguard, paired with a fume green Cali dial, is also quite a looker, but to be honest bronze watches are a dime a dozen currently. Majority of the Singaporean microbrands that we love (Zelos, Vilhelm, BOLDR, etc) all have their own bronze offering. Unless you currently still do not own a bronze timepiece, I suggest opting for the aged steel variant instead. To me, the aged steel case is just so unique – I’ve not seen such a finishing treatment on any microbrand watch till date. In fact, even in the luxury sphere, the only brand/model that pops into my mind is the Zenith Type 20 Pilot Watch. Gruppo Gamma wanted the Vanguard to look like it “came back from a battlefield” – it’s supposed to resemble be a battle-scarred field watch! For those of who bought the Peacekeeper (which also featured an aged steel case), the aged steel finishing is significantly better here on the Vanguard. Personally, I love the understated nature of the aged steel case, and feel that it pairs extremely well with the monochrome and military aesthetics of the Vanguard. Lastly, I also adore the angular nature of the case. All in all, I’m extremely impressed by the finishing exhibited here!
Unlike the Peacemaker, there’s a 120 click unidirectional rotational bezel installed on the Vanguard. From an aesthetic point of view, I like the look of the bezel, especially the triangularly placed ridges aimed at providing better grip. However, from a functional standpoint, I’m not entirely sold on the purpose of a bezel without markings. Furthermore, despite the triangularly placed ridges, the bezel isn’t the easiest to rotate due to its smoothed edges. Personally, I would have loved to see a 12-hour bezel on the Vanguard, which would allow wears to keep track of dual time zones. Given the provenance of the Vanguard – as a field/military styled watch – having a 12-hour bezel will fit thematically as well, given the frequent deployments of soldiers overseas.
As aforementioned, the side profile of the Vanguard is incredibly detailed. Look at all those beautiful angles! There’s even a bolt-on crown guard here, with a nicely signed crown – the IIII indicating that this is the 4th iteration of the Vanguard. A sight to behold.
In addition, there’s also a bronze case side guard on this variant of the Vanguard! It’s something new to Gruppo Gamma watches, and – to my knowledge at least – unseen in the microbrand world as well. Over time, the bronze case side guard will patina, giving the side of the case a nice, aged look. The stripes on the case side guard lends it depth, texture and character as well. According to Gruppo Gamma, case side guards of different materials and finishing may be sold in the future, with customers being able to interchange and customise the Vanguard to their desire. While the case side guard doesn’t really have a functional value (unlike crown guards, it doesn’t protect the case-side better), I think the idea is cool, and I like the aesthetics of it.
Gruppo Gamma stated that the caseback design on the Vanguard is the most intricate on any GG watch till date, and I have to agree. Not to sh*t on their earlier watches, but compared to earlier iterations of the Vanguard, there certainly is a marked improvement. The embossing on the caseback here is really crisp and detailed, nice to the touch, and gives off a great 3D effect. Gruppo Gamma’s iconic skull logo is done quite nicely here as well – I particularly like the alternating finishes used.
Unsurprisingly, the Vanguard’s 44mm caze size leads to it wearing relatively large on the wrist – it certainly makes its presence known. However, it wears surprisingly low on the wrist, lower than its 13.5mm height might suggest.
Overall, I love the understated nature of the Vanguard’s design. The design is carefully thought out, detailed, and nuanced. In particular, I think that the two-tone black dial, paired with that aged steel case, is a stunner. The bronze case side guard is intriguing too, and makes the watch interesting.
Shootout: Gruppo Gamma Vanguard vs Gruppo Gamma Peacemaker Bronze
When I published my review of the Peacemaker Bronze a few months ago, I got a lot of questions asking: should I buy the Peacemaker Bronze, or the new Vanguard? Given that I have now had the opportunity to interact with both watches, here’s my opinion.
In terms of build quality, both watches are dead even. Both watches feature an ETA 2824 movement, sapphire crystal with AR coating, 200M of WR rating, brilliant (literally) lume. There’s really very little separating these two watches, especially considering that there’s also a bronze version of the Vanguard (priced similarly to the bronze Peacemaker) available. If I’m really splitting hairs, I might give the win to the Vanguard because of its handmade Italian strap from Simona – in comparison, the Peacemaker Bronze comes on a more standard Horween leather strap. However, from a build quality standpoint, you can’t really go wrong with either watches.
It’s in the design where both watches differs. Sure, they still share a similar overarching design aesthetic – the design is utilitarian, robust. However, personally, I’ll have to give the win to the Vanguard here due to its case design. As compared to the Peacemaker, the case on the Vanguard feels more refined and detailed, due to its angular nature and multi-piece components. I like the triangular placing of the bezel ridges too, as well as the pop of contrasting color the red second hand brings. The bronze case side guard is intriguing too. If you like the green californian dial and bronze case combination of the Peacemaker Bronze, fret not – the Vanguard offers a similar variant at the same MSRP as well. In the Peacemaker Bronze’s defence, it does feature an exhibition caseback, allowing you to admire the Swiss movement inside. Nevertheless, I believe that the Vanguard showcases more dimension in its design, and as such have to give the Vanguard the win on the aesthetics front.
Overall, while I believe that both watches are great watches, I would personally pick the Vanguard amongst the two. With both at the same MSRP for the bronze variants, I believe that the Vanguard offer a little bit more value for money due to the inclusion of a fantastic handmade Italian strap by Simona, as well as possessing a more interesting and refined case.
Conclusion: so the Gruppo Gamma Vanguard “shiok” or not?
Definitely! Gruppo Gamma watches rarely disappoints, and the latest iteration from the Vanguard is no exception. It’s near faultless from a build quality standpoint, and possesses quite a thoughtful design as well, especially with that aged steel case. As compared to previous iterations of the Vanguard, this iteration is a marked improvement. After handling the Vanguard for 1-2 months, it is now my favourite Gruppo Gamma watch till date.
Gruppo Gamma has kindly offered readers $50 USD off all Gruppo Gamma timepieces (excluding pre-orders). Simply use the code “WAHSOSHIOK” upon checkout to enjoy the $50 USD off, with the promotional code valid till the end of the month. After the discount, this aged steel variant of the Vanguard can be had for just $850 USD, while the bronze variant can be had for only $900 USD. If you’re looking to get yourself one of these Vanguards, act fast – Gruppo Gamma watches tend to sell out quickly, and I hear that there’s only a few more units left in this production run. I would also like to add that Gruppo Gamma is one of the rare microbrands whose timepieces actually appreciate on the used market – they are known for holding their value well. If you’re a fan of Gruppo Gamma, the military aesthetics, or simply love the design of the Vanguard, go for it – you probably won’t regret it.
View Gruppo Gamma’s latest Vanguard collection here.
Mk IV Vanguard, 316L stainless steel, aged finish, water resistance 200m
Diameter 44mm, length 54mm lug-to-lug, height 13.5mm, lug width 24mm, weight 135g with strap
Low profile double-domed sapphire crystal with underside anti-reflective coating, stainless steel caseback secured by screws, screw lock crown
Bolt-on crown guard, bronze case side guard
120-click unidirectional rotatable bezel, pip marker with Swiss Super-LumiNova® C3
ETA 2824-2, automatic bi-directional winding, 28800 bph, accuracy between -30 to +30 s/ day, power reserve 38 hrs, Swiss made
Two-tone black dial, thick printed markers with Swiss Super-LumiNova® C3, chapter ring in gunmetal finish
Silver color hour and minute hands and red seconds hand, with Swiss Super-LumiNova® C3
Leather strap by Simona Di Stefano Straps, handmade in Italy, navy blue, width 24/22mm with buckle
Screwdriver for strap changes, travel pouch
P.S Do check out the new “Discounts!” page for exclusive discounts for Wahsoshiok readers! More brands will be added very soon – stay tuned!