By Carl Scutt
I have to confess it’s not every day the history of a famous watchmaker makes a mark on me, don’t get me wrong I appreciate the history and all the experience it brings with it, but it’s usually some a story about some stuffy old geezer laboring away in a basement with a visions of greatness.
That’s all super but I recently started looking into Oris as a brand so the first thing I did was look into the brand history and there we have it. This is the story of a thoroughly modern brand, doing thoroughly modern things.
I could go on and on, perhaps writing a separate piece but the abridged version goes something like this.
Only as recently as 1904 Paul Cattin and Georges Christian bought the closed and defunct Lohner & Co watch factory in the Swiss town of Hölstein, which sounds like a well known Czech lager but no relation. There they founded their new watch company naming it Oris after the local brook.
The expansion was rapid, taking only two years before Oris expanded and opened a second assembly plant in the nearby town of Holderbrook, and by 1911 it was the biggest employer in Hölstein, even building workers houses for their staff.
It wasn’t until 1925 that Oris started creating watches as we could recognize today as wrist watches by fitting bracelet buckles to its pocket watches.
First Wrist Watch
When the company founder Georges Christian died in 1927 Jacques-David LeCoultre become President of the Board of Directors, who interestingly enough was Antoine LeCoultre’s grandson. This is the man who partnered up with Edmond Jaeger to form Jaeger-LeCoultre in 1937, small world, right?
Their expansion continued and by 1938 Oris producing their own escapements which seem almost incidental when you understand at this time Oris employed highly skilled watchmakers and were one of the first employers to offer equal opportunities, making them true social pioneers. This is the same year they produce their first real modern watch for pilots taking its name from the collections oversized crown.
The Big Crown
In the post war years, Oris continued to expand so well they ran shuttle buses ferrying employees between Hölstein and surrounding towns. 1952 Oris released their first automatic caliber 601, and by 1965 their legendary divers watch comes to market which we see re-released 50 years later in 2015.
By the 1970s Oris is part of ASUAG that subsequently became the Swatch Group and battled through the quartz crisis but re-established its independence by a management buy-out. After the quartz crisis Ulrich W. Herzog, the company’s chairman, looked to Japan to renew his passion for mechanical watches and by 1991 Oris were only producing mechanical watches, launching their successful Calibre 581 developed in-house.
Jump to 2003, after producing pioneering products such as Worldtimer, designing and making oversized watches, jazz collections, the classic Artelier collection, they signed a deal with Williams Formula 1 team and launched their first Williams F1 Team watches.
2004 follows quickly and its Otis’s centenary so why not release Centennial Set 1904 Limited?
Centennial Set 1904 Limited Edition
Thrusting forward Oris continued to innovate, creating the Carlos Coste Free Dive Limited Edition Cenote Series watch. They also go on to win the 2009 Red Dot Award for ‘Best of the Best, and partner with Swiss Hunter Team aerial display team.
2010 arrives and Oris partners with the Australian Marine Conservation Society to help protect and preserve the Great Barrier Reef, launching the limited edition diver’s watch, called the Oris Great Barrier Reef Limited Edition. In the same year, Oris unveil their new slogan and new direction summed up simply ‘real watches for real people’.
From this point Oris create a steady flow of new pieces, 2011 sees the release of the Big Crown X1 Calculator, 2012 the Artix GT Chronograph, 2013 the watch with a hole or Aquis Depth Gauge plus Pro Diver, the first mechanical watch to indicate both the lunar cycle and the tidal range, and 2014 saw the release of the first in-house-developed calibre for 35 years.
The Calibre 110
This is a hand wound movement with a unique pairing of complications of a 10-day power reserve and a nonlinear power reserve indicator.
2015 the Williams collection released: This Formula 1 collection was released celebrating Forty-five years since Oris first entered the world of motor sport.
You may not believe it but for brevity’s sake many elements have been left out, but having heard this story I was more interested in the brand and wanted to understand if the idea of an affordable Oris was possible. In 2010 Oris unveiled a new company slogan ‘real watches for real people’ in partnership with Chinese artist Liu Bolin, known as the ‘Invisible Man’.
So let’s take a look and see how far Oris have come with the concept of ‘real watches for real people’ and can I afford one today?
As always it’s affordability that’s key here and for the sake of argument, I am setting the affordability scale at $2000 making it aspirational but affordable for most, even if it means putting some cash aside and saving up for a few months. Also, as Oris set themselves as a brand of four main collections let’s see if we can afford to buy one from each collection, Pilot, Diver, Motorsport, and as they say it, Culture.
With this massive introduction let’s forgo all the padding and get right to the meat of the piece and my first offering is from their Culture section.
Culture Collection: The Artelier Date
The Artelier Date is a customizable Stainless Steel case housing an automatic movement under reference 01 733 7721 4051-07 5 21 64FC. The customizable elements are the case with size options of 28, 34.5, 40, and 43.5, in Stainless Steel, Stainless Steel/18 K Rose Gold or Stainless Steel/Gold plated. The Dial colors available are Black, Gray, or Silver and the strap can be a Stainless Steel bracelet or a leather strap.
Price Point: €1450 or $ 1730
Diver Collection: The Oris Aquis Date
The Oris Aquis Date is also a customizable piece with case sizes of 35, 39.5, 40, 43.5 available under reference 01 733 7730 4154-07 4 24 64EB. Again, the case materials are optional with a choice of Stainless Steel, Stainless Steel/18K Rose Gold and Stainless Steel/Gold plated housing an Automatic movement. The dial options are Black, Blue, Grey, Silver, or White and the band can be leather, rubber, stainless steel, or textile.
Price Point: €1590 or $1900
Aviation Collection: The Oris Big Crown Pointer Date
The Oris Big Crown Pointer Date is also customizable in a similar way, offering case sizes of 28, 34.5, 40, and 43.5 under reference 01 754 7679 4034-07 5 20 78FC. The case can be Stainless Steel, Stainless Steel/Gold plated with the automatic movement and a Black or Silver dial, on a Leather or Stainless Steel strap
Price point: $1280 or €1530
Motorsport Collection: The Oris Calobra Day Date Limited Edition II
The Calobra Day Date Limited Edition is a handsome 44mm case in Stainless Steel housing the automatic movement winding day date and black dial. This one is not customizable but comes in two distinct flavors as you can see here offering either the stainless steel bracelet or the leather strap giving this piece a completely different look.
Price point: €1780 or $2100
What’s The Answer?
There’s no denying Oris is a name you can be proud of wearing. Within its very short life time, the brand has proven itself to be a social and technical innovator able to thrust forward in difficult times to offer top quality timepieces at surprisingly affordable prices. The examples above give 10,000 feet over view of what they offer but it’s clear to see for the allocated $2000 there is most definitely something for everyone, from every occasion.
Yes, it’s true the last option just pushed the budget past the $2000 mark but by such a tiny amount it didn’t seem right to leave it out.
In short, if you want an Oris and don’t have $2000 to blow, don’t shy away from this brand because there are a number of options that may suit you well. For more info, please visit oris.ch