Oris (Est. 1904 – ) Prominently displayed on Oris’ official website is their slogan, “Real watches for real people.” From the firm’s beginnings, this goal is the foundation of the company’s approach and philosophy to watchmaking. Their watches offer the best possible value for money spent and incorporate only useful complications and practical designs. Each model is designed to withstand the stresses of everyday use.
The founding Oris principle is to build watches for “the working man.” Contrary to masterpieces built by other fine Swiss brands, Oris set out to create sturdy watches built on a large scale that are affordable.
Oris has been among the top makers of Swiss watches since 1904. It is among the world’s leaders in the manufacture of automatic and chronograph timepieces and produces mechanical models that, in current lines, do not include any quartz movements.
Two men, Paul Cattin and Georges Christian (who were both born in Le Locle, the Swiss watchmaking capital located in the Jurassic region) bought the watch company Lohner & Co. With 24 workmen, they established a watchmaking factory in Hölstein, a small village in the northwestern part of Switzerland. They took the name Oris from a valley and brook not far from Hölstein.
From 1925, the company produced inexpensive, high-quality wristwatches. Simple fasteners fixed to pocket watch bracelets made their creations full-fledged wristwatches. As a result of a marketing campaign, Oris watches were soon sold in England, in the English colonies, and in South Africa.
In 1927, company co-founder Georges Christian died and Jacques-David LeCoultre became President of the company’s Board of Directors. It is worth noting that Jacques-David LeCoultre was Antoine LeCoultre’s grandson and who joined forces with Edmond Jaeger to form Jaeger-LeCoultre. After Christian died, Oscar Herzog became CEO of Oris and held that position for the next 43 years.
David LeCoultre’s ambition to improve the quality of the company’s products hit a snag when, in March 1934, the Swiss government introduced the ‘Watch Statute,’ a law designed to protect and regulate the Swiss watch industry and to prevent watch companies from introducing new technologies without the Swiss watch industry’s permission.
Until that point, Oris had been using a pin-lever escapement, known as the Roskopf escapement movement that was claimed to be less accurate than lever escapements used by some of Oris’s competitors who had adopted the technology before the law was passed. Now Oris was forced to prove that their watches would meet the new standard.
In 1937, an Oris dial factory opened in Bienne, Switzerland. A year later, Oris began producing its own integrated watch escapements. By this time, the company employed many highly skilled watchmakers and became one of the first employers to offer equal opportunities to both men and women.
While the company incorporated the latest industrial techniques, its designers sought simpler ways to add functions that other brands produced as elaborate complications in their timepieces. One early example, for which Oris is now famous, was the pointer date that used a central hand pointing to the date instead of having the date shown in a small window on the dial. A centrally mounted hand was a simpler solution than incorporating a date disc inside the watch: it was easier to build, more reliable, and more affordable.
Between 1946 and 1981, Oris owned and operated ten buses used to transport up to 800 workers to its many factory locations. The original Oris factory continuously expanded and by the 1960s, Oris had become one of the ten largest watch producers in Switzerland.
In 1938, Oris introduced its first watch for pilots. It had a distinguishing big crown and a Pointer Calendar function. The collection took its name, Pilot, from the watch’s crown that was an aid to pilots who adjust their watches while wearing leather gloves. Pilot watches are rugged, reliable, legible, functional, and designed to be used in demanding situations. The line is also a style icon. As Oris collections grew, Aviation became one of the four ‘Oris Worlds.’
Another Oris World is Culture which is comprised of classic, mechanical time pieces that are sensibly priced, Swiss Made, and quality controlled. One example of the line is the Oris Calibre 111. Its innovations include a 10-day power reserve and a patented, non-linear power reserve indicator.
The third Oris World is Diving and is the top Oris category in the U.S. with instruments made for real underwater situations. For example, there is the Oris Aquis Depth Gauge that uses the 17th century Boyle-Mariotte Law to create a patented solution that accurately displays a dive depth indication. This is an extremely difficult measurement to incorporate into a mechanical watch.
Finally, there is the Motor Sport world that celebrates Oris’s partnerships with the Williams’ team and Audi Sport. Many racing enthusiasts like the Oris Audi Sport Limited Edition that includes the Oris Artix GT Chronograph and the Oris Williams F1 Team 600th Race Limited Edition.
Despite the brand’s popularity, the outbreak of Second World War caused Oris to significantly reduce its distribution network. In 1940, to keep business alive, the company began to manufacture alarm clocks. The famous eight-day power reserve model was launched in 1949.
From 1949, all water-resistant wristwatches were marked with the signet “Waterproof” and water resistance became one of the Oris advantages. In 1952, the company introduced the automatic movement 601 with a power-reserve that added to the brand’s popularity.
In 1966, the factory produced the automatic movement caliber 645 with the escapement. In 1968, the company received the Observatoire Oris Astronomique et Chronometrique that gave Oris full chronometer certification for the accuracy.
In 1970, the company was sold to the Swiss holding company ASUAG that later merged with another holding company, SSIH and evolved into what is now known as the Swatch Group. The timing couldn’t have been worse for this arrangement as it was the beginning of the so-called, Quartz Crisis” that gripped the Swiss Watch Industry at the start of that decade. Oris, no longer independent, endured several difficult years during which production plummeted and staff numbers dipped from 900 to only a few dozen.
Even as the firm went through the 1970 sale, Oris introduced its first chronograph, the Chronoris that was also the first auto-racing-related Oris watch. Later, auto-themed watches would become a pillar of the brand. In 1982, the company’s future was, at last, fully assured through a management buy-out that returned Oris to its previous independent status with Dr. Rolf Portmann and Ulrich W. Herzog as the new owners.
Portmann and Herzog would lead the newly formed Oris SA to abandon quartz entirely and produce only mechanical timepieces. During the 1980s, Herzog, now the company’s chairman, traveled regularly to Japan where he saw the Japanese passion for mechanical watches. Understanding the influence the Japanese have over global trends, he introduced a new business vision for Oris. Its goal became global leadership in mechanical watches with special movements at competitive prices.
In 1984, Herzog reintroduced the Pointer Calendar first seen in the Big Crown watches of the late 1930s. In time, this distinctive function became Oris’s signature complication. Oris emphatically sounded its reawakening with the launch of its first mechanical alarm wristwatch.
By 1990, the company had coined the “High-Mech” slogan to re-invigorate interest in the quality and integrity of its Swiss Made mechanical movements. In the same year, it released The Players Watch, a football-inspired piece with four independent counters.
Oris’s decision to produce only mechanical watches was deemed prescient in 1991 with the launch of the highly successful Calibre 581. At the time, it became the company’s most complicated caliber incorporating a moon-phase module developed by an in-house team of watchmakers.
The Oris London Jazz Festival of 1966 was the company’s first major partnership and marked the beginning of a strong connection between Oris and jazz. The company celebrated with the launch of its first jazz watch, a piece named after British saxophonist Andy Sheppard.
In 1997, Oris introduced its pioneering Worldtimer, a watch housing a patented function where local time can be adjusted forward or backward in one-hour jumps via buttons on either side of the case. If local time is adjusted forward or backward over midnight, the date is adjusted accordingly.
As the world moved into the 21st Century, Oris was at the forefront of the developing trend for larger watches and introduced the Oris XXL, an oversized line of casual sports watches. It became the first Oris collection to be available in three sizes and with three different movement options.
Oris reinforced its close ties to jazz with a collection of watches named in honor of Miles Davis, one of the 20th century’s most influential musicians. The elegant rectangular shape of the case demonstrated Oris’s passion for both form and function. The line also offers a tonneau-shaped model and a diamond-set ladies’ model.
In 2002, the red winding rotor found on most of the brand’s automatic watches became Oris’ trademarked symbol. The Red Rotor is another example of Oris’s High-Mech approach to watch making. The distinctive Red Rotor insures the timepiece is a genuine Oris watch.
In recent years, Oris has introduced the Aquis Depth Gauge, which indicates depth using a circular channel surrounding the dial. Oris holds a patent for the device and it marks the first time a gauge of this kind has been used in a wristwatch.
In 2014, Oris announced the launch of its first entirely in-house developed movement in 35 years. Called Caliber 110 and named for the brand’s 110th anniversary, the new, manual-wound movement has a 10-day power reserve from a single barrel. It was part of the Oris 110 Years Limited Edition watch line that sold either in steel at $6,500 or in a rose-gold case for $17,500 that was limited to 110 pieces of each.
During 2015, Oris released the first version of its popular Diver Sixty-Five, a modern reissue of the classic Oris dive watch released 50 years before. The 1965 model had a chromium-plated brass case and Plexiglas crystal, a bidirectional rotating bezel, and a black plastic strap. The updated version had a more contemporary 40-mm case in corrosion-resistant stainless steel, a scratch-resistant, non-reflective sapphire crystal with a bubble-curved shape, and a safer (for diving) unidirectional bezel.
The bezel was enhanced with a black aluminum inlay and the hands and indicators (filled with tritium on the original models) were now filled with a type of Super-LumiNova called “Light Old Radium” with a beige glow. The steel case back was engraved with the same historical Oris emblem found on the original.
It is important to note a unique way that Oris gained worldwide recognition: It created entire series of fine watches that bear the names of world renowned musicians, entertainers, and professional athletes. These include Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Carlos VIN, Mark Webber, and Leonhard Euler.
Oris also associates itself with the Blue Eagles Helicopter Display team, a group of pilots who perform helicopter acrobatics at air shows. The Swiss Hunter Team, an aviation team that performs stunts in planes is also endorsed by Oris.
Oris gives high-quality watch lovers the opportunity to buy products at affordable prices that balance quality and pricing. Another way Oris describes their watches is that they provide, “the luxury of common sense.”
They prove this with luxury products that keep reality in focus. Their functional, innovative, high-performance, mechanical watches are within the means of most watch lovers.