Ensconced in the brand’s London pop-up store, Oris’s charismatic chairman Ulrich Herzog talks about in-house capabilities, corporate responsibility and the runaway success of the Divers Sixty-Five.
You’re wearing the Oris Big Crown ProPilot Calibre 114 GMT. Tell me about this latest in-house movement.
Calibre 114 is the latest movement to come from the in-house know-how we have developed over the past four years and it shows what can be done with a good base movement. We started with Calibre 110 in 2014, which marked the 110th anniversary of the company and was our first manufacture movement in 35 years. The key to the movement is its 10-day power reserve from a single barrel and, from Calibre 110, we created Calibres 111, 112, 113 and now 114, our GMT movement.
It had to be different from the other GMTs on the market, so it’s a GMT with something extra, a second time zone that can be set in increments of 30 minutes. This isn’t relevant to many countries, but there are areas in India and Australia where the time difference involves half-an-hour. India, in particular, is a growing market and now we can offer them something that is quite special and specific to them.
At Oris, we now have everything in-house from R&D, through the whole engineering to construction. We have a special workshop near Geneva and Calibre 115 is already in development.
Why did you feel the need to develop an in-house movement and what, if any, concerns did you have with Calibre 110?
As you know, there are so many movements on the market and at very competitive prices so you have to be careful what you bring to market. We started thinking about what people would want back in 2009 but, of course, you are only ever guessing and it is not until these pieces go into retail outlets that you know how successful they will be.
We knew we had to have something that was different so we decided on a manual movement with a 10-day power reserve, and that certainly got people talking. The dial has an asymmetrical look with small sub-seconds and a large power-reserve indication to show how much fuel is left in the tank and our plan was to make the movement look as utilitarian as possible – beautifully finished, of course, but with no fancy engraving or details.
Today, we have a whole team of people working on our own movements, plus many great subcontractors who work with us. It was never our aim to try and make every component ourselves. I think you run into trouble doing things that way because technology changes so fast that you struggle to keep up.
When you launched the Divers Sixty-Five in 2015, it was a huge success. Were you expecting the reaction it got?
As the name suggests, it was originally made in 1965. It wasn’t a cheap watch at the time because it was a diver’s watch – our first diver’s watch, in fact. It was a real milestone for the company at the time and about five years ago, we decided to revisit it. We thought it would appeal to a certain set of buyers with an interest in vintage styling, but we never expected it to be so universally loved. I think it was a combination of great design and the right time but it was a big surprise for us that it was so well-received.
We started to make different versions and each one became as successful as the one before. I remember showing you the green-dial model in London and I still remember your response. I was trying to talk to you about the other novelties but you wouldn’t put down the Divers Sixty-Five. You were one of the first people to ever see it and it made me very happy to see your reaction.
Can it be problematic when one design dominates in such a big way?
It can, and at some point you have to move on with other designs. You do have to be careful not to overdo it, which is why we keep introducing new models of the watch. This keeps the design fresh and makes each new piece special for our customers. We are lucky because we also have our other signature models like the Big Crowns and Aquis. And, of course, our in-house movements, which are going from strength to strength.
Oris has been involved with ocean sustainability for some time. Do you think that corporate responsibility is now essential for every business?
I think it is critical, and people who don’t see a need to give back will soon have a real problem. Sustainability has to be a corporate issue, it has to start at home with the raw materials we source, the energy we use and the buildings we own. It is now important on all levels – for individual and businesses.
We were one of the first watch brands to recognise the need to protect the oceans when we made our first Great Barrier Reef watch about eight years ago. We have supported the Great Barrier Reef with two watches already and we also have our Staghorn watch, which aids the Staghorn coral planting project in Florida. I believe that, if we do the right thing, we can start to fix things. There is always hope and we all need to keep sharing that message.
On a final note, how is the London pop-up boutique on South Molton Street performing?
There is no denying that traditional retailing is going through a bad time. But if you are active with your customer and offer a better and more personal service, then you will succeed. The London store has had a few teething troubles but it is good for us to have a home in the town. The space is dedicated to Oris, to learning about our history and our watches. People love to come in and explore and that is incredibly positive. I really believe that this is the way forward for retailing.