The municipality of Hölstein is one that can only be described as serene. It’s a picturesque landscape that’s laden with streams and rivers, arable land and a smattering of industrial buildings that would easily fit into a Waterhouse painting. It’s also the home of Oris, one of the few remaining industrialized and independent watchmakers in Switzerland. The company remains rooted in the original building that it was founded in, though it’s expanded on its premises since 1904, to accommodate for an influx of machinery and staff.
Most watch lovers know of Oris, or are at least familiar with its reputation for creating handsome and well-priced timepieces. Some examples include the Aquis series of diving watches, or more notably, the Divers Sixty-Five, its first dive watch in 1965 that offered a full timer scale, unidirectional bezel and 100-meter water resistance. Since the brand revived the line in 2015, it’s achieved critical and popular acclaim, with numerous special editions including one of our own, the Divers Sixty-Five “Honey”.
Some may even be familiar enough with Oris’ history to know that in the early 20th century, Oris earned plaudits for its chronometric performance, and was in fact one of the largest Swiss watchmakers in the industry. After the Quartz Crisis, the company, along with the entire industry, shrank in size. Thanks to its two leaders at the time, Dr Rolf Portmann and Ulrich Herzog (now the brand’s chairperson), who organized a buyout of the company, it survived the era and returned to the mechanical watchmaking standards of the past.
The two gentlemen helped assert Oris’ distinct style through the revival of its earliest watch collection, the Big Crown, an aviator-themed watch range designed for convenient operation by gloved hands. The Big Crowns of the 1940s offered a pointer calendar display, a style that has become an Oris regular today.
The 21st Century Oris
As the brand reclaimed its ground in watchmaking, it also began to expand its presence in other spheres, drawing upon music influences and motorsport to build a range of timepieces that were varied and pragmatic in operation. The utilitarian character of the brand revealed itself through the practical solutions it created for the end-consumer, from a convenient quick-lock crown to a bezel lock that ensures it doesn’t move out of position.
But the brand’s biggest milestone came in 2014 when it introduced the Caliber 110 on its 110th anniversary. It was Oris’ first in-house movement since post-Quartz Crisis and it was a statement that the brand was more than capable of producing a fine in-house movement. The manually wound, 3Hz caliber offers a 10-day power reserve and a patented non-linear power reserve display, running on one single, massive barrel with a mainspring that measures 1.5 meters long. The movement itself is sturdily built and designed for robustness, with convenient easy-adjustment on the regulating organ and minimal power fluctuation across the entire reserve of energy.
The 110-series movements and its successors aren’t aimed at fully verticalising the manufacture, but really are selectively produced for special premium timepieces that epitomize the brand’s core values of quality and performance. Since then, there’ve been four variants of the base movement, numbered sequentially. And for its 115th anniversary, the brand is delivering a futuristic look at the 110 caliber, as well as its product design. The Big Crown ProPilot X is the B-2 Spirit plane of the line, a sleek, provocative slice of equipment that’s an architectural beauty.
According to Oris’ senior product design engineer Lukas Bühlmann, the inspiration of the watch came from “aviation and architecture. The idea behind the watch started with the movement, and we gave this a strong architectural look. The skeletonized barrel draws your eye first and then the bridges, and then you start seeing the detail in the wheels. The case is more like a stealth plane. There’s an exciting interplay between the movement and the static elements.”
Chief operating officer Beat Fischli adds that the idea for the watch had been in his head for years. “We’ve been building towards this moment. But until now, it just wasn’t the right time. We’ve known for a long time that we had the know-how in-house. Calibers 110 to 114, each unique, gave us confidence, because they were so well received. Each time, we learned new things… We have the freedom to create watches our customers want and that we like, because we’re independent. After these developments, we felt ready to produce and release a high-concept piece that would show the world on another level who Oris really is.”
Not Just a Skeletonized Movement
In fact, according to Michael Meier, the regional manager for Oris Southeast Asia, the idea to create a skeletonized version of the 110 had been in discussion since it was created. To call the Caliber 115 a skeletonized version of the 110 would be unjust, however. The designers and engineers began by taking the movement apart in order to see what could be hewn from the original, and in doing so, constructed a skeleton movement that added the openworked bridges too.
As Bühlmann points out, the inspiration for the caliber’s construction was architecture, and elements of man-made architecture can be seen throughout the watch, from the center bridge which literally references the design of a bridge found in Hölstein (although to my untrained eye, it reminds me of the Eiffel Tower in a mirror reflection). He points out the differences between the 115 and its predecessors, one of which is the shifted small seconds counter, which now lies at the seventh hour, instead of the ninth. “This is actually the actual position of the seconds wheel in the movement; we shifted it in the past for balance, but it fits perfect here.”
Then there is the case, in full titanium with a slim bezel that’s machined, angled and knurled to resemble the spinning turbines of a jet plane, and the inner bezel that’s notched in the opposite direction to enhance this idea. The case is angled with soft edges for an industrial, modern feel, with integrated lugs and an integrated titanium bracelet that’s tapered and angled in a 15-degree “V”, which really reminds one of the wings of the B-2 Spirit. The angling serves to wrap the watch around wrists of any size, making the 44mm timepiece fit snugly against your skin. The patented safety belt clasp of the brand is also given a modernist take, and around the back of the case, you can see the other side of the Caliber 115. The monochromatic, anthracite uniformity of the watch and movement doesn’t dull the watch; instead it serves to highlight the multi-layered movement and the brass wheels and rubies on the movement, centered around the massive mainspring that’s exposed to view. The use of concentric, overlapping circles for the counters and barrel guides the eye around the display.
If it seems like I’m gushing about the watch, it’s because I am. The ProPilot and other Oris collections have typically been more classic or rule-based takes on watchmaking, be it a diving, aviation or classic piece. This feels like the team at Oris have thrown out the rulebook and asked themselves what it would be like if Porsche Design made an Oris concept watch. Meier points out that this is “the first time the brand has made a ProPilot with no numerals”, a point reiterated by Bühlmann. “It’s certainly not a conventional pilot’s watch… This is the first Oris pilot’s watch without any numerals on the dial. But the aviation DNA is still there in the details. We used titanium for the case, for example, because it’s very light. What really makes this a pilot’s watch is its technical look. Technology is the driving force behind aviation today.” And frankly, at CHF7,200, it’s a steal (CHF6,800 for the leather strap option). If this is the future of Oris’ design, the future is looking very bright indeed.
P.S. The Big Crown ProPilot X is already available at all retail points right now. If you’ve gotten a hankering for a rare and unique Oris, hit up your local Oris retailer right now.
Manual-winding skeletonized caliber 115; hours and minutes; small seconds; patented non-linear power reserve display; 10-day power reserve
44mm; titanium; water-resistant to 100m
Multi-piece titanium bracelet or black leather both with titanium “lift” clasp