Accessible prices, retro style and a focus on environmental issues – all good reasons why Oris watches are worth splashing out on
Accessible prices, retro styling and support for environmental issues have shored up Oris watches’ sharper, more modern identity
One hundred and fourteen years old this year, Oris was once one of the biggest watch producers in the world. Founded in Holstein, near Basel, by the 1930s it had grown to encompass a network of factories across Switzerland. At its peak in 1969 – before cheap quartz battery watches came into vogue – Oris employed 900 people, making 1.2 million watches a year.
An industry-wide crisis in the 1970s was caused by the European market being flooded with cheap quartz-battery imports; this took the company down to a few dozen employees. That was followed by an illfated amalgamation, then by a management buyout. But during the 1980s and 90s, Oris began to enjoy a slow revival.
Oris remains a bit of an outsider, but is not esoteric; its watches are the kind of unassuming, down-to-earth creations that suit almost anyone, and with production still in the tens of thousands, it’s not exactly an artisan business either. But in the last 20 years it has found itself taking a back seat to the likes of Longines and TAG Heuer when it comes to brand recognition.
To look at its recent creations on paper, Oris might seem unfairly overlooked. It has successfully manufactured a mechanical depth-gauge dive watch; a mechanical altimeter for pilots or mountaineers; quick-set world-time watches; and a return to in-house movement making for its 110th anniversary, with a ten-day power reserve mechanism.
But it has only been with a much less complicated, retro-styled dive watch that Oris has found an identity that translates. The Divers Sixty-Five is a reworking of – you guessed it – a dive watch from 1965. It has been a break-out hit since 2015, spawning nearly 50 variations, encompassing different dial colours, typography and sizes, plus the on-trend addition of a limited edition in a bronze case. There was even a model produced last year dedicated to Movember, and while that may make you cringe, the brand’s commitment to good causes is impressive. At the core of the company’s agenda – mirroring its focus on dive watches, both in the form of the Divers Sixty-Five and the recently redesigned, chunkier and more serious Aquis – are initiatives geared around environmental awareness and conservation.
Since 2010 Oris has partnered with the Australian Marine Conservation Society to work on preserving the Great Barrier Reef; in 2016 it partnered with a non-profit organisation called Pelagios Kakunja to track hammerhead sharks; last year it announced work with the Coral Restoration Foundation to preserve endangered coral (the associated watch even comes in a box made partly from algae, in the name of reducing its use of plastics). This year, Oris released the Aquis “Source of Life”, a watch that sounds like it should come with some sort of elixir for immortality, but instead “invites us to think philosophically about how we care for the world’s water sources”.
Such philosophical ponderings might sound a bit worthy, but even if the corporate social responsibility doesn’t float your boat (pun intended), the watches are attractive in their own right, and priced competitively; £1,150 upwards for the Divers Sixty-Five and £2,020 for the Aquis Hammerhead limited edition. Both use automatic Sellita movements: reliable, robust workhorses, and not to be sniffed at, but not the kind of thing you will wax lyrical about to a fellow watch connoisseur. That’s not the Oris way – it uses the right tools for the job, and brings it in at a price that’s less eye-watering than most mainstream Swiss brands.
In many ways, Oris is the ultimate watch company for millennials, bringing together realistic pricing, sustainability, well-judged retro-flavoured design and a notable absence of “luxury brand” pomposity or arrogance. But if the “millennial” word turns you off, there’s maturity to the Oris catalogue that eases any feelings of hipsterish cash-ins. If there’s a criticism to be made of their current offer, it’s that some of the ranges haven’t kept up with the brand’s sudden lurch into trendiness and now look a little stale by comparison, but Oris knows very well that the watches that make headlines aren’t always the ones that sell out.
In many ways, Oris is the ultimate watch company for millennials
LEFT AND ABOVE: Oris Hammerhead limited edition
FROM TOP: Oris Divers Sixty-Five; Oris Staghorn Restoration Limited Edition