Monochrome Monday: Flight-Testing the Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter

Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter - wristRecently, we at Monochrome Watches took to the skies — literally — to test a watch in the environment for which it was designed. Oris released its Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter earlier this year, and cordially invited us to appropriately test-drive the world’s first wristwatch with an automatic, mechanical altimeter.

All in all, this Oris watch did not disappoint. So, for the next few minutes, remain seated with your seatbelt fastened tightly. And in the event of a water landing, thank your lucky stars you are in a sea-plane. On a windy but bright Thursday afternoon we arrived at the designated airport for a flight in a true piece of history — a Consolidated Catalina PBY Flyboat. It is, in fact, the most successful Catalina in history, sinking three German U-boats and irreparably damaging an important supply vessel for the Axis navy during World War II. After the war, this particular Catalina served as a naval support plane in New Guinea, before being transferred to the Dutch Marine Forces. During the test, we even got to talk to a retired flight engineer who made over 600 service-hours on board of a Catalina during the 1950s.

Consolidated Catalina plane


Consolidated Catalina cockpit view

In-Flight Entertainment

Taking off in such an old plane is nothing short of spectacular. Everything vibrates, squeaks or cracks, and you can smell the kerosene when entering the cabin, courtesy of the two massive Rolls Royce Meteor-engines hanging just feet above you. When you are eventually up-up-and-away, the flight is loud but surprisingly smooth. The antique plane provides all of your in-flight entertainment. A splash-landing in Lake Ijssel was a thrilling experience, though. Nothing smooth there — the waterline creeping closer and closer, the roar of the engines resonating against the lake’s surface, the hull violently skipping and squeaking across the water as it touches down, and a very loud grunt from the two Rolls Royce engines as the pilot applies full throttle to take off again. Overall, it’s much better than any roller coaster ride.


We were also invited to test the watch, obviously. The Oris ProPilot Altimeter is available with either a metric or an imperial scale, which measures the altitude in meters or in feet. As you can see in the pics, we wore the imperial-scaled version. If you take into consideration that throughout aviation, distance and altitude are still measured in feet or miles, it seemed like the more logical choice of the two. We did regular in-flight checks to see if the altitude indicated by the ProPilot Altimeter corresponded with the correct cruising altitude. A quick instrument check showed that Oris’s watch matched it spot-on, as we reached a maximum elevation of 1,000 feet (or 300 meters) and the yellow indicator moved slowly up and down while the Catalina was climbing or descending.

Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter - wrist

The Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter is quite big — 47 mm wide due to the integrated barometric altimeter, developed with the specialists at Thommen. Inside the movement, an aneroid capsule measures air pressure, which is translated to a corresponding altitude, just as in the Breva Génie 02. Critics will state that a range up to 4,500 meters isn’t that useful, considering that the highest mountain in Europe exceeds that by some 300 meters. Nevertheless, for the sporting enthusiast, the pleasure pilot or the para-sailor, the watch nonetheless provides valuable information during their adventures.

Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter - crown

So how does it work?

We’ve already described the operation of the ProPilot Altimeter in our original article, but this hands-on experience put that bit of information to the test. You unscrew the crown at 4 o’clock and this allows air to enter the case. The aneroid capsule measures the current pressure, and you can then set the yellow marker to the correct height by pulling out the crown. Once set, you will see the yellow marker travel around the dial move up or down as you climb or descend, indicating the altitude on the chapter ring surrounding it. The red marker, also surrounding the dial, indicates the air pressure on the lower part. Pay attention, though, as the watch is no longer watertight when the crown is unscrewed.

Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter - wrist-2

The Swiss brand is known for presenting well-built, innovative watches at an affordable price point like the Oris Aquis Depth Gauge and now the Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter. At a price of $3,800 for the textile strap, or $4,100 for the steel bracelet, Oris lives up to that reputation.

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  1. I’m a fan of Oris watches and it was great to see a photo of a PBY Catalina. My late father was a flight engineer/gunner on Sunderland flying boats with the Royal Australian Air Force’s 10 Squadron and Coastal Command during WWII. He later flew on Cats and said that he loved them with the sole exception that weren’t heated and thus very cold.

    I’ve only every seen one at the Flying Boat Repair Depot at Lake Boga in Victoria (Australia) but it’s in a poor state of repair.

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