Rome wasn’t built in a day — and neither was Rolex, Patek Philippe, Jaeger-LeCoultre and other watch manufacturers praised for their vertical integration and lauded for their array of in-house calibers. While we all applaud the handful of brands that have ramped up their in-house production, either recently or since the beginning, to a capacity that brings new and increasingly complicated calibers to market virtually every year —your Parmigianis, your Greubel Forseys, your A. Lange & Söhnes, to name just a few — we also should take note of other brands, many of them smaller, independently owned, or known throughout their history more for outsourcing their movements, that are taking a more incremental approach. In this series of articles, we take a look at five brands — three Swiss, two German — that are taking it slow and steady. First up: Oris, which began its new era of movement making with its 110th anniversary.
Oris, founded in the Jura town of Holstein in 1904, can look back upon a fairly extensive history of watchmaking and movement-making, albeit one that went on a lengthy hiatus in the wake of the Quartz Crisis. Between the year of its founding and 1981, the year in which the company’s management decided to cease producing its own movements in favor of outsourcing ébauches from ETA and later Sellita, Oris developed 229 in-house calibers, including historically significant examples like Caliber 652 in 1968, the first pin-lever escapement movement to be chronometer-certified by the Neuchatel Observatory, and 1970’s Caliber 725, the company’s first chronograph.
From 1982 onward, Oris would place its focus on the less-intensive, and less costly, process of producing in-house modules for the base movements it acquired from its Swiss suppliers. This is the era that gave birth to Oris’s most famous visual signature, the bright red winding rotor that it added to all of its modified automatic base calibers.
As Oris marked its centennial, however, its current ownership and management — headed by executive chairman Ulrich W. Herzog, one of two Oris employees who’d orchestrated the buyout from the nascent Swatch Group back in 1982 that made Oris an independent company — decided it was high time to plunge back into developing movements in-house from the ground up. To this end, Oris watchmakers and designers teamed with Switzerland’s L’École Technique Le Locle to design and produce a mechanical movement that would include a high level of functionality but would also be cased in watches that could be comfortably produced at Oris’s famously reasonable price points and live up to the company’s “Real Watches for Real People” slogan.
The project, which required 10 years of research and development, saw fruition in 2014, Oris’s 110th anniversary, with the aptly named Caliber 110. The manually wound caliber, Oris’s first mechanical one developed in-house in 35 years, made its debut in a limited edition from Oris’s dressy Artelier collection. It offered a world-first combo of a 10-day power reserve, stored in a single, extra-large barrel, and a patented, non-linear power-reserve indicator positioned at 3 o’clock on the dial. The latter required a special gearing system and an extra-long mainspring — nearly 1.8 meters, according to Oris Co-CEO Rolf Studer, who was heavily involved with the project. When posed the question of why Oris went with a 10-day power reserve for its in-house base movement, Studer stressed the brand’s historical emphasis on both technical innovation and practicality. “When we resolved to make our own movement, we wanted to create something special, something that you don’t usually see, something for the watch enthusiast and aficionado but still within the Oris philosophy of complications: It must make sense, it has to serve a purpose, and it should be within a price range that’s realistic.”
Oris has followed up Caliber 110 with added complications in the years since, each new variation adding a level of complexity and each thus far introducing a new combination of functions. The first three all made their debut in non-limited versions of the Artelier. Caliber 111 debuted in 2015, with a 9 o’clock date display balancing out the patented power-reserve indicator at 3 o’clock; For 2016’s debutante, the Artelier Calibre 112, Oris added a GMT with day-night indication, another combination never before seen in watchmaking. The second time zone is indicated in a subdial at 9 o’clock with dedicated hour and minute hands while the day-night display uses two apertures — one round like the sun, the other crescent-shaped like the moon — over a two-tone rotating disk that turns the sun white and the moon dark during daylight hours and the reverse during the nighttime. Baselworld 2017 saw the release of Oris’s Artelier Calibre 113, which resurrected a nearly forgotten “everyday” complication from yesteryear, a so-called “business calendar” indicating the day, date, week, and month of the year; day and date appear in windows at 3 and 9 o’clock, while a red-tipped pointer hand highlights both the week and the month on two concentric scales scale on the outside of the dial.
The most recent Oris-exclusive movement, which debuted at Baselworld 2018, is the first to be encased not in an Artelier but in Oris’s vintage-inspired pilots’ watch, the Big Crown ProPilot. This one’s world’s-first feature is a 24-hour second-time-zone indication that the user can adjust to the nearest half-hour, a tool that is useful for travel to places like Australia and India, whose time zones don’t line up with the standard 24 designations found on most GMT and world-time watches. Not as sexy as a flyback chronograph or double tourbillon, but fully in keeping with the brand’s philosophy, or as Studer puts it, “just that little bit of extra you expect from Oris.”
Next week: We look at the growth of in-house movement-making at Tutima since its return to its origins in Glashütte, Germany.