“Oris stands for the transformation from exclusive to inclusive luxury.”
We recently had the opportunity to talk with Oris co-CEO Rolf Studer about his passion for the brand and the industry, what significance collectors have for the Hölstein-based watchmaker, and how Oris sees sustainability.
WT: The average price of a Swiss watch has risen continuously in recent years. Is the industry disconnecting from the entry-level consumer?
RS: Last year alone, the average price rose by 18 percent, and over the last two years it has increased by as much as 28 percent. It is obvious that this development cannot be to the advantage of the average watch buyer or fan. I am convinced that this development is dangerous because it distances you from the average consumer. The industry risks getting out of reach of normal customers, which in a next step leads to irrelevance — and that is the most dangerous thing that can happen to an industry. From this point of view, we are not at all enthusiastic about this development. The mission of Oris is clearly stated: “We make watches for people who work hard to earn their living and spend their money wisely. Accordingly, we will continue to maintain the price level at which we are currently operating.”
WT: Why did Oris choose a bear as its mascot?
RS: For many years now the Oris Bear has been traveling with us, first in Hölstein, and in recent years increasingly as part of the communication with the end user. Other brands create ambassadors to convey content; we think a bear can do just as well. A bear is the perfect canvas for any kind of emotion, and immediately conjures a smile on your face. Basically, as a watch brand, you benefit from such a projection surface for the content you want to convey.
WT: Sustainability and environmental protection are a major issue at Oris. Do certain projects stand out?
RS: Take the Staghorn Limited Edition [in 2017, Oris worked with the Coral Restoration Foundation off Key Largo, Florida, to show how coral reefs can be protected and rebuilt around the world] — the technology is being exported, for example, to Australia to achieve a similar effect on the Great Barrier Reef. We are working with organizations that are now using exactly the same technique that was previously developed in Florida. If you spend several years in this environment, you build up a network and can then also transfer knowledge. It is very satisfying to see. For us as a company, on the other hand, it is very important to show what is possible, like our packaging, which is partly made of algae, thus replacing the oil in plastic. The amount that can be saved is, of course, not huge, but it makes people think. And the buyer of a high-quality mechanical watch is exactly the person who can make a difference. We do not have to show a country close to the poverty line in order to demonstrate how we can live more sustainably. We have this really big ecological footprint for people who can afford mechanical watches, and [it would be great] if we can manage to get these people to think about it, be it through packaging like this, a strap made of recycled PET or a watch like the Clean Ocean — one of my favorite projects, in which we integrated recycled plastic, former waste, into a mechanical watch, and made it into a piece of jewelry that shows how waste can have a second life. If we can communicate this way of thinking to people, if we can make them think differently, I believe that is where we have the greatest leverage. As an independent producer of mechanical watches, it is in our DNA to be sustainable. Sustainability means that we use our resources carefully and when people see that we are doing so and that this is not just a pretense but really a part of how we operate as a company, then they also feel our commitment. If a brand acts in the sense of “after me, let the deluge come,” parties until the end, and then suddenly protects a turtle, then this is not credible. We have been using our funds economically for decades, and now the whole world is called upon to do the same. We have been supporting this for years, and that’s why consumers understand and pass this message to others.
WT: How did you start your career in a watch company like Oris?
RS: I’ve always had a passion for things that are well made and I find it captivating to invest in something that accompanies you all your life. And this is exactly what happens with a mechanical watch. Oris is one of the few independent, owner-managed companies in the industry; it’s a company where you can really make a difference as an individual. I’ve been here now since 2006 and haven’t ever regretted it.
WT: During your 14 years with Oris, what personal highlights stand out?
RS: As a company, we have grown strongly in many markets in recent years. And then you really try every day to do the best you can with the available information. When you look back, you sometimes think that this or that might have been possible differently, could have been done better, but for me there isn’t really a single highlight in that aspect — the highlight for me is always reaching the next level. The moments I remember with particular pleasure are all about people: they are moments like meeting Chet Baker’s widow, who told me in London what life was like with the famous musician, or [meeting] Art Blakey’s son. Spending time with these people, trying to take the next step with our team, making the impossible real, achieving the dream, going one step further — when I think back, these are the moments that make it all worthwhile for me.
WT: What was your first real watch?
RS: The first watch I can remember is a Breitling chronograph from my father, which no longer worked. Of course, I immediately took it apart — and promptly couldn’t put it back together again, which probably helped start my growing fascination with mechanical watches. Then came a Memovox “TV-Screen” with blue dial and brushed steel case, also from my father. The first watch I bought for myself was ta Panerai Luminor.
WT: The Carl Brashear bronze diver can be seen quite often on your wrist. Where does your enthusiasm for that material come from?
RS: I like how bronze tells the wearer’s own story, how the watch is a little different every time you look at it. I wear my first Carl Brashear from 2016 only in the sea; I never rinse the watch with fresh water. You can see the traces of all the holidays with my children and I automatically think about the moments I spend in the water with my kids; it tells my story. At the same time, bronze shows the change from exclusive to inclusive luxury and as a symbol of this change, I also like to wear bronze watches. In the past, you could never sell a watch that changed its surface. Today it is no longer mainly about conveying a certain status, or making someone jealous, but about enjoying an object, a mechanical watch, together with other people. I personally stand for this form of luxury.
WT: What importance do collectors have for Oris?
RS: The collector community is a big part of the success Oris enjoys today. We have always been a brand that is worn by people who appreciate watches. For many years, collecting watches was more of a hobby for geeks; only in recent years has it become a lifestyle thanks to social media. The people who used to do this in a closed framework suddenly got a global platform with a corresponding reach. We could never have bought the positive comments these people made about our brand with media spending. These advocates helped us enormously to reach a wider number of people.