Oris Watches Review: The Independent Brand's History and Modern Milestones

Oris Watches Review: The Independent Brand's History and Modern Milestones

Oris started out as a maker of mechanical watches — first for the waistcoat, then for the wrist — in 1904. After a long period of growth in the first half of the 20th Century, the Swiss company underwent a series of ownership and management changes that threatened to forever change its direction and sacrifice its independence. Successfully steering its way through the storms of those Quartz Crisis years, Oris emerged stronger, now a staple for value-conscious enthusiasts of Swiss-made watches. Its modern pillars, like the Big Crown Pointer Date, which traces its existence all the way back to the 1930s; the Aquis family of sporty diver’s watches; and the vintage-influenced Diver Sixty-Five, have all helped to build the brand’s modern identity. In this comprehensive guide to Oris Watches, I explore the brand’s inspiring history, its significant watchmaking milestones, and the standouts from its modern collection.

Foundations to Growth

Oris factory - Holstein

Oris, one of the watch world’s few remaining major independent brands, traces its history back to 1904, when it was founded in Hölstein, in the German-speaking Swiss canton of Basel-Landschaft, by Paul Cattin and Georges Christian. Cattin and Christian, both natives of the Swiss watchmaking town Le Locle, purchased the recently closed Lohner & Co. watch factory as the base of their new company, which the co-founders named “Oris,” after the Orisbach tributary, a brook near the factory. Initially, the company made pocket watches and employed 67 people. Expansion came relatively quickly: Oris opened a second manufacturing plant in nearby Holderbank in 1908 and a third one in the Italian village of Como in 1908. By 1911, Oris was the largest employer in Cattin’s and Christian’s adopted town of Hölstein, with more than 300 workers. Shortly thereafter, largely as a result of the First World War, consumer tastes began turning away from pocket watches and toward wristwatches. Oris accordingly turned its focus to wrist-worn timekeepers in the second decade of the 20th Century, first attaching bracelet buckles to existing pocket watch cases to retrofit them into wristwatches and eventually by designing wristwatches from scratch. This dynamic era of growth and evolution for Oris came to a turning point in 1927 with the death of co-founder Georges Christian and the subsequent appointment of Jacques-David LeCoultre as president of Oris’ board of directors. Luxury watch historians will recognize the name: LeCoultre was the grandson of watchmaker Antoine LeCoultre, who would partner with Edmund Jaeger in 1937 — years after his stint with Oris — to forge the maison today known as Jaeger-LeCoultre.

Big Crowns to Eight-Day Alarms

Oris Big Crown Pointer Date

In 1928, the final piece fell into place to establish a new era for Oris. Christian’s brother-in-law, Oscar Herzog, joined the company as general manager, and under his leadership, a new era of expansion and innovation began. Oris opened up its own dial factory in another Swiss watchmaking town, Bienne, in 1936, and the watershed year of 1938 brought with it two milestones: the company’s first escapements made in-house, another major step toward vertical integration; and the release of the watch model that proved to be its most enduring and iconic, the first Big Crown watch with pointer date function. The timepiece took its name from its signature function, an oversized crown that offered ease of use for its intended audience, pilots who wore thick gloves in the cockpit.

Oris Divers Sixty-Five

The start of another World War the following year threatened to derail much of the firm’s growth, with government-imposed wartime limitations on watch production. But Oris kept business alive during World War II by diversifying its product line, mainly with the manufacture of alarm clocks. In 1949, after the war, its most famous alarm clock debuted, noteworthy for its eight-day power reserve, a technical innovation that would make its way into wristwatches in later years. The postwar years under Herzog welcomed the first Oris watch with an automatic movement, Caliber 601, launched in 1952, and the brand’s first purpose-built dive watch — the aptly named Oris Waterproof, aimed at the growing masses of recreational diving enthusiasts — in 1965. The latter provided the template for today’s Divers Sixty-Five collection and even paved the way for other diving- and sport-oriented Oris models, like the mega-popular Aquis line. As the curtain closed on the 1960s, Oris was making around 1.2 million watches and clocks annually and employing 800 workers. However, adversity was just around the corner, and with it came big changes, all of which would culminate in the Oris brand as we know it today.

Quartz Crisis to Mechanical Renaissance

Oris Ulrich Herzog

In 1969, the introduction of inexpensively produced movements with quartz crystal oscillators, rather than traditional mechanical escapements, changed the landscape of the watch industry. Japanese watch companies that embraced the new technology began gobbling up market share, while Swiss firms that were slower to adopt it struggled to keep up. The result was a wave of consolidation in Switzerland, in which watch companies that had for years been competitors had to join forces to survive. Oris was no exception: it became one of the many heritage Swiss watch firms absorbed into ASUAG (Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie AG), the Swiss bank-backed conglomerate that would eventually give rise to today’s Swatch Group. As part of ASUAG, Oris’ mandate was to produce only quartz watches, a strategy that was both contrary to the brand’s historical identity and, in the face of lower-priced competition from the Far East, largely unsuccessful. The tide began to turn in 1978 when Ulrich Herzog, Oscar’s son, joined the company and teamed with Rolf Portmann, who’d replaced Oscar as general manager, to purchase Oris in a management buyout from ASUAG. The new, independent era began in 1982, and Oria once again became a producer of solely mechanical watches.

Oris Caliber with red rotor

Leading the way was a re-edition of the Big Crown Pointer Date, outfitted with an ETA movement, as Oris had at this point lost the manufacturing capacity to make its own movements. Two years later, Oris launched a watch with a mechanical alarm, utilizing some of the savoir-faire it had applied to its WWII-era clocks. Starting in 1990, the company began a slow deliberate march back to manufacture status, producing in-house modules to modify the ETA base calibers it was using with clever and useful “small” complications, like moon-phases, regulator displays, and the user-friendly dual-time function in 1997’s Worldtimer. This was the era that brought the rise of the famous Oris red rotor (registered as a trademark in 2002), a splash of color that became an easy identifier of an Oris-exclusive modified caliber.

In-House Mechanical to In-House Automatic

Oris Artelier Calibre 113

Since the 1980s, Oris has prided itself on making only mechanical watches, in contrast to many of its competitors, which continued producing quartz watches during that period. But it wasn’t until well after the turn of the millennium that the company was ready to go back to its roots, making movements in-house rather than sourcing them from specialists like ETA and Sellita. In 2014, its 110th anniversary year, Oris introduced Caliber 110, its first in-house movement in 35 years. (Prior to that, Oris had actually developed more than 200 of its own movements over its long history.) The manually wound caliber, which notably held a 10-day power reserve, begat several offspring, ascending in both numerical names and complication (Caliber 111 added a date display and power reserve, Caliber 112 added a GMT and day/night indicator, et cetera), all of them manually wound, most of them finding their way into models in Oris’ dressy, elegant Artelier collection, like the "Business Calendar" Calibre 113 model above.

 Oris Aquis Date Caliber 400

For its first in-house movement with automatic winding, Caliber 400, introduced in 2020, Oris committed to going above and beyond the call in the area of technical innovation and user-friendliness. Its two mainspring barrels hold a 120-hour (five-day) power reserve, its silicon parts contribute to an extreme magnetic resistance to 2,500 gauss (that’s more than the 1,000 gauss of the Rolex Milgauss, a watch noted for its antimagnetic properties), and its highly efficient gear train reduces energy consumption for a mainspring barrel torque of 85 percent, more than the 70 percent of most automatic movements. On top of all that, Caliber 400 is COSC-certified for chronometric performance and carries a 10-year warranty. Caliber 400 made its debut in an Aquis Date model (above) that same year, opening the floodgates to a new generation of Aquis watches containing the in-house mechanism and its offshoots, like the Caliber 403 with added analog date function that animates many modern Big Crown models.

Collection Highlights:

Aquis Date/Aquis Date Calibre 400

Oris Aquis Date Calibre 400 Cherry Dial

Price: $2,000 - $4,000, Case Size: 39.55mm/41.5mm/43.5mm, Lug Width: 21mm/22mm/24mm, Crystal: Domed Sapphire, Water Resistance: 300 meters, Movement: Automatic Oris Caliber 733 (Sellita SW 200-1 base)

The first Oris Aquis watch was unveiled in 2011, but, as I explore in more detail here, the model could be regarded as a culmination of all the robust and stylish diving watches that Oris had produced before then, from the original 1965 “Waterproof” to the massive, rugged ProDiver chronograph. The flagship Aquis Date model established the template for the collection, which now encompasses several sizes, a vast array of colorways, and a handful of complications. Its basics include a 300-meter water-resistant case, usually in steel, with a screw-down crown; a ratcheting unidirectional dive-scale bezel; a domed sapphire crystal over the broad, legible dial; and a set of distinctive lugs that screw securely into the rubber strap or steel bracelet. The first generation of Aquis models, which featured a date window at 6 o’clock, were and still are equipped with the Oris Caliber 733, an automatic movement based on the reliable Sellita SW 200.

Oris Aquis Date Calibre 400

Since 2020, Oris has been releasing Aquis Date models containing the in-house Oris Caliber 400. Outwardly, these models are mostly indistinguishable from the ones that use Oris-modified, outsourced Sellita movements. The differences are evident, however, in the extended power reserve offered by the self-winding Caliber 400 (five days rather than a relatively pedestrian 38 hours) and in the rotor of the movement, visible behind a sapphire caseback, which is skeletonized with a central Oris logo shield, rather than solid red. Aquis Calibre 400 models are available in 41.5mm and 43.5mm cases, most in steel, a handful using 18k yellow gold for their bezels.

Aquis Depth Gauge

Oris Aquis Depth Gauge 2021 

Price: $3,900 - $4,100, Case Size: 45.8mm, Crystal: Domed Sapphire, Water Resistance: 500 meters, Movement: Automatic Oris Caliber 733 (Sellita SW 200-1 base)

Launched in 2013, the Aquis Depth Gauge was a technical world’s first: the first divers’ watch that could measure its wearer’s submerged depth by allowing water to penetrate the case. Its patented system incorporated a channel milled into the extra-thick sapphire crystal, into which water could seep into via a tiny hole at 12 o’clock. With a rubber gasket sealing the joint between crystal and case, the incoming water pressure compresses the air inside the channel, activating a yellow scale on the edge of the dial that indicates how many meters a diver has descended or ascended. The Aquis Depth Gauge had an even bigger case (45.5mm) and an even more robust water resistance (500 meters) than its predecessor, though it used the same Sellita-based movement. With some modifications, the watch remains in the collection today. In 2021, Oris added three technical developments that enhance the model’s utility: a sapphire crystal with a water channel milled in a new process that increases the accuracy of the depth reading; a new easier-to-read meters-to-feet conversion table engraved on the caseback; and a patented Quick Change adjustment system for the bracelets and straps that allow for easy switching between one and the other (the latter is a feature increasingly common on other Oris models as well).

Divers Sixty-Five

Oris Divers Sixty-Five Cotton Candy in bronze

Price: $2,200 - $3,900, Case Size: 38mm - 40mm, Crystal: Domed Sapphire, Water Resistance: 100 meters, Movement: Automatic Oris Caliber 733 (Sellita SW 200-1 base)

The Oris Divers Sixty-Five, launched in 2015, revives the look of the brand’s first dedicated divers’ watch, the “Waterproof” from 1965 (hence the numerical name), and gives it a modern spin. The original model had a chromium-plated brass case with a bidirectional rotating bezel, a crystal made of plexiglas, and a black plastic strap; its descendant has a larger case in corrosion-resistant stainless steel; a scratch-resistant, bubble-shapoed nonreflective crystal made of sapphire; and a dive-scale bezel that rotates in one direction rather than two, making it more reliable (and safer for a diver that actually wants to wear it underwater. The bezel’s inlay is made of black aluminum, and the dial’s hands and indices, filled with tritium on the original model, are here coated with a type of Super-LumiNova called “Light Old Radium” whose beige glow contrasts nicely with the black dial in the dark. Another period-accurate detail is the trapezoidal date window at 3 o’clock. The original Divers Sixty-Five begat an entire collection, now in two case sizes (38mm and 40mm) and a variety of dial colors, both traditional and, as in the pastel “Cotton Candy” models (above, in bronze cases and bracelets), much more unconventional. Oris added chronographs to the Divers Sixty-Five collection in 2023, equipped with the automatic Caliber 

Big Crown ProPilot Big Date

Oris Big Crown ProPilot Big Date BronzePrice: $1,700 , Case Size: 41mm, Thickness: 12.4mm, Lug-to-Lug: 48.6mm, Water Resistance: 100m, Crystal: Sapphire, Movement: Automatic SW200

The oldest and perhaps most emblematic of Oris’s varied and versatile collection of timepieces, the Big Crown ProPilot has a multi-part case measuring 41 mm in diameter and featuring aesthetic hallmarks established as far back as 1938, the year the first Big Crown model debuted — like the coin-edge motif on the sides that evokes a jet’s turbines and the large, fluted, screw-down crown referenced in the model’s name. The double-domed sapphire crystal covers a dial with indexes and applied hour numerals made of solid Super-LumiNova. The exhibition caseback offers a view of the Sellita-based Oris Caliber 751, which stores a 38-hour power reserve and is equipped with an instant date-change function, a date corrector, stop-seconds capability, and a red-highlighted Oris rotor.

ProPilot X

Oris ProPilot X Kermit EditionPrice: $4,600, Case Size: 39mm, Thickness: 12mm, Lug to Lug: 46.9mm, Lug Width: 19mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 100 meters, Movement: Automatic Oris Caliber 400

The ProPilot X shares its aviation-inspired origins with the Big Crown ProPilot, but speaks to a wider audience with its toned-down dimensions (in both the case and the crown) and its increasingly daring array of colorways. ProPilot X watches also contain the in-house Caliber 400 movement, with its five-day power reserve and chronometer-certified performance. In 2023, Oris introduced an eye-catching and smile-inducing version of the model in cooperation with Disney’s Muppets franchise. The ProPilot X Kermit Edition features a bright green, three-hand dial with a subtle yet playful addition in the date window: a smiling emoji of Kermit the Frog, which appears on the first day of every month — a date dubbed “Kermit Day” by Oris, meant to remind the wearer to “not take life so seriously.” The stylish, aviation-inspired details are present in a slightly more understated execution than those on the Big Crown models — like the coin-edge textured “turbine” motif on the sides and the fluted, screw-down crown reminiscent of those on early pilots’ watches.

Big Crown Pointer Date

Oris Big Crown Pointer Date Cervo Volante 

Price: $2,000, Case Size: 38mm, Thickness: 12.5mm, Lug to Lug: 45.5mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50m, Movement: Automatic Sellita SW200

The Big Crown Pointer Date has been in constant production for more than 80 years, since its landmark debut in 1938, and it still takes pride of place in Oris’ wide and versatile collection. As with the Aquis and ProPilot families, several recent models in the Pointer Date series have launched with in-house movements (in this case, it’s the Caliber 403, the derivation of Caliber 400 with the pointer date display added), while many other models still use the Sellita-based Caliber 754. Among the latter are several special editions, like the blue-green-dial watch featured above, which emerged from a collaboration between the sustainability-minded Swiss watchmaker and Cervo Volante, a Swiss leather goods manufacturer that uses sustainable deer-skin leather in its footwear and accessories. The steel case measures 38mm and features the hallmark coin-edged bezel and oversized fluted crown that gives the model its name. The gradient dial, with central pointer date hand and 31-day outer scale, is inspired by the colors of the Alps and the case attaches to an oak-brown strap made of Cervo Volante’s signature deer leather and finished in a vegetable tanning process.


Join the Conversation

John S.

I love my Oris big crown , other then the pendulum has fallen off the movement of the watch making it inoperable . There is not a watch repair person in my area of Kentucky, for me to send this in to be repaired cost $ 450 . Then I have the cost of the repair and replacement cost on any parts . Plainly put . The warranty is not consumer friendly . So my watch I saved up for and loved to wear now sits in its box in the bottom of my safe .

Justin M.

I love a different and cool date function and the the pointer date on the Big Crown does not disappoint.

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