Most people, when we talk about luxury watches or high-end watches, automatically think of Rolex, Omega or Patek Philippe. But there are many good watch brands that are unknown to the vast majority. Brands that manufacture watches of tremendous quality, and that, if they had the reputation of others, their models would be highly demanded and valued.
For this reason, from WatchesNorte we are going to bring you a series of articles talking about these watch brands, from the best known to the least known.
Today we are going to talk about… ORIS.
Oris was founded by Paul Cattin and Georges Christian in the Swiss city of Hölstein. They bought the recently closed Lohner & Co watch factory and on June 1, 1904, the two men signed a contract with the local mayor. They named their new watch company Oris after a nearby stream and began industrial pocket watch manufacturing. In its founding year, Oris employed 67 people.
In 1906, the firm opened an assembly plant and a second factory in the nearby town of Holderbank. Another factory in Como followed in 1908. By 1911 Oris had become Hölstein’s largest employer, with more than 300 workers. To attract more watchmakers, he built houses and apartments for his staff, expanding so that by 1929 he had additional factories at Courgenay (1916), Herbetswil (1925), and Ziefen (1925).
The first Oris wristwatches
With the opening of the Ziefen factory and the electroplating plant in Herbetswil, Oris expanded its product range. The company began placing bracelet buckles on its pocket watches, thus transforming them into full wristwatches.
After the death of Georges Christian in 1927, Jacques-David LeCoultre became Chairman of the Board of Directors. A year earlier, Oscar Herzog, Christian’s brother-in-law, had taken over as CEO in 1928, a position he held for 43 years.
In 1936 Oris opened its own dial factory in Biel / Bienne. At that time, the company produced almost all the elements of its watches and watch products in-house. Oris introduced its exclusive pilot’s watch in 1938, the so-called Big Crown. The collection takes its name from the watch’s oversized crown, which is used as an aid to pilots adjusting their watches with leather gloves. Variations of this watch still occur today.
During World War II, the Oris distribution network beyond Switzerland was significantly reduced. To keep the business alive, the company made alarm clocks.
The status of Swiss watchmaking
On March 12, 1934, the Swiss government introduced the so-called “Statute of Surveillance”. This peculiar law designed to protect and regulate the industry, prevented watch companies from introducing new technologies without permission. For Oris, the statute turned out to be an obstacle, as, up to that point, Oris had been using pin lever escapement movements (Roskopf escapement), which were less precise than the lever escapements used by some of the competitors of Oris, who had adopted such technology before the law was passed.
Oris fought in the courts for more than 10 years, and eventually the statute was gradually liberalized, until its abolition in 1971.
The quartz crisis
In the late 1960s, 44% of all watches sold worldwide were made in Switzerland. Oris employed 800 people and produced 1.2 million watches a year, making it one of the 10 largest watch companies in the world. The company developed its own tools and machinery, and even conducted an apprenticeship program, training 40 engineers and watchmakers every year.
But then the turning point came. In the 1970s and early 1980s, Asian quartz watches gained huge market share. The so-called “Quartz Crisis” saw the end of some 900 watch companies in Switzerland and the unemployment of two-thirds of the employees in the watch industry. The market share of Swiss manufacturers fell to 13% worldwide.
In 1970 Oris renounced its independence and became part of Allgemeine Schweizer Uhrenindustrie AG (ASUAG), the predecessor of the Swatch Group. Oris started manufacturing quartz watches as well, but this did not return success. In the early 1980s, Oris employed only a few dozen people. In 1981, the production of their own movements was abandoned.
Like many other Swiss watchmakers in the early 1980s, Oris was on the verge of closing. Managing Director Dr. Rolf Portmann, who was instrumental in revoking the Statute of the Guard, and Marketing Director Ulrich W. Herzog took over the rest of the company in 1982 as part of a buyout by of the address. Soon after, the newly formed and independent Oris SA decided to abandon quartz and exclusively produce mechanical watches in the mid-price segment. Oris made its last quartz watch in the early 1990s.
Since the turn of the millennium, the company has focused on the worlds of diving, culture, aviation, and motorsports. Since 2002, Red Rotor has served as a trademark and distinctive feature of Oris.
- In 2004, the Quick Lock Crown system was developed, which only requires a single 120-degree clockwise turn to secure it in place.
- In 2009 Oris introduced the Rotation Security System, a device that locks the unidirectional rotating bezel of a diver’s watch in place, preventing accidental adjustments underwater.
- Oris patented the Oris Aquis depth gauge, its first mechanical depth gauge, in 2013. Allows water to enter a channel through a small hole at 12 o’clock. Water enters the well under pressure, creating a water mark that corresponds to a depth gauge.
- In 2014, Oris celebrated 110 years of watchmaking with its first in-house developed caliber in 35 years. The caliber 110 was a hand-wound movement that featured a 10-day power reserve and a proprietary non-linear power reserve indicator.
At WatchesNorte we have this fantastic ORIS Divers Sixty-Five Chronograph.
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