When it comes to tradition, few Swiss watchmakers can beat Oris. After all, the 100-plus-year-old manufacturer only produces mechanical movements, which makes the firm a dinosaur in a world in which electronic movements are commonplace. Its entry into the wristwatches arena was late and somewhat tentative—in 1925, Oris took its pocket watches and retrofitted them with buckles. As for chronographs, Oris didn’t offer one until 1970, when the Chronoris was introduced.
But several things have set the watchmaker apart from its competitors. First was its early interest in creating a timepiece that would be accessible to more than just the wealthiest customers. To that end, Oris pioneered electroplating techniques so it could manufacture and market gold-plated watches that would be less expensive than solid gold ones.
As with the electroplating, Oris is admired for keeping much of its work in house. In the 1930s, the company built its own watch escapements by hand rather that outsourcing that task as many of its competitors did. It even hardened its own brass, to insure that components made from the metal would last a good long time before wearing out. As a result, watches with its 601 movement—with automatic winding and power-reserve—from 1952 are much sought-after by collectors, as are timepieces featuring the 645 movements from 1966.
Another thing that sets Oris apart is it’s more than passing interest in the arts. We expect watchmakers to strike marketing deals with racecar drivers, aviators, and sportsmen. Oris has done all that, and the company has a fine collection of diving, driving, and aviation watches to prove it. But how many watchmakers feature photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe in their advertising? In the early part of the 21st century, Oris even created a series of wristwatches to honor jazz greats from Louis Armstrong to Charlie Parker to Miles Davis.
Still, those alliances seem conventional compared to the company’s recent collaboration with Bob Dylan. Today, if you go on the Oris website, you can watch a video of Dylan’s 1965 film that accompanied “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” which is probably not the first piece of music that comes to mind when thinking about Swiss watches. The limited edition Dylan watch, a handsome rectangular stainless-steel number with the date in the 6 o’clock position, even includes a greatest-hits CD and a Hohner Marine Band harmonica.
Maybe, as the song says, “you don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows,” but it’s still nice to have a watch on your wrist to tell the time.