Basically, what you see here is one of the most innovative – and coolest – pilot watches on the market. No, it is not fitted with a super-high-end movement nor does it feature the most spectacular design ever, but that’s not the point. You’ve already heard about the Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter, a watch we‘ve reviewed previously. It’s the world’s first automatic mechanical timepiece with a built-in mechanical altimeter. Now for a pilot watch, that’s quite an interesting feature. A few days ago, the brand introduced a new version, the Oris Altimeter Rega Limited Edition (resulting from a partnership with Rega, Switzerland’s air rescue service) and what’s better than a proper field-test, in the Swiss Alps, to experience the altimeter function.
Quick facts about the Oris Altimeter Rega Limited Edition
A few days ago, Oris launched a new version of its Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter, more simply named the Oris Altimeter Rega Limited Edition – so you know what to expect: an altimeter watch made in association with Rega. Rega is a private, non-profit air rescue service that provides emergency medical assistance in Switzerland. Their phone number is 1414 – a number that you might keep in mind for later.
So what is the deal with this limited edition? Basically, the watch is mechanically and visually the same as the standard version. It is still 47mm in diameter (a large size explained by the presence of the altimeter function – not just for the sake of it), with a 3-hand + date display. It has the perfect pilot look with black dial, white Arabic numerals and large luminous hands, a notched bezel, two large crowns (one for the movement, one for the altimeter) and is powered by a Selitta SW 200-1 base. The evolution on this Limited Edition is only visual.
There are 3 design elements that differentiate the new Rega Limited Edition of the Oris Altimeter: a gunmetal grey PVD-coated case secured to the wrist by a grey textile strap with red leather lining (instead of the non-coated steel case and a black textile strap on the standard version), a specific stamp on the dial at 9 (the Rega logo) and a dedicated engraving on the caseback. This Oris Altimeter Rega Limited Edition will be limited to 1414 pieces (now you know why…) and will be priced at 3,950 Euros / 3,950 CHF (retail price, tax inc.). It is available in two versions: one with the altimeter function in meters and one with the altimeter function in feet (the one tested here). It is delivered in a water- and shock-proof presentation box, a hallmark of Oris professional collections. It will be on the market in March 2017.
Specifications of the Oris Altimeter Rega Limited Edition
- Case: 47mm diameter – Stainless steel with gunmetal grey PVD-coating – Sapphire crystal domed – Screwed case back, embossed with Rega’s helicopter and engraved limited edition number – Water-resistant to 10 bar/100m
- Movement: Selitta SW200-1 base movement – automatic – 28,800vph – 38h power reserve – hours, minutes, seconds and date – additional integrated Swiss mechanical barometric altimeter and barometer movement, displaying air pressure and altitude (in meters or feet)
- Strap: Grey textile strap with stainless steel folding clasp, gunmetal grey PVD-coating
- Price: 3,950 Euros / Swiss Francs
Testing the Altimeter Function in the Swiss Alps
Before we get to the actual testing it’s probably worth explaining how the Oris Altimeter actually works. As said earlier, this is the world’s first automatic mechanical timepiece with a built-in mechanical altimeter, a feature that is more commonly found on air-plane dashboards. Here, you have the exact same function, on the wrist…So, how can a watch measure the altitude and the air pressure? Inside the case is a barometer, a device traditionally used in meteorology to measure atmospheric pressure (and make weather forecasts, among other applications). And… that’s it. Yes, it is (on paper) as simple as that. Indeed, inside the case of the Oris Altimeter Rega is an integrated Swiss mechanical barometric altimeter and barometer movement (developed with the specialist Thommen). Why do something complex when a simple and reliable solution can be used? In aviation and professional use, unecessary complexity is often the enemy of the reliability. Of course, we have to nuance a bit our words, as implementing a barometer in a watch was not that simple, considering the lack of space in the case.
Linked to the barometer are two gauges: one displays the atmospheric pressure (in hPa / hectopascal), the other displays the altitude (in meters or feet), on a scale going from 0 to 4,500m / 0 to 15,000 Feet. This scale is displayed by a yellow marker which rotates in a recessed area of the dial and is read by a scale printed on the inner flange – two features that explain the large 47mm diameter of the watch. By measuring the pressure at a starting point and continuously measuring its evolution along a climb (in the mountains, during a flight…), the Oris Altimeter Rega can track the change in altitude reasonably accurately – of course, as with all mechanical tools, this won’t be as precise as a GPS device, however, it is a reliable additional tool for safety purposes.
So how do you use it in the real world? Before the altimeter can indicate the correct height, you need to calibrate and set the system. First you need to unscrew the crown at 4 o’clock and adjust the watch to your current altitude by rotating that 4 o’clock crown. This means that you need to know your altitude at the starting point of your climb or flight (0m / 0ft if at sea level, otherwise a precise search will be needed first). Once this additional crown is opened, it will allow air to enter the case, meaning that the barometer will be able to do its job and to measure the pressure of the air surrounding you in real time. While you climb or fly, the watch will indicate the current altitude on the inner flange. Simple, legible, efficient.
Two side notes: because the barometer relies on measuring changes in air pressure, it means that this watch can’t work in a pressured airplane (like a commercial Boeing or a jet-fighter). However, it can be used in most recreational airplanes, most helicopters and of course, simply on the wrist while climbing in the Alps. Also, as the watch needs to have the second crown opened to let air enter the case, it is no longer waterproof. Although the venting crown will allow water to enter the case, it also prevents moisture from entering the watch using a membrane made of PTFE, which creates a vapor barrier. But, remember that the Oris Altimeter Rega Limited Edition is a pilot watch and not a dive watch (and if you want a dive watch that indicates depth, you have the Oris Aquis Depth Gauge).
Now, about the test I did. I strapped the watch on in the city of Zermatt, a Swiss ski-station in the Alps, near the Matterhorn (that huge mountain you can see in the background of the photos). Using it is simple: unscrew the crown, find the exact altitude of the city and off you go. Zermatt is approximately 1,600m above the sea level, which means I had to adjust the watch to an altitude of 5,250ft before starting my journey. Then, after a short funicular trip, we arrived on the ski runs of Sunnegga, just at the bottom of the Matterhorn. Altitude in Sunnegga was 2,290m / 7,513ft. At that time, the watch was displaying approximately 7,600ft or 7,700ft- which, in reality, means a margin of error between 1% and 2%.
Then, at the time I shot the Oris Altimeter, I was walking around an altitude restaurant, located at approximately 2,120m / 6,995ft. And as you can see on most photos, the watch is displaying around 7,000ft or 7,050ft – that’s less than 1% difference with the actual altitude. So you can see that out in the field, the Oris Altimeter watch is actually a precise and reliable tool, in addition to being a super-cool technical looking watch that, despite its 47mm diameter, wears perfectly on the wrist. I have to say, I’ve been impressed. This watch is far away from a gimmick or a toy for fun. It properly works. oris.ch.