Just before Father Christmas made his rounds in 2019, Oris delivered a full bronze version of its Big Crown Pointer Date. When we say full bronze we are referring to a bronze case, a bronze bezel, a bronze crown and even a bronze dial. We reviewed the 80th anniversary models of the Big Crown in 2018 decked out in bronze (36mm and 40mm) with green dials, but this is the first time bronze makes its appearance on the face of the watch, with the new Oris Big Crown Bronze Pointer Date 40mm. And it’s in, at the MONOCHROME’s office, for a review.
Originally designed for pilots in 1938, the Oris Big Crown Pointer Date has become the backbone of the brand and is one of the most popular models today. Reintroduced by Dr Rolf Portmann in 1984 on a hunch that nostalgia for mechanical watches with a dash of aviation history might catch on, the Big Crown Pointer Date was the mechanical piece that kept the company afloat during the quartz flood. Let’s take a closer look at this bronze-on-bronze model.
Short history of the Oris Big Crown Pointer Date and the man who resucitated the brand
Oris made its first pilot’s pocket watch in 1910 followed by the first wristwatch for pilots in 1917 – reissued recently. The Big Crown Pointer Date made its debut in 1938 and was characterised by an oversized crown so that pilots in their freezing cockpit could adjust their watches without having to remove their gloves. In addition to the extra-large crown, the time was displayed with large Arabic numerals and cathedral hands and a central hand with a red tip to indicate the date displayed on a peripheral track (patented in 1915 by A. Hammerly).
The story behind the reintroduction of the Big Crown Pointer Date in 1984 by Dr Rolf Portmann is an ode to the mechanical watch. Originally hired as a solicitor by Oris in 1956 to fight the protectionist federal resolution known as the Swiss Watch Statute that prevented Oris from building lever escapements, Portmann would eventually become a key figure in Oris’ history and is today the Honorary Chairman of the company. With the advent and invasion of quartz and the demise of many Swiss watch companies, Portmann – appointed managing director of Oris in 1982 – made a daring bet and defended the exclusive production of mechanical watches.
As Portmann said in an interview on the eve of his 90th birthday: “We were convinced we were mechanical through and through and didn’t want to have anything to do with quartz watches. We knew we understood mechanical watches. We were positive there was a global audience that still appreciated the value in hand-crafted, tangible products that transmitted history.”
Although pilot’s watches had been replaced with sophisticated instrument panels and digital devices, Portmann decided that the Big Crown was the most fitting ambassador for the brand: “Although we don’t need a watch we can use wearing gloves any more, the idea is romantic, which I think people like. And a simple, handsome design that’s easy to read will always have relevance. In a way, I’m surprised it’s still here, but fundamentally the Big Crown is a design that makes sense.”
from Vulcan’s forge
Bronze watches have been enjoying a heyday of late coinciding with the trend for vintage-inspired watches (Bell & Ross, Tudor, Panerai, Zenith, Montblanc and so on…). Going back in history, bronze is considered to be the first successful alloy and was made from a combination of copper and other metals. The hardest metal known to man at that time, bronze was originally used to make tools, weapons and armour and gave its name to an entire historical period associated with the first stages of urban civilisation.
The beauty of this alloy is that as it oxidises it creates an attractive patina on the surface. Thanks to this organic reaction, no two bronze watch cases will ever look the same. If you ever doubt that the material is bronze, all you have to do is hold the watch in your hand and smell the metal. I know that sounds odd, but bronze has a very distinctive smell that intensifies as it comes into contact with your skin and heats up. Scientifically explained, the characteristic smell and green patina are generated by the copper in the alloy that reacts to moisture in human skin.
To avoid your wrist turning green, Oris has created a special bronze alloy that will patinate over time but avoid your watch looking like something salvaged from the Titanic. In addition to this special bronze alloy, the part of the caseback that comes into contact with your skin is made from stainless steel.
The multi-part 40mm case of this model has all the hallmark features of the Big Crown with its coin-edged bezel and extra-large fluted crown, designed for pilots in the cockpit to be able to manipulate the crown without having to remove their gloves. Looking closely at the case you can appreciate the mottled appearance of the matte bronze.
Textbook pilot watch dial in bronze
I have to admit that when I first handled this watch I thought the dial was a rich chocolate-brown colour. Oris has never been shy of colourful dials and for the 80th-anniversary celebration of the Big Crown Pointer Date, we saw some unusual dial colours like this oxblood red or even this light green colour inspired by a colour from Le Corbusier’s Architectural Polychromy. Fresh, pleasant and unusual enough to make these watches stand out.
The solid bronze dial might look brown today, but that is destined to change. Like the case, it has been chemically treated but has also been coated with a transparent matte lacquer to stabilise the oxidisation process. The layout of the dial is identical to the 2018 Big Crown models with a peripheral date track indicated with a red crescent-shaped central hand, large Arabic numerals in vintage typography and classic cathedral-style hands. In keeping with its vocation as a pilot’s watch where legibility is paramount, plenty of lume has been applied to the indices and hands and the domed sapphire crystal has an anti-reflective coating to avoid any possible glare.
A robust and reliable movement
Inside the Oris Big Crown Bronze Pointer Date is the Sellita-based SW-200 calibre 754 modified to accommodate the central date indication. You can see the movement through the sapphire crystal caseback along with the trademark red bi-directional rotor. The movement has a power reserve of 38 hours and a frequency of 28,800 vibrations per hour. A robust, reliable, easily serviceable movement that helps to keep the price relatively low.
There’s a lot of history packed into this model, from its aviation roots to its symbolism as the watch that saved Oris from the onslaught of quartz. With its textbook pilots watch layout, the pointer date is a nice extra and the all-bronze look underscores the vintage styling of this watch.
We didn’t have enough time to see the watch patinate under our eyes and the dial was brand new and very ‘milk chocolaty’ at the time of writing… I am sure this will change over time and be delighted to hear from any owners on the particular evolutions of their bronze dials and cases. If this watch behaves anything like its siblings, the next step will be a 36mm edition, ideal for those of us with smaller wrists or women who want something that isn’t girly and comes with a great history.
Price & availability
The Oris Big Crown Bronze Pointer Date (reference 01 754 7741 3166-07 5 20 74BR) comes on a fuzzy brown chamois deer leather strap with a bronze buckle. If you prefer a different look, the easy-to-use spring bars allow you to change one strap for another with ease. It retails for CHF 1,900 or EUR 1,800 and is now available at authorized retailers and online, on Oris’ website.
More information at www.oris.ch.