Oris was founded in 1904 by Paul Cattin and Georges Christian in Hölstein, Switzerland. The brand is named after a nearby brook and within the first year, the company had 67 employees and a solid production of pocket watches. In 1906, the company opened a second factory in nearby Holderbank and by 1911, Oris was the largest employer in Hölstein with over 300 workers (and even built houses and apartments for staff). In 1925, the company began converting pocket watches into wristwatches and opened a dial factory in Biel/Bienne in 1936. By 1938, Oris was producing its own watch escapements and was a leading manufacturer of accurate pin lever escapements, but due to a controversial law in 1934 known as the Watch Statute, it was unable to produce superior lever escapements. The law was designed to protect and regulate the industry by not allowing companies to introduce new technologies without permission. It wasn't until 1966 that a hard fought legal battle finally allowed the company to produce lever escapements (the law was abolished entirely in 1971). Alarm clock production began during World War II as the company's distribution network suffered, and diversifying its portfolio proved successful. The revered 8-day power reserve clock debuted in 1949. Today, the independent company is among the most recognized, accessible Swiss luxury watch brands with Rolf Studer and Claudine Gertiser-Herzog acting as co-CEOs.
One of the brand’s most popular watches is the Big Crown pilot’s watch, first introduced in 1938. It featured an oversized crown for pilots with gloves and a Pointer Calendar using an independent hand to mark the date printed around the dial’s perimeter. This was the same year the company began production of escapements, making it a vertically integrated manufacture. Pointer Calendars are still produced today (following a reintroduction in 1984) and remain a signature complication for the brand. In 1952, the Calibre 601 was launched as the brand’s first in-house automatic and by 1967, the Calibre 652 became its first certified chronometer with a new lever escapement. In 2014, Oris launched the Calibre 110 with a 10-day power reserve and non-linear power reserve indicator, its first new in-house movement in 35 years. The Calibre 111 followed in 2015 with an added date complication and several others continued with additional complications. Also in 2014, Oris launched the Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter, the world’s first automatic watch with a mechanical altimeter.
Other notable pieces include the Worldtimer with a patented function that adjusts the local time by one hour increments via two pushers on either side of the case. A patented Rotation Safety System launched in 2009 featuring a unidirectional diving bezel that could be locked into place. The Divers Sixty-Five Automatic is one of the brand’s most popular series today, closely based on a dive watch released in 1965 with bold, oversized numerals at 12, 3, 6 and 9, and a date complication (moved from 3 to 6 o’clock).
Oris has made several key partnerships ranging from music to sports. In 1996, the Oris London Jazz Festival became its first major partnership and the brand’s introductory jazz piece was named after British saxophonist Andy Sheppard. In 2001, a collection debuted honoring legendary musician Miles Davis. Partnerships continued with the Williams Formula 1 team in 2003 and many collaborative pieces were produced, most notably the Oris Williams collection in 2015. In 2006, a limited edition titanium watch debuted to celebrate the young, rising Williams F1 Team driver Nico Rosberg. Also in 2006, Oris partnered with record-breaking freediver Carlos Coste who broke the world record by descending to a depth of 140 metres and returning on a single breath. A Carlos Coste Limited Edition Cenote Series was released in 2010 after he broke another record with a freedive to 150 metres. In 2009, Oris partnered with the Swiss Hunter Team, an independent aerial display team based in the Swiss town of Altenrhein. This resulted in a series of dedicated special edition watches.
Few vertically integrated Swiss brands offer such compelling and affordable dive, sport and dress watches as Oris. Not all of its pieces feature in-house movements, but watches such as the Divers Sixty-Five Automatic and Big Crown Pointer Date prove that quality, innovation and timeless designs are a winning formula.