Year Established: 1904
Headquarters: Hölstein, Switzerland
Watch Category: Mid-range
Oris is one of a few independent Swiss watchmakers. Like other storied Swiss watchmakers, Oris has worked its way through many challenges. A respected brand, the company builds sound, affordable mechanical watches.
In 1904, Paul Cattin and Georges Christian bought a recently closed watch factory. The two named their new watch company after a local brook. By 1911 Oris employed over 300 people while building houses and apartments for staff. In 1925 Oris released its first wristwatch. By 1929, the company had factories in Holstein, Holderbank, Como, Courgennay, Herbetswil, and Ziefen.
Georges Christian died in 1927. This led to Jacques-David LeCoultre (yes related to that Le Coultre) becoming President of the Board of Directors. In 1928, Mr. Christian’s brother-in-law, Oscar Herzog, took over as General Manager. He would hold that position until 1971.
Becoming an Icon
In 1934 the Swiss government passed the Watch Statute. This law prevented watch companies from introducing new technologies without permission. The law trapped Oris into using a pin and lever escapement. At the time, pin and lever were thought inferior to lever escapement. Since Oris did not adopt lever escapements before 1934 they were stuck for what would be many decades.
In 1938, the company introduced its iconic pilot watch – the Big Crown. The big crown model opened the world of aviation for Oris. Many other watch companies designed watches for pilots. All such watches featured large crowns and easy to read dials. Oris’ pilot watch stood out with its famous pointer date complication.
With business limited by the war, Oris focused on alarm clocks to get it through tough times. The company made it through the war period and released its first automatic watch in 1952. The Swiss watch industry bounced back in the post-war period. It may be that no other Swiss watch company bounced back as far as Oris. In 1956 Herzog hired Rolf Portman, a young lawyer he tasked with overturning the Watch Statute.
The year 1965 saw the launch of Oris’ first diver watch. Of higher note, in 1966, Portman succeeded in having the Watch Statute reversed. By the swinging ’60s, Oris rose to be a top 10 global watch company.
Crisis & Opportunity
As with all mechanical Swiss watch companies of the 1970s, the Quartz Crisis took hold. Oris became part of ASUAG. No longer independent, the company dwindled from over 900 employees to less than 100. Feeling as though their mark should be in quality, mechanical timepieces, Dr. Rolf Portman and Ulrich Herzog lead a management buyout in 1982. Following the buyout, Oris abandons producing quartz watches and focuses on mechanical watches.
Oris has regained its place as one of Switzerland’s top watchmakers. In 1997 Oris released the Worldtimer which allows the wearer to adjust local time one hour forward or back with the touch of a button. Further, the date would adjust as well if midnight passed. Oris continues to innovate and expand its reach in diving, motorsport, and aviation. In 2002, Oris registered the red rotor as a trademark symbolizing its commitment to high-quality. The company’s slogan “go your own way” reflects its fierce commitment to independence.