With the April sale of Breitling to CVC Capital Partners, and with most big Swiss watch brands currently owned by larger luxury groups, the population of truly independent Swiss watch brands is near non-existent. Yet Oris has been able to retain its independent, family-run status throughout almost all of its entire 113-year history of making mechanical tool watches. During that time, Oris has weathered the turbulent industry and found success producing only mechanical watches, aimed squarely at the everyman. It’s a remarkable achievement, which is why we spoke with Co-CEO Rolf Studer about how Oris’s independent status has helped it create unique, reasonably priced watches for the everyday watch enthusiast.
Q: Oris has spent decades continuing to maintain independence and is one of the few truly independent watchmakers today. Why is this important to Oris?
A: Because it gives us freedom. We are not only independent in an economic sense, but we also have mental and creative independence. We don’t spend our energy figuring out politics between ourselves and other parts of a group. It’s just us, so we take all of our energy and put it into the things we think make sense, and that helps us push the company further. And this independence gives us possibilities to think outside the box. And that’s what we’ve been doing for decades.
Q: How does that factor into the watches you make?
A: Look at our Depth Gauge, for example. On a dive watch, we offer a depth gauge that works through a very simple principle: The water sets pressure on the watch, and the air in the channel milled into the glass is compressed; this is how the depth is measured. This can’t break. We can offer it for a reasonable price, and we’re the only ones who do it this way. Other companies offer very complicated depth gauges.
Another example is the Altimeter watch. We are the only watch company around that offers a mechanical altimeter in an automatic watch. There used to be one other company that had a mechanical altimeter in a manual winding watch, and it was £100,000 ($130,000 USD). Ours comes for a reasonable price. We combine the diametric module with a standard movement, and that gives us an outstanding complication with a price that is within the reach of a lot of people.
Q: Oris just recently started making in-house watches again — why did you feel this was important for the brand?
A: We made 279 of our own movements until the Quartz Crisis hit the Swiss watch industry. And we were one of the 10 largest watch companies in Switzerland. So there is a lot of pride for our mechanical heritage. And as of now, today, we make only mechanical watches. So for our 110th birthday, we wanted to have our own mechanical movement again. But, we didn’t just want it to be good; we wanted something special. So we decided to develop a ten-day power reserve, hand-winding movement, with a non-linear power reserve indication. We were overwhelmed to see how well the complication was accepted by the market — people thought it was very Oris. It was mechanical, with a complication that makes sense. Complications need to make sense at Oris — that’s our philosophy in watchmaking.
Q: What are some of the difficulties of producing in-house movements as a truly independent brand?
A: Well, you can’t profit from a group development team, such as other big companies have. Like in the car industry, for example: they have platforms that they build different products on for different brands. We don’t have that, but we believe it would be a bigger sacrifice to give up our independence just to have that. And with hard work and forward thinking, so far we have managed to fight quite well to stay in that position.
Q: Your brand’s credo is “real watches for real people.” Why has that been Oris’s focus?
A: A lot of the industry has focused on the very top part of the population, and the whole industry has moved towards that segment or wanted to be there. But they have left the person who likes a good mechanical product — likes to spend money on it, but has to work for that money — they’ve left that person behind. But we never did. We’ve always made products for that person, with a good mechanical watch with complications that make sense, with prices that make sense. And as we move forward we are definitely going to further strengthen our product line within our brand mantra.