Welcome to Watches You Should Know, a biweekly column highlighting little-known watches with interesting backstories and unexpected influence. This week: Ollech & Wajs.
Ollech & Wajs, an obscure Zurich-based Swiss watch brand, makes for a fun discovery to the uninitiated — first, there are the brand’s many cool vintage military, dive, and other watches from the sixties and seventies that can often be found for good values. Then, there’s O&W’s small part in the history of dive watches that set a new record for water-resistance. Finally, you can still buy some nifty, seventies-styled sport watches from Ollech and Wajs’s modern incarnation that are pretty reasonably priced.
Founded by Joseph Ollech and Albert Wajs in 1956, the brand was a prolific producer of tool and sport watches in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of these chronograph and dive watches are extremely distinctive, exhibiting a technical design sense that is rarely reproduced in modern watches. But the brand is perhaps most remembered for its part in a historical milestone — the design of the aforementioned record-breaking dive watch.
Ollech & Wajs was among several watch companies that used a case made by a brand called Jenny (the German “j” is pronounced here like an English “y”). The “702” case, as it was called, was made from a single piece of steel (“monobloc” construction) in which the movement was mounted via the dial side and topped off with a thick acrylic crystal, resulting in one chunky, tough, badass dive watch. Called the Caribbean 1000, it broke new ground at the time with a water-resistance rating of 1,000m and was evidently popular among actual divers and soldiers.
While the Caribbean 1000 is a notable model, search the brand on sites like eBay or Chrono24 and the variety of cool, quirky stuff available is sure to hook you. Other notable models include their Aviation watch produced from Breitling Navitimer stock, or the Early Bird, which had a 24-hour dial as well as a colorful 24-hour rotating bezel — but there are many more awesome Ollech & Wajs watches to discover as well.
Even better is that these watches are often very well priced — just don’t be confused by the fact that the brand has also gone by the names “A.I. Wajs,” “OW,” and “OWZ,” and watches they produced for militaries sometimes have no brand name at all on their dials. The brand’s sales and distribution model was also interesting, stocking their watches at military base exchange stores (“PXs”) as well as selling from Switzerland directly to consumers in the US and UK via mail-order.
Like so many other watch brands, Ollech & Ways wasn’t the same after the quartz watch revolution/crisis of the 1980s and the company’s reigns have been passed on to a dedicated OW collector. The brand is not well-known today, but it produces some watches that look very much like something O&W might have made decades ago. Check out the OW P-101 and really neat-looking OW P-104 aviator watches on currently on the brand’s site, which, though not available for purchase yet, should be shipping “in early 2019.”