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Oris Watches: A History

Oris Watches: A History

Authored By Richard Perdomo

Genesis (1904 - 1946)

Oris was founded by Paul Cattin and Georges Christian in the Swiss town of Hölstein. They bought the recently closed Lohner & Co watch factory, and on June 1, 1904 the two men enter into a contract with the local mayor. They named their new watch company Oris, after a nearby brook. By 1911, Oris had become the largest employer in Hölstein, with over 300 workers. To entice more watchmakers, it built houses and apartments for its staff. Oris’s success continues, and it expands so that by 1929 it has factories in Hölstein (1904), Holderbank (1906), Como (1908), Courgenay (1916), Herbetswil (1925) and Ziefen (1925).


The End Of An Era

Company co-founder Georges Christian dies and Jacques-David LeCoultre becomes President of the Board of Directors. Jacques-David LeCoultre was Antoine LeCoultre’s grandson and the man who merged with Edmond Jaeger to form Jaeger-LeCoultre in 1937. Following the death of Georges Christian a year earlier, Oscar Herzog, Christian's brother-in-law, takes over as General Manager, a position he will hold for 43 years. From 1928 to 1971 Herzog steers Oris through the many watchmaking highs and lows of the 20th century.

Independence for Oris (1949 - 1969)

LeCoultre’s ambitions to improve the quality of his company’s products run into trouble when, on March 12, 1934, the Swiss government introduces the so-called ‘Watch Statute’, a peculiar law designed to protect and regulate the industry that prevents watch companies from introducing new technologies without permission. Until that point, Oris had been using pin-lever escapement (Roskopf escapement) movements, which were claimed to be less accurate than the lever escapements used by some of Oris’s competitors, who had adopted such technology before the law was passed. The company’s General Manager Oscar Herzog hires a young lawyer by the name of Dr Rolf Portmann. Rolf spends his first 10 years at the company campaigning to reverse the so-called ‘Watch Statue’ that prevents Oris from using lever escapements in its watch movements. In 1966, he succeeds, earning his place in Swiss watch history. 

During the Second World War, the company’s output is limited to around 200,000 pieces a year. Oris keeps business alive by manufacturing alarm clocks, which leads to the landmark eight-day power reserve model launched at the end of the 1940s.


A Revival (1970 - 1988)

In 1970, Oris becomes part of ASUAG, which will one day become Swatch Group. The timing couldn’t be worse as the Quartz Crisis grips the Swiss Watch Industry. Oris, no longer independent, endures a difficult decade during which production plummets and staff numbers dip from 900 to only a few dozen. Its future will later be secured by a management buy-out that returns Oris’s independent status.With Oris in decline because of the Quartz Crisis of the 1970s and early 1980s, Dr Rolf Portmann and Ulrich W. Herzog lead a management buyout. Soon after, the newly formed Oris SA bravely elects to abandon quartz and produce solely mechanical timepieces.

During the mid-1980s, Ulrich W. Herzog, now the company’s chairman, travels regularly to Japan, where he observes a newfound passion for mechanical watches. Recognising the influence the Japanese have over global trends, he introduces a new business vision: Oris aims to become the global leader in mechanical watches with special movements at competitive prices. In 1984, he reintroduces the Pointer Calendar first seen in the Big Crown watches of the late 1930s. In time, the distinctive function will become Oris’s signature complication.


Think Big (1990 - 2003) 

Oris’s decision to produce only mechanical watches is vindicated in 1991 with the launch of the highly successful Calibre 581. At the time, it becomes the company’s most complicated calibre, with a moon-phase module developed by an in-house team of watchmakers. In 2002, the Red Rotor becomes Oris’s registered trademark. It symbolises Oris’s philosophy: to produce high-quality, Swiss Made mechanical watches with real-world functions at accessible prices. Oris introduces the Artelier collection, a series of classic, elegant timepieces, many of which carry innovative, high-functioning calibres developed by the company’s in-house watchmakers.



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