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Oris is one of the hottest watch brands today, with everyone from sophisticated watch collectors to those just getting into mechanical watches interested in adding an Oris watch to their collection. While Oris may just be getting on the radar of many watch fans today, their rich history of watchmaking stretches back over a century. Despite many ups and downs along the way, as common with the rest of the Swiss watch industry, they are seeing amazing success in the present and have a future that’s looking brighter than ever before.
The story of Oris began in 1904 when watchmakers Paul Cattin and Georges Christian arrived in Hölstein, in the northern foothills of Switzerland’s Jura Mountains, to start their watch business. Heralding from the famous watchmaking town of Le Locle, Paul and Georges came looking for a property where they could start their business. The two men purchased the recently closed Lohner & Co. watch factory and called their new company Oris, named after a nearby brook and valley close to Hölstein. The name originates from the Celtish 'Aurisa' and Roman 'Orusz' meaning “watercourse”. On June 1, 1904, the two men entered into a contract with a local notary to found and operate a watch business in the town.
Paul and Georges had a dream of making high-quality mechanical watches using efficient industrial methods, and so they quickly set about building a skilled workforce, and state-of-the-art factories that would enable them to see that dream realized. By 1910, Oris became the region’s largest employer with more than 300 workers and built accommodations in the area to house them. By 1925, the company had factories on six sites, including an electroplating facility equipped with advanced technology that placed Oris at the forefront of watch technology. A dial factory in Bienne would follow in 1936, and by the time the Second World War began, Oris was running at peak efficiency.
However, as was the case for many companies, the war negatively affected Oris. The company’s distribution network beyond Switzerland was reduced significantly, so the company started manufacturing alarm clocks to keep the business alive. When the war was over, Oris was able to start rebuilding their production, and by the end of the 1940s, the company was slated to enter a golden period in its history.
By the mid-1950s, Oris had once again become one of the most advanced manufacturers in the Swiss watch industry. The company produced almost every watch component in-house. Leading the company at the time was Oscar Herzog, an industrialist who pushed Oris forward by continuously enlarging its factories. The company began developing its own machines as it strived to streamline their watchmaking process for maximum efficiency. At its peak, the development and engineering department had more than 80 employees and produced machines such as the transfer machine, which was used for manufacturing main plates.
Herzog ’s industrial revolution meant Oris was able to introduce movement after movement, to the point where the company was the region’s largest employer and one of Switzerland’s biggest watch manufacturers. Oris even ran an apprenticeship program, training engineers and watchmakers, with as many as 40 trainees coming through the program every year. By 1970, Oris employed over 800 people and produced 1.2 million units a year, making it one of the 10 largest watch companies in the world. The future looked bright until the Quartz Crisis arrived.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, demand for Swiss watches declined as cheap quartz alternatives flooded the market. Around 900 Swiss watch companies went bust and Oris was on its knees. Believing in the value of mechanical watches and the skills of Oris watchmakers, Dr. Rolf Portmann, and Ulrich W. Herzog, then General Manager and Head of Marketing, bought the company in 1982. Working together, they rebuilt Oris and revived its industrial approach to mechanical watchmaking
Rolf and Ulrich decided to phase out quartz watches and focus entirely on mechanicals. Without the means to create new movements from scratch, it turned instead to developing modules that would allow it to introduce practical complications for its customers. Oris would become known for its innovative approach to watchmaking and its range of useful complications and functions. In 2002, Oris introduced its signature Red Rotor, both a registered trademark and symbol that signifies Oris only produces Swiss Made mechanical watches.
2014 was the 110th anniversary for Oris and the company marked this occasion by returning to the production of movements, with the introduction of the Calibre 110. Between 1904 and 1981, Oris made 279 in-house calibres at a rate of about four a year, but because of the effects the Quartz Crisis had on the industry, the company didn’t introduce an in-house movement for over 30 years.
Today, Oris has produced one of the most attractive watches in its price class, the Divers Sixty-Five, which the company introduced in 2015 based on a vintage model. It is now available in multiple sizes with multiple dial options and is seen by many as the best vintage-inspired watch in its price category.