While I am a huge fan of pilot watches, and certainly of flying as an efficient and economical form of transportation, when ORIS invited me to attend the Reno Air Races in Nevada, I had a small pause due to a terrible accident there a few years ago and also the fact that Breitling has been historically such a huge sponsor of this event. Oris also produced a Reno Air Racing Limited Edition III watch for the 2013 event.
However, after looking into the safety measures taken since and most importantly learning a bit about the brand via the Internet, my decision was clear. This could be fun, and give me an opportunity to learn more about the brand, as a few times ORIS has come up in comments on this site especially when I reviewed diving watches such as the Sinn U1. And, most importantly, this was for me an opportunity to find out if ORIS lives up to its simple motto: real watches, for real people.
ORIS has an interesting history. It's relatively young, compared to other Swiss watch brands though it is over 100 years old and for comparison, is a year older than Rolex. However, what stood out to me, as soon as I got to learn about ORIS a bit more, is that it is one of few handful of Swiss brand that is independent. That is, not part of a major conglomerate.
Also, while they have suffered (like others) from the quartz crisis of the '70s, they have emerged in the past two decades as a watch brand dedicated to its Swiss heritage, a commitment to mechanical movements and innovation thereof, and importantly keeping its promise to make these products available to a wide audience.
While not the main watch sponsor at the Reno Air Shows, ORIS does have skin in the game. ORIS sponsors a Formula One Class single passenger, single engine plane named Scarlet Screamer flown by Don Vito Wypraechtiger on the Saturday and Sunday morning races.
When I arrived early on Saturday AM, I was able to see the ORIS team cheer on their plane finishing second in that race. High and far from the field, we watched the various planes flying in mile-long loops and coming as close as hundreds of feet from the ground and from the safety zone established for race attendees.
After the race and the planes have landed, I visited the hangar with the ORIS CEO of America, VJ Geronimo, where we could see the plane up close and get a chance to chat with the ORIS' team mechanics and the pilot.
Later in the day, the ORIS plane visited the area where the ORIS invitees were located and where we had a rock star reception for the team. One thing that is evident immediately is that the plane is tinier in person or that you'd expect from the noise it makes or from its appearance in the air from the viewing areas. Besides the main instruments and steering gears in the cockpit, there is just enough space for the pilot to sit and fly the plane. This limited space and maneuverability accentuate the fact that a pilot's wristwatch is still critical for timing purposes during flight and as a backup instrument should something go awry with the main ones.
On the ORIS pilot's wrist was the commemorative limited watch that ORIS announced this year called the limited edition ORIS Air Racing III. It's a simple, highly legible pilot watch with a distinctive minutes hand that includes red stripes representing the brand and racing. While I did not attend the next day's race, I was pleased to learn from VJ that the ORIS team did the impossible, and won the final race!
So as a fan of aviation, should you look into ORIS watches? I say yes, and while not the main brand that comes to mind when one thinks of aviation, I believe ORIS deserves your consideration. If anything because they are truly trying to provide great products at a great value and you would not be compromising pedigree and quality.
What I also particularly like about ORIS is that they are not pretending to be something they are not. Like their pilot lines, they also have diving watches, and dressier lines. All have similar aims, provide no-nonsense value mechanical watches made for everyone. It's really a brand that is about watches for real people, which means without pretense or extravagance. oris.ch