Vintage inspired watches are all the rage these days, and during Baselworld 2017, we saw the release of the Oris Big Crown 1917 Limited Edition watch, a limited edition piece that is very faithful to Oris’ recently discovered first pilot’s watch. Oris believed their first pilot’s watch was the 1938 Big Crown, but it turns out there was a previous model that dated back to 1917, which conveniently makes this year its 100th anniversary. The watch reliably sticks to its vintage pilot’s watch aesthetic while having contemporary modifications like a modern 40mm case size, the convenience of an automatic movement (which is still a little odd considering the onion crown), and the practical benefits of lume on the dial. There are, of course, 1,917 pieces of the watch being produced.
Before we jump into the watch itself, it’s useful to take a brief look at the history of pilot watches to better understand the design and aesthetics of the Oris Big Crown 1917. Most of us are familiar with the B-Uhr and Flieger style of pilot watches with black dials, white hands and markers, and large dial and case sizes, all of which were intended to increase legibility. However, this style emerged during World War II in the 1940s, and older pilot’s watches like the Oris Big Crown in 1917 had little in common with B-Uhr and Flieger watches other than the crown. In fact, they were essentially pocket watches with wire loop lugs on either end.
The Oris Big Crown 1917 is offered in a 40mm polished steel case with wire lugs. This is a look that was quite popular around the time as people were transitioning from pocket watches to wrist watches – usually by welding lugs onto smaller sized pocket watches. The watch looks smaller than 40mm on the wrist, but it looks well proportioned for a modern reinterpretation. The crown, as explained, is onion-shaped and sizable, which makes it quite ergonomic.
An interesting touch that I appreciated is the Bund style leather strap that adds a cuff that’s just wide enough to add some visual heft that one might want due to the narrow, thin lugs. It’s a well thought out option to give buyers.
The case is completed by a screw-down steel case back with custom engraving – specifically the words ‘Limited Edition’ numbering the piece out of 1917 and the ‘OWC’ (Oris Watch Company) seal. The watch is rated to an adequate 50m of water resistance and the one concession to modernity that Oris has made is in the use of domed sapphire crystal with double anti-reflective coating. The dome of the sapphire crystal helps keep the overall look classic and true to form, right down to the distortions one finds when viewing vintage watches with domed crystals from an extreme angle.
Given how smooth and circular the case is, the little bump above the crown is hard to ignore, and almost an eyesore but it does serve a purpose. Like the watch it’s based off, this button on the Oris Big Crown 1917 has to be pushed to set the time. So, only when this button is pushed can you adjust the time with the crown. While this might be annoying and unnecessary, it was a feature of the original and that’s why one gets this watch.
As for the movement itself, Oris has modified a Sellita SW200-1, and dubbed it the Oris 732 caliber. The SW200-1 is a well-known automatic movement and an increasingly popular one given the drought of ETA movements. It offers 38 hours of power reserve and is robust and dependable. I personally wish Oris had used a manual wind movement here but the constraints to do so within a reasonable price segment are understandable.
On the dial side, we have a rich and subtly textured silver dial that is recessed in the middle to give it further visual interest. There is a classic railway-track styled chapter ring around the edge with emphasis on markers at each 5 minute interval. The hour markers are Arabic in a serif font and filled with Super-LumiNova that’s been colored to look vintage and aged. The blued hands are cathedral shaped, and filled with the same faux-vintage lume. I am generally not a fan of cathedral shaped hands when used in contemporary and modern designs, but in this case it feels right at home with the rest of the watch. The finishing touch is the painted Oris logo in a classic serif font. Honestly, if the case wasn’t so highly polished, it would be easy to mistake this for an actual vintage watch from a distance.
Oris has created a very well executed vintage reissue here, even though it feels like the trend is losing novelty. However, there’s always room and interested enthusiasts for a thoughtful, non-gimmicky piece like this. For such a niche watch that is not very versatile, this piece will probably find the most interest from collectors. The Oris Big Crown 1917 Limited Edition is priced at $2,600 and comes with two brown leather straps (a bund-style and a standard one) and a convenient, well-designed travel pouch and as mentioned, it is limited to 1917 pieces. oris.ch