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Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter Watch Hands-On Flying Debut

Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter Watch Hands-On Flying Debut Hands-On

For 2014, Oris has released a new timepiece which is the world’s first automatic mechanical watch with an altimeter. Called the Oris Big Crown ProPilot Alitmeter, the piece continues the brand’s notion of attempting to include useful complications in its watches for racing, diving, and of course aviation. In a sense, the Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter watch is a follow-up model to the 2013 Oris Aquis Depth Gauge watch with a simple yet highly effective depth gauge used for diving.

Oris did not announce the Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter watch at Baselworld 2014, but rather waited a few months to debut the timepieces at a special event in Switzerland that aBlogtoWatch was fortunate enough to be a part of. Oris did something rather clever to launch its new pilot watch: they had us go flying in order to see the new Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter watch in action. So this isn’t just a hands-on look at a new watch with a theoretical explanation of how it works. I got to see the watch in action myself. I do feel that more brands should take Oris’ lead in this regard. Yes, it is cool to fly planes, but more importantly, it gives us an opportunity to actually test a function a new watch is meant to offer in the real world.

Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter Watch Hands-On Flying Debut Hands-On

Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter Watch Hands-On Flying Debut Hands-On

To test the Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter watch I traveled to the Ambri airport in Switzerland near the Italian border. Ambri is the home of a small airport, where Oris participates in their own little flying academy. We got to fly some prop planes as well as vintage military jets, and what a difference it made in seeing a mechanical barometer watch work in real time.

A bit more about the Oris ProPilot collection overall, since it is also new this year. The Big Crown ProPilot collection is a new modern aviator watch that expands on the existing vintage-themed Big Crown collection. Oris debuted the Big Crown ProPilot collection earlier in 2014, which at the time included a simple three-hand with the date, larger day/date model, and chronograph GMT model. aBlogtoWatch went hands-on with the Oris Big Crown ProPilot Chronograph GMT watch here – which I still believe will be one of the top sellers in the new pilot watch family. With the new ProPilot Altimeter model, the ProPilot collection will have four major models and is off to a good start. How important is the Altimeter to the new pilot watch family?

Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter Watch Hands-On Flying Debut Hands-On

Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter Watch Hands-On Flying Debut Hands-On

Oris was smart to invite a range of people in addition to some of the usual watch writer suspects to test out the new Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter. Among those people were aviation journalists and other specialized or lifestyle media. The Oris Big Crown ProPilot Alitemeter watch is no doubt cool, but the question is whether or not there is a demand for it outside of the watch industry. Of course, most pilots have a number of redundant instruments for important information such as their altitude. Will they scramble to buy a new mechanical altimeter watch? Or is this just a cool piece of watch gear that some collectors and hobbyists will find appealing?


These are all good questions, and knowing the typically sober nature of most pilots, I feel that some aviators, but mostly a lot of watch people, are going to be drawn to the ProPilot Altimeter piece. I mean when it comes down to it, pilots tend to sink most of their disposable income into their planes above all else. Oris actually has a legitimate argument that the watch isn’t just for pilots, but also for adventurers, hikers, skiers, or others who want to know their altitude.

Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter Watch Hands-On Flying Debut Hands-On

Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter Watch Hands-On Flying Debut Hands-On

Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter Watch Hands-On Flying Debut Hands-On

Up in the air testing the Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter watch, I wanted to compare it with the digital altimeter in my Casio G-Shock Rangeman (reviewed here). In many instances mechanical watch brands release things which are supposed to be “awesome” but are easily available in a more accurate, and cheaper digital package. So I was interested to see how Oris – a reliably good “tool watch” brand – fared against a digital altimeter watch.

The result was interesting, actually. While the Casio was a bit more precise in the measurement, they were both more or less accurate in showing the altitude. What was better about the Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter watch was that it was able to show the change in altitude in more or less real time, while the Casio did not update its readings each second (though it isn’t touted as an aviation watch). The down side is that the relatively small size and compact nature of the altitude scale means that it is difficult to read your altitude with precision.

Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter Watch Hands-On Flying Debut Hands-On

Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter Watch Hands-On Flying Debut Hands-On

Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter Watch Hands-On Flying Debut Hands-On

Little else is cooler than wearing an instrument watch and seeing it work in action. Flying in nimble aircraft, we were able to climb and descend over 1000 feet in a matter of seconds and watch the altitude hands move accordingly in real time. This is the really amazing thing about analog instruments and a site few people other than pilots will be able to experience. Even commercial air travelers will not get this experience because what the system in the Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter watch is measuring is air pressure, and airliner cabins are pressurized.

Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter Watch Hands-On Flying Debut Hands-On
Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter Watch Hands-On Flying Debut Hands-On

Oris isn’t the only company to release a mechanical altimeter watch this year, they are merely the only one that released an automatic movement-based mechanical altimeter. Breva also released one, with their Genie 02 Altimeter watch (hands-on here). Each of the watches uses an internal aneroid capsule system, which is a technology that goes back to the 19th century. Of course, that is really where these watches stop being similar, as the Breva Genie 02 is priced starting at $132,000. Oris timepieces are considerably more egalitarian in price.

So how does the Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter watch work? It is pretty straight-forward, actually. The timekeeping part of the watch is an Oris caliber 733, which is a base Swiss Sellita SW200 automatic movement which sits in the middle of the case on top of a module. A stem from the movement extends to the crown at 2 o’clock, which allows you to wind or adjust the timekeeping part of the ProPilot Altimeter.

Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter Watch Hands-On Flying Debut Hands-On

Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter Watch Hands-On Flying Debut Hands-On

The movement sort of sits in a bowl, surrounded by the altimeter and barometer scale, and resting on top of a space for the aneroid capsule system. The capsule expands and contracts with changes in barometric pressure, and when it does, it moves the altimeter hands. The hand operated by the crown at 4 o’clock can be adjusted to set the base altitude or compensate for environmental matters which can effect the reading. The crown at 4 o’clock is also how you activate the altimeter. Well, activation isn’t the right term, exactly. Basically, for the system to work, air needs to enter the case so that the capsule can sense the pressure. When the crown is screwed down the watch case is water resistant to 100 meters, and when open, it displays a red ring which means air can enter. A membrane prevents moisture and dust from entering the case when the crown is unscrewed.

The outer internal bezel of the Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter watch has a scale for the altitude, while the inner part (which is recessed) uses the rear of the yellow tipped hand to indicate the barometric pressure. Oris will actually make two versions of the watch available, one with a scale for meters and another for an altitude scale in feet.

Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter Watch Hands-On Flying Debut Hands-On

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  • MisterDeal

    Wow, you really were flying some jets! Badass, as we say in olde countrie…

  • TimothyBurks

    Double points for the Warbirds in the photo shoot!

  • Wish I had this watch back in the day when I was flying hang gliders. We had altimeters attached to the glider but they were usually sky-diving instruments (light and cheap). Even now, knowing the cabin altitude in airliners and while driving around in mountainous countries would be cool with this watch. And true to being an Oris, the price makes sense for what you get. Love the bezel too.

  • DG Cayse

    Great watch. Great photos.
    REALLY great a/c.

  • Ulysses31

    It sure is a tough life being a watch journalist :P.  This watch is impressive.  It’s big and masculine but not showy, and has in my opinion a useful complication built in.  I wasn’t sure if I liked the floating dial in the centre but it’s growing on me as it adds depth to the watch.

  • Spaceguitar

    Excellen review, I love these truly “in their element” ones.


    Oris is a straight shooting company not connected to the greed feed. Future endeavors 
    could include a pedometer watch, BAL, defibrillator, & a chiming/tuning fork piece reminiscent 
    of James Coburn’s watch in the Flint movies.

  • Emperius

    How and when do you fly Ariel? Pretty cool.

  • nodari kirtadze

    Cool watch, but does it have  water resistant

  • nodari kirtadze With both crowns screwed in it is water resistant to 100 meters.

  • Feller87

    Love the functionality of this watch as demonstrated hands on in the review.

    I have never seen a watch (mechanical) with this complication, and when i searched for one the only other one that came up besides digital watches. Revue-thommen made a limited edition run in 1998 and it wasnt nearly as nice as this one. As Ariel mentioned the only other one is made by Breva and that is a mobile weather station which while ridiculously cool is also $130,000.

    I would love to be able to handle it personally, the seal looks fantastic is functional and i love the yellow red and gray color scheme everything blends beautifully. The only small gripe i have against this watch is that its rather large and i wish they would make a skinnier version for those of us with skinnier wrists.
    I think if properly marketed this will make people look twice at Oris, it certainly made me do just that.

  • jeffjcc

    WOW!  Seriously, this review is awesome!!!  You can’t get anymore “hands on” than this.  This, is why I read ablogtowatch.  Super cool, and in this case not your typical “desk diver” review.   Also, I love that Ariel shows his love for the Rangeman (a fairly cheap watch, compared to most on ablogtowatch… it makes me want a Rangeman!!)

  • DECoasterNerd

    Actually, the altimeter feature would work in a pressurized airliner, but rather than reflecting the aircraft’s altitude, it would reflect the “cabin altitude”.  Airliners are pressurized, but the the air pressure at the point of origin is not maintained throughout the flight.  As the aircraft climbs from take off to cruise, the pressure in the cabin is gradually reduced.  At cruise, most airliners maintain pressure inside the cabin that is equivalent to being in an unpressurized aircraft at about 7,000-8,000 feet.  There is still plenty of oxygen at that level of pressure and it means they don’t have to build a cabin capable of containing sea-level pressure while cruising at 42,000 feet.

  • pascalb

    The limited edition of Revue Thommen was made to celebrate the swiss army high altitude mountain ski touring race called La Patrouille des Glaciers. I bought it at the time for mountaineering but the altimeter was so sensitive to water that even swet would penetrate the mechanism and corupt the precision of the altimeter by thousends feets! Yet puting the users at risk during climbs. It could never be used as security tool not even on a dry sunny day in the mountains.
    Oris seems to have solved the problem with their moisture proof membrame but this needs to be checked before counting on the watch in real condition. One problem Oris altimeter may have is that if you climb say an elevation of 2000 metre, altimeter locked and open it at the summit, air will flow in the mechanism in a split second forcing the indicator to rotate at ultra high speed. Same applies on the decent. This may well damage the very sensitive aneroid membranes of the altimeter if repeted on a regular basis.
    This said, I love the watch, it concept and deseign. It is the best ever produced mechanical altimeter watch but keeping in mind that it is not a precision tool in witch you can bet your life while up there. It is a super toy, a fun toy to play with but nevertheless a toy.
    I hope this helps, best, Pascal

  • DG Cayse

    pascalb Thanks Pascal!

  • Feller87

    pascalb Thanks Pascal I wonder if they addressed that concern of sudden exposure to high altitudes while making the watch

  • Douglas

    I wear one of the 1998 Revue Thommen Limited Edition Airspeed Altimeter watches.

    The run of 1,998 total watches in 1998 was a special titanium version (ref5360001). RT
    made this model in a stainless steel case for a decade or more (ref5310001),
    before they sold out in the early 2000’s. For some reason 2006 rings a bell,
    but it might have been 2003 when the family business sold to a commercial scale
    manufacturer, which did not continue the altimeter complication.

    Revue Thommen began with pocket watches in 1853, and Thommen expanded into
    altimeters shortly after the advent of the airplane. In other words, these
    folks go back. Thommen is still an international leader in aircraft avionics,
    and they have probably put altimeters in more birds than any other single source
    in history. I heard about Thommen as a kid in the mid-70’s, when my dad
    purchased a Thommen Classic Altimeter for mountain climbing. I still use that
    highly reliable piece today. Without that experience, I would have never
    purchased an analog altimeter watch from any company, figuring it to be a chintzy
    gimmick. With that experience, I would have never bought an analog altimeter
    watch from any company other than Revue Thommen.

    Having said that, I would bet my last dollar that Oris uses the same aneriod
    capsule developed by RT for the Airspeed Altimeter. At least in pictures, it
    looks exactly the same. As much as I enjoy my RT (enough to have it completely
    refurbished this spring), I have to admit that the Oris edges it out on three
    counts. First, they virtually solved the moisture issue. (I shouldn’t have worn
    the RT trout fishing in the first place, as the spring loaded crown is
    perpetually vulnerable to water intrusion with the slightest bump.) Second, the
    Oris altimeter adjusts with a crown. The RT uses a rotating bezel. Perhaps each
    mechanism has its virtue, but I would like to try the crown operation. Third,
    the Oris is automatic. I have to wind the RT daily.

    That’s not to say that I will ever part with my Airspeed Altimeter. I like it a lot. But if
    Oris worked with Thommen on this Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter, I can assure the
    reader that you have at least twenty years ahead of you in the altimeter
    function (okay, 18 years going on 20 for mine, but you get the idea), and it
    will certainly outlast any movement that shares a case with it. In the end, the
    altimeter complication is perhaps little more than a toy, but it’s not a cheap
    carnival toy that will break the day after you get it home. Thommen equipment
    lasts for generations.


    P.S. Some of the 1998 edition came with leather bands and others had titanium bracelets.
    My RT came with a leather band, but I would prefer the Titan bracelet made for
    the 5360001. If anyone happens to have one lying around, please let me know?

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