When Oris brought out the Calibre 110 in 2014, it was the first movement the brand had designed and produced itself since 1982. Since then, it has added new references to the line at approximately one per year, building on the impressive base movement (a relatively large hand-wound movement with a 10-day power reserve and intuitive, non-linear display) to add calendar and 24-hour complications in calibres 112, 113 and 114 (111 was the standard time and date follow-up to the limited edition 110). Now it is presenting Calibre 115 in the ProPilot X, a new flagship watch that it hopes will transform the way its in-house collection is received.
The decision to invest in in-house movements wasn’t geared at securing Oris’s independence from the Swatch Group’s ETA supply — producing in-house movements for the brand’s core ranges would take it out of the £1,500–£3,000 market segment and cost a prohibitive amount. Rumours of the ETA supply drying up proved to be exaggerated, and there is always Sellita to make up the shortfall. Instead, it was judged that the brand could use a “halo product”, and amid rising prices from the likes of IWC, Rolex, Breitling, Panerai and others, there was space in the market for a value proposition between £3,000–£5,000. Still, it represented a big leap for the brand.
“Personally, I wasn’t so sure at the time to be honest because it was quite a different price point,” admits co-CEO Rolf Studer. “But people understood that it was true to Oris because it still offered a lot of mechanical watch for the money.”
According to Studer, the in-house collection’s intangible benefits have been at least as important as its commercial contribution — both in terms of lifting the brand’s profile but also rekindling something that had been lost within the company. “It was important for us internally because it gave us back an awareness and a sense of pride in our mechanical heritage. It helped us shape the company and the brand into what it is now — we’ve seen growth that was quite a lot bigger than the industry, and we’ve gained market share in the last few years.”
That commercial performance owes more to the success of the Divers Sixty-Five and Aquis models in fairness, and Studer agrees that the in-house watches to date have been treated as something of a “nice-to-have” (he uses the German word “liebhaberei”, which translates as “love affair” but idiomatically as a “hobby” piece; something produced for its own sake more than for profit).
“Retailers could sell it but we never pushed it as an integral part of the collection,” he says. “Now with Calibre 115 that changes. Behind it is the biggest ad campaign we’ve ever done, and we really want this piece to be seen as part of the collection, as an expression of what Oris stands for today.”
That raises its own questions because the watch you see here is hardly representative of Oris’ traditional, mainstream reputation. The longstanding foundations of its range are the Aquis diver and ProPilot, both thoroughly orthodox collections sprinkled with mechanical innovation here and there, but aesthetically straightforward. The introduction of the Divers Sixty-Five was a triumph, but again not one of freethinking design (in fact, it has become more conservative in its looks as its success has grown).
“For the last few years, everybody has been riding the wave, including Oris, and it has been very successful with vintage-themed watches,” says Studer. “This is one of our answers to the way things are going; not that we want to abandon that — they have been a great success for us, and not only because they let us tell our rich story, our 115-year history — but it’s not all that we are. There is more and Calibre 115 is one of those answers.”
You certainly can’t accuse the ProPilot X of looking backwards. It takes the ProPilot as its base, but beefs it up with wider shoulders, a more angular case shape, a new “turbine” bezel with fewer and thicker notches than the ProPilot, and a brushed bracelet, all of which is in titanium — a first for Oris’s aviation watches. In the context of something that still bears the name ProPilot yet forgoes the large, legible numerals of a classic pilot’s watch, it has been described by designer Lukas Bühlmann as taking inspiration from stealth warplanes.
And then, of course, there’s the dial: an angular, anthracite framework that holds the power reserve indicator and small seconds dial over an equally polygonal openworking of Calibre 111. Dominated by the huge single barrel at 12 o’clock, it’s the same kind of semi-skeletonisation that we’ve seen take hold at TAG Heuer, Hublot and Zenith and increasingly pop up elsewhere from Bell & Ross to Panerai, and in its wholesale adoption of industrial textures, jagged edges and a monochrome palette, embodies the trickle-down of a trend that began at Richard Mille over a decade ago.
For Oris, the departure from form is significant enough to merit the new calibre designation despite being technically unchanged. Emphasising the movement inside is seen as crucial for sales — the thinking being that in an overwhelmingly digital age, subtlety be damned; the mechanical watch needs to showcase its springs, wheels and levers in an exaggerated manner to compete. And compete it must. Oris wants this to be the watch that increases the commercial clout of its in-house range.
Swiss to the last, Studer doesn’t give much away when it comes to facts and figures, but reveals that while the current in-house pieces amount for less than 10 per cent of revenue, the ProPilot X already has orders in the low thousands. Priced at £5,600, it will be Oris’s most expensive watch after the rose gold Calibre 111 (£10,670), and while he acknowledges the strength of competition on offer at that level, he is bullish about the ProPilot X’s value proposition.
“I feel very confident. There is a lot of choice at this price point but you will never get these functions; you will never get this design for that kind of money,” Studer says. “Look at other skeletonised in-house watches and you are at a totally different price, and you don’t have 10 days’ power reserve.”
Reading between the lines, it seems safe to assume that over the next couple of years, the ProPilot X range will grow, with the Calibre 115 playing the hero role at the top of a wider collection. From Bühlmann’s point of view, there has already been some consideration of how the new style works with other movements, and Studer says that “for now, ProPilot X is 115... we have our plans but I can’t really release them now. Are there chances that this is not going to be a singular piece? Of course.”
The aspiration — common to all luxury brands — is to reach a wider, younger audience, but given the reality that Oris predominantly sells its more expensive, in-house pieces to existing customers, the idea of more ProPilot X pieces to come would make sense if it is going to reap the rewards from investing in an all-new design.
Is Oris taking a risk? Truthfully, probably far less than it first appears. The ProPilot X may represent a fairly significant gear-change for such a typically “safe” brand, but set against the wider context of the industry, it looks like Oris has its finger on the pulse. It’s fair to say that in introducing this kind of resolutely contemporary design, a lot of brands have met with critical indifference, but the numbers don’t lie. Diversifying its offering at a time when the approachable stuff is selling well sounds like good sense — and that has always been Oris’s calling card.
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