The bronze age returns – Oris celebrates the uniquely historic role of its signature Big Crown Pointer Date by casing it in solid bronze and using a bespoke finish that makes each bronze dial a one-off: Oris Big Crown Bronze Pointer Date.
It can be hard to explain why one design has power and value over another. How can it be that a millimetre here or a pen-flick there could have such a significant and lasting impact on a design’s relevance and longevity?
Oris’s Big Crown Pointer Date first entered the Oris collection in 1938, more than eight decades ago. Its creators made a watch for glove-wearing aviators – hence the oversized crown and clear Arabic-numeral dial – but they also made a beautiful object.
‘Beauty drives our decisions,’ says Rolf Studer, Oris Joint Executive Officer. ‘In beauty we find attraction, love even, which drives us to invest. We buy what we love. With a watch, that’s particularly true. Most often, the heart rules the head.’
The Big Crown Pointer Date’s continued relevance owes much to the original design. But it’s also a reflection of its role in Oris’s revival after the 1970s Quartz Crisis, and in the revival of the Swiss watch industry.
‘The role of the Big Crown Pointer Date in Oris’s decision in the mid- to late 1980s to rebuild the company with only mechanical watches was critical,’ continues Mr Studer. ‘It had a story, a purpose and an emotional value that the quartz-powered novelties of the day simply couldn’t compete with. It became an Oris signature and a symbol of the Swiss watch industry’s dramatic revival.’
Today, more than 30 years later, Oris is introducing the Big Crown Bronze Pointer Date. The bronze case and dial symbolise Oris’s industrial philosophy and the eternal value of a Swiss Made mechanical watch. The solid bronze dial is chemically treated and coated with a transparent matt lacquer to create a unique finish for every piece (see right), another symbol, this time of the unique status of the watch’s design.
One of the men behind that decision in the 1980s, Dr Rolf Portmann, has just marked his 90th birthday. Now Oris’s Honorary Chairman, he shares his remarkable story below.
Making its point
A bronze watch that shows the time and date? Yes, but for many reasons, the historic Oris Big Crown Pointer Date is far more than the sum of its parts
Where would watches, and particularly wristwatches be today without aviation? The dawn of air travel heralded a sea change in industry, global politics, social mobility and many other areas of life. It also fuelled a need for a wrist-worn device that could keep track of time, and therefore other critical navigational measurements, such as position, fuel economy and average speed.
Early wristwatches designed for pilots had to be highly legible, so that every calculation could be done quickly – at a glance. They also had to be easily adjustable, and they had to be robust and reliable, built to withstand the in-flight fluctuations felt in the cockpit.
Oris was founded in 1904, and around 1910 made its first watch for pilots. Louis Blériot had flown across the English Channel in 1908. Shortly after, Oris created a pocket watch with an image of a Blériot plane engraved onto the case. That was followed in 1917 by the company’s first pilot’s wristwatch, a clever piece that could only be adjusted when a button above the crown was activated. Two years ago, Oris created a centenary edition of this landmark watch.
War spurred advances in watch design as in aviation. In 1938, Oris produced a watch that would become known as the Big Crown Pointer Date. It had an oversized crown that could be easily operated by a pilot, even when wearing gloves; large Arabic numerals, so the time could be read quickly; a fluted, grippy bezel; and a central hand with a pointer tip that indicated the date. It was simple, logical, useful – and it worked.
More than 80 years later, the same design principles continue to inform the Big Crown Pointer Date. Over time, it’s been refined with material and mechanical improvements, but its timeless pioneering spirit remains.
Today, the new Oris Big Crown Bronze Pointer Date continues the narrative. Its cased in solid bronze, a material that recalls Oris’s industrial roots and that over time will patinate so it comes to tell its own story. It also celebrates the role the Big Crown Pointer Date has played in Oris’s history. It has never been out of production and has become Oris’s signature piece. Some have even said that without it, Oris might not enjoy the reputation as a high-quality independent Swiss watch company it has today. In short, it sums up the Oris story.
“The Oris Big Crown Pointer Date has remained in constant production. It sums up the Oris story”
The man who saved Oris
As he turns 90, Oris’s Honorary Chairman Dr Rolf Portmann looks back to 1956 when he joined the company, and to the big moments in his career that set Oris on the path to becoming the independent Swiss watchmaker it is today.
Tell us about your career with Oris.
I started my career at Oris as a solicitor in 1956. My intention was not to pursue a career in the watch industry at that point. I was hired to fight the protectionist federal resolution known as the Swiss Watch Statute that prevented Oris from building lever escapement watches. It was interfering with the development of the company and really the whole industry, too. It was my job to convince the Swiss politicians to get rid of this legislation. After I’d achieved that, I was promoted to become executive secretary. Mostly, that meant working in manufacturing, human resources and property management.
“I was convinced Oris was a great brand, but we needed to rescue it. We needed to survive.”
What was the health of the company and the industry like when you bought Oris?
In 1971, Oris was sold to General Watch, part of the ASUAG Group. At the same time, I became Oris managing director. The group was naïvely buying up watch companies without thinking how all the pieces would fit together and what their objectives were. At that time, political unrest was shaking up a lot of markets around the globe and some of them collapsed. At the same time, the Swiss franc suddenly strengthened after the United States quit the Gold Standard. And on top of that, quartz watches from the Far East emerged. These combined led to great difficulties for Swiss watchmaking. The banks consolidated the industry by creating ASUAG and SSIH as the two key holding companies. After restructuring, ASUAG planned to close Oris down. But in 1982, they left me the chance to take it over, with its sales administration, inventory and production facilities. I took that chance.
What convinced you to do that?
My strong belief in Oris. I was convinced that Oris was a great brand, that we had a solid position in some markets and that the quality was right. Additionally, I was personally very involved with the company. But I was aware I wasn’t a ‘marketing man’. I was an all-rounder. I was very dependent on skilled people who would help me to turn my vision of regrouping Oris into a reality. I found them in a handful of employees – particularly in Ulrich W. Herzog, who would go on to run the company. With them, we managed to put Oris back on a successful path again.
What vision did you set for the company?
It was very clear: we needed to rescue the brand. We needed to survive.
In the mid-1980s, Oris decided only to make mechanical watches. Why?
We were convinced we were mechanical through and through and didn’t want to have anything to do with quartz watches. We knew we understood mechanical watches. We were positive there was a global audience that still appreciated the value in hand-crafted, tangible products that transmitted history.
“Fundamentally, the Oris Big Crown makes sense. That’s the Oris way, and consumers like it.”
How important has the independence you secured been to the company?
Regaining our independence was essential to us. Because of our place in the group, we had been limited in what we could develop technically. To revive the spirit of invention the company had been built on, we had to get our independence back.
What is it about the Oris Big Crown that continues to make it relevant?
Although we don’t need a watch we can use wearing gloves any more, the idea is romantic, which I think people like. And a simple, handsome design that’s easy to read will always have relevance. In a way, I’m surprised it’s still here, but fundamentally the Big Crown is a design that makes sense. That’s the Oris way, and consumers like it.
Why choose bronze for the new model?
In a world of clinical perfection and digitalisation, people appreciate objects that tell their own story. As this watch patinates, that’s what it will do.
What is your proudest Oris memory?
Securing the company by creating something new out of that huge conglomerate. That was by far my biggest satisfaction.
Congratulations on your 90th birthday!
What are you doing to celebrate? I will celebrate my birthday with my family in Basel. We’re going to have a nice lunch and my grandchildren have prepared a small performance.
Which watch will you be wearing?
My golden Calibre 110 (made in 2014 for Oris’s 110th anniversary and powered by an in-house calibre). It tells the story of Oris’s revival as a movement creator, it’s proved to be incredibly precise, it’s beautiful, and I won’t ever take it off – unless someone gifts me another watch, that is…
Oris Big Crown Bronze Pointer Date Technical Specification
This new version of Oris’s signature watch has a bronze case, bezel and crown, and a bronze dial that’s chemically treated for a finish that’s unique to every watch.
- Multi-piece bronze case
- Size: 40.00 mm (1.575 inches)
- Dial: Bronze dial
- Luminous material: Indices, numbers and hands printed with Super-LumiNova®
- Top glass: Sapphire, domed on both sides, anti-reflective coating inside
- Case back: Stainless steel, screwed, see-through mineral glass
- Operating devices: Bronze screw-in security crown
- Strap: Brown chamois deer leather, bronze buckle
- Water-resistance: 5 bar
- Number: Oris 754
- Functions: Centre hands for hours, minutes and seconds, date centre hand, instantaneous date, date corrector, fine timing device and stop-second
- Winding: Automatic winding, bi-directionally rotating Red Rotor™
- Power Reserve: 38 hours
Swiss retail price CHF 1,900
Available December 2019