The History of Oris Watches

Updated November 21, 2016

Oris S.A. Watches is a Swiss mechanical watchmaker with a license to make chronometers. Since 1904, Oris has stuck with its core business: high quality, self-winding, mechanical watches. The ASUAG watch group took over Oris in 1970, but the company gained independence again in 1982 and reinvented itself with a series of strategic partnerships and special editions.


Paul Catting and Georges Christian founded Oris in 1904 in Hölstein, Switzerland. Focusing only on mechanical watches, they opened their first store two years later. Expansion was rapid. By 1911, they employed 300 people. Oris built accommodations for workers, fed them in the company cafeteria and transported them to work. By 1925, Oris had opened its own electroplating factory in Ziefen, and had facilities in Como, Courgenay, Herbetswil and Holderbank.


In 1925, Oris created its first wristwatches, entering the modern era. After Christian's death in 1927, Oris went public with Christian's brother-in-law Oscar Herzog as CEO. By 1937, it had a dial factory in Bienne. Oris launched its classic movement No. 601 in 1952. It had automatic winding and a battery and is still available today. By the 1960s, Oris had 800 workers and was among the top 10 largest Swiss watchmakers. A chronometer is a kind of watch with exceptional accuracy. In 1968, the Observatoire Astronomique et Chronométrique in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, gave Oris' No. 652 movement its highest honour: the full chronometer certification.


In 1970, ASUAG (Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie AG, or General Swiss Watch Industries) bought out Oris, adding another watchmaker to its stable of companies. The advent of quartz made watches cheaper and easy to mass produce. ASUAG marketed Oris as an inexpensive watch producer, a designation that failed to consider its high quality and technical expertise. This poor categorisation affected Oris deeply and it was forced to lay off staff. In 1982, Oris' management bought itself out of ASUAG, one year before it merged with SSIH and became SMH, Swiss Corporation for Microelectronics and Watchmaking Industries Ltd. In 1998, SMH would rename itself to Swatch.


Rolf Portmann was chairman of the newly independent company and Ulrich W. Herzog was CEO. By 1984, the company had established itself in Japan. Oris' new goal was to become a world leader in affordable mechanical watches. As of 2009, Oris watches start at around £390 and the highly technical ones cost several thousand dollars. In 1996, Oris started its involvement in jazz by sponsoring the Oris London Jazz Festival. Each year it created collectable limited editions to celebrate jazz greats. The special editions also celebrate Formula 1 drivers and events such as the 2004 Oris centennial.


In 2002, Oris aligned with Formula 1 driver Allan McNish. A year later it started to sponsor the BMW Williams F1 team, providing watches in an exclusive deal. Oris also began to make diving watches that could withstand huge pressure. Record-breaking diver Carlos Coste became another celebrity spokesman for Oris. In 2008, Oris added the air to its collection of domains when it announced its sponsorship of the Blue Eagles Helicopter Display team, who wear the BC4 Aviation collection.

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