Air TimeThe new Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter
More than 75 years after Oris made its first pilot’s watch, the company is proud to announce the launch of the most innovative pilot’s watch in its history – the Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter, the world’s first automatic mechanical watch with a mechanical altimeter.
It’s the latest in a long line of Oris pilot’s watches, stretching back to 1938. Oris has a proud tradition of making accurate, reliable, industrially manufactured and sensibly priced wristwatches, which is why Oris has become the pilot’s choice.
Watchmaking takes to the skies
The histories of watchmaking and aviation are inextricably linked. Developments in aviation during the first four decades of the 20th century had transformed the notion of heavier-than-air flight from an impossible dream into a commercial, industrial and military reality. Flying was the future – it was fast, exciting, dangerous, and the men and women who took to the skies became heroic figures.
Like the aircraft themselves, early navigational flying aids were very basic. It quickly became clear that pilots needed quality timekeeping instruments they could depend on when planning routes and manoeuvres, and undertaking airborne missions. Pocket watches were still the trend during the early flight years at the beginning of the 20th century. But for pilots, who would be gloved to protect them from the elements, fumbling around in a pocket for an important reading was impractical.
The practical alternative was a watch worn on the wrist. No longer hidden from view, wristwatches meant pilots could quickly and easily reference the time without a great deal of movement. Wristwatches were quickly adopted by pilots around the world.
A period of innovation
But they weren’t perfect, and improvements followed. Movements became smaller, because few pilots could wear a pocket watch on their wrist without it being an obstruction in the confined space of a cockpit. Dials became more legible, stripped back to the essentials, with luminescent materials applied to the hands and hour markers so the watch could be read during night flying. And crowns became larger so pilots could operate a watch while wearing gloves.
As aircraft and the men and women who flew them became more and more popular, so the pilot’s watch aesthetic grew in influence. Those returning from wartime operations were heroes – and their standard-issue watches became symbols of their heroic deeds. Aviation made wristwatches both better and more fashionable.
The pilot’s choice
Oris was at the heart of this sea change. The original 1938 Big Crown Pointer Date watch was pioneering, not just because of its oversized crown, but because of its pointer date function, a design that would become the Oris signature.
In the decades since, Oris has produced legion pilot’s watches. Over the last 20 years, many have been produced in honour of Oris partnerships; others have been limited editions, created to mark significant landmarks in aviation history or the achievements of contemporary pilots.
The Oris Flight Timer 1945 LE marked 60 years since the end of the Second World War; the Oris Polly Vacher Limited Edition celebrated the remarkable British aviatrix, who in 2003 became the first woman to fly solo around the globe via the North and South Poles; and this year, the Oris Royal Flying Doctor Service Limited Edition embodies the company’s partnership with the iconic Australian aeromedical service.
Mainstays of the Oris aviation collection include the Big Crown (continuing the story started 76 years ago), the BC3 and the BC4. The BC3 was introduced in 1999 and is a classic pilot’s watch, with a robust round case, and black or white dials with simple, highly legible detailing. The BC4 design first appeared in 2008. Its design was based on high-functioning cockpit instruments, and it came loaded with functionality – current models carry chronographs, retrograde dates, regulator dials and a world timer that shows three time zones simultaneously, one of which can be adjusted forwards or backwards in one-hour jumps via plus and minus pushbuttons on either side of the case. In 2009, the BC4 won a prestigious Red Dot Design award.
The story continues …
Aviation continues to play a significant role in the Oris line-up. In 2014, Oris introduced the Big Crown ProPilot collection, a series of mechanical watches designed to cope with life in the cockpit. Initially, there were three models – a date, a day/date, both with an enlarged font size, and a chronograph. Now, the Swiss watch company is unveiling the most complicated pilot’s watch it has ever made – the Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter. The new watch is an innovation pioneered by Oris in its Hölstein factory, and the world’s first and patented automatic mechanical watch with a mechanical altimeter.
It demonstrates Oris’s exceptional watchmaking know-how and horological ambition, both of which have been built up over 110 years of watchmaking history.
An instrument designed for altitude workers
The Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter has been developed entirely by Oris to serve as a high-performance instrument for pilots, mountaineers, explorers and research scientists, who work at altitude. Its sturdy 47mm multi-piece stainless steel case houses an Oris automatic movement, and a Swiss mechanical barometric altimeter and barometer movement.
One of the biggest challenges facing Oris engineers was the design of the altimeter hand itself. Making the altimeter mechanism small enough to fit inside a wristwatch meant the hand had to be extremely lightweight, but stiff enough to avoid tolerances and therefore inaccurate readings. The solution was to create it from laminated carbon fibre, making the hand seven times lighter, but 10 times stiffer than the average watch hand. Another challenge was how to protect the inner workings of the watch from moisture when the altimeter is activated. Oris patented a new altimeter adjustment and venting crown, which prevents moisture from entering the watch using a membrane made of PTFE, which creates a vapour barrier.
The above mentioned aspects are covered by an Oris patent i.e. the multi-function adjustment venting crown, the co-axial layout of the watch and altimeter movements, including a skeletonised movement holder, and the carbon fibre altimeter hand. How the patented Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter works The Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter has two crowns. The crown at 2 o’clock is a conventional crown to adjust the time and date, and to wind the watch as necessary (the automatic movement has a 38-hour power reserve). A second screw-down crown at 4 o’clock operates the altimeter. When screwed down into ‘Position 0’, the altimeter is inactive and the watch is water-resistant to 10 bar. The altimeter is activated by unscrewing the crown into ‘Position 1’, indicated by a red ring.
When the crown is pulled out into ‘Position 2’, the altimeter can be calibrated. Once set, the watch shows the current altitude via the yellow indicator, and the corresponding air pressure via the red indicator. The altitude scale is around the outer dial ring; it can measure altitude up to 15,000 feet or 4,500 metres (two models have been produced, one with a scale in feet, one in metres). The air pressure scale is recessed between the altimeter scale and the central dial. Once the altimeter is no longer required, the crown can be returned to Position 0 by screwing it down, resealing the watch case and ensuring it is once again water-resistant to 10 bar.
The Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter, the world’s first automatic mechanical altimeter watch developed for ambitious explorers.