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A lifetime in flightOris celebrates the discovery of its first pilot’s wristwatch

Events of the past don’t change, but our understanding of them can. Until recently, Oris believed that its first pilot’s watch was the Big Crown of 1938, an iconic piece of design named after its oversized crown that still informs the company’s aviation-inspired watches today. But a recent discovery made it clear history had a different story to tell.

Recent research in the company’s Hölstein archives (Oris has been on the same site since it was founded in 1904) revealed that Oris first made watches for pilots in the early 1910s. One catalogue featured a pocket watch with a Blériot airplane engraved on its case. Louis Blériot, the French pioneer aviator, successfully completed the first flight across the English Channel on July 25, 1909.

The same research uncovered what appears to be Oris’s first pilot’s wristwatch, and also one of its first wristwatches. The round, brass-cased watch had a big crown, an aluminium dial and a pin-lever movement, and was essentially a pocket watch with wire loop lugs soldered to its case. This was common practice during the First World War as officers looked for practical ways of wearing watches and as aerial warfare developed.

Today, Oris is remembering that landmark wristwatch with the Big Crown 1917 Limited Edition. In design terms, the new watch is faithful to the original. It has the same onion-shaped big crown, the same early 20th century Arabic numerals, the same blued steel hands, and the same domed glass. Even the vintage Oris logo has been revived.

Most memorably, Oris is introducing a new calibre into the watch, Calibre 732, which the company’s watchmakers have engineered so that the time can only be adjusted when the button at 2 o’clock is pushed down, in keeping with a quirk of the original.

While the aesthetic is lifted from the early days of wristwatches, the Big Crown 1917 Limited Edition is every bit a 21st century watch, manufactured according to Oris’s exacting standards. The case is polished stainless steel and water-resistant to 5 bar, and set on a beautifully crafted brown leather cuff strap with a stainless steel pin buckle. The bubble-curved glass is made of scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, and the Arabic numerals and hands are finished with luminescent Super-LumiNova®.

The Oris Big Crown 1917 Limited Edition has a number of additional special touches. The case back is embossed with the original ‘OWC’ trademark, which stood for ‘Oris Watch Company’ and was used as a ‘Poinçon de Maître’ quality stamp on Oris’s 18-carat gold watches. The case back also carries the limited edition number – only 1,917 examples will be made. The final flourish is a travel pouch, which contains an additional leather strap with twin rivets, as per the original, and a stainless steel pin buckle.

The Oris Big Crown 1917 Limited Edition is an historic watch and a charming reminder of Oris’s rich watchmaking heritage. It will be available in August, price CHF 2,400.