View all articles

Review: Oris Artelier 110 Years

If you’re someone who’s just getting started thinking about buying their first luxury watch, who’s got a few thousand to spend and is overwhelmed by it all—stay tuned. If you’re not wet behind the ears and your first Rolex or Omega or whatever is sitting pride of place on your wrist, turn off now. You’re not going to like what you’re about to hear.

Buying a luxury watch is supposed to be a joyful experience, but the many pitfalls that can possibly be encountered can turn what should be a landmark moment for a budding enthusiast into a mire of regret and confusion. Take the biggest risk of all for example: spending a lot of money on a watch you don’t like. Those who have been around the block that didn’t heed my warning to leave will likely shudder at the all-too-common memory. This is another warning for you experienced heads: this is only going to get worse for you.

Even if you do like the watch you buy, there’s no denying that the grass in your neighbour’s field is a deeper, richer, more saturated green. But the troubles don’t start post-purchase, oh no. Whenever and however you get that first inkling that you want a watch—that’s when it all goes to pot. Which brand should you buy? Stick with the mainstream and fund a bloated marketing budget or go off-piste and run the risk of finding yourself left high and dry?

And never mind the brand, what about the watch itself? An overwhelming abundance of technologies—does anyone really know why they want Co-Axial?—a litany of complications, in-house, bought-in, chronometer certified, anti-magnetic, water-resistant, steel, gold, titanium, bronze—it seems the probability of not only finding a watch that meets the criteria desired but also understanding all those criteria is very, very low.

The fundamentals, really, are brand, performance and price. Brand is the cachet, the heritage, the expertise that defines the difference between a watchmaker and a maker of watches. Performance—that’s spec, functions, quality and even looks, how the thing physically achieves what you want it to do and to what level. Price—well, we all know what that means. It completes our triangle, a triangle we would typically say to look at and from which to pick just two.

Oris was founded in 1904, Hölstein, Switzerland

Oris was founded in 1904, Hölstein, Switzerland

You want performance and price? Lose out on brand. Want brand and performance? It’s going to cost you. Brand and price? Wave bye-bye to complication. This as a first timer, is the biggest and most disheartening realisation about watchmaking. I can, however, on this rarest of occasions, avail you of that misery. The exceptions to the rule, as few and far between as they might be, do exist, and this is one of them, the Oris Artelier 110 Years.

We’ll start with brand. Oris may not have the same levels of global domination as a brand that the benchmark that is Rolex does, but it is a high-street name, and as the model designation implies, one that’s been around for well over a century. It was actually founded the year before Rolex. It is and has been innovative, a forerunner in the mechanisation of watchmaking that earned the Swiss its dominance in the industry. It is a manufacturer of movements in the truest sense, as you’ll find out shortly.

And the Artelier 110 Years looks good, too, striking a balance between old and new that just feels right. Designing a watch is like walking a tightrope made of dental floss—all too easy to fall from, one side or the other. It’s 43mm, which is a tad on the larger side, perhaps the only real blemish it has, and one redeemed by its 12.3mm thickness and gently sloping design.

You won’t find nibbled numbers, awkward date windows, cramped sub-dials or ugly markers—instead, Oris has let the quality of the design and finish do the talking. You could argue there’s not much to look at from the front—but what there is to look at is well worth the time. But the scrutiny doesn’t stop at the dial—let’s turn it over and see what this watch is really all about: performance.

Oris was founded by Paul Cattin and Georges Christian

Oris was founded by Paul Cattin and Georges Christian

Up until 1981, Oris was a manufacturer of its own calibres. I wonder how many unique movement designations you think it managed to produce in that time? Ten? Fifty? A hundred? Try 229. This is a manufacturer that knows what it’s doing, and after thirty-five years of in-house movement production hibernation, it was the brand’s 110th anniversary that put the boot up it and got it back to where it belonged: making in-house movements.

What you see here in the back of this Oris is the calibre 110, first seen in 2014. In terms of overall complication, it’s hardly bristling with features—you may have already noticed the power reserve gauge on the right-hand side of the dial—but it’s what Oris has done with them that makes the calibre so appealing.

It’s a hand wound movement, and ordinarily in this day and age that would be annoying—but not for the calibre 110. That’s because the enormous mainspring barrel, stuffed to the gills with 1.8m of mainspring, will last a full ten days. Alongside the slower, traditional 21,600 vph beat—that’s six ticks of the second hand per second rather than eight—this deliberate interaction in topping the watch up every ten days makes it a wholly sentimental affair—without the inconvenience of having to do it every single day.

And here’s where things get bang up to date, because a lot of technical thought has gone into making this experience stay firmly on the side of evocative and not exasperating. Two carefully intertwined snail cams do more than measure the mainspring’s reserve and feed it to the 3 o’clock display: they also convert that information into a non-linear scale. That is to say that who cares exactly where the power’s at between five and ten days full—when we’re getting to the last few days of juice, however, that’s when you're going to want to know what’s what.

The Oris Calibre 110 was first introduced in 2014

The Oris Calibre 110 was first introduced in 2014

It’s a design that was developed in conjunction with the Le Locle Technical College, based in the hometown of Oris founders Paul Cattin and Georges Christian, and is brimmed with 177 well-thought-out parts, from the rack and pinon balance spring adjustment through to the Mercedes-Benz-esque mainspring screw designed to withstand the torque needed to retain it. The industrially sized mainspring is offset by hand finishing, a circular grain for the barrel, straight for the plates, and a polished bevel around the perimeter. It’s not exactly elegant, but that’s not to say it’s without its own unique beauty either.

So now we come to the price. Granted, there may be some getting into the game for the first time who have plenty to spend, but for many who’ve glanced in the jeweller’s windows and seen Omegas at £8,000 and Rolexes at ten, it seems a forgone conclusion that this Oris will be as much a dream as all the rest. But no. In steel, the price of this watch, brand new, was £4,500. In gold, pre-owned, you can have it for £5,000. A watch in 18-carat rose gold. From an esteemed brand. With a technically impressive in-house movement. For £5,000.

The 110 Years edition was limited to—you guessed it—just 110 pieces in steel and another 110 in gold, but today that movement has evolved into a family of calibres, the 111, 112 and 113, introducing moonphase, date, day and week to the functionality. The starting price? Less than £4,000. You’re going to be hard pushed to find a better deal than that. So, if you’re not a newbie and you stuck through to the end anyway, I’m sorry, but I did warn you. You probably could’ve done better with an Oris.

I almost wonder if this is called the calibre 110 not just in celebration of the 110 years of the brand’s existence, but also because 110% was given in making this the revival of in-house watchmaking at one of the industry’s most influential watchmakers. What reassures me most about it is that it’s not just another indiscernible clone of a basic movement in an indiscernible clone of a basic watch—it has a character all of its own that shines bright amongst the endless confusion a newcomer has to wade through. If you haven’t bought a watch yet, this is the watch you should buy. If you have, try not to feel too bad.

Looking for an Oris watch? Click here to shop now