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Over the last month or so, I’ve published two reviews of entry-level luxury tool watches. Today’s article is the third edition of what will be a four-part series in exploring what I think are worthy choices within the greatly popular £1,000 to £2,000 price category.
Today’s subject is the Oris Aquis Date, a watch that I had high expectations for due to its fan popularity, impressive specification list and original design. Before we get into the Aquis, let’s start with a brief introduction to the brand that has seen such a surge in popularity over the last 5 years. Oris was founded in 1904 by Le Locle watchmakers Paul Cattin and George Christian in the small town of Hölstein, Switzerland. When George Christian died in 1927, Oris was bought by a group of his family’s friends. The watchmaker Jacques-David LeCoultre (grandson of Antoine LeCoultre) became president of Oris. He then went on to become managing director of LeCoultre and, after merging with Edmond Jaeger in 1937, the managing director of Jaeger-LeCoultre – there’s one for your horological pub quiz!
Since then, Oris has continued to innovate and grow, accomplishing numerous milestones such as the production of advanced alarm clocks in WWII, their first automatic wristwatch in 1952, Chronometer certified in-house movements in 1968, the launch of the iconic Pointer-Date in 1984, and brand associations with everyone from saxophonists to professional free-divers to Formula 1 teams – Oris is a heritage brand.
The founding partners named the company after a nearby brook in Oris’s home town of Holstein. With Roman origins, ‘Orusz’ means watercourse – a good segway onto today’s watch, Oris’s flagship diver – the Aquis.
The Aquis was initially launched in 2011. Several special editions, iterations and adjustments later, we find ourselves with the latest line of Aquis that was launched in 2017. If you head over to Oris’s website, you’ll see how wide the Aquis line has become with literally dozens of models from diamante ladies pieces to titanium-forged 500m WR depth-gauge models. Today we’re looking at what is undoubtedly Oris’s top-seller within the line – the 43.5mm Aquis Date in Black.
Before getting into the specifications, as always, it’s appropriate to mention the context that is this watch’s pricepoint. The list price of the watch is £1,600, although if those in the Oris forums are to be believed, it’s likely you can receive 5, 10 or even 15 percent off that list price, assuming you’re able to build an element of rapport with your salesperson. We’ll get into the value proposition later on in the review.
We all love an 18-digit reference number! This is the Ref: 01 733 7730 4124-07 8 24 05EB
The Aquis features a brutalist, angular stainless steel case design with an integrated solid stainless steel bracelet with screw links, a well-made divers extension and a solid-feeling milled clasp. The dimensions are as follows: a 43.5mm case width, 14mm thickness and a 50mm lug-to-lug – we’ll get back to that later. The dial is simple with a matte-black finish that nicely compliments the highly polished bullet-shaped indices at every hour. The handset is clean and original, featuring a lollipop second hand, tie-shaped hour and minute hands with thicknesses and lengths differing enough to give great legibility on the dial. The date window is brilliantly executed with a colour-matched chamfered date cut-out at 6 o’clock, excellent integration that results in a wonderfully symmetrical dial. The Indices and hands are pumped full of BG W9 Superluminova, giving them a usable glow in dark conditions. One of the main crowning glories of the Aquis is its ceramic dive-time bezel insert. The Aquis bezel differs from the shiny 6-digit ceramic Rolex models with an attractive matte finish that very much keeps it in line with the watch’s overall toolistic look. One less obvious feature of the Aquis is the slight dome to both sides of its sapphire crystal, a small but effective touch that I feel elevates that watch’s feeling of quality in-hand. The watch features a sapphire case back, exposing the trademark red rotor on the Caliber 733 – a lightly modified Sellita SW 200-1 with a 38-hour power reserve.
I’m a huge fan of the way the Aquis is finished, the circular brushing on the ceramic bezel looks super premium while also fulfilling its role as a legible, scratchproof material, just as a bezel on tool watch should. The large crown guards add a good amount of angular bulk that balances out the elegant dial design nicely, and the crown itself is nice and grippy and threads beautifully. The more of these ETA2824/SW-200’s that I interact with, the more I’m surprised to find how differently they can feel to use. As for the one inside the Aquis, there’s a pleasant tension to the winding, the date-change pops over nicely and there’s minimal crown wobble, even when pulled out to the last position.
There’s a lot to like about this watch, from a build perspective they share the whole over-delivering objective as JLC in that there really aren’t other brands out there at the same price point with so much heritage and such a high level of finish. Many members of the watch community maintain that Oris are in a value-building stage of their business strategy and are therefore likely to up their prices in the not-so-distant future. I can absolutely see this coming into fruition due to the fact that the Aquis is already finished and built like a £2,000 watch should be, only lacking more of an original/interesting movement. Having spent some time with the Tudor Black Bay 58 last week, I think Oris are almost there in terms of standard of finish. My best guess is that Oris will release the next breed of Aquis models with in-house movements in the next few years and that they will come with a 20% premium to their current line.
Back to what I like about the watch – the case back is awesome. The Aquis is so many peoples first ‘proper’ watch for many reasons, but one of the stand-outs is its sapphire case back. While there are more attractive movements out there, when it comes to justifying spending what, to anyone who isn’t in the watch community, is an enormous amount of money on a wristwatch, flipping it over to see that charming red rotor and the little city behind it working away so that you are able to access the time on your wrist is truly a magical thing. Additionally, considering that the Aquis is 300m water-resistant, it’s impressive that Oris are able to give the watch an exhibition case back.
The Aquis has so much to offer buyers from every level, however, as with all watches the Aquis has its quirks and imperfections. We’ll start with the elephant in the room – ‘43.5mm wide case?! That’s basically a dinner plate!’ I hear you scream. Yes, this Aquis is a large watch on paper, however, the on-wrist experience is a different story. Firstly, the case itself is probably more like 41mm and it’s the overhanging bezel that makes up the last 2mm. Secondly, due to the way the integrated lugs are shaped, the case and bracelet actually conform to the wrist quite nicely. I usually wear my divers 39-41mm but this just about fits my wrist. Oris offers two other sizes including a 36.5mm aimed at the female market and a midsize 39.5mm that wears more like a 37mm and looked very odd on my 7.5-inch wrists in the showroom. The Aquis is very much a watch that you need to try on before you buy. Luckily just about every luxury watch dealer here in the UK stock Oris watches. While the large case size wears smaller than you’d think, it puzzles me to think why Oris supply their main dive watch slightly larger and slightly smaller than what is the industry standard for this genre at 40mm.
One other thing that was irritating to me upon arrival of this Oris was the minuscule bracelet screws that hold the bracelet together. As an avid enthusiast, I, of course, own the standard £14.99 100pc Amazon watch-fiddler set with three screwdrivers included, none of them small enough to adjust the Aquis. As a consumer, this isn’t likely to be a big issue to you as you’re probably going to have the watch adjusted in-store when you buy it, but if you’re eagerly anticipating the postal arrival of your new Oris, make sure you’ve got the right tool so that you’re able to wear it as soon as it arrives. From what I could see online, tiny flathead screwdrivers are available for a couple of quid meaning nobody should have to pay £15 to go to a dealer to have it adjusted like I had to, as I only had the watch for 7 days.
My final subjective gripe with the Aquis is the way it looks. I completely understand why many people find the watch’s do-it-all aesthetic attractive but, for me, I think the case looks rather oval-shaped on-wrist due to how narrow the lugs are and how big that bezel is in a similar way to that of the Omega Dynamic from the 1970s. Furthermore, while I agree that they’re integral to the overall design, I’m not a fan of the integrated lugs. Personally, I think they limit the use of the watch in casual situations and if you want to fit a rubber strap for the beach, it’s not £20 from eBay, you have to buy a vanilla-scented Oris rubber strap for around £200.
To close the review, this is a great value, well-built dive watch from a brand with a rich history and a bright future. If you’re a fan of the styling and you can find a model that fits your wrist, you’re onto a real winner. As is the case with few watches, this piece will get you the nod from collectors and enthusiasts at every level.
What are your thoughts on the Aquis line from Oris?
Join the conversation in the comments section below. See you next week for a ‘Week on the Wrist’ review of what is a fierce competitor to the Aquis at the same price point and from a brand of equal heritage. Can you guess what it is?