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The Sporting Time

Swiss sports watches are high-performance timepieces
Edward Kiersh
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Bacon, May/Jun 00

Mark Wasserman is conducting a tour of his Hawthorne, New York, office. It's filled with keepsakes, such as fountain pens and paperweights. But its real attraction is Wasserman's vast collection of Brooklyn Dodgers memorabilia. He gazes lovingly at autographed balls, scuffed bats and other mementos, occasionally examining particular items. This passion for anything Dodger Blue is not something one might expect from the 56-year-old president of Oris U.S.A., the subsidiary of the 96-year-old Swiss watch firm known for styling distinctive traditional-looking sports watches.  

"While I love watches and our latest BC3 collection, my real passion is baseball," Wasserman says as he picks up a faded memento. "This 1955 scorecard is from Ebbets Field. Now that was a real ballpark. I just hate Astroturf and these modern stadiums with no character, no spirit, no sense of history."  

Old World virtues and traditions are particularly revered at Oris, a company long renowned for crafting superbly engineered timepieces. Founded in 1904 in Hölstein, Switzerland, Oris flirted with quartz watches when the craze swept the horological world in the 1980s, but unlike its sports watch competitors, it never made them a priority. Focusing instead on the development of micro-mechanisms, an automatic pointer calendar and specialized movements that weren't driven by batteries, Oris continued to make only mechanical watches.  

"Oris is the leading producer of mechanical watches with special movements at affordable prices," says Patrik Hoffmann, the president of Swiss watch manufacturer Ulysse-Nardin's U.S. division. "All the movements they do are modified by expert craftsmen, and because the company only does mechanicals, it's become their specialty."  

Although such precise watches as Oris's Pointer Classic and Big Crown Chronograph are reasonably priced, from $575 to $1,850, Oris's popularity has mainly been limited to European cognoscenti.  

Many Americans shy away from mechanical watches, preferring the accuracy of quartz, or are just leery of wearing intricate instruments linked to watchmaking's hand-wound past. Wasserman says his company's rise from cult favorite to niche leader is further complicated by the highly competitive sports watch market.  

Some of Oris's competitors include TAG Heuer and Baume & Mercier, both of which produce rugged, water-resistant watches with stainless-steel safety clasp bracelets, and Omega, the maker of the famed Speedmaster that's been worn on the moon.  

Wasserman is launching a "Hi-Mech" counterattack to battle the slick, sexy advertising that his rivals employ to celebrate their high-tech, modern sports pieces. Relying on the talents of Oris's innovative craftsmen, Wasserman hopes to dominate the watch world with mechanicals that combine technological flourishes with oversized crowns, sapphire crystals and other stylistic details.  

The newest, most distinctive face in Oris's Big Crown collection is the 27-jewel Commander Divers Regulator, a water-resistant (to 200 meters) piece that shows the minutes only from the center of the dial. This feature reminds scuba lovers how long they've been underwater, and is complemented by a screw-down security crown and unidirectional, rotating bezel for added safety when braving adventurous depths.  

While Wasserman is not a scuba diver himself, he believes landlubbers will appreciate the newly designed solid-steel bracelet, the black regulator dial with yellow luminous hands and indices, and the modern-looking subsidiary displays for hours, minutes and the date.  

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