Oris has been enjoying a great year, making it clear that it’s about more than affordable mechanical watches. Last year, the brand released the Aquis Depth Gauge, perhaps the most innovative (and, yes, affordable) mechanical diver with a depth gauge on the market. This year, Oris announced its in-house Calibre 110 to celebrate as many years as a watch manufacturer. Finally, after Baselworld, Oris introduced a new member to the ProPilot collection–a skyward counterpart to the Depth Gauge–the ProPilot Big Crown Altimeter, the first mechanical wristwatch to feature a barometer and altimeter at such an affordable price.
I don’t usually remark or even have opinions about how brands release their watches, but I do in the case of the altimeter. Oris didn’t announce this watch at the typical trade shows. Knowing this instrument is best experienced outside of a booth, Oris hosted an event in Switzerland where the brand could physically put the watches on the wrists of attendees and let them experience the gauge in flight. There’s no better way to launch a tool watch than to skip the theoretical explanation and put it in action.
I had the pleasure of giving the Big Crown Altimeter some wrist time, albeit on the ground. Oris has a strong and believable reputation for being a maker of tool watches, and this release truly is less for the casual watch buyer and more for the daring professional. Read on for more.
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Case & Dial
Constructed from solid, brushed stainless steel, this watch measures 47mm wide. It’s 18mm thick and clocks in at 55.5mm lug to lug. If you’re familiar with Oris, then you expect Oris’s sport watches to come in larger than most, but the Altimeter is a completely different beast due to the fact it needs to house a mechanical barometer. Like most Oris cases, the back side of the case has an ever-so-slightly smaller diameter than the bezel, so it might wear like a 46mm, but the case geometry doesn’t make up for its unforgiving thickness. It’s a tool watch for getting the job done and not a piece of oversized jewelry to satisfy one’s adventurous pretense.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not without some interesting details, like the knurling around the bezel reminiscent of jet turbines and how it matches that of the oversized, extraordinarily usable crowns for adjusting the time and calibrating the altimeter. Unlike a lot of Oris cases, this model doesn’t have an exhibition case back, which is a smart move because see-through case backs can increase overall case thickness by 1-2mm.
The dial is an area where the Altimeter succeeds as both a tool and a luxury watch. It takes its design cues from the rest of the ProPilot family, which means the dial is high contrast and ultra legible, but the ProPilot integrates its auxiliary instrument similarly to how the Aquis Depth Gauge does. Around the dial is what appears like an inner rotating bezel (especially when you see two crowns), but it’s a fixed scale for reading the altitude. The scale comes in two variations, in feet and meters, depending on the market. Moving inward, a gap reveals another recessed scale for reading the barometric pressure. Across from one another are two indicators, one yellow and one red, that indicate the altitude and the barometric pressure respectively on their scales. In the very center of the dial is a floating island for the timekeeping, including bright white hour and minute hands, a black seconds hand that really disappears when you don’t need it, and a tastefully executed date aperture at 3 o’clock. For as much that’s going on here, the dial really doesn’t feel at all cluttered.
Behind the dial is caliber 733, which is based on a no-frills Selitta SW200. It’s a 26-jewel, three-hand caliber with a date complication and 38 hours of power reserve. Simple, robust and of manageable thickness, it’s a wise choice given it’s in tandem with a mechanical barometer.
So, how does this thing work? When the 4 o’clock crown is screwed down at position 0, the altimeter is inactive and you won’t get real-time feedback as you climb altitude. In order to receive a reading, you must unscrew the crown and pop it out to position 1. Around the stem of the crown you’ll notice a red stripe and that’s there to warn you that you’re trading 100m water resistance in order to use the feature. Now, Oris has still protected the case from moisture ingress by implementing a patented vapor-blocking PTFE membrane, but you shouldn’t submerge the case in water if the crown isn’t fully screwed down. Finally, you can pull the crown out to position 2 in order to calibrate the altimeter. If you’re already up 1000 feet, you can set the altimeter accordingly to ensure an accurate reading as you ascend or descend from that height.
This style of barometer is referred to as an aneroid barometer, a non-liquid based tool for measuring changes in air pressure. It’s not a precise tool. Notice how the measurement scale is in hundreds of feet. You’re not going to see a change in reading by standing up and sitting down, or even going up and down flights of stairs (unless you really climb a lot of them). And, since the question does come up, no you won’t get a reading on a commercial airplane because commercial flights have pressurized cabins, so your ProPilot won’t know the difference.
Check it out in action via ABlogToWatch:
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On the Wrist
The model I tested rode on a textile strap with a nice flat deployant buckle. I thought for sure I was going to hate the textile strap, but I was dead wrong. I loved it. While the color is too neutral and military-styled for my tastes, it was tough enough to keep the watch in place on my wrist but light enough to not add to the overall heft. This particular watch does come on a bracelet, but given the Altimeter on a textile strap weighs in at 173 grams, I can estimate the bracelet version would clock in somewhere around 250 grams, which is impractially heavy for many collectors.
It’s an oversized watch. While those with sub 7-inch wrists might have been able to pull off the Depth Gauge or a three-handed ProPilot, they can’t pull off the Altimeter because it’s too big and thick to sit gracefully on collectors with small wrists.
This watch retails for $3,800 on the textile strap and $4,100 on a steel bracelet. Is there any other mechanical watch with a barometer/altimeter at this price point? Absolutely not. In that regard, if you’re in the market for an automatic watch with an altimeter, then consider this ProPilot as an option. However, if you’re not actually going to use the barometer, the brand offers more better-priced alternatives from both the ProPilot and the Aquis ranges.
A substantial wrist is the only real requirement for owning this piece, though. You don’t need to be a licensed pilot. You could wear the Altimeter while skiing or hiking to measure changes altitude, and when you consider those use cases the Big Crown offers more pragmatism–and at an incredible value.