Oris chief Ulrich Herzog tells us why his new timepieces are looking to the future

From patented technical innovations to marine conservation, the luxury watch company is ahead of its time

Oris chief Ulrich Herzog understands the statement that the perfect timepiece can make. CEO of the Swiss watchmakers since 1982, Ulrich has weathered the storms of the Quartz Crisis to refocus entirely on mechanical innovations and timeless design. Sitting down with Tempus in London Regent Street’s Watches of Switzerland showroom, Ulrich proudly demonstrated his latest launch: the Oris Arterlier Calibre 113.

“The Calibre 110 was launched in 2014 on Oris’ 110-year anniversary,” he told Tempus, demonstrating the newest additions to the watch’s clean, multipurpose face. “After a break of 35 years we decided to come back with our own in-house movements. That was the basis of our calibre range.”

The range, like the company, has since grown in ambition and scale. Oris’s dedication to ‘high-mech’ and the future of the industry has also led to philanthropic partnerships that Ulrich hopes will make a genuine difference. “More and more we’re thinking that we must work to change things for the better. We all live on this planet and so we have to take care of this planet,” he said.

Ulrich, congratulations on launching the Calibre 113. Talk us through what’s new?
With 113 (picture below), the special thing is that although it’s based on the same movements as the Calibre range, we’ve added additional functions. We have the day, the non-linear power reserve that tells you exactly when you need to wind the watch, the small second dial, which is all controlled by a single crown. It controls everything, so there’s an elegance to the watch, as it’s not crowded by any extra pushers or crowns. A brand new feature is the inclusion of the weeks of the year, so for those who work in logistics, manufacturing, finance and many other industries, it’s easy to see exactly which month and week in the year you are in. The most interesting thing that I noticed is that you realise just how much of the year has passed!

This must be very useful in your work.
It is very helpful in the logistics of running a business, but philosophically it also makes me enjoy the summer days we’re having now – because I can see how quickly the cold weather is approaching, I make the most of the sunshine.

What most appeals to you about the process of watchmaking?
It’s a mixture of many things. On one hand you must have technical innovation. We hold two patents on the Calibre 113. On the other side you have to look at the timepiece as a work of jewellery, so it has to look good. This one is a classic, of course, and certainly after five or 10 years it will still look beautiful.

Where do you start when developing a new timepiece?
We have to have a vision of what the movements in the watch will be, but actually it mostly starts with the design of the face. We start with the drawing, the artwork, so function follows form. We think of watchmaking as crafting culture, because you’ve got to come with the ideas and vision on the technical side but also the design in order to produce a product that people want to wear and buy.

How has the industry changed since you joined Oris?
I joined Oris in 1978, when the watch crisis started. The Asian quartz movement flooded the market and so Swiss watchmaking became tough. That really opened our minds as we remained dedicated to mechanical watchmaking. Now, the assembly of a watch is very similar to traditional methods, but the manufacturing process is modernised to improve the quality.

The Swiss watch industry has become truly international, how does this effect your work?
Well, the events are changing as the digital markets change. The main event is still Baselworld, then we have the Las Vegas show, SSIH in Geneva, and others around the world. We also run our own events, for instance I just came back from America for the Staghorn launch where we supported a foundation that repairs coral reefs. It’s amazing, truly incredible. We went diving with the foundation and got to plant new staghorn corals into the reef. For me, it was such an eye opener. We’ve also done work supporting the Alpine rescue teams in Switzerland. When you see how these guys develop their ideas, and how our product helps to not just fund but raise awareness for these great causes, it’s really amazing to see what these partnerships can achieve.

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