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Swiss watchmaker Oris has been making some of the finest pilot’s watches since more than seven decades. They have recently launched their most innovative pilot’s watch in its history – the Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter, the world’s first automatic mechanical watch with a mechanical altimeter. It is the latest in a long line of Oris pilot’s watches, stretching back to 1938. Oris has a proud tradition of making accurate, reliable, industrially manufactured and sensibly priced wristwatches, which is why Oris has become the pilot’s choice.

As aircraft and the men and women who flew them became more and more popular, so the pilot’s watch aesthetic grew in influence. Those returning from wartime operations were heroes – and their standard-issue watches became symbols of their heroic deeds. Aviation made wristwatches both better and more fashionable. Oris was at the heart of this sweeping change. The original 1938 Big Crown Pointer Date watch was pioneering, not just because of its oversized crown, but because of its pointer date function, a design that would become the Oris signature.

In the decades since, Oris has produced legion pilot’s watches. Over the last 20 years, many have been produced in honor of Oris partnerships; others have been limited editions, created to mark significant landmarks in aviation history or the achievements of contemporary pilots. Mainstays of the Oris aviation collection include the Big Crown (continuing the story started 76 years ago), the BC3 and the BC4. The BC3 was introduced in 1999 and is a classic pilot’s watch, with a robust round case, and black or white dials with simple, highly legible detailing. The BC4 design first appeared in 2008.

Its design was based on high-functioning cockpit instruments, and it came loaded with functionality – current models carry chronographs, retrograde dates, regulator dials and a world timer that shows three time zones simultaneously, one of which can be adjusted forwards or backwards in one-hour jumps via plus and minus pushbuttons on either side of the case. In 2009, the BC4 won a prestigious Red Dot Design award.

Aviation continues to play a significant role in the Oris line-up. In 2014, Oris introduced the Big Crown ProPilot collection, a series of mechanical watches designed to cope with life in the cockpit. Initially, there were three models – a date, a day/date, both with an enlarged font size, and a chronograph. Now, the Swiss watch company is unveiling the most complicated pilot’s watch it has ever made – the Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter. The new watch is an innovation pioneered by Oris in its Holstein factory, and the world’s first and patented automatic mechanical watch with a mechanical altimeter. It demonstrates Oris’s exceptional watchmaking know-how and horological ambition, both of which have been built up over 110 years of watchmaking history.

The Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter has been developed entirely by Oris to serve as a high-performance instrument for pilots, mountaineers, explorers and research scientists, who work at altitude. Its sturdy 47mm multi-piece stainless steel case houses an Oris automatic movement, and a Swiss mechanical barometric altimeter and barometer movement.

One of the biggest challenges facing Oris engineers was the design of the altimeter hand itself. Making the altimeter mechanism small enough to fit inside a wristwatch meant the hand had to be extremely lightweight, but stiff enough to avoid tolerances and therefore inaccurate readings. The solution was to create it from laminated carbon fiber, making the hand seven times lighter, but 10 times stiffer than the average watch hand. Another challenge was how to protect the inner workings of the watch from moisture when the altimeter is activated. Oris patented a new altimeter adjustment and venting crown, which prevents moisture from entering the watch using a membrane made of PTFE, which creates a vapor barrier.

The above mentioned aspects are covered by an Oris patent i.e. the multi-function adjustment venting crown, the co-axial layout of the watch and altimeter movements, including a skeletonized movement holder, and the carbon fiber altimeter hand. The Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter has two crowns. The crown at 2 o’clock is a conventional crown to adjust the time and date, and to wind the watch as necessary (the automatic movement has a 38-hour power reserve). A second screw-down crown at 4 o’clock operates the altimeter. When screwed down into ‘Position 0’, the altimeter is inactive and the watch is water-resistant to 100 meters. The altimeter is activated by unscrewing the crown into Position 1, indicated by a red ring.

When the crown is pulled out into Position 2, the altimeter can be calibrated. Once set, the watch shows the current altitude via the yellow indicator, and the corresponding air pressure via the red indicator. The altitude scale is around the outer dial ring; it can measure altitude up to 15,000 feet or 4,500 meters (two models have been produced, one with a scale in feet, one in meters). The air pressure scale is recessed between the altimeter scale and the central dial. Once the altimeter is no longer required, the crown can be returned to Position 0 by screwing it down, resealing the watch case and ensuring it is once again water-resistant to 100 meters.