Oris BC4 Retrograde Pilot Watch ¶
This week we here at Matt Baily received a new line of Swiss watches – Oris. Continuing our tradition of seeking out interesting small brands that offer good value for nice timepieces, we took on Oris as a way to round out our collection of cool sport watches. And the brand doesn’t disappoint – they offer a number of interesting models that are well made, good looking, and reasonably priced. One model in particular caught my eye – the BC4 Retrograde, a pilot-style watch with a cool complication that sets it apart from the crowd.
Oris has been around since 1904, and has long produced good quality watches for the midrange market. Today they only produce mechanical watches for men and women. Historically their best-known designs were the Big Crown pilot models and pointer-date calendar watches, and they produced a line of diving models from the 1960s onward. The company made many models with a pointer-calendar (where a hand in the centre of the dial indicates the day or date on a scale printed on the chapter ring of the dial). Today they divide their lineup into four main collections – Culture for classic designs and complicated models, Diving for high-tech water resistant watches, Motor Sport for modern sport designs, and Aviation for classic and modern pilot watches. The BC4 we have here falls under the Aviation category, being a highly legible and functional watch designed with pilots in mind – apart from being large and easy to read, it features an oversized locking crown that is easy to manipulate with gloves on, hence the BC moniker (Big Crown).
The BC4 features a 43mm cushion-shaped steel case that wears even bigger than the diameter would suggest. It’s a multi-part case that is secured together with visible hex-head screws – the bezel, case middle, and case back are sandwiched together and held with the four screws visible around the dial. The case middle is recessed quite a bit to give the watch a lot of three-dimensional detail, something you don’t often see on a watch in this price range (they usually feature simple milled cases without complex shapes or recesses, because a simple one-piece case is much less expensive to produce). The crown is oversized and finely textured, and features a quick locking function (ala Panerai Ferrari) where you push the crown in and rotate clockwise a ¼ turn to screw it down. It’s more positive in engagement than a regular screw-down crown and virtually eliminates the possibility of stripping the fine threads you normally have on a water resistant crown. The crystal is a domed sapphire item with anti-reflective coating, another high-end touch for a relatively inexpensive watch. The caseback has an exhibition window to show off the automatic calibre, a modified Sellita SW200 day-date movement.
The dial is very well done. It’s matt black with printed superluminova markers, ala Bell & Ross with large Arabic numerals. The hands are wide luminescent sword items. A traditional date window is at 3 o’clock. The interesting bit is the linear retrograde day located just below the centre of the dial. Each day of the week is indicated with a triangle aperture. As the days change, the triangle snaps instantly to the next window from left to right. When it reaches the end of the week, the indicator returns to the opposite side (that’s the retrograde at work, though you rarely see it in a linear scale – it is normally reserved for a hand that travels in an arc and snaps backwards to zero). To add some variety, Saturday and Sunday are indicated with red triangles while the weekdays are in white. It’s a very cool complication that sets the design apart from typical pilot-style watches.
The BC4 has a dark brown-black calfskin strap that is supple and comfortable. It’s stitched in contrasting thread with a reinforcing pattern sewn into the end to give it the appropriate military look. The buckle is interesting – it is an infinitely adjustable loop buckle (similar to a Cartier deployant) that feeds the excess length on the inside to keep it hidden. It has a seat buckle style release where you pull up on a tab to release the clasp and open the deployant – a very cool touch that adds to the quality feel of the watch. Most manufacturers don’t put much work into tuning the feel and function of their straps and buckles (not just the cheaper brands either), but Oris has clearly put some thought into this often-overlooked area. Hats off to them for that.
Comparisons with the Bell & Ross instrument are inevitable. Both feature large square cases surrounding a high-visibility round dial, with exposed screws at the four corners. Both have large Arabic numerals mixed with stick markers, printed in superlume. Outside of the passing resemblance, the details of the Oris are distinctive enough to keep it from looking like an outright copy of the BR look. The case is much more interesting with its multi-piece construction and rounded corners (it’s more cushion shaped than square). The dial is similar in layout but distinctive, and the day-date functions are unique to Oris. The quick lock crown on the Oris is way better too. And in any case, it should be kept in mind that the Oris is almost half the price of the BR – they cater to two different segments of the market. Similar or not, the BC4 is a damn nice watch for the money.
We are happy to become the latest Canadian Oris dealer. We are quite impressed with the quality and strength the designs, which are quite exceptional considering how reasonable the prices are. The BC4 Retrograde is one of my personal favourites out of the current lineup, and a worthy addition to your collection if you are looking for a cool instrument-style pilot watch that isn’t a Bell & Ross or IWC. For more info on Oris or any other brand we carry, give us a call at 514 845 8878 or visit our contact page.