In 1934, the Swiss government introduced what became knows as ” Swiss Watch Statute”. It was designed to protect and regulate the Swiss watch industry, but in doing so prevented watch companies from introducing new technology without permission.
At the time, Oris was using pin-lever escapements (Roskopf escapements) in its watches, technology that was slowly being replaced across the industry by more accurate lever escapements.
The new law meant Oris and many of its competitors were unable to migrate to the newer technology. Undeterred, Oris pressed on and in 1938 introduced its first escapement. It employed some of Switzerland’s most talented watchmakers and technicians, among them many women, and over the next 20 years would innovate new movements that pushed pin-lever technology to its limits.
By the mid-1940s, Oris had won the first or more than 200 awards for accuracy from the independent body the Bureau Officiel de Controle de la Marche des Montres in Le Locle for its pin-lever movements.
The statute wasn’t the only hindrance to Oris’s development. The advent of war curtailed the company’s distribution, forcing it to find new ways to retain its domestic advantage and its skilled workforce. During the war, Oris began making alarm clocks, leading to the groundbreaking 8-Day Clock of 1949. These clocks were so good that for decades after the war ended, to many Swiss nationals Oris was a clockmaker first and a watchmaker second.
After the war, Oris returned to watches and in 1952 introduced its first automatic watch, powered by a movement that would go down in the company’s history – Calibre 601.
It also set about changing the law. In 1956, Oscar Herzog employed a young lawyer whose appointment would change the course of Oris history. He tasked the lawyer with reversing the Swiss Watch Statute so his company could make the switch to lever escapements. It took him 10 years, but in 1966, Dr. Rolf Portmann won his case, reversing the statute, injecting new life into Oris and into the wider watch industry, and earning his place in Swiss watchmaking history.
Just two years later, Oris was awarded its first chronometer certification for Calibre 652, another landmark movement in the company’s history of innovation.
The new calibre used a lever escapement and was given the highest distinction for accuracy by the Observatoire Agronomique et Chronometirque.
The years that followed were a golden period in Oris history. By the end of the 1960s, Oris was one of the 10 biggest watch companies in the world, producing 1.2 million watches and clocks a year and employing more than 800 people across its network of factories. The company was so successful it could even afford to train 40 engineers and watchmakers every year.
But the period didn’t last. In 1970, Oris lost its independence when it was sold to ASUAG, which would later become the Swatch Group. At the same time , the influence of quartz , which had begun to sweep the world during the 1960s, started to affect the Swiss watchmaking industry. Despite its size and reputation, Oris was far from immune to the ravages of what became known as the Quartz Crisis, and by 1980 staff numbers, once high as 900, had dropped sharply.
At that point, Oris’s future looked bleak. But then came the moment it was saved. The managment buyout, led by Dr Portmann and Ulrich W.Herzog, meant Oris regained its independence and could return to the vision of its founders.