Ollech & Wajs have teamed up with graphic artist Bjoern Altmann to immortalise our historic references. The collaboration will enable people to see OW’s original watches in their prototypical state for the first time since production ceased over 50 years ago.
Ollech & Wajs produced more models between 1956 and 1970 than in any other period in the last 65 years. The watches that made Ollech & Wajs synonymous with rugged durability were as divergent in appearance as their idiosyncratic names suggest — the Selectron Computer, the Early Bird, the Silverknight, the Moon Orbiter, the Astrochron, the Oceangraph and — the best-known OW watch of all — the Precision Caribbean 1000.
This was in a time before Swiss watchmakers used colour product photography, and OW’s only ever advertisements were in black-and-white specialist military, aviation and diving publications. As a consequence, no original colour photography exists of the classic OW watches that are so sought after by collectors today.
Furthermore, as most OW watches were worn in professional or sporting environments and subjected to considerable daily abuse, many of the watches that survive today are heavily patinated, and pristine examples are scarce.
As time goes by, the opportunity to appreciate these historic models is dwindling, and one day they may disappear altogether.
So OW Zürich has decided to immortalise the references that defined the brand.
Specialist watch illustrator and typography expert Bjoern Altmann has been commissioned to retrospectively create original artworks of each watch, exactly as they would have looked brand-new. By studying period documents from the OW archives, and a cross-section of examples of each model, Altmann has skilfully created photo-real exemplifications of each watch, accurate in infinitesimal detail.
The project, which is ongoing and expected to take several months, is part preservation and part revelation. Details that may previously have gone unnoticed, hidden under scuffed crystals or burnished away by years of wear, are revealed. The ability to scrutinise these details like never before provides us with a greater understanding of how the design codes of OW watches evolved during the company’s most prolific period.
“Time shapes a watch, and patina is what gives a vintage watch its unique character and appeal. But you can appreciate a watch’s patina even more when you know what it looked like originally,” says Charles Le Menestrel of Ollech & Wajs, Zurich.
Altmann’s forensic attention to detail mirrors the precision of a watchmaker. He had to lean on his typographical expertise to identify the numerous typefaces employed across the dials and bezels, most of which were cut bespoke or are long since obsolete. He then had to rebuild many of these glyphs from scratch to configure the dials.
Though labour-intensive, the process is providing a greater understanding of how the design codes of OW watches evolved during the company’s most prolific period.
Alongside the OW Caribbean 1000 ref. 702, other classics immortalised include the Navichron Ref.2002 , the 1962 Aquagaurd ref.405, the 1959 Plongeur ref. 105, the 1967 Astrochron and the Early Bird, inspired by and named after the communications satellite beamed the Apollo 11 moon landing to millions of TV viewers around the world.
The aim of the project is to create a comprehensive visual inventory of OW’s classic and forgotten watches, to serve as an indelible legacy for generations to come.
The Navichron, one of the first dual-pusher chronographs water-resistant to 200 m
The 1962 Aquaguard, one of the dive watches that proved popular with US military personnel in Vietnam
The 1959 Plongeur, which as well as being amongst OW’s first dive watches was worn by Nasa astronaut and aquanaut, Dr Anthony Llewellyn
The 1967 Astrochron, one of the very first chronographs water resistant to 200 m and suitable for diving.
The eponymously named Early Bird, inspired by the decade’s fervid fascination with space exploration.
The 1966 ‘Moon Orbiter’ slide rule watch, inspired by the Lunar Orbiter satellite Program, launched to photograph the Moon’s surface
The ‘Selectron Computer’ slide rule chronograph, one of Ollech & Wajs best known, most recognised and enduring product lines