1956

The history of Ollech & Wajs begins in 1956, when a young resident of Zurich, Albert Wajs, decided to partner with his friend Joseph Ollech to open a luxury watch shop. They first distributed the Breitling and Omega brands, before launching their own brand: OWZ Ollech & Wajs Zürich.

The production, modest at its beginnings, was assembled on site no. 55 Stocker Strasse, on the ground floor of a beautiful bourgeois building located near the Hotel Baur au Lac.

Albert Wajs, spearhead of the company Ollech & Wajs, very quickly decided to specialize on the assembly of reliable and accurate watches, using proven movements (Dùbois Depraz, Landeron and Valjoux), with robust cases in stainless steel (Maison Etienne), Tritium hands (Universo à la Chaux de Fonds) and functional and legible dials (Brothers Lender du Locle). Ollech&Wajs manufactured under different brands, including OWZ, Helsa and Piz Palu, before focusing on OW in the early 1960s.

1960

The Ollech & Wajs range consisted of men's watches, sport or military type:

- Chronographs, of the mechanical types with two counters (Valjoux movement), often including tachymetric scales and intended for sports professionals.

- Diving watches, mechanical or automatic (ETA movements) which were sought-after by professional divers and clubs, in particular the very famous Caribbean 1000, which was, as its name suggested, the first 1000m water resistant diving watch, thanks to its patented monobloc stainless steel case.

- Military watches, much appreciated by American soldiers who ordered OWs for entire battalions, including the Early Bird and M60, because of their precision combined with an incomparable robustness. Pilots of the French and other Air Forces also appreciated OW watches!

- Finally, the professional watches, such as the Selectron type, which slide rule was very useful to civil and military pilots.l

1965

Ollech & Wajs forged a reputation for precision, robustness and durability, as evidenced by the hundreds of letters received from soldiers, divers, pilots and professionals around the world.

This result was by no means a coincidence, as Albert Wajs always requested quality components, such as by ordering tens of thousands of movements at Valjoux (references 72, 92, 7730, 7733, 7750, 7765), and from other supplier of reputable brands such as Breitling, Heuer, Rolex or Universal Geneve.

At the same way, stainless-steel cases included screwed bottoms, associated with screwed crowns, thus ensuring the OW watches an incomparable water resistance for their time, including 200 M with chronometer precisions.

The assembly and adjustments was done by qualified watchmakers, a guarantee for lasting precision and reliability.

1967

As early as the mid-1960s, Ollech and Wajs delivered up to 10.000 pieces a year, through a network of watch dealers, Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores, and through direct mail sales, advertising in the United States in military or professional publications.

At the beginning of the 70's, new OW models made their appearance (3 counters chronographs, new Caribbean etc..). The English series The Professionals contributed to the brand's fame, with actor Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins wearing the OW Caribbean 1000 on the wrist. Production then stabilized at around 2000 watches a year.

In this period, the appearance of cheaper Asian watch and an increasingly intense competition lead to a decline in production of OW watches. Albert Wajs never wanted to manufacture anything other than mechanical watches (Ollech and Wajs is to this day one of the very few Swiss brands that never adopted quartz movement), and therefor looked for new markets, convinced that Swiss quality mechanical watches still had a future.

In relation with Willy Breitling for years, he then bought tooling and stocks (just like Patek Philippe and Helmut Sinn did) from Breitling.

1969

Albert Wajs to produced the Navitimer, under one of his brands, Aviation, continuously for almost two decades, before relaunching OW in 1995.

True to his Habits, Albert Wajs selected the best components and recreated a range of sports OW watches. Of diving watches at first, with the M series, equipped with ETA 2824 movements, and a solid stainless-steel case with screw down crown, which further enhanced the company's reputation.

He then launched a range of chronographs, including a mini series based on the Valjoux 7733, which enjoyed a great success, and which was completed by the superb Mirage equipped with the Valjoux 7750. Military-style watches were added to the range, which ran until 2017, when Albert Wajs decided to find a new owner for his company.

It was passed on to a long term collector of the brand, who met Albert Wajs in 2005 in Zurich. He quickly became an OW distributor for the French market. He also established a friendly relationship with Mr. Wajs and his Italian wife, during his multiple visits to his home on Bederstrasse in Zurich.

Interview with Albert Wajs

Mr. Wajs is accompanied by his daughter because his eyesight has been declining for several years. Mr. Wajs appears very confident and relaxed, stands straight with a piercing and malicious look. Despite his advanced age, he is eager to participate in the following interview for three hours, of which this is an extract.

AW: Our adventure begins in 1956 in Zurich, when we decide with my friend Joseph Ollech, to open a new watch store, Ollech & Wajs Zürich, or OWZ. We sold Omega and Breitling brands. A little later our fancy and our obstinacy then push us to produce our own watches by buying the components piece by piece. Then, in 1964, we launched the production of military-grade watches, following the suggestion of a young American soldier. The latter advises us to make a solid watch, waterproof, accurate and reliable that could replace the usual Hamilton watch and become the accessory-companion of US Army soldiers. Initially, we are targeting this production to American GIs, who will prove to be our most frequent customers, starting in 1965.

AW: We bought very solid boxes at "Maison Bouille", which later became "Etienne." We bought dials at the "Brothers Lender of Le Locle", the needles at La Chaux-de-Fonds at "Universo" and finally the Caliber Automatic Chronographs came from the "Maison Dubois Dépraz” who supplied Patek Philippe. We also worked a lot with the Valjoux 72 B movements, which were used in the Rolex Daytona at the time. At first We were doing the assembly ourselves in our workshop in Zurich. We immediately had great success with the American military before, during and even after the Vietnam War. We sold our watches in US battalion shops all over the world.

AW: We produced between 8,000 and 10,000 pieces a year. We also sold OW watches to the French forces, including Air Force pilots.

AW: After the Vietnam War, we saw a significant drop in demand. We adapted and launched other models and bought inventory and tooling of the Breitling brand for the Navitimer pilot watch, the flagship model of the brand. Note from the author: When Breitling was liquidated in 1978, Ollech & Wajs, Sinn and Patek Philippe acquired the tools and stocks.

AW: We were the first to release a diving watch, tested at a depth of 1000 meters with a graduated rotating bezel, which allowed to calculate the decompression time of the divers. Which for the time was a technological performance.

AW: Indeed, American soldiers and even entire regiments ordered hundreds of OW Chronographs very regularly. They have shown their gratitude in many letters over the years. Yes, NASA officials, including Mr. Von Braun actually wore an OW watch.

AW: I was convinced that there was still a market for quality mechanical watches, so I gradually introduced a new range of watches, including the flagship OW Mirage models, which benefit from the Valjoux 7750 and 7733 caliber. My view declining, I finally made the decision to put my business on sale in 2016.

 

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