THE HISTORY OF OLLECH & WAJS
Joseph Ollech and Albert Wajs establish Ollech & Wajs.
They take the lease on small premises at 55 Stockerstrasse, Zurich, with a retail counter just one metre long, selling quality Swiss watches such as Omega and Breitling.
Ollech & Wajs begin making watches.
Initially under the brand name OWZ (Ollech & Wajs Zürich), they also manufacture under brands Helsa and Piz Palu, before focusing on OW from 1959 onwards.
Ollech & Wajs become the first mail order Swiss watch brand.
From its workshop in Zurich, Ollech & Wajs distributes watches direct to customers throughout Switzerland and beyond.
The famous OW propellor brand mark is introduced.
Designed by Joseph Ollech, an ‘O’ and a ‘W’ coalesce to form an aircraft propellor, establishing the brand’s enduring connection with aviation.
Beating the Behemoths to the bottom of the sea.
OW shock the industry by launching the OW Caribbean 1000 Precision, with a certified record-shattering depth rating of 1,000 m (3,300 ft). Its innovative monobloc ‘Triple-Safe’ case is capable of going 700 metres deeper than anything Rolex or Omega have achieved at this time.
OW becomes one of the most widely used ‘unissued’ watches of the Vietnam conflict.
US soldiers, sailors and airmen begin ordering OW to replace their unreliable issued watches, prone to water ingress in the humidity of the region. At the height of the conflict, OW delivers up to 10,000 pieces a year, through a network of Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores; and through direct mail, via classified advertisements in US military publications.
OW make one of the first 200m diving chronographs.
Model 2002, better known as the Navichron, is amongst the first chronographs certified to 20ATM water resistance.
Nasa’s infamous rocket scientist - Wernher Von Braun, presented with an OW Astro-Chron.
So impressed are his fellow NASA scientists with their own Astro-Chrons, and knowing von Braun is both a keen pilot and scuba diver, they order direct from Zurich to present the watch to him at a dinner in his honor.
The OW Caribbean 1000 survives an expedition to the North Pole.
An Italian exploration team, led by award-winning underwater photographer Roberto Dei, embark on an expedition to the Arctic to study life beneath the ice pack and test equipment in sub-zero water.
OW worn by NASA group 6 astronaut, Dr Anthony, Llewellyn.
The Welsh-born scientist–astronaut wears an OW Ref.105 dive watch for his official NASA portrait and during training.
Tested by record breaking Neapolitan Skin divers.
Elite commercial divers and scuba record holders Alberto Novelli and Cesare Olgiai begin working with OW, their exploits featuring on the pages of the OW Precision brochures, both men wearing the legendary OW Caribbean 1000.
Legendary bassist Jack Bruce wears an OW Precision Chronographe Suisse.
Jack plays every bass chord of Cream’s biggest hits – ‘I Feel Free’, ‘White Room’ and ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ – wearing his trusted O&W.
OW undervaluation in the offshore oil fields.
The elite dive teams of deep-water drilling company Global Marine test OW’s professional dive watches in the Arabian Gulf and the North Sea. The Caribbean 1000 702 and the Navichron 2002 are exposed to prolonged ambient pressure at working depths of over 400 ft, in high-helium content, mixed-gas environments and subjected to radical temperature changes.
‘Unofficially’ worn by the British Red Arrows.
Members of the famous Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team choose OW Chronographs over their standard RAF-issued watches for a series of round-the-world endurance air races and rallies between ’68 and ’70.
Functional utility meets creative flare.
A host of new variants of existing models is launched, with unusual and vibrant colour schemes that reflect contemporary experimental aesthetics.
The iconic Navitimer rescued from obsolesce.
Great friends with Willy Breitling for years, Albert Wajs and Joseph Ollech (along with Patek Philippe and Helmut Sinn) acquire the tooling, stock parts and Navitimer designs from the liquidated Breitling. Ollech & Wajs use the Breitling stock inventory to continue seamless production of the world’s most famous pilot’s watch, the Navitimer, albeit under the new brand name of Aviator. This becomes the focus of the business for the next decade and a half.
OW Caribbean 1000 worn by British CI5 agents.
The most controversial crime drama of its era, The Professionals, hits the TV screens in Britain. Agents William Bodie and Ray Doyle belong to a fictive elite government crime-fighting unit, called CI5. The dynamic duo are equipped with matching OW Caribbean1000s.
1981 - 94
OW survives the quartz crisis by scaling back.
Despite the demand for quartz and intense competition from Asian manufacturers, Albert Wajs steadfastly refuses to manufacture anything other than mechanical watches. (To this day, Ollech & Wajs is one of the few Swiss brands that has never adopted a quartz movement.) Convinced that Swiss-quality mechanical watches still have a future, OW reduces but never ceases production, continuing to serve its professional and military customers around the world.
The OW marque returns.
With the renewed interest in mechanical watches that Albert Wajs predicted over a decade earlier, Ollech & Wajs reboots its production, reigniting the OW brand with a new generation of sports watches, military watches and chronographs.
A.I Wajs and the M-Series.
After Joseph Ollech passes away, Albert Wajs creates a new company and introduces a line of OW watches to honour his business partner and friend. The M-Series, including the Mirage chronographs, reaffirms OW as shorthand for rugged yet affordable, professional-quality timepieces.
The renaissance of OW.
After 60 years at the helm, advancing in age and with failing eyesight, Albert Wajs decides it is time to hand the company on. OW’s former distributor for the French market, a long-term collector, takes over. Over the previous five years, OW has developed an exceptional new range of timepieces, equal to any challenge and exemplifying the original vision of Joseph Ollech and Alberts Wajs.