Thoughts on the Oris Diver Bronze "Carl Brashear" Limited Edition
In a late entry to a now fading bronze watch craze, which started with the arrival of the Panerai PAM 382 in 2011, Oris has created perhaps the most interesting bronze watch since the fable bronzo. The Oris Carl Brashear limited edition is perhaps the most desirable, meaningful, and also affordable of the genre.
When Oris introduced their first bronze watch at the Basel watch show in 2016, I was immediately smitten. The proportions, styling, and historical significance of the Oris Carl Brashear limited edition were perfectly chosen.
As a tribute to the late U.S. Navy Master Diver Carl Brashear, the inspiration for Cuba Godin Jr’s character and story in the 2000 movie: Men of Honor, the limited edition diver’s watch fitted me perfectly in the Oris showroom and I never lost the feeling of it on my wrist.
Problem is, it sold out before I got a chance to see it again at the local authorized dealers. And this seem to have happened across the world and very quickly. I remember being in Hong Kong and in Beijing, the same year, and not being able to see any exemplar at the many watch boutiques...
It was gone, snatched by collectors. And before long, many pictures started to show up again on Instagram showcasing a beautiful blue green patina, some forced and some natural.
This reignited my passion for this watch and I started looking for it on the secondary market. None showed up on eBay. But as a patient collector, I knew that this platform rewards those who look often and are ready to pull the trigger quickly.
After a few months of looking and my birthday having come and gone, I had forgotten all about it when suddenly one showed up, almost new never worn, with box and papers, purchased from Topper Fine Jewelers, the local Oris authorize dealer in Burlingame, CA.
I waited less than a few hours, researching the seller and its reputation and decided to pull the trigger on the “Buy it Now” price which was a few hundreds over the current bid price. When it arrived home a few days after, I remember the feeling putting it on my wrist and knowing that my 2017 birthday present to myself had finally arrived.
I rewatched the movie to recall the beautiful story of Master Diver Brashear and what he had gone through to become the first African American master diver in the history of the U.S. Navy. This was also the story of a persistent man crashing the color barriers in the US military at a time when segregation and racial fights were at perhaps their zenith. And above all doing so after a tragic accident resulted in the amputation of his left leg.
Oris Carl Brashear Limited Edition
Once I received the Oris Carl Brashear (aka Oris bronzo) the first thing I noticed within days was how the color appeared to change. While the exemplar I got was used, the original owner seems to have worn it little and kept it in the box, as it was pristine and still in the bronze “gold-like” color when it arrived. Wearing it for a couple of weeks you could already see the developing patina.
Another quick thing I noticed also was how soft bronze is compared to stainless steel. After a week or so of wear, I had mistakenly already scratched it by accident while entering or exiting my car. I have since taken careful care (somewhat like a gold watch) to avoid any additional accidental dents. However, I do want the natural blemish to develop, so I often take it to the beach and to the pool. The 42 mm case has already developed a nice patina that you can literally see expanding before you.
The other thing you notice only when wearing this watch in different situations is the deep and varying color of the dial and the shine of the indices. The blue dial is dark and will show bluer hues when light hits it the right way. The gold tone applied indices are definitely visible in different lights and since they no longer match the case color, they have become more visible with time. Another cool touch is how Oris used a date wheel with white numbers but with a blue background that perfectly matches the blue dial.
As I mentioned, on wrist, the dimensions feel perfect. The non-protected crown is big but does not dig into my wrist even though I tend to wear my watches tight. The brown leather strap was hard at first but soften a bit after of few weeks of uses.
I ordered two custom straps from Montreal-based Aaron Bespoke (or Combat Straps on Instagram) which gives some options. Of the straps the blue stingray with gold stitches worked well but not for everyday as it will definitely attract attention. I also wear it on a blue NATO which perfectly matches the dial and can be found from many online sellers on eBay, however, I have yet to find a blue NATO with bronze hardware to match the watch.
The most conformable strap I wear it with is a blue perlon, where I can attach the bronze buckle that comes with the watch. This is my first attempt at this kind of cloth strap. Love the feel and ease of adjustment. I will definitely get other colors to get some variations. Especially since the most expensive perlon strap I see online are still under $20.
Patina: natural and Artificial
While the bronze alloy that Oris uses will patina fast when new, there is always a tendency or want to try and accelerate the process. After thinking of it and waiting for more patina to develop, I did one time attempt to accelerate things. The initial results were remarkable. And one would be tempted to try and keep doing so. However, I discovered quickly that’s its a shortcut that does not pay in the long run.
First, faked patina can be recognized by the trained eye. I believe part of the reason is that when using ammonia and salt to accelerate the aging process, the results are uniform and spotty. Something that real aged patina will not do. Instead, real patina will develop more in the corners and not be as uniform.
The second reason not to use fake patina is that it does not last. Indeed most of the patina I tried to add artificially quickly disappeared as I took it to the beach. While perhaps the results I have now was slightly influence by my one day episode of trying to create my own patina, most of the forced greenish colors on the bezel for instance is now gone. What remains is the permanent slow blemish that aged bronze shows with time.
I can also notice that the colors I have now are primarily the result of just going to the ocean with the watch and not taking special care to rinse it thoroughly. So my recommendation with any bronze watch, unless you like the drastic change that the fake patina process yields, is to be patient and just use the watch.
This is a watch perfectly suited for casual settings and the beach. This is not one for formal events or dressed up affairs — unless these are about diving or related thereof. As a day to day watch it will go under the radar but as your patina develops, like mine, it should attract some attention.
Due to mainly the vintage watch look it projects, it might get the attention of fellow watch lover who has seen or heard of bronze watches. But overall the brownish color of the bronze will go under the radar and only when enough green patina starts to show that you will have something on wrist that is noticeable.
Like the Oris SixtyFive watches, this limited edition uses the Oris Calibre 733 which is a Sellita SW200-1 time-only movement with quick set date and hacking seconds. I’ve found it easy to set and wound manually to get me started when I wear it. I would usually get about 36 hours of power reserve if I wear it all day and leave on my night table afterwards. Essentially what you would expect for this common yet solid ETA 2824 clone: good accuracy, easy usage, average to mediocre power reserve.
The actual weight of the watch depends on how you wear it. Since I found the perlon cloth strap as my most comfortable option, it usually seats easily on my wrist and comes at the very light 85 grams. The case itself plus the buckle is about that weight (as the perlon weight is negligible) and this is actually a bit heavier than if it was made in stainless steel but much lighter than gold.
The back side of the watch is itself in stainless steel, and a beautiful medallion engraving of Carl Brashear’s insignia (dive helmet) with his inspirational maxim: “It’s not a sin to get knocked down, but it’s a sin to stay down” as well as “Limited Edition” and the number out of 2000.
The dimensions are on par with other dive watches. At 42 mm in diameter, It’s a bit larger than Oris’s SixtyFive models but the same size as the Oris Aquis watch line and most common dive watch and slightly larger than the standard bearer for the genre: Rolex Submariner. The remaining dimensions are well done and proportioned, with height of about 13 mm (mainly due to the domed crystal) and a lug-to-lug of 50 mm.
Wearing it all day working or better while I was at the beach in Miami, FL, I never felt it annoying nor weighing me down. For my 6 1/4 inch wrist, as I had immediately seen at Baselworld in 2016, it fits perfectly. The SuperLuminova application on the hands and dotted hour markers work at night but are nothing special to make this watch glow or stand out as you get with a Seiko Prospex or even the excellent lume application on the modern Submariners or Omega Seamaster.
As a dive watch, Oris included a unidirectional rotating bezel in bronze with the 60 minutes markers engraved. The overall look works well. While there is some play when using the bezel. The bezel like in all dive watches is designed to help measure immersion time.
You can certainly accomplish this task with the Oris but the fact that there are very little contrast between the bronze engraved numbers and the rest of the bezel, I imagine it would be a difficult bezel to read dive time off at any appreciable depth where light becomes scarce.
Of course as a patina develops in the markings and at different levels, which should hopefully give it a unique characteristic, perhaps visibility will also increase. On a positive note, the pearl marker at 12 o’clock is very visible and easy to use to set the start of the immersion time.
With the incredible success of the Panerai bronzo (PAM 382 in 2011), many watch brands (including Panerai) tried to ride the bronze watch craze with various models. Panerai released no less than two more references (PAM 507 in 2013 and PAM 671 in 2017) and various smaller brands created their own bronze watches. Some notable brands, that are on the affordable side (unlike the Panerai) are Magrette, Laco, and Stowa, just to name a few.
However, perhaps the most direct competition to the original Oris Carl Brashear bronze diver comes from Oris itself this year when they released the follow-up. The Oris Carl Brashear chronograph. Also limited to 2000, this one has not sold out immediately and some authorized dealers might have it in stock. At a retail price of $4,950, almost double the original Oris bronzo, the bi-compax chronograph bronze watch is a hair larger than the original but uses the same material for the case and uses a similar medallion insignia on the caseback.
Finally, a sleeper diver bronze watch that in my view is bound to become a collectible watch in the future is IWC’s Aquatimer Chronograph Edition “Expedition Charles Darwin”. Created to celebrate Darwin’s work on the Galapagos islands, this watch is not in the same price range as the Oris, going for just above $10,000 MSRP. The IWC includes vulcanized rubber for the pushers and a quick change release for the rubber strap as well as IWC’s unique mechanical external/internal rotating bezel with SafeDive system. An engraving of the great naturalist completes the stainless steel caseback.
Carl Brashear’s story is one perseverance in the face of artificial and natural obstacles while staying the course for the long run. It’s the message that what burns inside is what matters to transcend the world around us and achieve something great with our lives.
By honoring Carl Brashear with its first bronze watch, Oris paired with not only a man who lived an extraordinary life but also a beautiful story, perfectly suited for the bronze material. They created a dive watch that achieved the rare status of an object that is at once rare, meaningful, and desirable.
And like the large, heavy, and shinny (at the time) dive helmets and suits of that era, it is a watch that will last for generations and quickly achieve a unique patina with age, as you can already see from mine after a few trips to the beach in Bali this past summer and in Miami this winter. This is a watch that will grow with you and show time itself as we invariably do ourselves with this precious commodity we all would love to have more of. oris.ch