The latest watch in Oris’ series of conservation-focused watches is a ticking contradiction in many terms. First, there’s the idea of a tool watch stripped of its rugged utility by being crafted in 18k gold. Then, there’s the idea of releasing an absurdly high-priced, luxury-forward product but doing so for a noble cause. And finally there’s the brand itself, a company whose timepieces hover at a $2500 price of admission (or often below) releasing a watch far beyond the pocket depth of their average customer. As a fan of both the beautiful and the absurd, I’m not sure whether to be enamored by the gesture or confounded by the release.
One look at the Oris Aquis GMT Carysfort Reef Limited Edition (wow, that’s a horological word salad) and you will be convinced of the beautiful. The fathoms-deep blue/black dial is a lovely contrast to the yellow gold case, hands, and indices. While the choice of 18k gold for a dive watch is suspect, there’s no denying that it makes for a satisfying aesthetic choice here. Personally, I don’t own and wouldn’t wear anything made of yellow gold, but if I changed my tune, this might be a contender (should I hit the numbers, get a raise, or find out about the death of an estranged, wealthy uncle).
What keeps this watch from being overly ostentatious, in my opinion, are that deep blue dial and the choice to fit the watch with a matching blue rubber strap instead of a gold bracelet. It’s hard to keep things understated when you’re talking yellow gold, but I think the design of the Carysfort Reef is on the right side of taste. To add to the pleasant look of this watch, Oris also designed a ceramic, laser-engraved, 24-hour bezel in a matching blue. The color combination works and, personally, I’d rather rock this blue/gold piece than the two-tone Rolex Sub in the same color palette.
Also, beautiful here is the motivation behind the watch. The Carysfort Reef is part of the Florida Reef, the only barrier reef in the U.S. Due to decades of (you guessed it) human neglect and dereliction (pollution, et. al), the Carysfort Reef has seen massive coral die-off. To combat this, the Coral Restoration Foundation is planning on replacing about 30,000 reef-rejuvenating corals by the end of the year. It is this cause and this foundation which inspired Oris to create the Carysfort Reef diver, a noble cause if there ever was one. In addition to bringing awareness to this issue through this release (and, boy, has it caused a stir), Oris is also donating three watches to be auctioned off by the Coral Restoration Foundation, the proceeds directly benefiting their restoration efforts.
Many companies release controversial and extravagant editions of established watches solely for publicity and profit (though, some, to mark a milestone). I believe Oris is raising the bar of these types of releases by taking an active role and interest in the important work of aquatic conservation.
Though their hearts may be in the right place, did Oris not plan for the price of this watch to steer the discussion? When I think of a release like this, a version of an admired stainless-steel sport watch in a precious metal at three or four times the price, I can’t help but think back to the white gold/meteorite-dialed GMT master Rolex released in 2019. I love the Pepsi GMT. It’s my holy grail.
But, come on, Rolex. Give a guy a break. Can’t my $15,000 holy grail be enough? You need to put moon rocks in there, make it less life-resistant, and tack on forty grand to the price tag? I guess holy grail watch is too tepid a term now. Maybe Apocalypse watch. Apocalypse in the sense that, in the throes of the actual Apocalypse, I can probably loot one from a boutique or AD as my friends are screaming to me for help as they’re being tortured by giant water bugs or something.
But I digress…
The dilemma here is that Oris seems to have made a bold statement with this release. Namely, that they are now making watches, even limited edition ones, that are out of reach for many of their core fans and consumers. I’m sure many Oris owners are fine folk who would jump at the chance to give back in some way. But who in this target audience is going to buy a $19,000 gold watch to do that?
Maybe that’s not the point. Maybe that’s an overreaction. Perhaps Oris released a $19,000 watch (uncharacteristic of the brand) knowing that it would cause the kind of stir that would bring attention to the abovementioned cause and that, of course, the average Oris customer couldn’t/wouldn’t buy it but some well-off watch collectors who usually drop that much on luxury brands might buy this for a lark. It’s limited edition (check!), supports a cause (check!), and would be a novel edition to a collection brimming with :yawn: Rolex or :yawn: Panerai.
Oris announced that they would be releasing a lower-priced, stainless steel version of the Carysfort Reef later in the year that will, undoubtedly, be more accessible to their traditional consumers. But there’s the rub. Once you’ve shown your customers that you have the capacity to go boldly where they may have never thought you would go (and where they, almost certainly, can’t follow), there’s no forgetting it.
It’s limited edition, sure, but it’s what the release symbolizes that matters. Maybe Oris fans will be delighted to see their brand serving a cause greater than themselves. Perhaps customers will be critical of the choice to release a watch so financially out of sorts with the brand’s identity.
Or perhaps it’s just an exercise in absurdity.
Henry is a scholarly watch nerd based out of northern New Jersey. He works as a professor of composition and creative writing by day and a fiction writer by night. Both his academic and creative work have given him insight on design and rhetoric and his fiction writing background influences his humorous, narrative take on watch reviews. His watch collecting habits tend to lean toward vintage, but he never shies away from unique and interesting new pieces. Henry is also an avid musician, record collector, whiskey aficionado, serial hobbyist, and all-around enthusiast.