First a short history of Ollech & Wajs
This may not be the most familiar brand to many, so a bit of background may be of value to show the extent to which O&W history alone makes them worth a look
Disclaimer – I found a lot of information from various Watch Forums and from a gentleman called Vincent at Ollech & Wajs. I have re-worded as much as I can in my own words but I’m not taking credit for the research and information others have gleaned over the years. A list of my sources are at the end of this review.
(Editors Note: Blimey a watch review that credits sources, it will never catch on, will being “Loganed” take on an opposite meaning to being “TGVed”?)
Albert J Wajs (a producer of wristwatch bracelets) partnered with Joseph Ollech in 1956 to establish the Ollech & Wajs brand in Zurich. With the philosophy of producing rugged, legible sports watches at more affordable prices.
With a retail presence in Zurich they sold their watches predominately through mail order to the US and UK via magazine adverts popular with Aviators, Soldiers, Divers and Sports enthusiasts. (This is rumoured to have started after a suggestion by a visiting American Student).
The company received many letters from satisfied customers and there was a peak in sales during the Vietnam war era. With US Soldiers preferring models such as the M-65 over their Military issued timepieces.
There is even a past link to the Jenny dive watches of the 1960s to 1970s (Jenny invented the ‘Triple safe one-piece case’ in the 1960s and with a 1000m rated diver, beat both Rolex and Omega in various dive records at the time). For example, the Jenny ‘Caribbean’ range is believed to have been made by O&W. As Jenny owned the patents but lacked their own production facilities. O&W ‘Caribbean’ models may have been re-branded by Jenny under an agreement with O&W. Certainly, the O&W Caribbean models share the identical unusual case designs of that period.
In the late 1970s Breitling was going into liquidation (circa 1979). Mr. Wajs (a friend of Willy Breitling) bought up much of the Breitling ‘Navitimer’ stock including cases and movements in order to produce a range of watches called ‘Aviation’.
Interestingly Helmut Sinn of the German brand Sinn purchased the rights to the Navitimer design, which you find in some of their models to this day. The Breitling name was bought by Ernst Schneider of Sicura and later revived in 1982. Also Patek-Philippe acquired various tools and stock.
Quote from O&W Website;
Albert Wajs: “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.”
Sadly in 2000 Joseph Ollech passed away. After the resurgence of interest in fine Swiss Made mechanical watches, after the general decimation from the Quartz crisis, Albert Wajs formed a company called ‘A.I.Wajs’. He began producing watches using the brand name with ‘Ollech & Wajs’, ‘OW’ and ‘OWZ’ logos.
Mr. Wajs continued to produce many attractive and innovative designs using various Swiss made manual and Automatic movements. His enthusiasm and passion being respected in the Swiss watchmaking Industry.
In 2006 a long time collector of O&W watches (and later a friend of Mr. Wajs) called Charles Le Menestrel became the sole distributor of O&W in France. Then in 2017 Mr. Wajs decided that after 60 years of watchmaking it was time to retire and transferred ownership of the company to Charles Le Menestrel.
Present day O&W Zurich & Review
The current range includes the P-101 and P-104 (newly released C-1000, a take on the 1000m dive watches of the 1970s).
They both take design inspiration from the USAF McDonnell Douglas F-101 ‘Voodoo’ Supersonic Jet Fighter. Which on December 12th 1957 attained the world record for fastest airspeed of 1207.6 mph. Since the brand was so popular with US servicemen and the brand being established a year earlier I am presuming this was the link for these models.
The model I requested for review was the P-101. Please note I have not been given this watch to keep and will be returned to O&W. So I am not going to be swayed by ownership of this model.
However, I do own a couple of O&W models and so was interested to compare with these latest releases under the new ownership. I was also more interested in the feature of a ‘Poor persons GMT’ in the form of the 12hour bi-directional free rotating bezel of the P-101. OK, I’ll admit it. I wasn’t sure how to operate the computational bezel of the P-104 😉
So starting with the dimensions and specifications of the P-101;
+ 316L Stainless steel with all surfaces brushed and assembled in Jura Switzerland.
(90% of components are of Swiss origin)
+ Case width: 39.5mm (without screw-down crown)
+ Case length: 49.5mm
+ Case thickness (inc. Sapphire AR coated Crystal): 12.5mm
Lug width: 20mm
+ Stainless steel engraved screw-down caseback
+ Movement is an ETA2824-2 Elaboré grade Adjusted in 3 positions with Custom OW machined Rotor and engraved mainplate.
+ 20mm Italian thick thread stitched Leather with brushed & engraved buckle
Includes leather suede pouch and Italian Kraft paper card box.
+ 3 Year Warranty against manufacturing defects.
Now we’ve got that out the way I’d like to give you my initial impressions upon it’s unboxing and what I found in the early days of experiencing the watch.
The paper card box is just right. I have acquired a few watches now, and whilst it’s nice to get an ornate wooden or leather box. Some go overboard with the size and cost of said box. I’m looking at you Omega AND Longines. Jeez! One could pack them for a weekend trip they are so monstrous. Plus there is always the argument that I’d rather have production costs spent on the watch and not the packaging. So it’s refreshing to get a compact yet perfectly protective card box. Makes storage less of an issue too. There is a little leather handled magnetic clasp to keep it shut (magnet close to a mechanical watch though?) and inside the watch is contained in a nice dark grey soft suede leather pouch. Also included is a glossy black credit card style 3 Year warranty card.
Taking the watch out I noticed it has a heft to it but not overly so. According to my digital scales, coming in at 94g on the provided leather strap. It just feels so solid. The first thing that strikes you is the all brushed design. Everything is finely brushed including the hands (oh boy do I love those hands). Also the engravings on the case back, crown and buckle is deep and highly machined looking giving the watch an industrial tough look and fitting with the military watches of the 1960s and 1970s.
The other is the matte dark grey dial with a very clean and highly legible layout. Just the right amount/size of text with a framed date window at the 6 (with a colour-matched date wheel, YES!! Why can’t other manufacturers of more expensive watches get this right?).
There are brushed metal baton markers at the 12, 3, 6 and 9. With the remaining indices painted. However, only the metal applied markers are lumed. One could argue, that since this is of an Aviation theme and not a dive watch. Having the only lume at the compass points is a good thing for legibility at night in the cockpit of your fighter jet 😉 The lume is not as bright as I would have liked but it does last. Another thing I observed about the lume is that there is a slight colour mis-match between the ‘aged look’ lume on the dial and the lume applied on the hands. With the hands being a bit ‘greener’ looking than the ‘mustard’ looking plots on the dial. Not a deal-breaker just a bit odd.
Moving onto the hands. I am really liking these bold chunky paddle-shaped baton hands especially the minute hand. With it being broken up into little squares. It reminds me of an aircraft instrument panel indicator or Runway markings. They are all heavily brushed which goes well with the overall finish of the case. I know some will not like the blunt end to the hands when lining up with the minute markers but because the minute hand reaches out to meet the makers it is easy to perfectly align them. The arrowhead second hand meets all my criteria with not being too long and not too short. Again no problems when hacking to get the time set.
Now for the GMT Bezel. It is PVD stainless steel and is engraved and painted with a mixture of 12 hour numerals and baton markers. It is bi-directional and freely rotating. Thankfully there is just the right amount of tension as to not move it by accident but it would have been nice to have a more reassuring 60-click bi-directional? Another thing I think that would have been nice? If the bezel numerals had been lumed. Allowing you to tell which timezone you were in at night. Again, not a deal-breaker but just would have made it stand out from other 12 hour GMT bezels and added a feature. It is well constructed and balanced in size to the rest of the watch.
OK, the crown is pretty awesome too! It’s big, easy to grip, has a solid feel and reminds me of the look of a Tudor crown with that little collar that stands it off the side of the case. Deeply engraved with the O&W logo and brushed of course.
Something I wasn’t expecting was a unique feature to the spring bar holes. Yes, they are drilled BUT there is a second set hiding in there that are close in to the case. At first I was like WTF? As when I decided to ‘play’ with some alternative straps (you know me and my strap/bracelet obsessions). I also didn’t want to mark the included leather strap when reviewing.
So imagine my surprise when inserting a spring bar tool into the drilled lugs only to find nothing happening. Odd I thought, but then it struck me. This is flipping genius! I wish you could have this on all watches that have a longer lug. I’m thinking of Hamilton here. I often look down at the chasm between a two piece strap and the bottom edge of the case thinking why so much space?! This dual system allows you to more strap options and avoids any rubbing of a thick leather against the bottom of the case. It also brings in the overall lug length for a more comfortable fit on smaller wrists like mine. Well done O&W, well done.
In the end, you are getting a solid, well-finished case with 300m WR, an ‘above-the-basic’ ETA Base 2824 movement and utilising Elaboré and Top grades. With most parts sourced and made in Switzerland (90%) that pays tasteful tribute to the Military / Aviation design of previous O&W watches at an affordable price. Especially compared to some other Swiss brands. That is what Albert Wajs strived for. So it looks like the hidden gem of a brand that is Ollech & Wajs is in good hands and I can only see them continuing on the philosophy of what attracted me to them. I really don’t want to have to ship it back. Keep up the good work folks!
Sources of information about the brand. Some images from google images of the F-101 Aircraft and press releases from O&W etc.