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Review: Oris ProDiver Date

The dive watch is unfamiliar to neither Oris nor watchmaking in general, a staple of the industry since the 1950s and a favourite of buyers today. But despite a number of weird and wonderful dive watches that have come and gone over the years, there really are only so many ways to skin a cat. The Oris ProDiver Date, however, is one of the more unusual ways.

Oris is no stranger to the dive watch game. As the ever-popular Divers Sixty-Five demonstrates, the company has been making watches that can get properly wet since the middle of last century. Despite fifty years of separation, Oris’ modern Aquis diver hasn’t really evolved much from its great granddaddy, approaching the solemn task of keeping its operator alive in pretty much the same way.

Ever since 1953’s Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, whose design was concocted in partnership with French Navy Special Forces captain Robert Maloubier, the basic formula for the dive watch has been set in stone. You’ve got your waterproof seals, crown included with guards either side for protection, luminous dial, nice and clear, secure strap and—last but not least—the timing bezel. If you want your diver to go extra deep, you might want a helium escape valve as well, but that’s for saturation diving really.

It’s the bezel that’s worth exploring a little bit more here, because credit where credit’s due, it’s a really simple way of providing a pretty complex tool. With our iDevices on hand twenty-four-seven, we don’t give the humble bezel quite the credit it’s due anymore, but when you break down this simple little mechanism, it’s really quite remarkable.

In its purest form, a bezel exists simply to protect a watch’s crystal. Particularly when crystals were made from acrylic or mineral glass, both of which are more easily damaged than sapphire, the bezel is the last line of defence in preventing a smashed glass and—especially for diving—an ineffective watch.

Oris was founded by Paul Cattin and Georges Christian in 1904, Hölstein, Switzerland

Oris was founded by Paul Cattin and Georges Christian in 1904, Hölstein, Switzerland

The turning bezel upped the ante by giving it a secondary purpose, and was first seen on a Longines patent from 1929 for a watch built for US Navy officer Philip Van Horn Weems. Weems wasn’t interested in the watch for diving, however—the Aqua-Lung, the world’s first self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, was still another thirteen years off. Weems was an aviator and a navigator—he taught Charles Lindbergh how to find his way through the air—and the advent of flight required the development of an instrument that could keep a pilot on course.

With wristwatch accuracy sub-par in the 1920s, and a thirty-second discrepancy sending a plane off course by as much as seven miles, Navy pilots used Weems’ design to align the turning seconds bezel with a series of beeps broadcast over the radio, to make sure their watches were synced to perfection. If you’ve ever wondered why the talking clock beeps, now you know.

It wasn’t long before the power of this simple device found its way onto the case of a Rolex, namely the 1937 Zerographe—Rolex’s first chronograph, and a concept watch of which only handful exist. Again, the bezel was split into sixty, only this time, and for the first time, it was used to give the watch the ability to record elapsed time.

And it’s this timing function that found its way into the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, the Rolex Submariner—and many thousands of other dive watches along the way. Simply aligned with the minute hand, it acts as a chronograph, measuring time from zero as the watch ticks on. For instances where split second accuracy isn’t needed, a turning bezel is capable of providing all the complexity of a chronograph mechanism—but with just a single component.

Oris watches can cost anywhere between 1 and 10 thousand pounds

Oris watches can cost anywhere between 1 and 10 thousand pounds

The turning bezel hasn’t remained as rudimentary as it once was, all those years ago. The very first were smooth, bidirectional turning mechanisms with no refinement whatsoever, gumming up and getting jammed, or knocked—or knocked off completely. But with time came improvement..

It was the Fifty Fathoms and Captain Maloubier that brought the idea of the unidirectional bezel to the table. His elite divers didn’t just rely on the bezel to know where they were going, or when to do something—they were committing their very lives to their watches. Underwater, when air is limited, a diver needs to know exactly when time is going to run out.

So, the captain propositioned the idea of a notched ratchet that allowed the bezel to be turned in one direction, but not the other. Thus, the time elapsed could be accidentally increased, alerting the diver to return sooner, and not decreased, leaving the diver to his briny fate.

It’s kind of been like that ever since. A modern Submariner bezel, replete with shiny, scratchproof ceramic, still functions in exactly the same way. As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And that’s where Oris’ ProDiver comes in. Given this watch’s 49mm girth, chunky titanium case and 1,000m water resistance, it’s no shallow end pretender. You’ll die long before this watch does.

Oris recommend that it's watches are serviced every 3 to 5 years

Oris recommend that it's watches are serviced every 3 to 5 years

It’s got the helium escape valve, the locking clasp with expanding strap to fit it over your dive suit, fat, luminous markers and a crown guard that could crack a man’s skull. As bits of kit go, it’s not up for a bit of light fun—it’s serious. Wearing it swimming is an insult. Wearing it in the shower is practically a crime. It’s either the bottom of the ocean or not at all.

Here comes the bizarre bit. It seems Oris is so keen to impress this seriousness that it’s taken some very extreme precautions to make sure the ProDiver is used correctly. Like I said, most diving bezels will turn just the one way, but with the Oris ProDiver, it turns both—except that it doesn’t actually turn either. Grip the deeply scalloped bezel edge and twist—and it does turn freely—and the bezel itself goes nowhere. You can spin it round and round, in either direction, and all that’ll happen is you’ll get RSI.

So, what gives? The scalloped bezel edge does, but not as you’d expect. Pull it away from the watch and you’ll hear a snap. It’s not broken. It’s supposed to do that. By lifting the bezel edge up and away from the bezel, the bezel itself is now free to turn—still in just the one direction, mind. I don’t know what the conversation was between the Oris lawyers when it came to making the ProDiver, but they weren’t taking any chances.

With the bezel set, the edge is pushed back into place, again with a snap, and now the bezel is locked, the edge free-spinning once more. Oris calls it the “Rotation Safety System” and claims that it has been tested to the watch’s full depth of 1,000m—but considering the prototype Rolex Deep Sea Challenge travelled 11,000m down to the deepest part of the ocean, and that had a standard bezel, it’s probably overkill.

So, there you have it. Despite over a century of the industry using the same bezel design, and a half-century of using it to dive with, the Oris ProDiver demonstrates that not every idea has already been thought of. The Rotation Safety System is a bizarre addition to this incredibly capable dive watch, one that deserves highlighting just because it’s so strange. Sure, it does its job and prevents accidental tweaking to the same degree of overkill as a chastity belt, but really, it’s a problem that didn’t need solving. But you know, I’m kind of glad they did.

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