Cast your mind back to the 1990s. I was wearing cargo pants and listening to Nirvana while pretending to study. Other, more serious, people were probably hard at work while wearing watches that marked them out as forward-thinking individualists at the cutting-edge of business and technology. But I really don’t remember.
In many ways, the 1990s is the lost decade. We all have an idea of what 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s style looks like. But what about the 1990s? It’s still too familiar to be considered a golden age, yet too far back to be in any way contemporary.
The 1990s is the equivalent of a car that’s stuck in ‘pre-classic’ status. In years to come, the 90s will be looked back at as an era with its own distinct style and identity; nostalgia melding the once-familiar shapes and designs of the period into an aesthetically pleasing evocation of history.
For Oris, that moment is now. Which is why the Swiss company has given us the Holstein Edition 2022: a watch that is emphatically and unashamedly a tribute to the 1990s. Back when the Spice Girls were reaching their peak, this was the watch that you really, really wanted.
The Holstein Edition 2022 is a tribute to the Oris Full Steel World Timer, which first saw the light of day in 1998. For Oris, this was a special release, as it used the company’s then-new Calibre 690 movement, featuring two red ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ buttons on the case that could move the time forwards and backwards in one-hour jumps, changing the date too after midnight. This is faithfully re-evoked in the current model, with home time always remaining on the right-hand subdial, which also includes a daylight indicator, while the left subdial counts running seconds.
The new release is available in only 250 pieces (unusual for Oris, which tends to focus on larger production runs) but this is a Holstein edition – named after the Swiss brand’s home town – and they tend to do things differently for these rather special watches.
The Holstein watches, of which this is the third in the series, are the only ones with the Oris bear on the caseback, for example. And as the company’s maverick co-CEO Rolf Studer points out, how can you not love the Oris bear?
Studer was one of the driving forces behind this release, as the Full Steel World Timer was one of his favourite watches long before he joined Oris. He describes it as a “much-underrated design” and points at the movement as being a “landmark” in the industry. He’s also a big fan of the 1990s vibe that is successfully carried through the whole watch. “There’s something about the Full Steel that captures the experimental spirit of 1990s designs,” he says. “Think of the Lamborghini Diablo and it just makes you smile. The Full Steel is the same. And the 1990s was a much freer time than today. We weren’t so connected and we had much more reasonable expectations of each other, work, and how we build societies.”
So it’s clear that this latest watch from Oris – released to mark the company’s 118th birthday – is very much a nostalgia trip, in the eyes of the management at least. At the time, this was a cutting-edge design; there’s definitely a hint of the TAG Heuer 6000 to the case shape too (check out the blue dial version to see the similarity) made famous by Ayrton Senna, who will be forever frozen in time as synonymous with the fast-paced 1990s.
But for all the history, it has to be a practical watch today too. And this is where the new Oris starts to polarise opinions. It’s an unusual size, at 36.5mm, but it feels somewhat smaller; depending, of course, on the size of your wrist. This compromises legibility, especially for older eyes that have to strain a bit more to pick out the many complex details. As a result of the smaller face, the watch can feel dominated by the bracelet, but – along with a big crown – this is something of an Oris signature look, so it all comes down to subjective preferences. More than most watches, this is one whose look is heavily influenced by the physique of the wearer. And it's a physiological fact that in the 1990s, people used to be a lot more svelte than they are now. That’s why I tend to avoid mirrors.
The differences between then and now though are what mark the latest Holstein Edition out as very much a product of its time; entirely different to anything else currently on sale. And that lies at the heart of its appeal. It’s a watch that’s challenging, in a positive way, in the sense that it takes a little time to appreciate it fully, like an artwork that you have to think about. Is the look discreet – with its contained dimensions meaning that it blends into the background – or blatantly out there: inviting comment due to its unusual proportions, compared with more contemporary designs? The answer, to me at least, is not immediately clear.
Just like art too, it could well be that the heyday of this throwback watch is still to come, with the appreciation of its unique form set to increase in future years: especially given its limited edition status, which will appeal to collectors.
Whatever you think though, a watchmaker celebrating its traditions in such an unabashed way is something to smile about – just like the famous Oris bear, who is there on the presentation box and engraved on the case back to reach out to all generations and tastes. As Oris likes to point out, there’s no status to a teddy bear.
The box itself is a beautiful wooden sculpture that epitomises the Swiss brand’s values of nature and solidity, having been located in Holstein since 1904: the 118th anniversary that the company is now celebrating with this watch. It’s not cheap at £3250, but if you can’t go large on your birthday, when can you? Or should we say, go small?
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