Orion offers a somewhat quirky take on the pilot watch...
There are those that (not unjustly) deride microbrand watches as simply built from a catalogue of parts.
But that’s definitely not the case when it comes to Orion watches. It’s because Nick Harris, the man behind the brand, is a fully trained watchmaker who made a name for himself modding Seiko watches.
It’s therefore fair to say that he knows a little bit about how to make a really cool and unique watch.
Nick has kindly lent us one of his Hellcats with the F6F Blue dial. Both the model and the colour take their name from the famous Grumman F6F Hellcat, an American carrier-based fighter plane that entered service in 1943. As you might guess the shade of blue used on the watch matches that used on the planes early in their service.
The Orion Hellcat - What It Does
The Hellcat is based off a pilot’s watch layout. The screw-down crown is unguarded for easy manipulation, legible Arabic numerals have been used for the markers, and a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal protects the dial.
The watch has a solid 100m water resistance and a screw down crown, which will be more than adequate for what most people will need. The crown is exceptionally easy to grip thanks to its size, and the knurling on its edge.
The watch uses a Miyota 9015 automatic movement for the date version, or the 9039 for the no date. A Miyota 9 series is the expected movement choice for a watch that retails for $650, and Miyota are well-known for making affordable, quality, movements.
With a retail price of $650, the Hellcat makes for a compelling offering for anyone after a sleek, but distinctive sports watch.
Hands On Thoughts
Whilst I can see the similarities to aviation watches, with a 39mm case the Hellcat feels much more like a field watch to me. I do however think that 39mm is the perfect size for the watch, and it looks great on my slim 6.25-inch wrist. It’s also a delightfully slim watch and is just 10.5mm thick. What’s more, the case back is slightly curved so that it sits completely flush with the wrist. It’s small details like this that show the care and attention Nick put into the design.
The blasted finish of the case gives off a nicely toolish aesthetic, but the polished chamfers and top of the bezel add enough formality to put the watch firmly into smart-casual territory. The bracelet has a similar finish and is completely blasted apart from a polished undercut to the centre of each link. The effect this has on the overall look is striking, and it’s a clever way of adding detail to a fairly minimalist bracelet design. The fold-over clasp is standard and adorned with the Orion logo.
When it comes to legibility the Hellcat is extremely easy to read. The crystal doesn’t give off too many reflections, even in bright light, and the dial is uncluttered and easy to read. This is even more impressive given that the dial’s design is also so unique. With a lot of pilot or field watches you can usually see which more famous pieces they’ve drawn inspiration from, but that’s not the case here. That’s hardly surprising though, because the Hellcat features a unique typeface designed solely for and by Orion.
Watch Straps For The Orion Hellcat
Whilst I love the bracelet design for the Hellcat, I couldn't help but try the watch on a few of our own straps. Fortunately the blue dial of the watch pairs well with a plethora of watch straps, so I was spoilt for choice when it came to what to choose.
The Corfinio Gabardine Recycled Fabric Watch Strap
As the Hellcat is named after a fighter plane, I wanted to pair the blue dial with a green strap to give the watch a bit of a military feel. The Corfino Gabardine strap comes in the perfect shade to complement the watch, and it's also environmentally friendly to boot! Made from a recycled fabric which has an attractive gabardine twill weave pattern, the strap keeps the Hellcat looking smart, whilst offering a slightly more casual look. You can get your own Corfino Gabardine strap here!
The Premium Seatbelt Military Nylon in Grey
As a tool watch, the Hellcat looks right at home on a military strap. And what better strap choice than one of our Premium Seat Belt Nylons? The grey option pair particularly well with the Orion. The nylon used has a smooth finish that doesn't look too casual, but it's also thick enough to keep the watch secure. The strap also has a floating keeper, which you can adjust to secure however much or little excess strap you have. You can check out our Premium Seat Belt Straps here.
The Kington Vintage Style Leather Dress Watch Strap - Shorter Length
We finish off our trio of straps with a dressier leather option. The rich brown of the chestnut Kington Vintage Leather Strap matches the blue dial beautifully, and makes the perfect formal option. What's more, the strap comes with quick-release spring bars, so it's easy to take on and off. Check out the full Kington range here.
What We’d Change
I’m pleased to say that if I was given the chance there’s not much I’d change about the Hellcat. Those things I would are more to suit my own tastes than anything else. Firstly, I wouldn’t mind a more intricate case back design. The current design is simply the constellation of Orion etched onto a plain surface, and it looks somewhat lacklustre. I think that the Orion logo deeply stamped onto the case back would look much nicer and make to watch feel much more premium.
And secondly, I’d like the Arabic numerals and handset to be a bit chunkier. Currently they’re a bit too dainty for a tool watch, and sit slightly at odds with the functional, bead-blasted case. Bigger numerals would allow for more lume too, which would improve overall legibility.
However, as I said, I am nit-picking somewhat. The long and short of it is that the Orion Hellcat is a mighty fine watch. Nick has gotten the size and design of the case and bracelet just right. With it’s discreet 39mm case, the Hellcat has a certain subtlety to it. Its matte finish doesn’t draw the eye, but once you do notice it you can’t help but admire the originality of the design.
The watch has some solid specifications too. The 100m water-resistance, sapphire crystal, and BGW9 Super-LumiNova are all great to see on tool watch costing $650. I’m sure watches with the same specs could be had for a lower price point, but when you factor in the originality of that design, I think the Hellcat is very well priced indeed.
For me, the Hellcat has achieved something very difficult in watch design. It looks far from generic, but at the same time fits right into that refined, “go anywhere, do anything” sports watch category. I tend to think of the Hellcat as a quirky alternative to the Explorer.
We’d like to thank Orion for sending us a Hellcat to review, and if you would like more information about the watch, you can visit their website here.