Hands up anyone who’s heard of Ollech & Wajs? Anyone? Does anyone even know how it’s pronounced? “Olletch & Wadge”, “Olletch & Wagdes”, “Olleck & Weiss”? (It’s actually “Olleck & Vice”, as in Miami.)
The Zurich-based watch brand has been in continuous production for almost 70 years but that it isn’t a household name is hardly surprising. The words ‘Ollech & Wajs’ have never actually appeared on a single watch dial or case back.
From its inaugural range in 1958 to its current collection, Ollech & Wajs watches have only ever been signed with a two letter monogram: ‘OW’, framed by a propellor motif. The words ‘Ollech & Wajs’ have on occasion been stamped into the movement, but rarely seen by anyone other than a watchmaker.
Yet despite an oblique approach to branding Ollech & Wajs has for several decades had something of a cult-like following of professional and recreational divers, aviators, soldiers and subsequently vintage watch collectors and connoisseurs, David Beckham amongst them, according to The Daily Telegraph.
The OW Astrochron
Since it was founded in 1956, OW has consistently (if quietly) produced exceptionally durable and highly water-resistant tool watches designed for use in the world’s most challenging environments.
Its current models are evolved from lines that were first introduced in the 1960s. The 1965 Navichron Ref. 2002 and 1967 Astrochron ref. 2003 were amongst the first chronographs water resistant enough to be used for diving. As well as scuba divers, with its split-second scales and timers, the Astrochron was also highly regarded by and worn by NASA’s Apollo-era medical and rocket scientists.
The contemporary versions continue to set the standard for impermeability. Very few chronographs are guaranteed to 500 m (50ATM) a depth rating exceeding that of most so-called ‘dive’ watches.
The OW Navichron
The OW C-1000
As impressive as 500 m water resistance is, it’s paddling in the shallows compared to what the OW C-1000 and OW Ocean Graph are capable of.
Back in 1963, Ollech & Wajs released the record obliterating ‘Precision Caribbean 1000’: the first commercial dive watch to be certified to 1000 m (100ATM), the equivalent of a breathtaking kilometre beneath the surface.
None of the big brands of the day had ventured anywhere close to that depth; indeed it is beyond the depth that most fish can survive. The OW C-1000, which re-surfaced in 2019, pays tribute to this landmark piece of dive watch history.
The OW Ocean Graph
The comparatively colourful OW Ocean Graph, like its late 1960s forebear, is fitted with a decompression bezel, to time a safe assent to the surface after dives of 30m or below.
Interesting to note the OW Ocean Graph, as with all of OW’s contemporary models, is inspired by and derived from the original rather than a modern day clone. OW’s approach is to build on and evolve its most successful lines rather than simply reissue exact copies.
The OW 8001
Even OW’s latest release, the 8001 – a more brutalist version of the chic 1973 integrated bracelet sports watch, though not technically a dive watch – is more water resistant than any Swiss dive watch launched this year.
It’s also OW’s first COSC-certified model of the modern era.
Rock ‘n’ Roll and Lock ‘n’ Load
If anything, the name Ollech & Wajs is more likely to resonate in the US than the UK, largely due to it winning the hearts and minds of Vietnam-era military personnel. Contrary to popular belief, very few US soldiers were issued with watches and those were very susceptible to water ingress in the humidity of the jungle.
So between 1965 and the early 70s, thousands of young GIs ordered Ollech & Wajs dive watches direct from Switzerland at discounted prices, often arriving with a generous gift of Swiss chocolate. Those same models were on the wrists of aquanauts, astronauts, Arctic explorers and even the odd rock ‘n’ roll legend. Bass player Jack Bruce, for example, was rarely photographed without his trusty OW chronograph Suisse during the Cream years.
Wearing an OW isn’t going to make you the guy in the room with the most famous logo on his watch, but you will almost certainly have a few hundred meters water resistance on anyone. And therein lies the unique appeal of this little known Swiss brand.
(However you prefer to say it).
Take a deep dive into the history of Ollech & Wajs here >