I have said before that I am no watch snob, and this is evidenced by some of the cheaper (affordable) watches I have in my collection. In the main, these either have an interesting story to tell or an innovation that appeals. So, over the past year or so I have found myself buying some inexpensive pieces – usually from the 60’s or 70’s.
A very recent example that I bring to your attention is this Ollech & Wajs (OW) digital piece. I found it in an antique centre (location a secret because it is an interesting source that I want for myself!!) where I have latterly obtained a few intriguing morsels. Anyway, in this case my eye was drawn to the unusual “jumping” hour window, along with the minute and seconds indications.
I had heard of O&W before (Wajs is apparently pronounced Weiss – white in English of course), but frankly was not too au fait with their history. After probing the internet there is not too much to be fair, but their current website is informative – particularly regarding stories of people who bought their original watches. Anyway, Joseph Ollech and Albert Wajs were friends and started the Zurich based business in 1956 – initially as a retailer for Breitling and Omega. Then from around 1962, they started producing their own watches – mainly with a military/sports bias, and using established third parties for components. In fact in the late 60’s – early 70’s the former type was very popular with US forces in Vietnam and therefore production of up to 10,000 pa was occurring. The brand appears to have survived the quartz crisis of the 70s/80s, and soldiered on, still producing, but down to 2000 mechanical pieces a year. Interestingly, in 1978, Navitimer parts were sourced by O&W from old friend Willi Breitling, whose company was ailing. These were recycled as essentially Navitimers, but under the O&W Aviation name! Ollech passed away in 2000 and then in 2017, with production low, Wajs decided to call it a day and retired. As I understand it, a past good customer who had then become their French agent (Charles Le Menestrel) acquired the business and relaunched it in 2019. Today, O&W have some half dozen models drawing mainly from their old military/sports inventory. These seem of pretty decent quality and design and at reasonable prices. I personally really like the Navichron chronograph and may try and get one, but, according to the website, it is currently out of stock!
After I bought the watch (pretty low three figures – no accompaniments) I set about cleaning it, as the case was a bit tarnished and the dial had some dirt on it. I successfully dealt with both, despite the latter obviously required movement removal so that was a little nerve-wracking! Although the case has some very minor scratches, after some hand polishing it cheered it up no end, and the dial is much better too. The watch is running very well so all is good.
The watch screams 70’s, by the cushion case shape and of course the digital displays. The case seems to be gold plated with a size of some 36mm x 10mm. The dial is silvered and finely brushed. There are three windows: From the top the jumping hours, then a minute wheel and finally a running seconds display. One can pick up reading the watch quickly – provided numeracy is OK! The case back is a solid screw down type, and once inside a work horse AS 1902 movement is revealed. It has 17 jewels and runs at 21600 vph for some 42 hours. However, it cannot be that standard and must have had some re-engineering to facilitate the three displays. There was little more to glean from the watch itself – such as a model or serial reference, so I needed to try elsewhere for information.
I decided to Google and hoped that would come to my aid. Well how wrong I was. I tried all sorts of descriptions/names, but nothing at all came up – bearing in mind also that I still had no model name or reference. Not a peep. Not one image! Incidentally, although the dial says Precision that is not the name of the model as most O&W watches say this. So, rather cheesed off, I studied the current O&W website again and deduced an email contact address – rather than using the rather impersonal “contact form” so common these days. I briefly explained who I was and why I was communicating and included a photo of the watch. Frankly, when I fire off such things the success rate can be poor with either no reply at all or a fob-off. Not so here though. The next day I received a nice response from O&W’s marketing head, Vincent Fremont. He thanked me for the enquiry and explained that my watch was reference 71047 and was produced in the early 70’s. He also mentions that it is “very rare and special”!! Vincent also kindly sent me an image from an old sales brochure which shows a selection of watches – including my one. By the way, does the left hand reference 71045 ring any bells? Vincent also invited me to contact Charles directly. I have in fact just done so, posing a few questions about the origins and manufacturing of the watch. I shall update the article as required.
At the moment I am enjoying the watch and it’s unusual but quite logical display. As mentioned earlier, I did not pay much for the watch, but based on the information received am confident it is worth a bit more, which is always a bonus. As O&W seem to be producing watches based on their past catalogue, if they need an example of this one then I am sure we can do a deal – a bit like Patek who acquire rare pieces for their museum. Yes, I know, the value may be somewhat less!
Except where noted, words/images: The Writer.