If you have read my earlier reviews, some of them are about watches and brands that really means a lot to me, that has the ability to make me feel like I’m in love. I know it’s soft and weird, but that’s how it is. The review that ends year one as a watchblogger and kicks the next one to life, is about the OW P-101 and OW P-104 from no other than Ollech & Wajs, the new Ollech & Wajs.
To explain the excitement and fear that run through my head, I’m comparing this to the time when Thierry Henry made his comeback for Arsenal, against Leeds in the FA Cup in 2012, and the return of Twin Peaks in 2017, 25 years after Laura Palmer told Dale Cooper she’d see him again in 25 years. Would they fail or would it all end in goosebumps and utter joy?
It’s time to see if the continuation of this legendary brand will make me go into the Lynch-Henry ecstasy or end up in the did-we-really-need-this category?
Instead of telling you the full story about Ollech & Wajs from 1956 until today, I’ll rather tell you how I discovered and got to know this Zürich-based cult-brand. As often before, it all began at eBay and even if I was a bit into vintage divers, Ollech & Wajs was completely unknown to me. Every time I stumbled over one of their watches, I was more and more intrigued by the tough and charming looks and I needed to check them out closer. Soon after, the gates opened, the gates that led me on a path towards true fascination.
As I was learning about their humble beginnings, their immense popularity amongst soldiers, the Breitling Navitimer connection, including brands like Patek Philippe and Sinn, the part about their diving watches was catching my interest the most. The way this became my favorite is a bit awkward, but funny as well. Being a naïve romantic, a bit undereducated in the history of diving watches and very good at visualizing stories in my head, for a moment I was in the Caribbean, watching Jenny, a Bo Derek-like watchmaker, living the sweet life in the hay days of diving, making supreme watches together with the guys from O&W, Doxa, Fortis, Aquadive and rest of those brands from that time. Surfing, diving and making rock solid diving watches at day, campfire and good vibrations at night. Those who know will probably have a laugh right now and those who don’t know, you need to dig into the history of the Caribbean watches, just as I did…
A few years after discovering O&W, for some reason they slowly disappeared from my radar as my focus was set on discovering new brands, histories and gems. Time went by and after I lost myself into all kind of rarities, without actually enjoying my time, returning to what I knew and loved was an easy option. My hunger for discovering more from Ollech & Wajs put me onto a long online journey, ending on a quite cheesy web page selling a lot of their watches. No images, only black letters on a baby-blue background, telling a little bit about the models and a place to register my credit card. I thought this had to be a fan-page not being finished or a site made by a hustler not knowing his trade very well. Right before I was to leave the site and probably never return, I discovered an email address at the bottom. Since I was in love with the brand, for a second time, I wanted to give it a shot. I sent an email, telling about my feelings for the brand and that I was interested in buying more watches. Days went without any reply and I thought this was a dead end. But then, after a couple of weeks, a new email popped up in my inbox, from a guy apologizing for the late response. He was very thankful for my love for the brand, but he had some disappointing news. The time as a watchmaker was coming to an end due to his failing eyesight and the company were to be sold. Once more he thanked me for my email and wished me the best. The email was from Mr. Wajs himself. Now, as then, I get very emotional by this episode. Spending so much time in the Ollech & Wajs universe, enjoying every bit of it, from my Jenny on the Caribbean beach to the cheesy site I stumbled across, it all ended within a snap of a finger. Suddenly I felt being a part of it all, as close I ever was to be, but still so far away. In my mind I saw the entire story, just like a movie, from the beginnings in 1956 to the end, an end that was happening in front of my eyes. I was sitting by myself for a couple of minutes, staring into the open air, wiping away some gentle tears. The whole thing was too much to handle…
In 2017, when Albert Wajs agreed to transfer his business, it was handed over to a long time O&W collector and distributor for the French market since 2005. On paper, this transaction was the best thing that could happen, but would the new path be a path where O&W’s soul and DNA was contained at the same time as the watches were to evolve in a new direction? Finally, if you’re still here, it’s time to take a closer look at the watches, the OW P-101 and OW P-104.
Both models share the same base, a brushed stainless-steel case measuring 39,56mm across, 49,5mm from lug to lug, 12,5mm from top to bottom and 20mm between the lugs. The 300m water resistance is secured by a screw-down crown and caseback. In front you’ll find a bidirectional, ceramic bezel and a box shaped sapphire crystal.
Inside the watch an adjusted and modified ETA 2824-2 OW3 with an engraved main plate and a delicious OW machined rotor. The power reserve is set to approximately 38 hours, but don’t be surprised if it will tick for some more hours. The watches are assembled by hand in the Swiss Jura and keeping the O&W traditions alive, over 90% of the components are Swiss made. The straps and leather come from Britain, while the Kraft paper for the outer box is from Italy.
Let’s take a closer look at each model, starting with the P-101, which name is a homage to the MC Donnell F-101, the first service fighter jet capable of exceeding 1000mph, the same year as Ollech & Wajs began their journey. With its functional and legible layout, stainless steel case, oversized lugs, large crown, 12-hour bezel and military roots, the P-101 is a tribute to all the soldiers who chose to use an O&W as a survival tool in combat. A matt, grey dial with baton indexes, applied ones at 3, 6, 9 and 12, date window at six and a set of very interesting hands, especially the minute hand with its eight small squares, filled with Super LumiNova. Together with the yellowish indexes and numerals on the ceramic bezel, the soft, brown leather strap adds a nice, vintage feel to the P-101.
As the OW P-104 shares all the measurements and specs, the difference lies in design, colors and functionality. Inspired by the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, this watch has a more modern, practical and more flamboyant appearance. With its circular slide rule, the P-104 is a fine successor to the old Selectron models. The dial’s layout is as the P-101’s, but the grey, stationary scale at the outer edge makes the appearance a little smaller. The P-104 is mostly black with white details, but hands, indexes and a slim frame inside the date window is bright orange. The minute hand has the same design as the one on the P-101, but with a black and orange checkered pattern. Due to the size of the stationary scale, there was no room for a lumed-up, applied index below the date window at six. The way that “issue” is solved is one of my favorite details, especially at night, when the frame inside the date window glows, alongside the small triangles around 3, 9 and 12.
The P-101 and P-104 are high-quality watches, but what about the parts that could have been better? They exist, but there aren’t many of them. The two things that, in my opinion, could have been improved, are the packaging and the lume. I like the design and thoughts behind the wrapping, the down to earth simplicity, the celebration of the old, classic models printed on the box and the brown envelope, reminding us of the old mail-order days. After many years as a fan, I know Ollech & Wajs isn’t about extravagant boxes and vast amounts of accessories, but I would love to see them step it up, just a notch or two, to get the small details matching the quality of the watches. The soft leather pouch is superb and as the years go by, I think that’s the part of the packaging you’ll end up saving.
When it comes to the lume, neither the P-101 or the P-104 will win the #fridaynightlumebattle. By using orange, the glow of the P-104 is on the lower part of the luminescence scale and since the painted parts are a bit minimalistic compared to many modern torches, it doesn’t get a maximum score for its brightness. The P-101 uses a color that shines brighter and longer, making it glow a bit better. As I mentioned earlier, I do like the vintage way the lume is presented. It looks tactical and with a purpose, but an extra layer of paint would give it a needed punch.
So, to sum it all up, has the new Ollech & Wajs managed to give me that Henry-Lynch ecstasy? I always worry when my heroes are coming back, the thought of seeing them fail and crumble to the ground is almost too much for a fragile enthusiast. Looking at the OW P-101 and the OW P-104, I will not call this a rebirth or a reappearance of a legendary brand, this is a continuation. This transition is one of the smoothest I’ve seen for a long time, keeping the tradition, soul and DNA intact and at the same time develop the design in a modern direction. Actually, it’s so smooth I’ll bet the ones that discover the brand for the first time these days, wouldn’t be able to tell there’s been a change at all.
Ollech & Wajs still is Ollech & Wajs, in every aspect, and it even seems like I’ll have my Caribbean fling as the new OW C-1000 is coming to life, deep inside the O&W facilities in Zürich. The future looks bright!