January 29, 2023

The story in a second

From the bright and shiny press pics, to the patinated reality, the bronze Carl Brashear from Oris is one of the buzziest watches released this year.

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We had thought, towards late 2015, that the watch world had reached peak bronze. The uncommon material, pioneered by Panerai and Anonimo seemed to be everywhere – from dive watches to pilots. Well, we got that one wrong. The bronze age continues unabated, with two premier dive watch releases: the bronze evolution of Tudor’s Black Bay, and this limited edition take on the Divers Sixty-Five, the Carl Brashear Limited Edition. Both are variations on a theme – a 40-odd-millimetre diver with a heritage twist. But for all the similarities it’s remarkable how different these two pieces look – the Tudor is brawny, while the Oris is beautiful. Inspired by the story of Carl Brashear, the US naval diver famously portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jnr in Men of Honor, this is a textbook example of what a well-done limited edition looks like.

The case

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This watch is almost identical to the 42mm steel Divers Sixty-Five – except, of course, for the case. And what a difference that makes. But before we get into how the case makes us feel, let’s briefly backtrack to the why and the what. Bronze is an alloy of copper, tin and other metals (typically aluminium or zinc). What that means is that it’s heavier than steel, and slightly harder – but the main drawcard for watch lovers is the fact it rapidly oxidises, effectively giving the metal a corrosion-resistant layer – hence it being the material of choice for marine environments.

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So, even though a bronze watch comes out of the box looking like shiny gold, moisture in the air quickly dulls the sheen, and an interesting patina starts to develop. And it’s here that things start getting interesting. The watch we photographed has been used by Oris as a marketing piece since Baselworld, so it’s been worn and passed around many hands in its short life. And this is how it looks. There’s heavy patina on parts of the case that see regular human contact, such as the lugs and bezel, which has been polished off almost completely in areas that get the most attention, such as the crown. Meanwhile, in hard-to-reach nooks and crannies – such as the tops of the lugs right near the bezel and the recessed spaces around the bezel numerals – the finish is much like new.

What this means is that, over time, each watch becomes unique to the wearer. The Carl Brashear worn by an office worker in Singapore will look remarkably different to one worn by a tradie in Sydney. But of course some people take things further. If you aren’t content to wait and see how your watch patinas naturally, you can take matters into your own hand, throwing acidic and alkaline materials such as eggs and vinegar fuming into the mix to artificially hurry things along. And if you don’t like the result? You can easily clean it off with common household ingredients like lemon juice and bi-carb soda.

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An extreme example of patina acquired using vinegar fuming. Image: instagram.com/lordshapleigh

The individuality and vintage aesthetic of bronze is at the heart of the appeal of the Carl Brashear, and it’s this almost infinite capacity for personalisation – far beyond that offered by any other case material – that makes bronze watches so much fun. In particular, Oris’s choice of solid bronze bezel is smart, as it really highlights the effect of the patina, which would have been far less apparent had they gone for the more traditional bezel insert. It’s also a nice touch that the bronze was extended to the crown, when many brands opt for an off-the-shelf (and therefore cheaper) steel crown.

The dial

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Even with a beautiful case, there are plenty of bronze watches out there that fall short thanks to a sub-par dial. The dial on the Carl Brasher, though, is top-notch. A dark, oceanic blue, it ties nicely into the Carl Brashear narrative, and looks great contrasted against the bronze case and rose-gold and cream coloured hands and indices.

The movement

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Like the other Divers Sixty-Five models, the Carl Brashear uses a Selitta 200-1, an automatic workhorse based on the ETA 2824.

The straps

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Given that bronze leaves a green mark on the skin over time, a bracelet of the same material is out of the question – and it’s also why the caseback on the Carl Brashear is steel. Instead, the watch comes on a handsome (albeit awkwardly sized 21mm) dark leather strap with contrasting stitching and a bronze buckle – not a typical choice for a dive watch, but then again this isn’t a typical dive watch.

The verdict

The Carl Brashear has all the elements in place to make it one of the most in-demand watches of 2016. It builds on the popularity of the original Sixty-Five, adding in an interesting case material, a sexily updated design and a heart-warming back story, along with the cachet of a limited edition. All for a distinctly accessible price. It’s been a marketing coup for Oris, which continues to punch well above its weight.

Talking point

Want to hear about that time I chucked my watch in a bag of egg yolks?

Who’s it for?

Watch guys who want to have the latest buzz watch.

What would we change?

It would have been nice if Oris also shipped the watch with a dive-friendly strap, perhaps a tropic-style rubber option?

Oris Carl Brashear Limited Edition Australian pricing and availability

Oris Carl Brashear Limited Edition, limited to 2000 pieces, $3750.