This past winter (which now feels like five years ago instead of five months), I wrote about a special GMT diver from Oris that raised awareness for a threatened coral reef in the Florida Keys. The Carysfort Reef Limited Edition was a gold-cased take on the Aquis GMT at a decidedly un-Oris-like price of $ 19,000. Only 50 were made, three of which were donated for straight-up fundraising to the Coral Restoration Foundation. When it was announced, in the dead of a northern winter, the watch conjured memories of warm dives in the Keys, chasing elusive sharks among coral heads. Well, here we are at the end of June, and I’m craving a dive escape more than ever. Just in time, along comes the steel version of the Carysfort Reef Limited Edition.
I covered the genesis of Oris’ relationship with the Coral Restoration Foundation and the Carysfort Reef in my earlier article, and also interviewed the CRF’s Chief Development Officer on Episode 99 of The Grey NATO podcast, so I’ll direct you to those sources for further background. But since I’ve had a few weeks of hands-on time with this new steel edition, I’ll focus on my impressions of the watch here. Spoiler alert: Given the fact that I included the Aquis GMT on my list of “best dive watches of 2019,” suffice it to say I find little fault with this limited edition that’s based on it.
As I’ve written before, the combination of a dive watch with a GMT complication is a marriage made in heaven. Like a good supercar looks fast sitting still, a good GMT diver sitting on your wrist in New York, Toronto, or Minneapolis makes you think of faraway atolls and umbrella drinks. The iridescent blue dial, orange markings, and “spin the wheel” choice of world time zones on this Carysfort Reef LE does just that. And while these features are shared with the previous gold limited edition, the steel case does it even better. A gold dive watch does have a certain “Mel Fisher” Florida treasure hunter appeal, but I’d be more inclined to take a steel watch on far-flung adventures, not to mention it leaves more money for airfare.
The version Oris sent me came fitted on the steel bracelet with screwed links. It is also available (for $ 200 less) on a molded orange rubber strap with a fold-over clasp. While the latter is definitely more sporty and “Florida” to my eye (go Gators!), the steel bracelet has a more versatile and classic look and wears better on a sweaty summer wrist. As with most of Oris’ dive watches besides the Divers 65 family, NATO or aftermarket straps are not possible due to the proprietary lug system, so it’s a good thing the stock choices are excellent. The narrow attachment system for the band means no end links to speak of, giving the appearance of an integrated bracelet – all the rage these days. The clasp is of the two-button folding type, with a hidden dive extension. The smooth surface of the clasp means it will pick up scratches easily (we took the photos before extensive wear testing) but such is the nature of any metal bracelet clasp and a repository for adventure memories. “That scratch? Got that while spearfishing invasive lionfish on Carysfort…”
The dial is the real showpiece of this watch. Oris has used various shades of blue well over the past few years, including on the standard Aquis GMT, the gold Carysfort edition, and the last Great Barrier Reef LE. I’d say it’s become a bit of a calling card for the brand, and they do blue better than most. On the Carysfort Reef, it radiates out like the shimmering shafts of sunlight that filter down through tropical water, broken up by the inner 24-hour ring, which has daylight hours in orange and night time in white. Large polished hour markers add to the overall glitter.
With a GMT complication (powered by the Sellita-based Oris cal. 798), the fourth, orange-tipped hand, and this inner ring of hours, Oris could have used a standard elapsed time ring on the bezel, making this a two time-zone diver with full bottom timer capability. But, as on the Aquis GMT, they’ve fitted a bold 24-hour scale on the bi-color (blue/black) ceramic bezel. This configuration has pros and cons.
Having a second 24-hour ring on a bi-directional rotating bezel means you can actually track three time zones—one on the hour and minute hands, one on the inner ring, and a third on the bezel. I don’t know about you, but I’ve rarely found need to track three zones at once. Without an independently setting hour hand, you still have to hack the watch when your plane touches down (anyone remember that feeling?) to set local time and then either set the bezel to your home time, or set the GMT hand to home, or a third time zone if desired.
Using the bezel to track another time zone precludes its use as a dive timer, and with a 24-hour scale, though you can approximate elapsed time by setting the arrow to the minute hand, it’s not as “down to the minute” precise as a 60-minute bezel. I’d love to see an Aquis GMT with a dive bezel for true versatility: Set the GMT hand to a second time zone on the inner 24-hour ring and use the bezel to time your dives. But in reality, the overwhelmingly common use of dive computers these days means having a 300-meter water resistant GMT watch is more about not having to take your watch off when you back roll into the Gulf of Mexico than it is about avoiding the bends.
Flipping over the Carysfort Reef LE shows off a caseback that differentiates it from a standard Aquis. The textured central “medallion” shows a nicely engraved representation of three coral types that the Coral Restoration Foundation has been working to re-populate on the watch’s namesake reef. It’s a nicely intricate engraving that I prefer to a display of a ho-hum automatic movement and reminds me of some of the great dive watch engravings from the 1960s. Wear the watch tightly enough and you’ll get a fun temporary mark on your wrist too.
At 43.5 millimeters across, the Carysfort Reef LE is squarely in the “big dive watch” space. This is no slim retro diver. That said, those strap horns are stubby and downward sloping, giving the watch a very wearable 49-millimeter dimension across the wrist. Size the bracelet or rubber strap so the watch doesn’t move around a lot on your wrist and its heft will be less noticeable. If you like wearing watches looser, you’ll feel the weight of it, however. Three micro-adjustment notches on the clasp give ample wiggle room.
Oris as a brand has been making serious efforts recently to become a more ecologically minded company. Watches, by their nature, are long-lasting and non-disposable, but the peripheral components often are not, like straps and packaging. Oris has been trying to source vegetable-tanned leathers instead of chemically-tanned ones for its straps and is moving to recycled-material boxes. The box for the Carysfort Reef LE is made from compressed, sustainably sourced ocean algae instead of plastic or leather. The company’s fundraising and awareness campaigns for clean water and oceans, including the Coral Restoration Foundation, speak volumes about an ethos that trickles down from the top.
The Carysfort Reef may seem an odd choice for a limited edition Swiss dive watch to pay tribute: a rather obscure patch of coral off the southern U.S. coast. Most big brands go for more dramatic venues—the Galapagos, for example. But Oris, to me, has always represented a more “human scale” watch company, with its accessible prices, sensible complications, and workmanlike movements. Also on a very human scale is the work being done by the Coral Restoration Foundation, one coral stalk at a time, planted by hand. The Carysfort Reef is a microcosm of the global ocean environment, right there south of the Overseas Highway, a place you can see while snorkeling. The shallow waters are warm and clear, but also vulnerable to the runoff from one of America’s most populous states and bleaching of its shallow corals, and the results of both are clearly visible through a dive mask.
I’ve dived in the Florida Keys several times over the years, and it holds some good memories for me. It is nostalgic American vacationland past its prime. It was where American recreational diving got its start, where Flipper was filmed, and where past presidents fished. My first ocean wreck dive was on the sunken Spiegel Grove. I spent time in not one, but two underwater habitats in the Keys (Aquarius and Jules Undersea Lodge) and have played hide-and-seek with Goliath groupers and grey reef sharks on the very Carysfort Reef to which this Oris pays tribute. And while I won’t be getting down there again anytime soon, my weeks with this watch brought back fond memories of past adventures and spurred longings for future ones. Just like a good dive watch should.
The Carysfort Reef Limited Edition is limited to 2,000 pieces and can be purchased with either a stainless steel bracelet ($ 3,000) or orange rubber strap ($ 2,800). The watch is currently available. For more information, visit www.oris.ch.
Photography by Gishani Ratnayake.
Editor’s note: Watch companies sometimes announce new products to the HODINKEE editorial team and the HODINKEE Shop at the same time. Please note that the editorial team and the Shop team produce their content independently of each other.