It is not often that manufacturers announce a new movement, and as most know, there are excellent reasons for this. The movement, for all that it is often the least talked-about part of a watch, is of course what makes a watch a watch, and they’re extremely expensive to develop and to tool up to produce. Many so-called new movements are, in fact, variations on existing movements, and developing an entirely new in-house caliber is an expense that can easily take years and run into the millions of dollars (or yen, or francs, or euros, depending on where you’ve set up shop). As a consequence of the cost and time it takes, series-produced in-house movements are generally made by companies that are either part of a larger group, with a big war chest, or by individual companies with the resources (and money) that it takes to do it. All this is by way of saying that today’s announcement from Oris, of its new Caliber 400 self-winding, five-day, antimagnetic movement, is a big deal for the company and its fans.
Oris fans and movement nerds alike will know that this is, in fact, not the first in-house movement from Oris; that honor goes to the 2014 Caliber 110, which is a 10-day, hand-wound movement built around the large mainspring barrel necessary to provide the requisite power reserve. Since then, several variations on the 110 have been introduced. The 110 with power reserve and small seconds was followed by the 111 (with date window), the 113 (with date, month, week, and day of the week indications, as well as power reserve), the 114 (with independently adjustable 24-hour hand), and the 115 (which is a skeletonized version of the 114).
As you might reasonably expect from a 10-day movement, the 110 series calibers are fairly large, at 34mm, and the watches in which they have been introduced are correspondingly large as well (the Big Crown Pro Pilot, for example, is a 44mm watch – still not a behemoth by long power reserve standards). This has meant that the movements, and the watches in which they appear, tend to be slightly niche products, and there has long been room in the Oris movement lineup for an automatic caliber of more gracile proportions, which is suitable for use in a wider range of watches. Hence the new caliber 400.
In a pre-release discussion, Oris has said that the purpose of the design is to “solve problems,” and not just have an in-house movement for the sake of having an in-house movement. The long power reserve is intended as a convenience for the owner who is likely to have other watches (from Oris, one hopes) and who may wish to find a given watch still running after having it off the wrist for a few days, without going to the expense and trouble of buying a winder.
Power is delivered in the caliber 400 by two mainspring barrels, and the design of the gear train – including the gear teeth profiles, as well as that of the escapement – is intended to minimize energy losses due to friction and optimize efficiency. Oris says that the Caliber 400 delivers about 85% of the mainspring barrel torque, as opposed to an average of 70% in a conventional movement. This efficiency is enhanced by the use of a silicon lever and escape wheel, which interact with very low friction and which, of course, do not require lubrication (in this movement and others using the same solution, this contributes to better long term rate stability).
The movement, despite not using a silicon balance spring, has a total of 30 parts made of amagnetic materials, including the lever and escape wheel, as well as the axes of a number of critical components including the balance, escape wheel, and lever. All this means that the Caliber 400 is highly resistant to magnetism; it has been, says Oris, stress-tested to 2,250 gauss. The international standard for “antimagnetic” watches, says Oris, stipulates that for a watch to be called antimagnetic, it must exhibit a mean daily rate deviation of no more than ±30 seconds after exposure to a field with a strength of 200 gauss – the caliber 400 comfortably exceeds that, showing a variation in rate of only ±10 seconds a day after exposure to a 2,250 gauss field.
Interestingly enough, Oris has chosen to dispense with the usual ball bearings in the unidirectional-winding automatic winding system, having identified this as a typical point of failure in self-winding watch movements. Instead, they’ve opted for a sliding-friction clip system which rotates around a fixed pivot. While this might intuitively seem like a higher-wear and higher-stress design than would be afforded by the use of ball bearings, Oris is confident enough in it – and the other technical solutions in the movement – to offer a 10-year warranty, and also to offer a 10-year service interval; this is double the usual five-year recommendation (although as silicon and other high-tech materials solutions have crept into watchmaking over the last 20 years, this interval has been gradually sneaking upwards).
The movement is, at 28mm x 4.75mm, clearly a highly versatile engine – a “tracteur” as they say in the industry – and it is flat enough and generates enough torque to support additional complications. (It also, rather charmingly, looks like a stylized image of the Oris Bear in the provided press image.) It clearly seems intended to offer a highly reliable, trustworthy, long-running, and durable in-house movement to Oris clients, and at a reasonable price as well. Oris has, by the way, said that it has no plans to entirely abandon the use of supplied movements as this allows it to offer watches at an entry-level price that would be difficult or impossible to meet with an in-house caliber, which is something I think the wider watch world can applaud; there seem to be fewer and fewer good affordable watches by the minute. And it would not surprise me to see the Caliber 400 deployed over the next few years in a wider and wider range of watches – after all, a new movement is often the overture to a symphony.