In The Shop – In The Shop: The Oris Carl Brashear Caliber 401 Limited Edition

In The Shop – In The Shop: The Oris Carl Brashear Caliber 401 Limited Edition

Oris, everyone’s favorite Holstein-based watchmaker, is starting the new year with a hot hand – which isn’t much different from how the brand wrapped up 2020. After last fall’s debut of an in-house designed flagship movement inside the Aquis Date Caliber 400 (as well as the recent introduction of the Divers Sixty-Five “Sunset Brown” models), today we bring news of Oris’ latest, the Carl Brashear Caliber 401 Limited Edition, and it’s available now in the HODINKEE Shop.

This is Oris’ third watch produced in support of the Carl Brashear Foundation, and – yes – you read that product title correctly. Inside the latest Carl Brashear release is the first movement to be built on top of the Caliber 400 foundation, the sequential Caliber 401. This time around, Oris has removed the date complication and added a small seconds display at six o’clock, all while retaining the impressive attributes of the Caliber 400 that originally grabbed our attention, including a five-day power reserve, anti-magnetic spec up to the ISO 764 standard, and a 10-year warranty.

The new Oris Caliber 401 builds on the framework of the recently released Caliber 400. 

This, of course, isn’t Oris’ first time around paying tribute to Carl Brashear with a watch – and there’s a good reason the Swiss brand continues to honor him. Brashear has a remarkable number of firsts to his name, all achieved over 31 years of service in the United States Navy. He was the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Navy Diving & Salvage School in 1954. And in the aftermath of the 1966 Palomares B-52 crash, in which four Mark-28 hydrogen bombs were lost (three were found on land within 24 hours of the incident; the fourth disappeared at sea), Brashear’s leg had to be amputated after an on-deck accident while in search of the missing weapon of mass destruction. He soon received a prosthetic leg and, in the process, became the U.S. Navy’s first amputee diver. It was only a few years later that Brashear was promoted to the rank of Master Diver – the first African American to achieve the honor. 

If the above sounds familiar to you at all, it might be from Brashear’s time in the Hollywood spotlight in 2000’s Men Of Honor, which featured Cuba Gooding Jr. in the starring role. Or it could be from the previous two Oris watch releases designed in collaboration with the Carl Brashear Foundation, established by Brashear’s sons after his 2006 death, which were introduced as limited-edition runs in 2016 and 2018, respectively. 

Master Chief Petty Officer Carl Brashear

Those two previous Carl Brashear watches were notable for Oris in a few different ways. Most significantly, they opened the lens of the brand’s Divers Sixty-Five collection to new designs, materials, and complications. It might be hard to believe, but the first Carl Brashear dive watch from 2016 represented Oris’ inaugural use of bronze as a case metal, something it has continuously iterated on ever since. The Carl Brashear Chronograph from 2018 saw Oris introduce the first chronograph into the recognizable vintage Divers Sixty-Five portfolio. And now, with the Carl Brashear Caliber 401, we have the first watch in the Divers Sixty-Five series to call on an in-house developed movement, in addition to being the first to include a small seconds display. It’s also the smallest Carl Brashear release yet, measuring a mid-size 40mm case diameter. 

If you’re familiar with the previous Carl Brashear releases, the new example equipped with Caliber 401 doesn’t deviate too far from the established aesthetic. You have the same midnight blue dial with applied, rose-tinted hour markers filled with cream Super-LumiNova and ladder-style hands. The multi-piece case, the crown, and the unidirectional bezel with 60-minute markings in relief are all crafted from bronze, which will of course gain a unique patina over time. The closed caseback is made of steel, and it features an engraving of an old-school dive helmet – the type that Brashear himself would have worn and that were frequently made of brass and copper – and the personal motto of the watch’s namesake: “It’s not a sin to get knocked down. It’s a sin to stay down.” Each Carl Brashear Caliber 401 Limited Edition is also individually numbered out of 2,000 pieces on the caseback, an identical production run to the previous two Oris Carl Brashear watches.

The caseback is engraved with Brashear’s personal motto: “It’s not a sin to get knocked down. It’s a sin to stay down.”

What’s new here is immediately evident upon close inspection. The dial is clean, with no date, and the sole disruption to the domed aesthetic is a cross-hair-equipped small seconds display at six o’clock. The strap is also worth noting, as it’s made of elastic nylon in the style of old-school Marine Nationale (MN) straps, coming from Erika’s Originals, a cult studio that has recently brought this unique vintage design back to popularity. MN straps were originally crafted by members of the French Navy (Marine Nationale) in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, who paired homemade bands made of elastic parachute material to the strap-less dive watches they were issued. 

We’ll likely never know if Carl Brashear himself came across these enterprising French servicemen during his career, but it’s an of-the-era attribute that makes perfect aesthetic sense when paired with the new watch. Oris collaborated with Erika’s Originals to create an exclusive MN-style strap in dark blue with a tan stripe down the middle, plus bronze hardware that allows you to size the strap with ease. (You can think of these straps as a more flexible alternative compared to your conventional NATO-style strap – check out this The Grey NATO episode for more details.)

Carl Brashear with President Harry S. Truman, who desegregated the U.S. Armed Forces.

However, the ultimate distinguishing feature of the latest Oris Carl Brashear Limited Edition is, of course, the new Caliber 401 inside. Building off the framework of the Caliber 400, the movement has been ever-so-slightly adjusted to remove the date and update the gear train to allow for a small seconds display rather than the central seconds that is standard on Oris dive watches. 

The new Oris Caliber 401

The Caliber 401 shares a largely identical movement architecture to the Caliber 400 otherwise, which enables it to retain the same attention-grabbing features the Aquis Date Caliber 400 offered. Those include twin mainspring barrels that store five days of running autonomy (while retaining an efficient frequency of 4 Hz), a brand-new escapement with a silicon lever and escape wheel, a more stable rotor system, and an anti-magnetic construction that’s tested to 2,250 gauss. Oh, and we almost forgot to mention that Oris has adjusted the rate to be accurate within -3/+5 seconds a day (within COSC tolerances!). It’s all backed by a 10-year warranty (plus an extra year on the HODINKEE Shop), with a 10-year recommended service interval.

A limited edition of 2,000 pieces, the Oris Carl Brashear Caliber 401 Limited Edition is available now in the HODINKEE Shop, while supplies last.

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