The connection between Oris and the Carl Brashear Foundation isn’t new. It all started in 2016, when the brand introduced its first-ever bronze watch, which also marked the beginning of a long-term relationship between the Swiss brand and the American Foundation. This watch, based on the handsome Divers Sixty Five vintage-inspired model, will draw the design cues that will later be found on two subsequent watches; the Oris Carl Brashear Chronograph of 2018 and the watch we’ll be talking about today, the recently-introduced Oris Carl Brashear Calibre 401 Limited Edition.
A tribute to a man who never gave up
The story of Carl Brashear is that of man who has faced adversity and overcame challenges, despite shortcomings, racial prejudice and disability. And indeed, he never gave up! Carl Brashear is mostly known by younger generations thanks to the 2000 movie Men of Honor, an American drama film, starring Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr. that depicts the life of Brashear.
Brashear (1931-2006) was born into a sharecropper’s family in rural Kentucky. Poor, without much access to education, he always wanted to make a different life for himself. Despite limited formal education, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy on February 25, 1948, and graduated from the U.S. Navy Diving & Salvage School in 1954, becoming the first African-American to attend and graduate, and the first African-American U.S. Navy Diver. Still, Brashear had to face hostility and racism. But his career will bring him to be assigned to escort the presidential yacht the Barbara Anne to Rhode Island. He met President Eisenhower and received a small knife that said, “To Carl M. Brashear. From Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1957. Many, many thanks.” After making chief in 1959, he stayed at Guam for three years doing mostly demolition dives.
In January 1966, in an accident now known as the Palomares incident, a B28 nuclear bomb was lost off the coast of Palomares, Spain. Brashear, serving aboard USS Hoist, was dispatched to find and recover the missing bomb for the Air Force. During the bomb recovery operations on March 23, 1966, a line used for towing broke loose, causing a pipe to strike Brashear’s left leg below the knee, causing his lower left leg to eventually be amputated.
“The Navy wanted to retire him because of his disability, but he fought to remain on active duty and became the first amputee diver to continue service, an unprecedented feat at the time. He retired in 1979,” explains his son Phillip M. Brashear. He never gave up, despite having endured “Five Great Hurdles during his life. He overcame racism, poverty, illiteracy, physical disability, and before he retired, he committed himself to the Navy’s alcohol abuse course for help with alcoholism. Today he is one of the most celebrated American military heroes.”
Since 2015, Oris has partnered with the Carl Brashear Foundation, a U.S.-based non-profit organisation set up to expose the incredible life of Carl Brashear and to continue his extraordinary legacy for future generations. “We’ve donated thousands of dollars to veterans’ hospitals in the hope of rehabilitating the lives of wounded service members across the country,” says Brashear’s son, president of the foundation. After two first watches presented in 2016 and 2018, this year Oris introduces the third model dedicated to Carl Brashear and funding the foundation, a watch that “will again expose my father’s message of hope and resilience,” according to Phillip M. Brashear.
The new Oris Carl Brashear Calibre 401
Looking at the third watch inspired by Brashear, there’s no doubt about its filiation. We’re certainly looking at a model that draws its inspiration from the two previous editions. Still based on the Divers Sixty Five, still inspired by retro diver’s watches, still made of bronze – a material that makes sense in this context – and still featuring a deep blue dial. Yet, there are many new things in this third Oris Carl Brashear, and it has to do with mechanics and proportions. And it’s all for the best.
First of all, without surprises, the case of this new Oris Carl Brashear is executed in bronze, just like the two previous editions. Oris made the choice, back in 2016 and before the trend for bronze watches really came on the market, of this material for a simple reason; its connection with the world of divers, recalling the material used for the diving helmets worn by Carl during his career as a U.S. Navy Master Diver. Bronze was also chosen because it’s a living material, a natural material that patinates as it reacts with external elements (such as oxygen, salty waters, moisture…) Over time, it will take on a unique finish, which will tell the story of the wearer. On this new version, the middle case is made out of brushed bronze, and so is the crown, the bezel and its insert, with a tone-on-tone 60-minute scale in relied. The caseback, engraved with a specific decoration, remains made in stainless steel.
What changes compared to the two other editions is the size of the watch. While the first model was based on the larger edition of the Divers Sixty Five, with a 42mm diameter, and the chronograph model measured 43mm (with a respectable height, to say the least), the latest Oris Carl Brashear plays even more on vintage cues and is now offered in a reasonable 40mm case – the size initially unveiled on the Sixty Five collection. Enhancing the retro look, the watch is protected by an ultra-domed sapphire crystal, which brings cool distortions but also a lot of reflections. Despite the screwed caseback and crown, water-resistance remains quite low for a dive watch, at 100 metres… Which should still be enough for most daily-wear activities.
The dial of the Oris Carl Brashear Calibre 401 is, once again, typical of this sub-collection, with maritime-inspired blue colour. The surface of the dial is glossy, which once again brings animation but also reflections. The dial is punctuated by applied gold-coloured indexes – shaped like dots, rectangles and triangles, to quickly see the time in low-light conditions. The hands are also gold-coloured with a generous amount of Super-LumiNova, which is cream-toned to emphasized the retro look. For our biggest pleasure, Oris chose for a no-date display and replaces it by a small-seconds indicator at 6 o’clock, topped by an arched depth rate mention and equipped with a white coloured hand. Thanks to differentiated luminescence, reading the time in the dark is pretty easy.
The new Oris Carl Brashear is delivered with a new strap, a moisture-wicking woven elastic nylon webbing strap produced by Erika’s Originals. Extremely comfortable, solid and resistant to underwater activities, it is presented in black with a gold-tone central line. It complements the look of the watch and gives a nice casual attire. The buckle and hardware are also executed in brushed bronze.
The big news, the calibre 401
A few months ago, Oris introduced its Calibre 400. While not the first movement conceived internally by the brand – remember the 10-day power reserve Calibre 110 – this new engine is of great importance, since it is meant to become the new standard automatic movement for the brand. Powerful and modern, it is produced by a network of suppliers with state-of-the-art industrial techniques, according to Oris’ specifications. This automatic movement is meant to be precise (-3 to +5 seconds a day), reliable (10-year warranty) and evolutive, as multiple displays or complications will be implemented in the coming years. It is also powerful and well-protected since its twin-barrel architecture provides 120h or 5 days of power reserve, and the escapement is fitted with silicon parts to counteract magnetism. Also, it comes with a newly developed oscillating mass based on a low-friction, slide-bearing system that only winds in one direction to reduce wear and tear over the long run.
The Oris Carl Brashear Calibre 401 inaugurates the first evolution of this movement, which replaces the central seconds and date by a small seconds indicator at 6 o’clock. It is also pleasing to see that the brand is implementing such proprietary movements in smaller watches.
Availability & Price
Oris Carl Brashear Calibre 401 is a Limited Edition of 2,000 pieces and is now available for orders at the brand’s website and retailers. It is priced at EUR 3,700. More details at www.oris.ch.