Oris Carl Brashear Calibre 401 Limited Edition
There's a new Oris Carl Brashear Limited Edition in town; it looks familiar, yet it technically outperforms its 2016 sibling while retaining the lure of the original. When the first Carl Brashear timepiece came out, the watch community's response was astounding, with all the pieces selling out quickly. Then, Oris released a second timepiece, the Carl Brashear Chronograph Limited Edition, in 2018. 2021 has just begun, and the brand has taken the curtain off the third chapter of such a great story.
Please welcome the 2021 Oris Carl Brashear Calibre 401 Limited Edition, the first of its kind to house an Oris 400-derived manufactured movement, along with various design tweaks and details to make the timepiece even more appealing.
The Oris Carl Brashear: why was it so successful?
Over the last four years, many things have changed inside Oris and out; since 2016, Oris has seen its brand awareness grow steadily while offering fairly-priced and right build-quality products. The Calibre 400 was under development when the Hölstein-based manufacturer unveiled its first-ever take on a bronze watch, conceived in partnership with the Carl Brashear Foundation. That timepiece generated a kind of a "halo" factor around the brand.
When it came out, the 2016 Oris Carl Brashear collection broadened Carl Brashear's breakthrough story, and vice versa, that story fostered Oris' brand awareness. What sets any Carl Brashear timepiece apart from the competition (and other Oris watches) is that it feels more than just a watch. You're not just buying a wristwatch, but an inspiring (and motivational) story, too. Let's not also forget Cuba Gooding Jr. masterfully screen playing Carl Brashear's character in 2000's "Men of Honor."
As mentioned above, Oris introduced a second Limited Edition watch, a beautiful no-date bi-compax chronograph, sporting the same feel and color scheme as the 2016's. We got our hands on that piece at Baselworld 2018, where I was lucky enough to meet Carl Brashear's son, Philip, and took the picture above.
The new Oris Carl Brashear Caliber 401 Limited Edition
From a technical perspective, the new one is a breakthrough, but I think Oris had to equally upgrade more than just a mechanical movement to avoid any "deja-vu" effect when placing one edition alongside the other. The new Calibre 401 is the technical upgrade I was waiting for. While often praising Oris for the stunning 10-day power reserve calibers, the Sellita-sourced caliber was conversely disappointing to me to such an extent I didn't buy the first Limited Edition Carl Brashear watch.
In designing the new caliber, Oris' vision was to benchmark the leading brands in its products class. By reading through the specs sheet, you'll notice the caliber hints at Baume & Mercier's glorious Baumatic, a consumer-oriented mechanical movement now rivaled by the Calibre 400 itself. The Oris Calibre 401 adds a small seconds complication but has no date disc, thus proving that the Oris management is pushing hard to introduce as many variants as possible along the way, I believe. Additionally, the new one stops at 40 mm across, making it more wearable than its predecessors.
In brief, Oris preserved the original formula but refined anything it could refine. However, I find that all the wordings are too much and somehow affect the original model's uncluttered dial design. You'll find the signature indexes, shape, and vintage Super-Luminova™, domed sapphire glass on a blue dial you're familiar with, along with a case back depicting Carl's diving helmet; finally, the sentence he pronounced when asked about how he managed to graduate as the US Navy's first African American amputee diving master ever.
From both a functional and esthetical point of view, the most unexpected upgrade is the new nylon strap custom-designed by Erika's Originals for Oris. I believe it is the first time Erika's Originals is teaming up with a brand to produce an OEM strap. In making the new Carl Brashear LE, there's no doubt Oris took inspiration from Tudor and its Black Bay Bronze, although adopting a different approach, involving directly a high-quality strap supplier who's currently rated among the most sought-after aftermarket ones.
Sporting a 40mm case, the new Calibre 401, and the Oris by Erika's Originals on a bronze clasp, the Carl Brashear Caliber 401 Limited Edition is the brand's 2021 talking piece so far. The 3,700 Euros retail price is too high for most people, and it usually is the most significant obstacle when you're moving upmarket. Is it too pricey, or not? It is not; this is my opinion. The Oris Carl Brashear Caliber 401 Limited Edition can't compare to any of its predecessors while holding either technical value and details that are up to the greatest expectations. In this regard, it's a kind of a "boutique" product rather than a commemorative timepiece per se.
(Photo credit: courtesy of Oris)
Gaetano C @Horbiter®