Monday, October 26, 2020

Wrapping Up Seven Days With The Ollech & Wajs P-104

So a week has now come and gone, and it is time to sum up my feelings about wearing the P-104 for a week.
By by now, if you've read through enough reviews on Tempus Fugit, you have realized that this is not the place to come for highly polished "sales-centric" photography.  It is also not the place to come for technical minutiae.  Having manned the DOXA discussion forum for three years I have come to the conclusion that everyone has an opinion, and there is nothing more tiresome than listening to "my opinion as fact". So I am definitely going to give you my opinion - but not as fact, and I will be writing about the P-104 not just from the perspective of a watch enthusiast, but from someone who worked for a somewhat similar company - DOXA/Synchron. And lastly? I'd like to consider the P-104 from the crazy perspective of a typical person - someone not necessarily a "watch guy".

We received the P-104 last Monday and it has been making the rounds here at Tempus Fugit HQ for the past week -
It is important to try and have a sense about what Ollech & Wajs was, and what it is today.  O&W is a bit of an anomaly - it is not really old, being founded in 1956.  But as that is more than 60 years ago, that means it is not exactly young either. Albert Wajs and his partner, Joseph Ollech joined forces to open a watch shop in Zurich. They then shifted to assembling and selling their own watches under the name OWZ Ollech & Wajs. 

OWZ eventually became O&W and through magazine advertisements build a strong mail order business, finding their way to US servicemen (Army Navy, Air Force, Marines, etc.). So strong was the connection that distribution was extended to offering pieces directly through PXs.  

Inevitably, O&W did go dark going during the quartz crisis, but a small light was kept on, albeit under the name Aviation (chronographs).  However they were brought back to life in 1995.  And in 2017 a new owner (previously the French distributor) took the helm.

Now my first brush with Ollech & Wajs was back in 2003 visiting the West Coast Time website which carried (and still carries) what we could maybe refer to as the (now) previous generation. I nearly purchased an O&W several times, but for whatever reason I never did.  

So that brings us up to the present. Let's get to the review!

Now ordinarily I don't really give a toss about packaging. Just being honest, it doesn't really serve any function other than temporarily housing your watch before you put it on your wrist.  So to that end, I have nothing but praise for Ollech & Wajs's approach.  When you open the shipping package you are presented with a small cardboard box stamped to look like the original packaging that was used "back in the day" to fulfill those mail orders.  
Open that box, and you have another small box enclosed in a black fabric drawstring bag -
Slide that one open and you will find the watch wrapped around a cushion (pillow) -
Now I realize that is a lot of space to talk about packaging that seems so basic, but think about this for a moment - watch packaging is perhaps the most superfluous and (if we are honest with each other) wasteful aspect of watch sales. Lots of wood, metal, paper, etc. that ultimately sits in a garage, attic, basement or landfill doing exactly NOTHING. I like this packaging approach on 2 fronts -
1. It is kinder to the environment
2. It is very true to the way these watches were originally packaged and delivered.

So when I compare that to my old running partners at DOXA during the Marei era, I think this is a very big improvement. The DOXA SUBs were packaged in metal tubes that were meant, I suppose, to appear like scuba tanks on some level. This added substantially to the shipping weight (and I assume, rate). Unfortunately these tubes were frequently scratched or marred and more than just a little bit of time was spent replying to customers who wanted a "new" one. And this is understandable, but it points back to the golden rule of selling stuff - you have to manage expectations, it makes it much easier to exceed them ; )
Now I am, admittedly, a bit late to the O&W review party and I do not expect that I will add anything earth shattering to the bon mots that precede this.  The fit of the watch is (at least in my experience) quite good and this is down to longer lugs used by O&W. Visually, I realize that these are not everyone's baby. But I tend to take the more pragmatic view about look and therefore - feel. 

When worn with a NATO, or the RAF style strap that comes standard with the version I reviewed, this extra length allows for a much more comfortable experience and the strap has just the right amount of space to accommodate a strap going under the watch head and up through the lugs.
Now in fairness, I have not tried it with a leather strap or the bracelet version, but I suspect that for the majority of folks out there this is not going to be a comfort issue (because, in fact, the extra lug horn length allows for a more comfortable fit. 

The case is smooth and well-finished, no sharp edges or pointy bits to catch your sweater on. 
And no, the cuts and abrasions on my hand are from yard work ; )
The crown screws down to ensure water resistance, which in this instance is warranted by Ollech & Wajs to  300 meters.  Nice and clean engraving, not cheesy as you will see with even more expensive brands.  As mentioned, the fit for me is good. I would say in the DOXA comparison scale it is in the realms of the 1000T re-edition in terms of fit and feel. Keep in mind, that this is not what I would call a highly technical comparison or analysis, it is very much a personal observation. Or put in Tempus Fugit review terms - I would put the size as very nearly Goldilocks - just right. Is it perfect for my particular wrist? No. Is it reasonable to assume that unless a watch is perfect for my personal wrist that the size is wrong? Duh...

The movement is ETA's 2824-2 -
Courtesy of Ollech & Wajs
with an Ollech & Wajs customized rotor -
Courtesy of Ollech & Wajs

Now you will have to take this on faith, as it is a solid case back -
The time keeping was solid, no real deviations of note to mention.  More and more brands are moving to date apertures at 6 o'clock which does seem to lend itself better to dial layout. Rather than obscuring parts of the 3 o'clock marker, it allows each to be balanced, a lone triangle marker at 12 o'clock, and then the date aperture.
The dial is well laid out, very legible and has (for me) a wonderful contrast of withe and orange markers. This extends to the minute hand with its alternating orange lime filled holes with plain cut-outs.  This probably appeals to me for a few reasons. First and foremost, I am 52 years old. While that is certainly not "vintage", it is not NOS (new old stock).  Legibility is becoming more and more important to me. But having said that, I am also the son of a fashion designer/artist - and I LOVE color! I really appreciate bold differences, including the color way chosen for the strap -
Now in the "keeping it real" category, let's be honest with each other - the majority of us our not going to pilot a plane. The closest I ever came was the rubber-band propeller planes we made in either Boy Scouts Cub Scouts - I am pretty sure it was Cub Scouts. So for me the rotating slide rule bezel is merely ornamental, but it is a pretty cool detail. I do appreciate the screw down crown and 300 meter water resistance as I am more likely to go for a swim than pilot anything beyond a kite, but again, it is a nice detail.

In regards the dial, and this is something I am not particularly "digging" about any of the current Ollech & Wajs collection - I am not dippy about the model name printed on the right hand side of the dial
right next to the 3 o'clock marker. Now I realize that brand owners across Switzerland hang on my every opinion ; ) but my one suggestion is that in terms of the printing of the dial, I would remove the word "AUTOMATIC", and replace it with the model name - in this instance P-104). 
Just one guy's opinion.

But one other thing that I feel is worth considering is that Ollech & Wajs is more than just one thing. For better or worse, DOXA sold dive watches, on bracelets. That was pretty much it. Invariably, there are only so many customers out there who want an orange dial dive watch. Yes, I realize that there were variations and different colors (black, yellow, blue and silver), but it was a product range limited to one particular type of watch.

In many ways I think that O&W are really taking a straightforward path that represents a hybrid of DOXA and Tudor - reinvigorating a slightly under appreciated brand (DOXA), and drawing inspiration from, but not blindly copying (no matter what you call an homage, when you come right down to it, your are copying on some level) previous models. In other words, you're getting something original from a brand with some history.

Finally, I have to talk about price. Part of the challenge for us selling DOXA SUBs in North America prior to 2020 was that there didn't always seem to be a clear pricing standard and prices were often impacted by what economists refer to as price elasticity of demand - that the price was oftentimes not reflective of what the real price was, but rather an indicator of how urgent some quick sales might be. This created confusion in the market because the price was often listed as: Retail (i.e. what you'd pay in a store) and then the highlighted "Direct Price". The bottom line, as a customer it was frequently challenging to understand what the "standard" price was, because in the general sense, there was not what could really be called a retail network. So insofar as Ollech & Wajs, you go to the site, you see one price. No special language or notation to create a false sense of FOMO (fear of missing out), just the price.

And let's talk about that price - for the P-104 on the RAF strap the price is 1,056 Swiss francs. Now under now Jenny managed DOXA SUB collection, the entry level for the SUB 200 is less money - $990 US on the bracelet, but it absolutely does not speak to me on any level. If it's your jam, then go with God ; ). It does bear mentioning that DOXA's entry level dive watch has a less robust water resistance rating than O&W's pilot's watches.

To sum it up, I really enjoyed wearing the P-104.

It ticks a lot of boxes - a brand with a story, a pilot watch that doesn't make you feel like you need to throw on a flight jacket, and real value for money.
Courtesy of Ollech & Wajs
Here are the pertinents -

YEAR: 2019
DIMENSIONS: 39.56 mm X 12.5 mm
CASE: brushed 316L stainless steel, screwed back, screw-down crown, and circular slide rule bezel, manufactured in Jura, Switzerland.
GLASS: sapphire with anti-glare treatment
DIAL: hands and indexes in Super-LumiNova®
MOVEMENT: automatic ETA 2824-2 OW3P, 25 Jewels. 28,800 bph, with a power reserve of +/- 38 h. Mainplate engraved Ollech & Wajs Zurich 1956, and OW machined rotor
ORIGIN: over 90% Swiss Made, excluding strap and packaging
STRAP: 20mm wide, RAF extra strong nylon, origin Great Britain

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