Watch hunters who discover vintage Ollech & Wajs often like to think of the Zurich-based company as a well-kept secret from the best decades of last century’s watchmaking. Now, the brand has returned from obscurity determined to resurrect the retro glory of its 1960s and 1970s tool watches. Under new ownership, two new models have reinvigorated historic Ollech & Wajs, bolstered by a strong value for their solid Swiss construction and automatic movements. Released together, the OW P-101 and the OW P-104 watches have different designs, but similar features, and a ton of character.
Case Diameter: 39.56mm
Case Depth: 12.5mm
Water Resistance: 300m
Movement: Automatic ETA 2824
Price: P-101 ~$965; P-104 ~$1,066
Notable: The 2019 Ollech & Wajs watches are like a tribute to this obscure brand’s history. They look like they were genuinely conceived in the 1960s, but they’re not reissues of specific models. A lot of watch brands try to channel the ’60s-’70s mojo, but it’s hard to make it look as authentic as Ollech & Wajs’ does — and that is likely due, in part, to the use of actual new-old-stock vintage components. The “checkered” minute hands common to both models, in particular, help the design make a distinctive impact.
Who It’s For: These are watches made by a passionate brand fan and collector who is dedicated to paying tribute to the Ollech & Wajs history and personality that includes military watches, pilot watches, and record-breaking dive watches like the Caribbean 1000. They are full of care and details that are, in some sense, meant for like-minded watch nerds who will know the brand and look closely enough to appreciate them. The vintage tool watch aesthetic with some funky touches and respectable specs, however, can easily be appreciated by more casual enthusiasts as well. The modern models can be a way for a new crop of watch enthusiasts to discover the brand’s history, but can equally stand on their own.
Alternatives: Another brand with a strong ’60s-’70s presence that has recently been resurrected with a focus on “heritage” models is Yema. Rather than produce original designs based on vintage models, Yema focuses on reissues but they offer a similar period aesthetic and price point as Ollech & Wajs. The Yema Superman and more recent Speedgraf are fine examples.
Like Ollech & Wajs, Baltic is a small brand creating new designs with vintage cues. As a young brand, however, it doesn’t have its own history to draw upon like OW does — but Baltic does offer a neat look and decent bang for buck in models like the Bicompax chronograph and the Aquascaph dive watch.
Ollech & Wajs has been in continuous operation since 1956 and has only ever made mechanical watches. However, it’s been a while since anybody heard from them. So, while its recent release of models under new ownership may resemble the situations of some historic brands that were resurrected after Quartz Crisis failure, Ollech & Wajs is a bit different. It was run by its founder Albert Wajs until being acquired in 2016 by a longtime brand distributor and enthusiast. With a number of quirky traits, the brand’s approach with its new P-101 and P-104 watches is a refreshing break from the familiar watch industry formula.
The P-101 and P-104 are easy to cover in a single review since they share most specs, with the same case, movement, and other components. Both models have an aviation theme, and are said to reference fighter jets from around Ollech & Wajs’ founding year. The P-101 is a more monochromatic military design with a 12-hour bezel and takes inspiration from the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo jet produced in 1956; and the P-104 has sporty orange highlights, a slide rule bezel, and is said to reference the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter whose first flight was the same year.
For aviation-themed watches, it’s interesting that Ollech & Wajs has given the P-101 and P-104 the 300m water-resistance of a professional dive watch — though it’s surely an appreciated extra promise of general durability. That’s just one of the many unusual but nice little touches the brand has up its sleeve. Powered by the ETA 2824-2 Swiss automatic movement (~38-hours power reserve), there is apparently a custom OW rotor and engraved main plate that you won’t see because it’s behind a solid case back. In all brushed, 39.56mm-wide steel cases, there is no shine or bling to these very tool-oriented watches, but it should be noted that they wear boldly for their measurements due to longish lugs and a thickness of 12.5mm. The raised but flat “box-style” sapphire crystal contributes to their height and adds some vintage flavor.
The brand doesn’t really broadcast it, but according to its Facebook page, Ollech & Wajs is using “vintage components in pristine condition from the OW vaults” in its modern watches — though it isn’t clear which components they are. That helps explain how these new watches look so much of another decade. The black-coated bidirectional rotating bezels are of the “friction” variety, meaning they turn freely without any clicks.
The slide rule bezel on the P-104 (the one with orange highlights) is a feature of many aviation watches, most famously the Breitling Navitimer. This can be used for all kinds of arithmetic, and pilots of yore would use it to calculate things like flight time and fuel consumption. Most people wearing such watches have no use for such information, of course, and modern pilots have more advanced and precise tools as well. One function that’s handy for modern watch-wearers, however, is as a restaurant tip calculator. So, it’s worth learning how to use, and certainly more relevant than something like the tachymeter still found on many chronograph watches, for instance.
Related Video: How to Maintain a Dive Watch[embedded content]
One piece of the brand’s story is that when Breitling shut down in 1978 Ollech & Wajs bought its stock and equipment and continued to essentially produce the Navitimer under the “Aviation” name. The Selectron was another aviation-themed watch with a slide rule bezel, and the P-104 seems to perhaps reference both without really resembling either. The history can sometimes be confusing thanks to the inconsistent use of brand names, including their own branding as Ollech & Wajs, OW, OWZ (for Ollech & Wajs Zurich), and even A.I. Wajs at one point — as well as the existence of unbranded military watches.
The P-101 has a 12-hour bezel that can be used to track a second time zone, but this model recalls the brand’s watches that were popular among soldiers in the Vietnam War. General legibility is strong on both models, though stronger lume and more lumed elements would be appreciated. On the P-104, for example, only the orange highlights are lumed, but notably, these also include the date window’s frame. The “checkered” minute hand is not just an idiosyncratic retro touch, but helps make it easily distinguishable from the hour hand at a glance — a practical watch design detail often overlooked.
Another unusual feature of the cases is that they include two sets of spring bar holes. One set is drilled all the way through, presumably for thicker straps, and the other is closer to the case — and this can help you get a better fit or accommodate different sizes. Swapping out the supplied straps for some nicer ones from B&R Bands was an instant upgrade, and these are the kinds of watches that take to a variety of straps well. For this review, they are pictured on the ISOfrane rubber straps that we carry in the Gear Patrol Store.
Regarding “Swissness,” the brand claims: “over 90% of components of Swiss origin, assembled in Swiss Jura.” A number of small brands are offering similar specs for a similar prices, but Ollech & Wajs stands out for its character that doesn’t have much direct competition. Prices in Swiss francs of CHF956 and CHF1,056 reference the brand’s founding once again, which are equivalent to roughly $965 for the P-101 and $1,066 for the P-104 in current USD.
Verdict: The Ollech & Wajs P-101 and P-104 watches offer a lot of character, and even some depth once you look closer and consider the brand’s background. Since both have more or less the same specs, it’s a tough call to recommend one over the other, and it probably comes down to a matter of taste. The P-104 with its orange highlights and funky design visually stands out a little more as something unique, though the P-101’s 12-hour bezel is genuinely useful. Both watches offer a solid value and have a quirkiness and old-school charm that seems linked to their past in a way that’s unusually genuine in today’s watch industry.