The Oris Altimeter Rega Limited Edition is one of the very few pilot’s watches to have a specialist pilot’s function. Breva also make a watch with an altimeter, the Génie 02, but it has a slightly higher price tag: $132,000, against which the Oris watch compares very favourably at 3,950 Swiss francs. The Oris Altimeter Rega has a mechanical altimeter based on an aneroid barometer that can show you your altitude to an accuracy of about 30 metres. It is a function that could be useful to climbers (who can keep a track of their vertical progress up a mountain) and sports pilots, as a back-up to the usual instruments. Glider, paraglider and hang glider pilots use an electronic altimeter-variometer, but this watch could provide an indication of altitude if the batteries run out or it just stops working.
It’s a large watch at 47 mm diameter, and it’s thick as well, with the mechanism for the altimeter below the Oris self-winding Calibre 733 movement. This is based on the Sellita SW 200-1, and it provides the time functions. There are two crowns, one at 2 o’clock for adjusting time and date, and one at 4 o’clock for the altimeter function. This latter crown is screw-down, and when screwed tight, the watch has a water resistance of 10 bar, 100 metres.
To operate the altimeter, you pull out the 4 o’clock crown to the second position, and then, by rotating it, you can adjust the scale to the reference height. An altimeter works by measuring atmospheric pressure, which decreases with height. So it has to be calibrated according to the air pressure at that particular moment, which varies according to weather conditions. On the dial there are two scales, one for pressure, and one for altitude. The yellow tip of the hand indicates height, the red tip indicates air pressure, and they are simply the extremities of a single hand that runs under the central section of the dial. Rotating the crown rotates the two scales and allows calibration. At this point, you can push the crown in to the first position, and in this position the altimeter is functioning. It provides readings up to about 4,500 metres, 15,000 feet, which corresponds to the height up to which a sports pilot can fly before he needs supplemental oxygen. The altimeter hand is very light, made in laminated carbon composite.
The metal bellows inside the watch has to be in communication with the atmosphere to operate, and so when the altimeter is functioning, the watch no longer has its 100 metres water resistance. The user is reminded of this by the red colour of the neck of the 4 o’clock crown in the first and second positions. A degree of water resistance is provided by a PTFE barrier membrane within the crown assembly.
The caseback is sollid, in grey PVD-coated steel like the rest of the case. It has a Rega helicopter embossed on it, and the limited edition number. The watch is an edition of 1,414 pieces, the name based on the Rega emergency telephone number 1414 used in Switzerland. Rega is in fact a private Swiss air rescue service, which operates helicopters and air ambulances. They can fly out and pick you up from wherever you are in trouble, in the mountains, or following a crash landing with your glider, microlight or whatever. As with most things in Switzerland, Rega’s services are very expensive if you’re not par of the organization, but you can register with Rega for a very small yearly sum and this entitles you to one rescue per year. Highly recommended for anyone practising outdoor sports in remote locations of the country.
The Rega logo appears on the dial at 9 o’clock. It’s not what you would call an attractive watch, with its busy scales and large size, but it has a job to do, and it does it very effectively. The grey PVD case coordinates with the grey fabric strap that has a red leather lining. The Oris Altimeter Rega Limited Edition will be available at a price of 3,950 Swiss francs from March 2017. It is available in two versions, with height scales in feet (reference 01 733 7705 4234 TS) or metres (reference 01 733 7705 4234 TS). The regular version of the Oris Big Crown Propilot – basically the same watch without the Rega branding – has been available since 2014 at a price of about 3,700 Swiss francs. More info from the Oris website.