Hands-On Review – Oris Aquis Whaleshark Limited Edition

The Skinny

  • 43.5mm wide x 13mm tall
  • Movement: Oris 798 / (Sellita SW330-1) 
  • GMT complication with rotating 24-hour bezel
  • 300m water resistance
  • Limited to 2016 pieces
  • Price: $3200 US

The Issue At (and In) Hand

The water is warm and full of life. Gentle giants gracefully move though the sea for millions of years. Then homo sapiens flourishes on land, and in the course of mere centuries disturb the delicate dance derived from 60 million of years of underwater evolution. And then, in the 20th Century we humans enter a hostile global debate about whether it is really us who are destroying the oceans.

Thankfully, a majority of us believe we bear the brunt of responsibility, and among that majority there is a smaller group filled with hope, and among the hopeful a smaller group still who actually work to save the oceans from further devastation. Oris is just a Swiss watch company, but their consistent efforts to raise awareness about, and support efforts to improve, ocean health have made them the Patagonia of Horology.

The whale shark is the ocean’s largest fish (whales are mammals). They can grow up to forty feet long. It’s odd to think of this gentle filter feeder as being one of the ocean’s top predators. Adult whale sharks aren’t hunted by any species – other than humans, whose technological advances and population explosion of the 20th Century has decreased whale shark populations by 50 percent over the last 75 years. A healthy population of predators is vital to maintaining balance in any ecosystem, so reduced whale shark populations has devastating impact on the ocean’s delicate ecosystem.

Oris ambassador Gerardo del Villar.

As such – and because they’re captivatingly huge and beautiful animals – the whale shark has become, in parts of Asia, a symbol of environmentalism, much as the Polar Bear has in the Western world. Seiko Thailand has an entire watch collection dedicated to the whale shark, called the Zimbe (whale shark) collection, this dedicated to environmental advocacy.

Oris will be partnering with photographer Gerardo del Villar to make series of short films to raise awareness about the endangered whale shark. To support these efforts, Oris has released the Aquis Whale Shark Limited Edition we have in hand for review.

The Case

If you liked the Oris Carysfort Reef limited edition (which Allen reviewed), then the Whale Shark Limited Edition should look and feel familiar. They both share the same stainless steel 43.5mm case, a very manageable design that’s proven one of Oris’ most popular watches. It’s manageable thanks to the short but robust lugs that have become of staple of the Aquis line. A case height (including the crystal) is only 13mm tall is slim by large dive watch standards.  

If you’re over the Oyster-style case, you’ll appreciate the compact cylindrical design of the Aquis. Oris has a good chance and stealing some potential customers from Tudor as the Aquis flanks aren’t as polarizing as those found on the Black Bay, which are criticized for being “slab sided.” Another feature that we’ve come to appreciate is the flat sapphire crystal. There is only a minimal amount of dome. The Oris Whale Shark doesn’t try to be vintage, and its flat crystal stands in stark contrast to the lovely domes found on Oris’ vintage-inspired Divers 65 line.

On the caseback you will find “WHALE SHARK LIMITED EDITION” and a very nicely detailed and deep engraving of a whale shark. The little spots on the shark’s back and pectoral fin are very cool on this engraving. The caseback also reminds you that the watch has 300 meters of water resistance.

The Dial

The Oris Whale Shark Limited Edition dial is entirely unique to this model. As Rolf Studer recently explained during an on-line presentation, the dial is stamped with the speckled pattern and then lacquered. The texture on the dial is supposed to represent the skin of the whale shark.  Whale sharks, like most sharks, have what are called “denticles” on their skin (as opposed to scales like other fish). Besides providing armor-like protection for the shark, the denticles are unidirectional and help reduce hydrodynamic drag. They wouldn’t look very nice on the dial of a watch, though they proved effective for Olympic swim suits that shave seconds off of race times.

Furthermore, there is a thin line with the luxurious glamorizing of the skin of endangered species. Some folks (perhaps vegans) may argue that a 1:1 copy of whale shark’s starry skin would be in poor form and undermine the conservation incentive. What Oris has achieved instead is rather cool pattern that is both uniform and random at the same time, thus capturing the organic scheme of the whale shark’s markings. The matte finish makes reading the dial easy in full sun. It’s nice to see Oris continue to up their dial manufacturing abilities. 

We do wonder if (vegan concerns aside) the beautiful skin of the whale shark might have been more closely represented, even perhaps with a different colorway that captured the elegant animal’s monochromatic beauty more faithfully? Hypothetically, anyways, perhaps that an interesting idea to explore for future editions.

The Bracelet 

If you look at the lugs, you’ll notice that the Oris Aquis employs a proprietary bracelet / strap system. This has been an on-going complaint from watch nerds who pride themselves on changing straps daily for fresh social media posts, but as Oris’ most popular model it’s clear the general public couldn’t care less. But, being nerds ourselves, know that you are limited for options.

The bracelet meets the expectations of the price point. The stainless steel is brushed on the center-links and polished on the outer-links only. The effect helps to make a smooth visual transition from the lugs to the bracelet.  

The stainless steel bracelet tapers from 24mm at the lugs to 18mm at the clasp. The dual push-button safety lock makes the milled clasp feel secure.  The Oris Whale Shark Limited Edition is only available on a bracelet. For extra versatility, get yourself a tri-wing screwdriver and pick up a black Oris Aquis rubber strap for the summer. 

Movement Oris 798 / (Sellita SW330-1) 

Solid, reliable, but not a “true GMT” in that this watch does not offer an independent jumping hours hand. Most GMTs in this price range use this mechanical arrangement, and it’s not only normal but perfectly durable, workable, and easily serviced. For those seeking a more sophisticated execution of the “true GMT” function, you’ll have to look elsewhere and spend a lot more money.

Conclusion

2016 is a pretty small run for a larger manufacturer. These will sell out at some point. If whale shark conservation is important to you, we’d suggest picking up the Oris Whale Shark Limited Edition soon.

These limited edition watches are a great for Oris’ to make conservation partnerships initiatives known, and for us that advocacy is invaluable – not to mention nearly impossible to establish a quantifiable impact measure. While other companies are telling us that they don’t allow plastic straws in the office, Oris is partnering with environmental activists, scientists, organizations, and now filmmakers working in the field. As CEO Rolf Studer put it in the 2021 collection presentation, “It’s about changing what goes on up here,” as he pointed to his brain. Indeed.

If you want to support the whale shark conservation, here are ten things that you can do: 

1. Do not eat shark fin soup.  

2. Avoid eating shark meat. 

3. Do not consume products that are produced or derived from the organs of sharks. 

4. Don’t buy or keep shark species in a fish tank. 

5. Help spread the word so that we can change the persecution of these misunderstood and enormous fish.  

6. Understand why whale sharks are fundamental for the balance of marine ecosystems.  

7. Learn about shark species that are in danger of extinction. 

8. Do not encourage the purchase of souvenirs that come from sharks. 

9. Find out what measures exist in your country for the protection of sharks. 

10. Join an association dedicated to protecting sharks.