Hands-On Review – Oris Carl Brashear Cal 401 Limited Edition Diver 65 in Bronze

The Skinny

  • 40mm
  • 100m / 10bar Water Resistance
  • Oris In-House Cal 401 automatic winding movement with 5-day power reserve and small seconds
  • $4200

A Symbol of Hope

Billed as a “Symbol of Hope,” Oris has dedicated this watch to the incredible African-American Navy Master Diver Carl Brashear. As the first person of color to become a US scuba diver in 1954, Brashear went on to lose his leg in active duty and, remarkably, found his way back to diving duty to become the first black Master Diver in 1970. His life and career remain inspirations not only for the cause of racial equality but also for human tenacity more generally. I’m grateful that Oris is helping people learn about Brashear.

Overcoming Hurdles – The Legacy of Master Chief Carl Brashear | The Sextant
Carl Brashear with prosthetic and diving equipment.

It’s fitting, then, that this is a bronze watch, as Brashear’s early career involved diving in bronze and brass helmets which look jarringly antiquated. It’s a fitting tribute to Brashear, this bronze case, but it is also a reminder of just how young SCUBA diving is.

The Cal 401 In-House Movement

We spoke with Oris Co-CEO VJ Geronimo at length about the new Caliber 400 on Podcast Episode 46, so there’s a more detailed description to be had there. The Cal 401 in the Carl Brashear model adds a small seconds. Suffice it to say that this movement has raised the bar for what an independent watch brand can offer at a reasonable price. With a dual barrel 5-day power reserve, loads of a-magnetic components for impressive anti-gauss ratings, and a ground up design that’s as practical as it is beautiful, the Cal 400 and 401 have set the bar rather high for Oris’ competitors. The ten year warranty and service interval ought to make that point resoundingly clear.

Breaking News: ORIS Carl Brashear Cal. 401 Limited Edition

Experientially, it feel special to me to wear this watch with the in-house movement, just as it feels special to wear my Rolex Datejust or Grand Seiko with their in-house movements. I realize that not everyone cares whether a movement is in-house or not, but I do because it signals to me that this is an object for which everything was considered in great detail with the goal of achieving the highest quality possible. Our concept of The Aesthetic Revolution suggests that something built to last, to become a beloved family possession, and to signal integrity helps us imagine a less wasteful consumer culture, one which revels in the slow satisfaction of longevity over the quick thrill of acquisition. Sporting this watch engages all of those sentiments, which I find quite comforting.

The Top Shelf Divers 65?

I proudly own and love the Oris x Momotaro Jeans Divers 65, which is also a no-date version in a 40mm case. And though my love for that watch has not diminished, I have to admit that this Oris Brashear Cal 401 model has me thinking I may need a second Divers 65. Why? Because of all the D65s – and there have been many – this one seems so high-end to me.

The visible elements of this Divers 65 offer an aesthetic experience that’s luxurious but also down to earth, a balance that’s pure Oris. Bronze gives us the experience of a non-steel watch without the impracticality (read: softness and expense) of precious metals. And there’s nothing that goes with bronze as well as blue, especially a deep and rich navy blue like we have on this dial. Similarly, the “aged” lume read as authentically faded tritium here, where as it can look merely yellow on other models. I think that’s because bronze is always headed toward a warm, aged look. Add in the lovely distortions of the curved sapphire crystal, and this Oris D65 is a master of modern-vintage vibes.

Crystal distortions are beautiful on this Divers 65.

The running small seconds above 6-o’clock also lends this watch a vintage feeling, and I welcome the bountiful text surrounding that hand because it looks purposeful and technical, like a three-line Rolex Sub, for example. And I’d be remiss not to mention that the blue and white contrast on the dial smacks of the US Navy’s general aesthetic. I’m thrilled, however, that this Naval vibe feels neither overstated nor forced; you can read this watch as a tribute to nautical accomplishments, or you can just enjoy its vibe in whatever way floats your own boat. Again, it is a symbol of hope above all else, and that’s how I’ve been “reading” this watch, so to speak.

The Strap

It took me a second to figure out how this strap works, but once I did and got it sized for my wrist, I found it to be incredibly comfortable. The elastic isn’t apparent in the look of the strap, which is welcome, and the appearance is more like a mesh weave: attractive and sporty. And once I started to stretch it on and off my wrist, I was sold on this tech entirely. It’s also remarkable how close the strap and dial are in their Navy blue color.

The Caseback

I don’t usually get excited about casebacks, but when the design is fun and chunky and feels more sculpted than engraved, I can get a little stoked. This caseback, however, is especially interesting to me because it has the diving helmet that Brashear used engraved in significant relief and then beautifully polished. This caseback is on the level with what I’ve seen on vintage Omegas, which have always impressed me with their sculptural depth and high degree of finishing.

Only 2000 Examples?

As a limited edition using the new caliber, I am thinking this watch is going to sell out fast and go up in value on the secondary market. Predictions like this may be a fool’s game, but Oris is at an interesting point in their history. Moving more and more toward their own slogan “Go Your Own Way,” Oris is achieving greater independence through offering an in-house caliber that can be ported to any number of Oris models. In short, Oris is starting to look more and more like Rolex – Swiss, historic, independent, innovative, practical-yet-luxurious – and my sense is that more and more watch collectors are beginning to hold Oris up as a brand worthy of collecting.

The good news is that Oris seems poised to continue setting their new Caliber in more watches. Whether you’re a serious collector or just want to get a very cool watch with an in-house movement, this Carl Brashear Cal 401 Limited Edition is a whole lot of watch for the money. I for one can’t wait to see more in-house watches from Oris as this exciting new chapter gets into full swing.

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