Over the years, Orient too has dipped its toes in this world, particularly (but not exclusively) in cooperation with Subaru, releasing many motorsport-themed models. There is no way to cover all of these watches in one story, but today we'll be looking at quite a few of them and get a taste of the action.
It seems that Orient's initial interest in motorsports was not focused on Subaru cars. In the 2000's there were a few Orient models inspired by cars and drivers that had little to do with the Japanese car manufacturer.
There were, for instance, the Clubman models; we've already given these unique models plenty of coverage on the blog.
Later that decade, Orient began toying around with the concept of retro-future watch designs. These watches were produced in series inspired by different types of items – and those included cars and motorcycles (alongside cameras, and later - guitars and record players).
And there was also the Gronholm limited edition. Marcus Gronholm was a famed World Rally Championship driver (and quite a character). Orient released a special piece, ref. WV0111DB, to commemorate Marcus and BP Ford World Rally Team winning the 2007 WRC Manufacturers Championship. The dial was of course blue, like the BP Ford Team color, and the overall design was meant to reflect the design of the car. Not surprisingly, it was limited to 2007 units… The watch itself was released in 2008.
Orient and Subaru
After Gronholm's retirement from WRC Orient switched its interest from Ford to the Japanese domestic car manufacturer, Subaru (which, a little like Orient, produces in much smaller quantities than most local brands – but has very loyal supporters).
In 2009, Orient announced it has become a supporter and sponsor of Subaru STI (Subaru Technica International), a team that was participating in the "Nurburgring 24 Hours Race". Subaru finished 5th in class that year. Later in 2009, Orient released for the first time a watch, one of the models in its sporty "World Stage" collection, in association with Subaru STI – although, this was purely a marketing thing and the watch did not actually carry any visible reference to Subaru.
Between 2010 – 2012, Orient continued to expand its World Stage line-up with more models, this time including some references that were properly Subaru-branded, for instance the elegant and cleanly designed WV0521ER, or sporty quartz chronographs, such as WV0201TT.
Orient also continued to use its ties to Subaru to promote its sporty models, even ones that did not bear the Subaru or STI logos, such as can be seen below in the front page of a 2012 catalog adorned with the then-new Subaru BRZ (in its hard-core GT300 guise).
In 2013, Orient launched a new motorsport-inspired collection: "Speedtech". The initial line-up included a couple of automatic semi-skeleton options (ref. WV0011DA / WV0021DA); a couple of standard quartz chronographs (WV0011TZ and WV0021TZ); and most interestingly, the ERS model.
ERS or Energy Recovery System, is a term used in the automotive industry to describe a system which stores a vehicle's kinetic energy as it is braking, and makes the energy available to boost acceleration later on – a technology which obviously has many uses in motorsports, and is indeed employed by F1 cars and some other types of race-cars. Orient, rather cleverly, had adopted the term ERS to name the kinetic member of the Speedtech collection, ref. WV0011KT / WV0021KT.
Orient did not often employ kinetic mechanisms (i.e. quartz movements where power is generated by an oscillating rotor like in an automatic movement). In the case of the ERS, the movement was borrowed from Seiko, and the result is indeed very similar to the rather cool Seiko Arctura Chronograph. Orient again highlighted the link between this model and the Subaru GT300 – and it really did not matter so much that Subaru never actually used ERS in that model (nor did any Subaru model, AFAIK)…
It was not all sports and burning rubber though, and in 2013 Orient also released a couple of watches as far removed from the Speedtech models as can be: the super-elegant, manual winding Orient Star references WZ0031DD and WZ0041DD, commemorating Subaru's 55th anniversary.
Orient continued to release more Speedtech and Subaru STI-themed watches from time to time, and we cannot cover all of those in one blog post. So we'll conclude by focusing on one particular esteemed Orient moniker that received the "STI treatment": the M-Force.
In 2013, having claimed class win at the Nurburgring 24 hour race in 2011-2012, Orient released a special edition of its lefty M-Force, with an STI-branded dial aptly clad in Carbon, as ref. WV0131EL.
Orient continued in this path, releasing the M-Force ref. WV0171EL with an STI team-blue dial in 2014, and again with a carbon dial ref. WV0211EL in 2015. Curiously enough, in 2016 it did not release an Orient branded STI model; instead it built an M-Force variant that was branded as Subaru – not mentioning Orient on the outside at all – and which was actually being sold as Subaru merchandize.
Then, the Orient-Subaru relationship faded away and all Subaru-branded Orients went out of production. Currently Orient does not sponsor motorsport activities, and it seems the brand feels more at home associating with diving, outdoors and other personal sports activities. Still – this important chapter in its history, with a rich legacy full of cool and interesting models, is not forgotten!
Watch photos were taken from Orient official catalogs and press releases. The photo of Marcus Gronholm is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0Unported license. The photo of the Orient-branded Subaru is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.