Orient Place

Orient Place

Sunday, 6 February 2022

The Orient Grand Prix

The Grand Prix was one of Orient's first attempts at producing a truly high-end watch. In the early 1960s, Grand Prix models incorporated the best mechanical ingredients available to the Japanese watchmaker at the time, and were priced accordingly.

Between 1961-1963 Orient released a few models named Grand Prix that made use of movements commonly utilized by the brand, albeit in a higher quality grade than elsewhere. Later in 1963-1964, flagship Grand Prix models received dedicated movements.

First up was the "Grand Prix Special" with its classic, time-only dress watch design. Inside was Orient's N-Type caliber, also used in Jupiter and Royal Orient models since the late 50s. However, the Grand Prix version had 25 jewels – more than even the top Royal models featured – and was significantly more pricey than the Royal.

Other early models, also carrying various versions of the 25 jewel Cal. N, included the Grand Prix Calendar and the Shower/Water-Proof.

Soon after came the next generation of Grand Prix watches, now based on the new L-Type caliber. This more modern architecture was the start of Orient's longest lineage of in-house movements, extending as far as the 46 and the current F6 caliber families.

The first L-Type based Grand Prix added the respectable "Olympia" moniker to its name. The Grand Prix Olympia used a hand-winding movement, with versions having between 25 – 30 jewels. And yes, jewel count is a big thing in this story, more than in most of my blog posts, for a reason… just wait a few more paragraphs.

In 1962 Orient presented its automatic caliber LCW, based on the L-Type design but with one highly significant addition: a Pellaton-type winding system. This mechanism provided greater efficiency, and better isolation of the gear train against shocks, compared to other automatic winding systems back then.

The new movement was fairly large (30.3mm), whereas most other Orient movements measured between 26-27mm. This resulted in some relatively large timepieces, making modern-day collectors happy with their utterly wearable, contemporary dimensions.

The first Grand Prix to put the LCW movement to use was the "Calendar Auto", soon followed by the Grand Prix Swimmer and the mighty (though not just yet "Almighty") 64-jewel Grand Prix Olympia Auto. Indeed, this was the time when the battle of "who has the most jewels" reached the shores of Japan.

In 1963 things got epic, as Orient announced the new "676" version of the LCW, developed exclusively for the Grand Prix line, with incabloc shock protection and Triostat fine regulation, so called for enabling the adjustment of three parameters affecting accuracy.

This, combined with the Pellaton winding and reduced rotor friction thanks to two dozen jewels along the perimeter of the movement, resulted in a watch that was both very efficient and highly accurate – within Chronometer standards. It was indeed worthy of the name "Grand Prix Almighty 64".

Then, in 1964, someone over in Orient's product design team must have realized there's still some room left for more rubies. The new caliber LCYW emerged, this time with the addition of a week-day wheel and 36 more jewels (which, I suppose, the buyer received in a separate bag, as images of the movement definitely do not reveal their whereabouts).

All this magic was put into the final edition of the Grand Prix, simply named Grand Prix 100. It was the world's most bejeweled watch, and the brand's most expensive model (it took five years for any other Orient to come close, in terms of price).

It's worth noting that some Grand Prix models also had gold-filled versions, which typically are more valuable and less common than gold-plated watches. This even included a white-gold filled watch that used silver as its base plate – a rare and rather luxurious combination, which I believe was not available in any other Orient ever made (and you're welcome to correct me if I'm wrong!)

So – this is the story of Orient's Grand Prix watches. Later this month, I will follow up with a closer look at one particular Grand Prix from my collection.


Pictures of the various watches that appear on this post were taken from old sale ads.

1 comment:

  1. The Olympia Orient Grand Prix steel is my favorite model. Its so simple in design yet properly executed and finished. Reminds me of 1960's Seiko. Different models like this are the two dial variations of the steel Grand Prix Orient no date, one with special and one with showerproof on the dial. I hope to add these three Orient watches to my collection some day. Most are only available in Japan and I have not found one yet.