Orient Place

Orient Place

Tuesday 27 December 2022

Happy New Year!

2022 is just two days shy of over, and we can already smell 2023. Time for a little summary and perhaps, some hopes and wishes for the next year.

Other global topics aside, in the Orient watchmaking business the year was somewhat less hectic than 2020-2021. No special anniversaries or celebrations, Orient had launched fewer new models, and was more engaged in expanding its online retail operation (for Japanese customer only, at this point).

The brand did introduce two new models – the second edition of the 1964 diver, and the Neo Classic Sport; and, presented various new versions of existing models, like the Mako/Kamasu, M-Force, Orient Star Moonphase and Skeletons, and more.

Here at Orient Place blog, I found that I spent a little less time on reviewing new watches, and more on looking at vintage models, movement and topics from Orient's history. In part because of growing interest among readers and in part, thanks to the lovely 1999 Orient Watch Catalog book – though even that book could not answer every open question in the brand's obscure history: for instance I only recently found out about the 35j Triostat AAA movement (thanks to Rustam's Japanese Vintage Watch blog) which is not mentioned in any historical record I could locate…

The two Orients added to my personal collection this year were also vintage pieces, quite special and hard to find. The Olympia Calendar Speed Data I already wrote about, and the Royal Orient I received more recently is definitely going to be dedicated a post here, soon!

Some of my wishes for 2023 – again just in the context of Orient…

  • To see the brand make its online stores accessible in global markets
  • To see more new model releases, of course
  • To have a new 300m diver announced (because Orient Brazil's watches are even harder to find than JDM…)
  • And, it would be great to see a new GMT movement in 2023 – being the 20th anniversary of Orient's first GMT movement from 2003!

…and most importantly – may all blog readers and followers, their families and friends, have a very happy new year!


Sunday 11 December 2022

Orient's Direct-Read Watches

When one looks for unconventional watch designs, one usually need look no further than Orient. Historically, "Jump Hour" watches provided a cool alternative to the standard hour-hand, minute-hand setup – and Direct Read provided a simpler substitute to Jump Hour movements.

Before continuing, it might be worthwhile to clarify the distinction: while both types of display show the hours and minutes using rotating discs with digits printed on them, Jump Hour keeps the hour indication more or less immobile until the minute disc returns to zero and pushes the hour forward. With Direct Read, the hour wheel just keeps turning, in the same way as the hour hand would normally.

While a Jump Hour mechanism is easier to read, as the hour is steady, and more akin to digital displays, Direct Read watches are simpler to build, since they just use regular movements and replace hands with discs. Orient typically leans toward simpler movements, at least in non-Star models – so when looking to provide a "mechanical digital" design, sometime in the mid-2000s, it adopted the Direct Read approach.

Reading this display is, well, fairly direct and simple – though it requires some getting used to. In the picture above, for instance, the time is about 10:08:36. You can see the thin red horizontal line pointing between 5 and 10 on the inner circle; look more closely and it's just past the 8. Those are the minutes. The thicker red line you see is actually the second hand.

It's funny as this would be the time you'd normally see a watch in Orient catalogs – with the hands arranged in the "smiley" configuration. Of course it's quite meaningless when no hands are involved…

The date wheel is standard, appearing here as the outermost disc. The date is read as usual through the small window at the bottom.

During the roughly ten years of producing direct read watches, Orient made three main models, each having numerous versions differing mainly in colors and choice of strap/bracelet. All of them have been discontinued a few years ago.

The most familiar model, and the one that's easier to find online nowadays, is the lugless design also known as the "Orbit" (a nickname given to it by Orient USA I believe).

The Orbit's case was 35mm wide and 40mm long, and 12mm thick. Fairly modest dimensions that were given enhanced wrist presence by its 28mm lug width, fitted out of the box with a double-hole strap that did not taper too much.

Inside the Orbit was Orient's caliber 48743, a reliable and robust movement that had no problem turning those discs around. Cal. 487 variants are typically identified in Orient's references as "ER". When searching the web for this model, you could look for codes including "ERAM" or "ERAK", as well as "Orbit".

The same movement was placed in a more conventional case to produce the "Masquerade". It had considerably larger dimensions – 35.5mm width, 47mm lug to lug, and 13.5mm thickness. The strap was narrower than the Orbit's though, at 25mm, enabling a single-hole structure.

When searching the web for this model, you could look for codes including "ERAP" or "Masquerade". Note that some sellers incorrectly refer to all Direct Read models by this name, so you might find some Orbits that pop up when looking for the Masquerade.

Another important note (that is, if you care about these things…) concerns the movement. Apparently, at some point, this model was mistakenly advertised as utilizing Orient's 46S50 movement, and this mistake was repeatedly copied onto various articles and publications. That is not true – 46S50, recognizable by having "FH" in the reference, was a completely different, no-date, small seconds caliber, used solely in semi-skeleton watches.

Orient also produced a smaller version of the lugless model, a "mini-Orbit" if you will, designated as a women's watch. This model looked almost identical to the larger Orbit, having similar proportions and dial layout. It was, however, only 28mm wide and 31mm long.

This model had a lug width of only 20mm – narrow enough to allow for wearing it on a bracelet. The watch was indeed offered having both a steel bracelet and a leather strap, similar to its bigger sibling.

Orient fitted the watch with its caliber 557, a smaller movement typically reserved for ladies' watches (and which, despite its age, is still being used in some current models). Cal. 557 has the same 40 hour power reserve as the larger caliber 487, however its accuracy is not so impressive at +40 / -30 seconds per day, compared to the 487's +25/-15.

Caliber 557 is identified by the letter "NR", and this model's reference would typically include NRAK. When searching or shopping for an Orbit, make sure you're looking at the right model – so you don't end up ordering a watch that's too small, or too big.

Prices for pre-owned Orient direct-read models typically range between USD 100-250. Personally I think paying up to USD 200 would be sensible, for a watch in mint condition.


Photos in this post were taken from various old Orient publications and sale ads.


Wednesday 7 December 2022

Orient Dipping Its Toes into the Customization Game

Orient announces a new line of "iO" watches today, but more than just a bunch of new models, this a new step for Orient – into the space of watch customization, which is growing in popularity.

From tiny micro-brands to the mighty Rolex, it seems like everyone is looking to offer watch buyers the experience of customization. A few manufacturers really present a choice of components, such as different bezel inserts, markers, hands, and so on; most, and particularly larger watch brands, simply let you combine a few dial colors, band styles, and maybe decorations like adding some diamonds etc. This limited form of customization seems to satisfy most buyers – and it's the path Orient has taken.

This also comes as a logical next step following Orient's recent launch of its online store. While currently limited to local buyers in Japan, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if the store would soon open to more markets along with more customization options. There are plenty of regions in the world where Orient is not present, or is represented by distributors who only offer a limited selection of models. Allowing buyers in such locations to shop online, directly from the brand instead of unofficial shops or private sellers on eBay, would definitely be a wise business move.

Anyway, let's look at the new watches now. The iO line was originally launched as a range of fashion watches for women, but is now being re-positioned by Orient as a unisex collection. All new iO watches are solar (light-powered) quartz movements, and the models announced today all feature sapphire crystal.

The new collection includes two chronographs and four time-and-date models – and nine different leather straps. The chronographs are 38mm wide while the non-chronos are 36mm; however, all have the same 18mm lug width, so all straps fit all watches.

It's interesting to see Orient chose very calm and neutral colors for the watch dials, and a choice of both neutral and brighter shades for the straps. On one hand, this minimizes color clashes, allowing most of the available combinations to be viable choices; on the other hand, it does not provide much room for really "crazy" combos, which is something I do like to see in custom watch building – particularly when looking at what's essentially a fashion watch.

The new iO watches are around USD 100 plus tax for just the case, plus around USD 20 per strap. If you're not in Japan, you'll probably also need to pay for international shipping and service fees to one of the numerous services offering global delivery of JDM items.