Ollech & Wajs is a Swiss watch brand co-founded by Albert Wajs and Joseph Ollech in 1956. The brand creates rugged, precise mechanical tool wristwatches well-suited for military, aviation, diving and sports.
- Albert Wajs and his friend Joseph Ollech form a partnership to open a watch shop. At first, they distribute timepieces from Breitling and Omega, but they also decide to establish their own brand: OWZ (Ollech & Wajs Zürich).
- Zurich, 55 StockerStrasse: on the ground floor of a beautiful classical building, only a few minutes away from the famous Baur au Lac Hotel, the first OWZ models are assembled by hand to the pace of Swiss excellence.
- Albert Wajs quickly realises that OWZ should specialize in the assembly of reliable and accurate mechanical watches. He favours movements with the most solid reputation on the market, from ETA, Dubois Dépraz, and Valjoux. He also sources robust stainless-steel cases from Maison Étienne. Desiring strictly functional and legible dials, he will obtain his supply from the Frères Lender du Locle, while the Tritium needles are picked from Universo, nested in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
OW’s catalogue grows but remains dedicated to mechanical sports and tool watches:
- Mechanical Chronographs with two or three counters powered by Vajoux movements, such as the V72 and the V92. As the perfect tool to register a new records, they became very popular among sports practitioners.
- Diving watches, hand wound or equipped with automatic ETA movements, were immediately adopted by professional divers, such as Global Marine main competitor of COMEX. The Caribbean 1000 remains one of the most emblematic models of the line, as it broke the 1964 world record for a production watch, beating Rolex and Omega to the deep-sea, with a patented monobloc case warranted to be water-resistant up to a depth of 3,300 feet. The Caribbean was also adopted by Alberto Novelli and Cesare Olgjai, the two diving world record holders, as well as by Roberto Dei, on his North Pole and Red Sea expeditions in 1966 and in 1967.
- Military watches were quite popular among the U.S. Armed Forces. Entire battalions of GIs relied on robust models like the Early Bird or the M65 on the battlefields of Vietnam, including several Airborne and Assault units, for which special editions were edited.
- Finally, pilot watches like the Selectron series, their slide-rule makes them indispensable calculators for civil and military pilots. While astronauts were supplied with Omega Speedmasters, the OW Selectron and the Astrochron were adopted by several NASA scientific staff and executives.
OW’s reputation for not compromising on the quality of its components bears fruit in a matter of years. While Albert Wajs orders Valjoux movements by the tens of thousands (with a preference for the V72, a famous component of early Rolex Daytona), the satisfaction of his customers shows in the hundreds of letters Ollech and Wajs receive from soldiers, divers and pilots around the world.
OW is heavily promoted through articles and advertising in the U.S. by military and professional publications. Through a network of dealers, military exchanges, and direct mail sales, Ollech & Wajs delivers up to 10,000 pieces a year.
- In the early 1970s, new OW models make their appearance: 3 counters Chronos, a new Caribbean, and more. An English TV-show, The Professionals, greatly contributes to the brand’s fame by featuring stars Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins sporting the OW Caribbean 1000. Quartz watches from Asia make their appearance. Production drops to 2,000 units a year.
- Despite the competition from cheaper Asian watches, and the slow decline of his sales, Albert Wajs continues to dedicate himself to the production of mechanical watches. To this day, OW remains one of the rare Swiss brands that never made a quartz powered watch.
- In 1978, as Breitling is shutting down its operations, OW (along with Helmut Sinn) buys up stocks and equipment from the famous pilot watches brand. Albert Wajs then resumes the Navitimer’s production, under the brand name Aviation, for over two decades.
- Joseph Ollech passes away: As a living tribute to the memory of his partner, Albert Wajs designs and produces a new line of OW sports watches. Picking only the best components, he equips his new diver watches, the M series, with an ETA 2824 movement. It is followed by a line of chronographs, including a limited edition based on the Valjoux 7733 which proved to be a great success, along with the reputable OW Mirage equipped with a Valjoux 7750.
The Brand Restructuring (2017 and onwards)
After a lifetime of work and a declining sight, and after ten years of exchanges and relationship building, Albert Wajs handed over on the OW brand to a trusted dedicated collector who shares the same values and long-term vision for the brand.
In the spring of 2019, the brand launched a new line co-designed by Philippe Guegan and assembled in the Swiss Jura. In November 2019, OW issued a limited-edition model. Assembled by hand, using authentic cases from the brand’s historical stock, these watches brought OW’s finest hours back to life. They were fitted with brand new ETA 2824, but in accordance with original OW designs. This release was a nod to the brand’s own history. In 1978, Albert Wajs bought Willy Breitling’s Navitimer components and machinery, to adapt them to his own assembly line, an early demonstration of upcycling.
The robust stainless steel case of each Ollech & Wajs is stamped, machined and satin brushed in the Swiss Jura by expert hands. Joseph Ollech and Albert Wajs chose early on to use specially commissioned fine mechanical movements from ETA and Valjoux. This tradition lives on through the newly modified ETA 2824 movements.
After an initial quality control to ensure its accuracy, it is meticulously taken apart and its main plate is engraved with the OW logo. Ollech & Wajs also adds a new and exclusive rotor, machined and decorated in the Swiss Jura. Each movement is then carefully adjusted to 3 or 5 positions, twice, to meet the standards of finest Swiss watchmaking. The watches are also fitted with screw-on crown and case-back to guarantee exceptional water-resistance.