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Ollech Wajs Rallychron 26

The Rallychron is the latest chronograph watch from revitalised independent Swiss brand Ollech & Wajs. Described by the brand as ‘a love letter to the golden era of motor racing and the legendary circuits that bore witness to the most memorable moments in the sport’s history’, this watch will certainly satisfy hardcore motorsports fans. But does it have enough tricks up its sleeve to win over other watch lovers?

But first, let me ask you this. What do you know about the brand Ollech & Wajs? (No googling!). My guess is that at least half of you will know as little or even less than I did. I knew of the name Ollech & Wajs, so there was at least some brand recognition, but that’s about as far as it went. And, despite being stocked by a small network of retailers, Ollech & Wajs is still a relatively niche brand, so I’d never experienced its watches in the metal! That all changed this month however, when I got to delve deeper into the Zurich-based brand and spent some hands-on time with its latest release, the Rallychron. And I have to say that, based solely on this one watch, I’m now somewhat ashamed by my ignorance!

Why should you know about this brand? Well, for starters, in collaboration with Jenny (pronounced as Yenny), they produced the first watch capable of diving beneath the waves to a lung-crushing depth of 1000m! Released in 1964, just eight years after the brand was founded, this watch was called the Caribbean 1000 Precision. Unlike Jenny however, Ollech & Wajs (OW) has continued to trade continuously through the quartz crisis and admirably has only ever made mechanical watches. OW also made thousands of watches for the US military during the Vietnam war era. These two facts alone surely qualify OW as authentic tool watches, so we’re off to a good start. The fact that to this day, they still have a special projects division (department triple zero) that designs and makes bespoke watches, many of which are still used in combat zones, reinforces their commitment to their heritage. However, they also have the ‘cool factor’ covered! OW watches have adorned the wrists of real-life icons such as musician Jack Bruce (of Cream fame) as well as fictional CI5 crime-fighting duo, Bodie and Doyle. I could go on, as these facts are just the tip of the iceberg, but as this is primarily a review, please head over to the OW website where you’ll find a detailed history and plenty of impressive stories. Suffice to say though, you’d be a fool to overlook this brand.

Current-day Ollech & Wajs

Despite a loyal following, in recent decades OW watches were produced in very small quantities and the brand lived in the shadows of its former heyday self. However, the brand was reborn in 2016 after it was bought by watch and car enthusiast, Charles Le Menestrel. Charles also used to be the official OW distributor for the French market, so it’s understandable that Albert Wajs thought he was a fitting person to pass the baton on to.  With such an impressive heritage to build upon and with the renewed vigour that fresh blood brings, the brand has slowly been gaining wider recognition, finding new customers, whilst staying true to the OW DNA.

Rallychron Overview

The Rallychron is the most expensive watch in the current OW line-up. Priced at £2060 (2356 CHF / €2443) on the leather strap or £2170 (2482 CHF / €2,574) on bracelet, it combines chronographs functions with impressive water resistance. As is the case with all its watches, the Rallychron is designed and assembled in OWs’ original Zurich workshop and has a three-year warranty. Every watch undergoes a rigorous quality control process comprising more than a dozen operations and is inspected at regular stages of assembly to ensure that it is perfectly finished. The movement is also adjusted by hand in Haute-Sorne in the Swiss Jura.

The Case and Wearing Experience

The modest 39.5mm all-brushed stainless steel case uses OWs’ heritage-type chronograph case shape. It’s not all that unique but it’s very well executed and well-suited to this style of watch and its racing pedigree. However, relative to the diameter, the case is chunky, coming in at 15.3mm thick. There are two main reasons for this. The first will be obvious to watch enthusiasts. It’s a chronograph with an automatic movement, so your starting point is usually around 13mm, as anything less usually involves an in-house movement or at least a heavily customised one. The second reason may be less obvious. The Rallychron has a frankly incredible 300 meters of water resistance. Yes, I did say 300m! Most dive watches can’t even match that. This achievement is doubly remarkable because the chronograph pushers aren’t even screw-down. The extra engineering involved in achieving this inevitably bulks the watch out a bit more. Whether that’s something you want or need at the sacrifice of some comfort is down to personal preference. I’d personally prefer a slimmer case as 300m is excessive for a chrono aimed primarily at land-based activities. For reference, an Omega Seamaster Diver 300 Chronograph is 17.2mm thick and Breitling’s Avenger 300m is a similar thickness to the OW at 15.2mm. Both the Seamaster and Avenger are both well over £6k, although admittedly, unlike the Seamaster, you can’t use the Rallychron’s pushers under water.

The mid-case is very thin and has continuously flowing lines from the case to the angular lugs, which curve down slightly to follow the wrist. This helps visually thin the watch. However, in terms of wearing experience, it’s the caseback which takes on a lot of the overall thickness, so the watch does sit on top of the wrist rather than bedding down and there is quite a lot of ‘air’ between the case and your wrist. Radial brushing is used for the dial side of the case and a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal with internal anti-reflective coating protects the dial. The watch strap isn’t quick-release, but with the lugs being drilled, changing straps is still relatively quick. In some ways I prefer this approach, but there will be those that don’t. The 20mm lug width means it’ll be easy to add your own quick-release strap should you wish, and with a straight case between the lugs and monochrome dial, this thing will absolutely be a strap-monster!

Lug-to-lug isn’t quoted on the OW website, but I measure it to be approx. 48mm. This relatively short lug-to-lug is the watch’s saving grace in terms of wearability for those with more modest wrist sizes, although I wouldn’t recommend it for those with small wrists.

Each chronograph pusher is fitted with two gaskets. There is a screw-down crown bearing a nicely engraved OW logo and the 10-sided screw-down caseback is engraved with logo and specs. On the left-hand side of the case at the 10 o’clock position is an inset pusher, which is a quick set for the date, a lovely and thoughtful feature. The action on chronographs pushers and quick-set date is confident and solid.

The unidirectional rotating bezel comprises two sections. The sloped inner section features a useful tachymeter scale printed white on black and overlaid with mineral glass. The brushed outer section is given a black PVD coating and has the names of eleven motor racing circuits engraved and filled with white, with theoretical ‘perfect lap’ times printed alongside in orange. These lap times were hypothesised from analysis of race seasons spanning 1965-69 (the glory years of OW’s most cherished racing chronographs) with the help of Hervé Charbonneaux — a well-known classic car collector, rally driver, historical rally promoter and author. Circuits include Monza, Silverstone and Daytona. This playful nod to the racing track is unique feature and one that’s sure to encourage lively debate amongst hard-core motor racing fans until long after the sun is over the yardarm. The bezel has fantastic grip and has a nice feel to it; quite light, but solid and with little to no backplay.

The rally-style perforated Italian leather strap has a natural tan underside, 20mm lug width, and is of truly excellent quality. There is one fixed and one floating keeper and a beautifully machined brushed stainless steel buckle engraved with ‘OWZ 1956’. If leather isn’t for you, you can choose to opt for a medium gauge, stainless steel, hand-brushed, mesh bracelet. If it were me, I’d buy both at time of ordering.

Dial, Hands and Legibility

Working from the outside in, we have a white printed scale denoting seconds and fractions of seconds, printed and lumed rectangular hour markers, and an applied brushed steel inverted triangle for the all-important 12 o’clock marker. The dial itself is a mid-grey with a flat matt finish. The black sub-dials have a sunburst finish and are arranged in a tri-compax design, with the running seconds at 9, the elapsed minutes at 3, and the 12-hour totaliser at 6. The distinctive broad and flat, squared off, baton-shaped hour and minute hands have alternating black and white squares, emulating the chequered flag used in motor racing. The unmistakeable OW logo is printed in white at 12 o’clock. Other dial text comprises ‘Zurich 1956 Precision below the logo, ‘OW Rallychron’ on the hour totaliser, and ‘Swiss Made’ above the six o’clock marker.

The largely monochrome dial is very attractive and well-balanced with just enough pops of orange to prevent it from being boring. A black-on-white date wheel is nicely incorporated within the 12-hour subdial at six o’clock. Overall legibility is very good, helped by the chequeredhands, large sub-dials and orange triangles on the chronograph seconds and 30-minute register. However, in some lighting conditions the running small seconds and hour totaliser hands can get a bit lost. I wish these were longer and a more prominent shape rather than simple sticks (or that they terminated with an arrowhead tip or similar). Finishing on the subdial hands, especially around the pinions could be improved, and pinion caps would also help elevate the finishing.

For night-time viewing, white Super-LumiNova is applied to the hands and the hour markers. The main chronograph hand and 30-minute timer hand are tipped with Orange Super-LumiNova. The lume on the main hands and indices is adequate initially, but does fade quite quickly, so there’s room for improvement here. The less said about the lume on the 30-minute timer the better…it’s shockingly bad!

The Movement

The Rallychron uses an automatic Valjoux 7753 automatic chronograph movement, a solid 27-jewel movement with a great reliability record. OW also goes to the trouble of regulating the movement to five positions, so accuracy is improved from the factory default. The beat rate is 28,800 bph and the power reserve is 54 hours. The rotor is engraved with the OW logo and Zurich 1956, boasting heritage. Although, unless you’re present when it comes to servicing, you’ll never see it as the caseback is solid.

Final Thoughts

The Rallychron is a serious watch with a playful alter-ego and just enough colour and unique design details to make it instantly recognisable.

Ollech & Wajs pitch the Rallychon as a motorsports chronograph and it certainly has enough unique motorsports inspired details that it’s successful as that. But it’s equally successful if you just look at it as a good all-round tool watch. It’s got a distinct look that is purposeful, tool-like and full of character. It also screams heritage. These factors make it a really cool looking watch, but also quite masculine. As such, it’s easy to imagine the Rallychron being worn by the likes of 60s Hollywood icon Steve McQueen. This could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you’re looking for in a watch.

The Rallychron is OW’s most expensive watch, but it’s not an expensive watch in a world where most Longines chronographs retail for £3000 plus and all automatic TAG Heuer watches retail for upwards of the same, both considerably more than the Rallychron’s £2060 asking price. And there are many pluses for choosing the Ollech and Wajs. Firstly, it’s made in much smaller quantities so it’s more exclusive. Secondly, strap the Rallychron to your wrist and you’ll get a warm glow that comes with supporting an independent watchmaker. Thirdly, the Rallychron is more unique thanks to design elements inspired by motor racing, such as the circuit bezel markings. Finally, if you’ve been searching for a Swiss-made mechanical chronograph with a regulated movement and a whopping 300m of water resistance (WR), you’ll have quickly realised that pickings are very slim. With this in mind, the Rallychron begins to look like incredible value for money and makes an awful lot of sense, especially when you consider that the pricing includes all duties and taxes regardless of which country you live in. Its closest competitors at a similar price are probably Hanhart for slightly less and Brellum for slightly more, neither of which offer anything like the same level of WR or satisfy motorsports enthusiasts in the way that the OW does. Is the Rallychron the best chronograph choice for you? It depends. If WR, motor racing and a tool watch aesthetic are important to you, then I doubt there is any direct competition at this price. However, if you prioritise comfort or prefer a more versatile or refined aesthetic, then obviously competition opens up. As always, best to get hands-on with one if you can!

I’ve had my eyes opened to this brand and after delving in to OW’s history, back catalogue of designs and current line-up, I have a feeling the brand’s profile is on an upwards trajectory and will be talked about more and more within the watch community.

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