"I'm a Depression baby. I was orphaned in Pittsburgh—I didn't know my dad and my mother died when I was six months old, so I played jazz on account of survival because I didn't like to work in the mines.”
- Art Blakey
He was playing professionally by the time he was in 7th grade. He had to. He was also a father by 15. Don't judge. He married Clarice Stewart the year before. He didn't drink much, but smoked a lot, and died of lung cancer. And in between, he converted to Islam for a bit after travelling through West Africa, played with Monk, Parker and Gillespie and taught and mentored dozens of eventual jazz greats, including Wynton Marsalis.
Now take all that information about jazz great Art Blakey and design a dress watch. And make sure that case back is tight too,
If there's any brand that would welcome that kind of a challenge, it's Oris.
Sure, it’s easy to look at the controlled aggression of the Pro Pilot and Aquis lines and think that you get Oris. For most, they’re the watch on the way to a Speedie, a Big Pilot or a Sub. Perhaps, but they're also unique. The Pointer Date line, for instance, is a whimsical nod to a classic complication, whereas the Cotton Candy Divers 65s are downright cheeky. Don't forget these are the same guys who bought back their 118 year old company (named after a brook, those hipsters!) from the clutches of the Swatch group - who had pivoted the brand towards quartz after taking over in the 70s.
That decade and the one after was a crazy time. Oris could have easily gone the way of another once-giant, Universal Genève: passed around, rudderless and ultimately limp, a victim of the redrawing of the post Quartz Crisis map. But they scrapped and figured out that to survive independently, they had to do a things a little differently.
The Holstein outfit love a quirky design brief, but when it comes down to it, the executions are consistently considered.
Exhibit A is the Roberto Clemente Big Crown Pointer Date. It's baseball, but not inside baseball. It's accessible. I know little about the sport, but I read up on Clemente because of the watch, and he's a certifiable legend, and the watch, artistically, is a formidable tribute.
Which brings us to Exhibit C, the companion piece to the James Moreison yet altogether its own thing, the Limited Edition (1,000 pieces) Artrelier Art Blakey.
The Artrelier refers to Oris’ line of dress watches. We're talking petite seconds,and day/date/24 hours complications in a tri-compax layout and moon phases, a mélange intended to “…slip under a dress cuff, whatever the occasion.”
I'II be honest. I'm not classy enough to be a dress watch guy. I'm clumsy and need a sport or tool watch to sell myself the fantasy that I need at least 100 m of water resistance. I don't. So when the Oris came in for review, there was a sense of discombobulation.
And then I took the wrapper off its face.
Ladies and gentlemen - trust me, all y’all are in play here - the Art Blakey is sumptuous. This is all dial, nay, an all-dome-of-sapphire 38.25 mm watch with a dial that looks like a little drum suspended inside an ice sculpture.
Said egg shell drum is at the centre of this pie pan dial, which is a treat, and not often found in this price range. Whereas Rolexes and Omegas of yore would use the outer or inner edge of the indices to initiate the point at which the dial would fall away, Oris uses two clearly defined dark rings, the inner being of a lighter line weight.
Since Art Blakey was the foremost proponent of hard bop, a more rollicking form of bebop, it’s only fitting that the skeuomorphic “claws” to this drum are arranged not in a manner that follows the hour indices format. There are eight such claws evenly spread out. 360 degrees. Eight claws. You do the math.
One of the things I have always appreciated in dress watches is the built-in emphasis on negative space, which, in turn, helps with legibility. And in the middle of all the open space here we those slim baton hands, perfect in their length proportions, standing out with an air of understated refinement. They get only a hint of BGW9. But you don’t wear a dress watch for the lume, so it shouldn’t matter really. You’re not a philistine.
The hour and minute indices are integrated into the downward slope to the outer edge, with the cardinal 3, 6, 9 and 12 getting a dollop of lume. View them at an angle and the refraction is just enough.
The sapphire sits atop a slim domed bezel,which sits atop a slim mid-case. Coming in at 11.6 mm this should make for a pretty slim setup. Yet, on my 6.75 inch wrist this appears larger than my similarly sized Seiko Alpinist no-compass. Again, its that all-dial look from up top. It’s not a shy look at all, and it will definitely slip under a cuff.
The case is, of course, polished, The narrow, uncomplicated lugs drape organically from its mid century lines. Normally, with a 20 mm lug width we'd use the phrase "strap monster", but because you have a high net-worth I'll be respectful and use "versatile” instead.
Though if I were you I wouldn't change the supplied strap, which is a lightly textured mochaccino calf-skin befitting the style of this piece perfectly. Add to the equation a milled signed buckle with push-buttons and perlage on the underside, and the whole affair is pretty upmarket.
The movement is the Oris 733, which essentially the Sellita SW 200-1 which gets the famous Oris regulation and red rotor treatment. But you won’t be able to see it because the caseback is a genuine pièce de résistance: a dimpled rose gold disc at the centre resembling a well hammered cymbal.
The Oris Art Blakey succeeds in being many things to many people. It could easily be the only dress watch for a Doxa SUB 300 owner. It could be the watch one shares with their partner. And when those claws catch the light and come off the dial, it succeeds in pulling you in for just long enough to think, nah, I could do this all day and have the G-Shock for mowing the lawn, that would be it.
And for some of us, it would.