I see no need to bury the lede when it comes to Ophion’s OPH 786 Vélos. This watch is outstanding, stunningly beautiful, and one of the most genuinely interesting new watches I’ve had a chance to sample of late. It’s doing a bunch of things, on a bunch of different levels, and succeeds at nearly all of them. The finishing, the movement, and especially the dial, along with everything on it, work together in harmony, creating a watch that’s completely surprising in the best possible way.
While the Vélos has the appearance of a “finely made” dress watch, the whole point of the watch is to subvert what that somewhat vague terminology even means. Ophion’s watches are an experiment in the deliberate mixing of traditional hand finishing techniques with modern manufacturing, and making the most of what the latest technology has to offer. The handwork that is so important to me and other watch lovers has, in many instances, been intentionally discarded by Ophion in favor of modern technology, and the results had me rethinking, for the first time in ages, what it is that I actually value in watchmaking.
Review: Ophion OPH 786 Vélos
Hand in hand with Ophion’s use of modern manufacturing to recreate old-world finishing techniques is the transparency of the brand in how the components of the finished watches are sourced. One of the pleasures of wearing the Vélos is the understanding that you know precisely what it is, and what it is not. The Ophion invites us to evaluate it on those terms alone, without the endless comparisons to other watches and other brands that are so pervasive in watchmaking these days. There’s no one upmanship here – just a brand that has extreme confidence in their own work, and a desire to show it off in an uncommonly pure manner.
I’ve had the opportunity to live with three different examples of the Ophion Vélos, each with its own uniquely mesmerizing dial design. I was sent the salmon and silver guilloche variants, as well as the radial blue. While I certainly have my preferences among the three (which I’ll get to shortly), I have to say that they are all equally well made and impressive in their own way. Ophion has given customers a range of options with the Vélos (in addition to the three sent to me, they also offer a blue guilloche and a radial anthracite), so hopefully anyone who is interested in one of these will find (at least) one that they really love, but I think it’s more likely that difficult decisions will need to be made by prospective buyers.
Guilloche is one of the oldest decorative techniques in watchmaking, and refers to the precise geometric patterns found on a watch dial, most commonly in the context of a classic dress watch. Good guilloche is incredibly rewarding to view under a loupe, where the precision of the machinery and artistry of the craftspeople who create it is apparent. Conversely, poorly executed guilloche, often applied with a stamp, holds up at a distance but falls apart when you get in close, with rough edges and imperfections exposed. Authentic guilloche that is engraved with an engine turning machine (or rose engine) takes a great deal of skill to accomplish and is a lot less common in today’s watchmaking environment, where old styles of craft in general simply can’t be applied to products designed for the all important mass market.
That’s where Ophion comes in. Rather than using a rose engine or a stamp, they’ve figured out a type of middle ground using a CNC machining process. The result is quite effective on the silver and salmon colored dials I was able to observe. The level of detail is very fine – often the shortcut method used to achieve the most basic guilloche effect results in much larger geometric shapes, due to the obvious limits when it comes to manufacturing the stamps and molds that are used. On the Vélos, there is detail that is barely perceptible to the naked eye, and quite clear when looking at the dial under magnification. It’s very well done, and I can’t recall seeing a watch in this price range that has a better, more detailed dial.
The blue dial, if a little less complex, is similarly beautiful, and my personal favorite of the three watches I got to handle. The radial brushing is very noticeable and addicting to look at when light hits the dial, but quite a bit more reserved than you might expect in “normal” conditions. Most of the time it takes on the appearance of a straightforward sunburst dial, which we’ve all seen plenty of. But, as with everything on this watch, a close inspection reveals almost endless detail and will have you asking “How did they do that?” over and over.
That brings us to this watch’s secret weapon. While the dials are beautiful and obvious centerpieces of each watch, to me the most impressive single feature is actually everything that’s attached to the dial. The markers (Breguet style Arabic numerals) are exquisite, both thick and razor sharp. They’re circled by a skeletonized minutes track on the outside, and a concentric ring on the inside. Both of these extremely thin and fine circular applied pieces are impeccably finished, with brushing on the top, and polishing on the sides. They pick up light wonderfully and are simply great dial accents.
I looked at these dials under magnification repeatedly and just can’t find any major fault with them. The overall level of quality is exceptional, and as I put it above, the biggest problem might be choosing which one to purchase for yourself, if you’re inclined to do so. To me, it’s that much more impressive knowing that modern manufacturing processes were used to achieve this look, as it’s not readily apparent that any major compromises were made. The Vélos largely proves the idea that, with great care and attention, sometimes a so-called “short cut” can actually be worth it. I think this is a somewhat controversial idea, and I might not have taken that position a year ago, but I’m far more open to the prospect of alternative manufacturing methods after handling the Vélos.
Because the dials of these Ophions are so strong, it’s perhaps easy to think of the case as a weak link. I know that when I initially unboxed these watches, the case didn’t immediately grab my attention. While the lugs are dramatic, it’s otherwise a standard polished affair. But, as with other aspects of the Ophion, it rewards some additional scrutiny.
The first thing worth pointing out is that the case is made by Voutilainen-Cattin S.A. If the name didn’t give it away, this is Kari Voutilainen’s case making outfit, and Kari Voutilainen is one of the world’s great independent watchmakers. As we discussed in our Sleeper Guide (featuring S.U.F Helsinki, watches made by Stepan Sarpaneva), there’s something great about a watch that’s a value proposition that’s tied to a great watchmaker. The fact is that most people will never have a chance to own a watch with Kari or Stepan’s name on the dial (either due to the high price, or rarity), so a watch that shares some DNA with the rare stuff is appealing from an enthusiast perspective. In its own way, it might even be more under the radar and satisfying.
The connection with Voutilainen here isn’t just academic – the case is reminiscent of his signature style, with teardrop lugs and mirror polishing. Those lugs have been cast independently of the case and welded to it, and there’s another invisible weld where the bezel and mid case meet. These small details help make the case feel substantial and hefty in a pleasing way despite its somewhat conservative size. It measures 38.5mm in diameter, but the lugs are so short that the watch wears smaller in my opinion.
My favorite thing about the case would have to be its soft lines – aside from the inside of the lugs, there isn’t a sharp angle on this thing. That’s certainly a Voutilainen touch, and gives the watch an organic appearance. It’s also a considerably more difficult case shape to pull off with the invisible welding they’ve done, making it that much more impressive as an achievement. The case is sneakily complex, only revealing how unusual and well made it is under very close inspection, but it absolutely holds up to scrutiny.
The Vélos runs on a hand wound movement produced by Soprod, and made in collaboration with Manufacture Horlogère du Vallée de Joux, or MHVJ, and carries an impressive five day power reserve. The bridges have been redesigned to mimic the look of classic pocket watch calibers, and the decoration incorporates both traditional handwork and, once again, modern technology to achieve the appearance of finishing techniques normally seen in much higher end watches.
The bevels on the movement’s bridges, for example, are polished by machine. But the hammered, frost-like finish that is so prevalent when you flip the watch over is achieved by hand. Ophion is smart about picking and choosing their spots – they’ve reasoned that certain things can look great when done by machine, but with others it’s worth the energy to do it the old fashioned way.
A lot of watches in this price range (and higher) have open casebacks without, in my opinion, much purpose. They often add thickness to a watch that is not needed or desired, and the movements on display tend to not have that gasp inducing effect that you want when you flip the watch over. And that’s not really the fault of the brands that make these watches – it’s very expensive and difficult to hand finish a movement, and nobody should expect Patek level looks on a watch well under $5,000.
But the movement in the Vélos has an architecture that is designed to be seen, and is thoughtfully decorated in a way that truly impresses but keeps the watch within a relatively affordable price point. There’s a depth and visual interest here, taking advantage of a variety of finishing techniques that are usually found in much more expensive watches.
Straps and Wearability
The Vélos is available on a variety of leather options when purchasing directly from the brand. The watches you see here are on alligator leather, which is an appropriate choice for a formal watch. The straps are comfortable, well made, and are a solid match for the Vélos from an aesthetic perspective. These dials are all fairly neutral in terms of color, and would look great with anything on the darker end of the spectrum. Blacks, browns, and grays all seem appropriate here.
On my 7.5 inch wrist I found the Vélos to be comfortable during extended periods of wear. I think the 38.5mm case size has a Goldilocks quality to it that many people will find very wearable. The Vélos measures about 10.5mm thick, but that includes the domed crystal, and you have to factor in the slope of the bezel in the wearing experience as well. Without the sapphire, the thickness drops to just 9mm thick, which in my opinion feels closer to what the watch feels like on the wrist. The short lugs also aid in making the Vélos feel compact – it measures just shy of 47mm lug to lug. That’s a conservative size by today’s standards, and the extremely deliberate design helps shrink the watch even more once you get used to wearing it.
In case it wasn’t clear from all the gushing above, I’m a pretty big fan of these watches. Taste, obviously, is subjective, and I can certainly see a watch lover just not being into the dressy style, particularly with the guilloche dials, but I don’t think the overall quality of the product can be called into question. It’s simply incredibly well made, and every aspect of the watch has been thoroughly thought through and executed to a degree we don’t normally see in this price range.
As someone who covers these watches for a living, one of the most impressive things about Ophion is their transparency. Take a look at their website, and you see a thorough accounting of where every major component is sourced. There’s no tricky wording used to imply that Ophion has done something that they themselves are not directly responsible for. In fact, Ophion seems to take great pride in having the ability, resources, and good taste to pull all these disparate components together into one cohesive watch.
The Ophion with a guilloche dial retails for approximately $3,380 after currency conversion (the radial dials are a few hundred less, and price can shift with strap options). That’s not an inexpensive watch, but I think that considering the novel way that it’s made, it represents a lot of real value. There’s nothing else like it on the market. Ophion