The longer the micro-brand phenomenon persists, the more I realize how specialized, inventive, and value-driven these nimble little design houses can be. Spain’s Ophion proves the point with their sophomore effort dubbed OPH-786, a 39-millimeter dress watch with a CNC’d guilloche or granular dial, a highly customized hand-wound movement, and a host of other impressive details normally costing thousands more than the €1,890 (~$2,200) you’ll pay for the 786.Other than being designed for the wrist, every aspect of the OPH-786 in some way pays tribute to the highly decorated pocket watches of the 1700s. There was no mass-manufacturing of watches in the 1700s, so watchmakers built it all by hand from scratch, serving a clientele who expected immaculately executed decoration inside and out. For Ophion and its customers, such hand-building would have been prohibitive, so Ophion innovated ways to offer exceptionally detailed metal work via computer-driven CNC machines.
Review: Ophion OPH-786
CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control, a clunky name from another era, but it spells out just how far from hand-made the Ophion 786 dials are. CNC routers can make incredibly precise cuts, and compared to stamped dials the 786’s CNC’d patterns are far superior in both sharpness and shine. I’ll go a step further and say that the dials of the OPH-786 are closer to those from watch houses like Patek Philippe than stamped counterparts. I’ve seen Patek’s craftspeople cutting dials on their hundred-year-old machines, and other than there being a human there to guide it, the Patek machine really amounts to the same thing as a CNC router: a precise metal cutting device that follows external instructions.
The 786’s guilloche dial is available in either silver or blue, while the granular pattern is only available in charcoal gray. All three of these dials integrate beautifully into the watch’s elegant, layered design. Perforated brushed steel hour and minute-marker rings hover above the dial, allowing the guilloche or granular pattern to show through as Roman numerals and dots. This is a clever strategy, and the added depth gives the dial an air of vintage craftsmanship.
The rather tall applied Ophion name plate and logo complete the classy look and maintain the sense of depth. There is no date complication, which is both faithful to pocket watches of the 1700s and another sign that Ophion is under no pressure to pander to broad consumer tastes that have forced many brands to slot ill-conceived date windows onto otherwise good looking dials.
The hands are either heat-blued steel or plated nickel, depending on the dial color, and the traditional hand shapes add to the formality of the watch while offering heightened legibility when viewed at all angles through the double-domed sapphire crystal. A particularly nice touch is that the aperture on the hour hand will encircle the round applied logo at the six o’clock hour.
Though a sapphire case back was never an option in the 1700s, owners of pocket watches from that era would regularly view (and adjust!) their movements by opening hinged case backs. Highly decorated movements were the norm during the Enlightenment, the mechanism serving a point of pride for both watchmaker and owner.
In that spirit, Ophion has modified the hand-wound Soprod base movement (which was originally produced by Technotime before its acquisition by Soprod) to such a degree that it is nearly unrecognizable, and the result is the double barrel, 120-hour caliber you see here (click here to see the stock movement). The three main bridges are hand-hammered and then given a polished chamfered edge. The separate balance bridge is finished in straight brushed stainless steel, while the main plate beneath is a muted, sandblasted gray finish. The overall effect is sculptural, sophisticated, and subdued. Few movements appear as elegant behind glass as well-decorated hand-wound ones, and the 786’s movement is a solid example of that truism.
The case is polished 316L stainless steel throughout, with clean edges and mirror-like surfaces. The case is modestly decorative, with a curved bezel that’s just one millimeter smaller than the case. Dimensions are 39 millimeters across, with drilled lugs curving sharply downward for a reasonable 48.8-millimeter lug-to-lug span. Thickness is just over 10 millimeters, which is ideal for a dress watch. There shouldn’t be many surprises when it comes to fit.
Straps are leather, and one can go for either calf or upgrade to alligator. Straps come in blue, black or brown, each of which works nicely with any of the dial variants. I’d likely go for the alligator, as the scaly pattern plays well with the the watch’s “tridimensionality,” to use a charming neologism I found on Ophion’s website.
Obviously the OPH-786 is a no-holds-barred dress watch, and it is far from being a dressy tool watch, or DTW. In fact, Ophion doesn’t even list the water resistance or anti-magnetic ratings on their website, which is entirely in keeping with the pocket watch ethos of this offering. I can’t imagine this watch on any adventure—hardly even a glamping excursion—but it does look great with a nice pair of jeans and a crisp tee, perhaps even some fancier sneakers. Such attire doesn’t dress the watch down as much as the watch dresses that look up. A suit would be an obvious pairing, and the 786 could even accompany something as blingy as diamond-studded cuff links for a black tie affair.
Given Ophion’s stated goals for the 786, it’s difficult to come up with any complaints about the this watch. Sizing is versatile; finish level far exceeds the price-point; the style is coherent and classy; and there’s an unabashed attempt to hang with the big dogs of horology like A. Lange & Söhne, Patek Philippe, and Breguet. Unlike so many other entry-level dress watches, the OPH-786’s clever use of CNC machining may give Ophion a meaningful advantage in this sector.
And this begs a broader question: As CNC machines grow more sophisticated, capable, and affordable, will they give old-school hand-cutting techniques a run for their money? Will our expectations of finish-to-price ratios shift significantly as CNC machining continues to improve? It’s interesting to speculate answers to these questions, yet the only definitive claim I’m willing to make at this point is that CNC routers are capable of filling the wide gap between stamped dials and those marvels wrought from old-world handcraft. Micro-brands may be the ones to advance this middle-ground, as CNC routing seems well suited to these spry enterprises.The Ophion OPH-786 is currently available for pre-order, and the first batch should ship in September. Subsequent batches are slated for January 2019 shipment. Ophion