The Orion 1 is the first watch from independent watchmaker Nick Harris, who has a long history in the Seiko modding community. Nick is a great guy who really cares about watchmaking and design. That's no small part of the appeal of Orion as a brand.
The Orion is no slouch, spec-wise. It has
- Seiko NH35 movement (same as Seiko 4R36)
- 100m WR
- Thick, single domed sapphire with rear AR coating
- 38mm diameter
- 20mm lug width, 49mm lug to lug
- Drilled lugs
It retails for US$450.
When I ordered the Orion 1 Blue, I had in mind that it would be something in the vein (though of course not in the ballpark) of an Explorer 1: sporty, yet understated enough to pass as a dress watch. In the metal, however, it's not the least bit understated, and it definitely wasn't love at first sight for me.
The Orion 1 has a design all of its own; you'd be hard pressed to pick any specific inspirations. I'd obsessively looked at photos before (and after) ording it, so I was prepared for the thickness (13mm), the long lugs (49mm) and the huge crown (9mm). Something the photos don't fully convey though is the crystal.
Unlike most watches, the thick, single domed sapphire is a huge part of the visual design, both with its size, distortion and the crazy way it interacts with its anti-refelective coating. The dial (which is matte black) can appear anything from deep black to bright blue, depending on the light.
At at steep enough angle, the dial is completely distorted, and in the wrong light (particularly multiple hard point light sources) the reflections on the surface of the crystal, the AR on the rear, and the hands can make it pretty hard to read.
After a couple of weeks I seem to have adapted to the crystal and have completely fallen for the watch as a whole. The design as a package works very, very well. Rather than the subtle nature of an Explorer 1, it has more the flashy personality of an Omega Aqua Terra.
The most obvious competition to the Orion 1 is the Seiko SARB033 - black dial, 100m WR, sapphire crystal, 38mm. The SARB is renowned for being incredible value at its price (retail is $450, but it can easily be found for $350).
The SARB is essentially that understated sports watch that I thought the Orion would be. It's visually 90% dress watch, in a case that is impecibly finished but still tough. The SARB also wins the movement battle: its 6R15 is a step above the Orion's NH35.
In terms of finishing, the Orion is at least as good as the SARB, although not as complex. Where the SARB has layered lugs with varying textures, the Orion keeps it simple with polished sides and brushed tops. But the execution of the surfaces is excellent, and the transition between brushed and polished is flawless.
Even the back of the case is finished well, transitioning from the polished sides back to brushed. This attention to detail is present in the dial and hands, too.
Especially on the bracelet, it's hard to beat the SARB as the consummate all-rounder. I've worn it on my morning run to work, showered with it on, then put on a business shirt, and it always felt completely at home.
In every dimension, the SARB is at least as good as the Orion. Except for uniqueness. I love the look of the SARB, but it's a very safe design, instantly recognisable as a Seiko. The Orion looks like nothing else I've come across. Whether that's worth $100 and forgoing the versatility of the SARB is up to you. I've just sold my SARB, which tells you where I stand.
Now that I've adapted to the design, there are only a few niggles I have with the Orion. Firstly, the lume is useless. The dial lume is fine (barely), but the hands are unreadable even when fully charged.
The OEM leather strap is also isn't great. I love that Nick went to the effort to have a leather strap build that exactly fits the shape of the case, but that look just doesn't work for me. It's not bad quality, but not stunning, either. I think he'd do better offering a head-only option, a NATO option, or switching to any old traditionally shaped leather strap.
After bagging the lume and the strap, I tested both again today. The lume on the hands is visible when fully charged, but only when fully charged, and not for long. I forgot to mention that the high polish hands mean that if there's even minimal light in the room, you can usually pick up enough of a reflection to tell the time.
The strap is better than I remember, partly I think because I spent some time softening it up so it hugs my wrist better. It's still not my preferred look, but as with the rest of the design, the more I look at it, the more I like it.
Nick's execution of the Orion is really stunning for a microbrand at this price point. Here is a crop of a side-by-side photo I took with my Aquis - you can clearly read the text of the Oris crown in the mirror-like reflection of the Orion's bezel:
This quality extends to every aspect of the watch. Everything was considered and executed as well as possible.
Despite the massive lugs relative to the case, it wears very well, and the curve of the lugs helps the whole watch to sit down into the wrist. The huge crown feels wonderful to use, and I've never had an issue with it poking into my hand.
It's a cohesive, singular design that grows on you the more you wear it. In essense, it feels like Nick really cared about this watch. I'm glad I get to own one.