Portugal-based Borealis has released the Olisipo – a 1980s-looking diver with impressive specifications and serious attention to detail. Let’s have a closer look in a full review.
Olisipo is an evocative word. On the one hand, it suggests the heart of Portugal: that’s to say, Lisbon. On the other, it presents a location rich in different heritages from the Greeks to the Romans and from the Visigoths to the Moors.
For the new Borealis Olisipo, one feels a similar sense of mixed influences which result in a similarly charming end product. Like most of this Portugal-based brand, the Olisipo is a dive watch with a vintage inspiration. With that being said, unlike the clearly ‘60s Sea Storm and ‘70s Scorpionfish, the Olisipo is less overt with its somewhat ‘80s feel.
The Case – ’80s angles
The first part to address in this review of the Borealis Olisipo is the case. This part of the watch is industry-standard 316L stainless steel and can resist 300 metres of water pressure thanks to a threaded crown. This case is a very sensible 40mm in diameter with a short lug-to-lug measurement of 47mm to fit big and small wrists alike. Sitting atop this case is a unidirectional rotating bezel with 120 clicks and a conical ceramic insert. However, the insert is not conventionally polished ceramic but rather brushed ceramic to give a less reflective finish. To match the ceramic bezel with its superior scratch resistance to steel is a flat internally anti-reflective sapphire crystal. Whilst more susceptible to shattering than plexiglass, this crystal should be much more durable in the long-term due to its 3mm thickness.
Where aesthetics are concerned, the case has a finish to match its angular form. The predominant finish of this watch is brushing with a circular grain across the top of the lugs to separate the case from its flanks. The sides are longitudinally brushed to prevent the watch from looking too short whilst an overly technical look is prevented by wide polished bevels. By adding these to both the top and bottom of the case, what could be been an overly weighty case is allowed to float on the wrist. Lending a level of contrast, the bezel rim is brushed to conceal scratches and accentuate the geometrical shape of the case. Turning the case over, in lieu of an exhibition caseback, we see a deeply engraved depiction of a mermaid: a recurring image for this brand. This aspect of the Olisipo reveals another admirable attribute: a lack of laser-etching. Instead, Borealis has gone the extra mile to offer engraved text on the caseback which is a detail which, whilst often ignored, shows a level of attention.
The magic to this case is, however, found in the overall ergonomics. Whilst slim for a 300m dive watch, its 12mm thickness is hardly svelte yet is concealed by a flat caseback and short lugs to remain close to the wrist. To add to this, the lugs are shortened by their sharp, downturned shape so as to reduce their presence. Attention to bezel function is surprisingly often neglected but is well balanced here. Whilst a bezel with no overhang will seldom give a consistently good grip, this watch does an admirable job by bevelling the case away to give better access. The upshot of this design is that, despite having a slim profile, the bezel remains easy to turn through 120 clicks. A focus on everyday use is seen in the crown at 3:45. Invariably, I must address the argument for having crown-guards which would offer additional resilience. Despite this, the likelihood of damaging a crown in this position is so low that this trade-off in favour of ease of access seems justified.
The President Bracelet
In truth, the individuality of this watch is rooted in the case’s interaction with the bracelet on which it is provided. The bracelet selected is of the president style as seen on the Rolex Oyster Day-Date — an incongruous pairing, I hear you say. However, once the watch is in the hand, it all begins to make sense. As a consequence of sitting between Oyster and Jubilee bracelets, this bracelet gives a reassuring sense of strength through solid. screwed links whilst also having enough flexibility to be extremely comfortable. Aesthetically, its solid endlinks mate to the case seamlessly to give a 1980s, almost-integrated feel. To my eye, the appeal is a consequence of seeing the decadence of a president bracelet with an angular case reminiscent of the dive watches of the era which fit together so well. To help furnish the bracelet with a more ‘technical’ feel, it is entirely brushed. Of course, there must be a cost saving aspect to this uniform treatment; yet I don’t think that the bracelet would suit the watch if this approach has not been taken.
The Deployant Clasp
Whilst I have nothing mechanically negative to say about the bracelet, I do find the clasp somewhat crude due to being friction-fitted with a fold over piece. With that being said, the elbow joint is solid metal rather than a stamped piece and the whole unit is signed. For the price of this watch, more advanced deployants have been seen yet they add bulk which only a much more expensive execution would rectify. Whilst the design is nothing special, the finishing of the clasp is impressive. The surface is fully brushed but bevelled on its edge in order to avoid snags. Topping this off is a deeply engraved ‘B’ for Borealis.
The Textured Dial
The dial of this watch is the component which, for me, differentiates between the tones of each variant. The green and royal blue models give a natural feel whilst the teal and orange lend a sense of professional diving. The variants which, for me, best suit the concept are the black and white models. Through a monochromatic palette paired with golden hands and applied indices, these capture a subtle 1980s extravagance against the evidently rugged case. The dial itself is highly three-dimensional with a raised chapter and a textured dial. Where the chapter ring is matte, the dial is given a glossy surface which accentuates the art-deco pattern deeply embossed into the surface. For me, this is a fraction too busy with the applied indices and raised chapter ring. However, I am certain that the white dial draws the eye to these details more than other variants.
Printing on this dial remains minimal and merely states the brand name, depth rating and “automatic”. The hands of this watch are simple in style and align with a more formal aesthetic than absolute legibility — a choice also seen in their golden colour. For the most part, this doesn’t impede one’s ability to differentiate between the hands due to a significant length difference. The only time when this does pose an issue is when the reflectivity of the hands and dial coincides. With that being said, legibility will likely be much more consistent on variants with greater dial contrast and hands in black or silver instead of gold. In any case, the Super Luminova BGW9 applied to both dial and hands gives very reliable night time legibility irrespective of the colour palette.
Mechanically, this watch is offered with a movement very high in my good books: the Miyota 9015. Whilst common 8xxx series movements from Miyota feel decidedly antiquated, the 9015 represents a Japanese movement which offers a genuine fight to the ETA 2824 in a way which Seiko never quite managed. With a 42-hour power reserve and the same 4Hz beat rate as its Swiss counterpart, this really is no lesser a movement. Granted, it does not come with as tight chronometric regulation as standard, but this can be easily put right and it has significantly lower failure rates due to being a more modern design. This particularly applies to common issues with the ETA 2824 such as automatic winding failure. Crucially, whether you are hacking the seconds or winding the watch, these movements feel as smooth as silk. All in all, I can’t fault Borealis for their choice of automatic movement. The only aspect of this choice of movement to be aware of is that, if you choose the dateless model, the crown will have a ‘ghost’ position where the date would otherwise be.
Fit on the Wrist
On my 7-inch wrist, the flat caseback and bevelled lower case edge pay dividends. Thanks in part to the weight of the bracelet, the watch is able to sink into my wrist comfortably. From this position, the bezel can be turned without any trouble and the crown does not cause any annoyance. What immediately becomes clear is that the bracelet does not catch hairs due to the space between its links and the clasp, for its simplicity, is not cumbersome. Where sizing is concerned, I think that it fits my wrist size perfectly, though it would remain comfortable for wrists above 6 inches in circumference due to the way in which the bracelet can drop vertically.
Final Thoughts on the Borealis Olisipo
As a watch which will ultimately be available for a price of $390 (plus VAT, if you live in the EU), you are getting a really quite remarkable package where specifications are concerned. More importantly, though, I find this watch very charming. At first glance, I was unsure about how such a rounded bracelet would fit onto a watch with an angular case. However, once I had the watch in my hands, it made perfect sense and gave the same sort of 1980s presence as a Seiko 7002 or a Heuer 980. In its role as a dive watch, I have no doubt that the Borealis Olisipo will work effectively thanks to good legibility and high water resistance. Importantly though, it hasn’t lost any of the style or design which would have been so easy to neglect and which makes it this neo-1980s diver. Altogether, this is not a perfect watch and I would tweak parts such as the dial and clasp yet I’m impressed. This is a watch which has obviously been seriously considered and executed.
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Pricing & Availability: Currently on pre-order for $390 (+ VAT)
- Dimension: 40mm x 47mm x 12mm
- Material: 316L Stainless Steel
- Crystal: 3mm-thick Flat Sapphire Crystal with Internal Anti-Reflective Crystal
- Display: Embossed dial surface with glossy coating / Raised chapter ring / Applied golden markers / Golden polished hands / Super-Luminova BGW9 applied to the hands, markers & bezel insert / 120-click unidirectional rotating dive bezel / Brushed ceramic bezel insert / Date at 6 o’clock (optional)
- Water Resistance: 30 ATM / 300m
- Movement: Miyota 9015: Time & date (optional) / Automatic & manual winding / Hacking seconds / 42-hour power reserve / 4Hz, 28,800 vph, 8 ticks-per-second
To see more, head over to the Borealis website.