Orion Hellcat

Review and photos by Mike Razak

I’m not going to bury the lede (lead? I’ve seen it both ways). The Orion Hellcat is an exceptional watch. It’s well proportioned, gorgeously finished, has a great dial, and is super comfortable. It’s also priced appropriately. There. Now you don’t have to read the review. But there are lots of pretty pictures, and I spent not a small amount of time writing it up, so do give it a look.

Orion Watches is the brainchild, main squeeze, and top hustle of watchmaker Nick Harris. Not your average microbrand owner, Nick is fully trained as a real watchmaker. Legend has it he can fully service vintage pocket watches while blindfolded, with only one hand (I made this legend up, but please spread it as far and wide as you can). His mustache alone can replace most watch batteries and size a bracelet in under 2 minutes (please also spread this around). Nick started Orion while he was in watch school, to pay for life while in watch school (it’s an expensive, full-time commitment). Since it’s launch, the brand has produced two watches: The Orion 1 was featured a long-lugged case (#lughug) that came in many iterations, including the Field Standard and Sylph. That was followed up by the so-comfortable-you’re-uncomfortable Calamity (reviewed here), a no-punches-pulled, go-anywhere-do-anything diver. The Hellcat will be the third watch in the lineup, and Nick is beyond stoked for people to see it. Why? Let me tell you all about it…

The Hellcat I had on hand for review was the burgundy dial version, which will feature a brushed and polished case, as opposed to the black dial, which will feature a blasted and polished case. Case finishing isn’t often an avenue that microbrands take to create different versions of a given model; Nick’s attention to detail and desire to make Orion stand out is evident from the get-go. The case measures a perfect (for my 7-inch wrist) 39mm across, 47mm lug-to-lug, and 10.5mm thick. The comfort level Nick has achieved isn’t all up to the proportions, though. As he did on his Calamity diver, he’s incorporated a curved caseback that, instead of fighting with the contour of your wrist, conforms to it. The effect is undeniably blissful.

To say that’s all would be to omit so many other details. As mentioned, the case features a brushed finish along the midcase, which has sides that slope inward as they rise to meet the polished bezel. But the bezel, which is concave, also features a thin sunburst-brushed rim abutting the sapphire crystal, which continues the sunburst of the dial. Tracing the top edge of the midcase is a polished chamfer, ending at each of the 20mm lugs. I would have liked drilled lugs, here, and I think there is room for them. But that’s a minor drawback, and could compromise the strength of the lugs, as well as the aesthetic flow of the case. The 3 o’clock crown functions without issue and is fully knurled (an Orion hallmark) and adorned with the Orion logo. It screws down to allow for 100M water resistance—plenty for me and certainly plenty for a pilot (if a pilot’s in the water, he or she has done something quite wrong indeed).

The sunburst burgundy dial creates quite a different effect from the black dial, which features a matte finish. It adds a pop that the staid matte doesn’t allow for. I can’t decide whether I like the restraint of the black or the excitement of the burgundy, so I’ll leave that to you. Working from the outside in, the dial features a golden minute track of alternating inverse quadrants (Nick's words, not mine), which make it easy to check the time at a glance, at least within a 5-minute range. White trapezoidal indices in the cardinal positions (split at 12) make those glances even easier. The numerals are printed in a proprietary font that was developed just for the Hellcat. This is something you just don’t get at this price point, and Nick’s decision to do so reflects his passion for the Orion brand: he wants it to stand out, and for Orion owners to have something that’s unique in every way possible. I imagine it's very easy to get too creative with a font, but that’s not the case here, as we’re given a highly-legible, stylish typeface.

A 6 o’clock date window is very slightly disruptive to the rest of the dial. The black date text is fine but doesn’t connect with anything else in the watch (as it does on the black dial Hellcat). However, the beveled window is positioned in the least conspicuous spot on the dial and is perfectly harmless. Dial text matches the minute track, with the Orion name and logo at 12, and the Hellcat model name just above a bar at 6. Crosshairs intersect that the center of the dial, with the east-west line extending to the 3-9, and the north-south allowing for the dial text. I also assume you can use it to aim at your watch? I’m not a pilot though, so I’m not sure. Rounding out the dial area is a gold segmented syringe-style handset, with the minute and hour hands being lume-filled (I’ve omitted my usual full-lume shot from this review as the lume of the hands and numerals were not at the production level on my prototype).

I’ve already mentioned the spa-like comfort of the curved caseback. I’ll add that it’s a screw-down and that it is engraved with the entirety of the constellation of Orion, which really drives home the branding in a way that’s much more subtle than a giant trident or a set of jets. Further, you may have picked up through my other reviews that while a nice caseback design is just that—nice—it's not much more, and time spent here is often time wasted. So I'm happy to have an elegant constellation instead of tons of SpecsText™ and a cat riding a motorcycle through a wall of flames. Under the caseback sits the popular Miyota 9015, beating at 28,800 vph for a nice smooth sweep of the hands, and providing 42 hours of power reserve.

My favorite part of trying out new watches is trying out straps on those new watches. For me, a watch is useless if I can’t wear it with at least three different straps (including a bracelet, if included). The Hellcat doesn’t disappoint. In fact, its strap adaptability is one of the things Nick loves most about it. A burgundy dial doesn’t immediately shout, “I go with things!” but the Hellcat just works, I think in part due to its dimensions. And it turns out burgundy is a much more versatile color than you’d expect. The stock strap—available in three lengths—is of high quality, quite comfortable, and has fully custom buckle. But I found it too thick at the lugs, though this was more of a visual obstacle for me than a practical one. Its thickness doesn’t hinder its comfort, but I always feel like straps look weird when they are thicker than the lug ends.

To be frank, there’s almost nothing about this watch that makes it a pilot watch. It’s not big, it doesn’t have a gigantic crown, it doesn’t have the triangle with the dots, and it completely lacks a slide rule that no one knows how to use. Nick says he opted to make a pilot watch because it offered the chance to do something new. And while he did make something new (literally everything except the movement is an original design), he didn’t make a pilot watch—he just made an awesome watch (two, if you count as a separate watch the black dial, which our friend, Will, The Watch Clicker, reviewed here). You can put the Hellcat into whatever category you want, but that won’t change the facts: This is a $600 that looks and wears like it should cost twice that. And it’s available for pre-order right now, on The Orion website, with delivery expected April 2020.

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