Origins of omega watches
Ask anyone to name a luxury watch brand and the first answer will be Rolex, but if you ask a connoisseur the name OMEGA will quickly come up in discussion. Since its creation, the brand has always sought to establish itself as a pioneer and leader in the watchmaking world, and has been associated with numerous records, both scientific and sporting. We will also have the pleasure of seeing various models of the brand on James Bond's wrist since 1995.
Together we will discover the history of the brand, which was marked by many ups and downs. We will then look at the main models which have been important in the company's history.
The origins of the omega brand
The history of OMEGA began in 1848, when Louis Brandt set up a watchmaking business in La Chaux-de-Fonds. His business was innovative in that the work was divided between different production units, each specializing in a particular part of the movement. All the components were then assembled under the brand name "Louis Brandt".
Later in 1879, the founder left the management to his two sons, Louis Paul and César Brandt. Their first decision was to rename the company "Louis Brandt & Fils". They also decided to move their brand to Bienne, in the canton of Bern, a decision motivated by the desire of the two men to transform their business into an industrial one, the canton of Bern being more favourable to this development.
In 1880, they launched the first calibre in series "Le labrador". This calibre was a real success and allowed the brand to develop rapidly and to hire nearly 250 people during the year. By the end of the decade, the factory had become the largest in the Swiss watchmaking industry, capable of producing 100,000 watches per year.
The Greek letter OMEGA makes its appearance
The beginning of problems for OMEGA
The beginning of the 20th century was a complicated time for the brand, which suffered numerous economic setbacks due to the crises. The first blow suffered by the company was between 1908 and 1909 due to the economic crisis, followed by the consequences for the world and industry of the First World War.
The arrival of the Spanish flu was terrible and was followed by an unprecedented workers' strike which undermined the Swiss brand OMEGA's industry. The factory was occupied by workers at the time and the company had to call in the army to evacuate the angry workers. As a result of this movement, the workers obtained rights (48-hour week and paid holidays). However, the social conflicts did not disappear for all that.
The beginning of the Renaissance for OMEGA.
A difficult post-crisis period
The years go by and they look the same for the OMEGA brand. It continues to suffer despite NASA's achievement in landing a man on the moon. During that expedition, Buzz Aldrin, known as the second man to set foot on the moon, was equipped with a Speedmaster chronograph, a reference which earned the name "Moonwatch" and remains to this day the only watch officially approved by NASA for manned flights. Despite this achievement, the second half of the 20th century remained complicated for the Swiss watch industry.
A violent quartz crisis plagued OMEGA, which struggled to cope with the rise of the Japanese brand Seiko. OMEGA almost went bankrupt and was even bought out by Seiko. This led to the merger of SSIH and ASUAG in 1983 to form SMH (Société de Microélectronique et d'Horlogerie), which is now known as the Swatch Group. As a result of the merger, OMEGA lost its privileged status as a manufacturer and its research and development activities.
Nicolas Hayek, then CEO of SMH, revived the OMEGA brand and succeeded in introducing the co-axial escapement in 1999. This escapement was reserved for the OMEGA brand and was considered a small revolution in the watchmaking world. The system reduces the lubrication required to operate the previous calibre system used by OMEGA. This reduces the need for maintenance and increases the chronometric precision of the watches over time.
It was an innovation of this kind which gave the company its present name. This is proof that once again the brand is managing to get back on track and regain a major place in the watchmaking world.
In order to continue to climb the podium of watch brands, we will see in 2005 the launch of the calibre 3313, then in 2017, the co-axial calibre 8500, which will mark the entire history of the brand. This calibre marks the history of the brand as it is the first complete calibre built for the co-axial escapement, this innovation allows the brand to become a Manufacture Horlogère again, a term reserved for companies that design and produce their movements in-house.
In 2008, the brand will continue its march to success. With the launch of the co-axial calibre 85 24 25 21 specially designed for small-diameter watches such as the Aqua terre collection for ladies. The brand remains committed to equipping all its mechanical watch models with OMEGA's co-axial calibre in the future, except for the professional Speed Masters which will retain their original calibre.
OMEGA In SPORT
As part of the watch industry, OMEGA, like its competitors, has a strong relationship with sport. Producing ultra-precise chronographs, the brand has been a partner in many sporting events.
The brand's first presence at an event took place in 1909, during the Gordon Bennet Cup, an airship race. The race was timed by an OMEGA stopwatch.
Following this competition, we were privileged to find the Greek letter partner in a world event: the Olympic Games.
At the 1932 edition in Los Angeles, OMEGA became the first official timekeeper of the Olympic Games. But the particularity of this edition did not end there: it was also the first time that all the stopwatches were made with chronographs belonging to the same brand.
In the past, the chronographs were made with chronographs of different brands, which could lead to inconsistencies.
During the following editions, OMEGA took advantage of each event to promote the quality of its products to the general public. Over the years, the company has made it possible to increase the accuracy of timekeeping. From an accuracy of 1/10 in the first editions, the accuracy exceeds 1/1000 nowadays. The appearance of the photo finish, the swimming plates allowing the swimmer to start and stop the stopwatch himself at the finish. All of these innovations enabled OMEGA to make its mark by demonstrating the high precision of its products. Each edition was an opportunity for OMEGA to impress the public with some telling you details of their innovations, others calling them major advances for the sport.
With the Greek letter OMEGA symbolizing the ultimate achievement in the minds of the founder's sons, the innovations were not limited to the field of sports. The desire to produce ever more precise calibres, movements and simply watches led to the introduction of a new precision certification in 2015. OMEGA decided to bring Master Chronometer certification to its products. This certification appeared on the OMEGA Globe master Co-Axial Master Chronometer, which guarantees that the watch is first certified by the COSC, then passes the 8 METAS tests which finally allow it to access the Master Chronometer certification. The special feature of this certification is that it is not reserved for OMEGA products only. The Master Chronometer certification tests are open to any manufacturer wishing to obtain certification for its products. The only requirement is that they have been certified by the COSC beforehand.
The main OMEGA models and collections.
As stated above, life has not always been easy for the OMEGA brand. But it has managed to endure over time and has contributed to the development of watchmaking for more than 170 years.
The first model in Omega Seamaster range was introduced in 1948 and was equipped with an O-ring, originally developed for submarines during the war, which OMEGA used because it was specially designed to withstand sudden temperature changes. This model was released in the year marking the brand's centenary.
In 1957, the range evolved with the release of the Seamaster 300, which had greater water resistance and an ultra-legible display with large hands and fine indexes on a black dial. This model was a favourite of Captain Cousteau who was one of the iconic ambassadors of the Seamaster 300.
The Seamaster range continues to evolve with the release of a special model, the Seamaster Ploprof (released in 1970). It is equipped with an angled monocoque case with over-compressed gaskets guaranteeing perfect water-resistance. In addition, the components used allow the watch to withstand the depths of the ocean without worry.
The Seamaster Ploprof has a special shape so that helium particles caused by divers' decompression stops cannot enter the watch and thus alter its efficiency or operation. Competitors' watches work differently, most of them are equipped with valves to release the helium contained in the watch. Nowadays, the Ploprof is part of the so-called "Heritage" models that the brand uses as proof of its history, these models bring a vintage aspect interesting to collectors.
The brand continues to evolve its products, proposing since 1993 a model that has become iconic, the Seamaster Diver 300M. This model was the one present on the wrist of the secret agent James Bond in 1995, and the partnership with the licence allowed the brand to promote its product to the public.
The partnership between the franchise and the OMEGA brand continues to this day. In addition, the Seamaster Diver 300M range has grown and the number of model references within the family is enormous, demonstrating the popularity of this new Seamaster among collectors.
Today, an OMEGA Seamaster Diver 300M can be purchased at different prices depending on the configuration or reference chosen. For example, the 126.96.36.199.01.001 with a steel case and steel bracelet will cost €5,300.00. It will of course be possible to add a leather strap or Nato strap to the model, thus increasing the price depending on the strap chosen.
The 3rd generation aqua Terra made its appearance in 2017 and we saw the return of the date window at 6 o'clock, plus OMEGA has also redesigned the steel case to fit better with leather or Nato straps. The entry price for this collection is €5,700.00 for an all-steel model (ref.: 188.8.131.52.01.001)
The calibre will be visible through the transparent steel case back. For the purchase of this product, the price fixed by the brand is around 6 400,00€ for a watch equipped with a steel bracelet (ref 184.108.40.206.01.002) a model equipped with a leather bracelet doubled rubber will be around 6 100,00€ (ref 220.127.116.11.01.001)
For more than 70 years, the Seamaster range has never ceased to evolve and to propose new improvements, in order to become for any diving enthusiast an inescapable reference in terms of timepieces resistant to hostile environments.
The year the Seamaster 300 was released for divers also marked the release of a watch for scientists and technical workers. In those days a watch was not chosen just to tell the time, it had to stand out from the rest. This is why the Railmaster was designed, it is designed to withstand magnetic fields of over 1000 gauss.
To allow this feat, the watch was equipped with a manual winding copper calibre, enclosed in a soft iron case (MuMetal), itself sandwiched by a one millimetre thick dial (usual 0.4mm dials) and a soft iron dust cover, in addition, the model was waterproof to 60m. The model will undergo only little evolution and is nevertheless part of the models appreciated by the collectors. Nowadays, the Railmaster collection is part of the so-called "Heritage" models that the brand uses as proof of its history, these models bring a vintage side interesting to collectors.
The Speedmaster Moonwatch chronograph
The year 1952 is worth remembering because it is the date of the launch of the constellation range. This range, unlike the others, is distinguished by its elegance and the choice of its materials or its particular shapes. One of the particularities of this range is the Pipant dial, which made a great impression at its release. It has become the signature of the models in the range. The second distinguishing feature of the watches in this series was introduced in 1964 with the 6 SHAPE case.
This case has a larger size than the other cases and a special shape. Finally, each model has eight stars engraved on the back of the case, each representing the various precision records OMEGA has broken throughout history.
In 2010, the brand will introduce the Globemaster. A new watch in this range which is a direct evolution of the existing constellation models. The watch is differentiated by a more streamlined dial.
Initially associated with the Seamaster range, the OMEGA De Ville was emancipated in 1967 to become a separate range of the brand. This range symbolizes the prestige of the brand and the models are elegant, and therefore mainly worn in the city. OMEGA will be introducing a number of surprising innovations through this collection. The watches in the De Ville collection have a high level of prestige and their designs are often sleek and elegant to create exceptional watches. Within this collection, the Tourbillon range has made its mark on OMEGA's history through its originality and special design.