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A brief guide to Omega watches and their legendary history

4 min read November 18, 2020

A brief guide to Omega watches and their legendary history

The official timekeeper for the Olympics. The first watch on the Moon. A convenient James Bond watch since 1995. Worn by politicians such are JFK, Mao Zedong and Mikhail Gorbachev, as well as celebrities such as Elvis Presley, George Clooney and Cindy Crawford. The great competitor of the greatest out there. Often the alpha and omega, but mostly, simply Omega, one of the greatest Swiss watch manufacturers of all time.

Omega watches

Omega watches, photo credit

 

History of Omega watches

Omega SA or, simply, Omega - started as a small shop back in 1848, in sub-alpine Swiss city La Chaux-de-Fonds. It was founded by Louis Brandt and originally named La Generale Watch Co. In 1903, the shop incorporated the name Louis Brandt et Frère - Omega Watch & Co. In 1982, the company changed its name again to Omega SA. Since 1984, the Omega Museum in Biel, Switzerland, is opened for the public, which speaks a lot about the rich history of the brand, so let’s dive into it.

Omega’s founder, Brandt, primarily worked on assembling key-wound precision pocket watches by using parts provided by local craftsmen and selling them from Italy to Scandinavia, but dominantly on the English market. In 1892, Brand made the world’s first minute repeating watch (including minute repeating movement) in collaboration with Audemars Piguet. The 18k gold version of this watch is kept in the Omega museum.

Omega museum in Biel, Switzerland

Omega museum in Biel, Switzerland, photo credit


In 1894, his sons, César and Louis-Paul, made a revolution, by making an in-house manufacturing system that simplified the watch production. By 1903, Omega watches had such success that the Omega Watch Co became a brand of its own. Unfortunately, the same year, both César and Louis-Paul died, leaving the company that employs 800 people and produces 240,000 watches annually in the hands of the Brandt youth. The oldest of them, Paul-Emile Brandt, was only 24 at the time, but he is considered to be the great architect of the Omega we know today.

The merger of Omega and Tissot into the SSIH group in 1925, followed the difficulties brought by the First World War and saved both companies financially. From then on, the SSIH group only continued to grow, creating many brands in the process. Omega watches secured a large fan base during the Second World War because of the excellent properties of its watches, such are accuracy, durability and water-resistance, which made them a favorite military brand around the globe.

The year 1947 brought the first tourbillon movement made by Omega, the 30l. Twelve of these movements were made for observatory trials and were also known as Omega Observatory Tourbillons. While other tourbillion calibers’ cages rotated once per minute, the Omega’s rotated once per seven and half minutes and in 1949, one of them made a world’s record. Just a year later, Omega broke its own record in Geneva Observatory trials.

Omega 30l from 1947

Omega 30l from 1947, photo credit


By the 1970s, SSIH became Swiss number one when it comes to the production of watches and Omega outsold its main Swiss rival on the luxury watch market, even if it was below the latter’s price point. The quartz crisis years somewhat slowed down the rise of the Omega due to the recession, but another merger of SSIH with ASUAG that happened in 1983 saved the day.

Since 1998, Omega SA is based in Biel, Switzerland and is a subsidiary of the Swatch Group, a luxury watch and jewelry company that owns the Swatch line and other brands such as Blancpain, Breguet, ETA, Glashütte Original, Harry Winston, Longines, Tissot, Hamilton and Rado.

The year 1999 brought another remarkable moment for Omega, the Co-Axial movement - caliber 2500 - that included specialized escapement invented by the Englishman, George Daniels in the 1970s. The caliber 2500 was the first mass-produced wristwatch with the Co-Axial escapement that had virtually no lubrication and used radial instead of sliding friction, which eliminated the issues with the traditional lever escapement. The results were greater accuracy over time and longer service intervals. Starting with 2007, Omega revealed another two Co-Axial calibers, 8500 and 8501 (25,200 bph), created exclusively by Omega.

Omega Co-axial caliber 8500

Omega Co-axial caliber 8500, photo credit


In 2013, Omega broke another world record by creating the movement resistant to magnetic fields greater than 1.5 Tesla / 15,000 Gauss, which was significantly better than any previous caliber. Something similar was used in Daniel Craig’s James Bond, but that one was labeled to the resistance of 15,007 Gauss in honor of the fictional agent’s codename. By utilizing non-ferrous materials, Omega eliminated the need for the soft-iron Faraday cage used by then, removing the necessity of de-magnetizing procedures of the case. This brought the idea of Master Chronometer Certification which confirms that, along with the COSC certificate by Official Swiss Chronometer Institute, a movement has also passed a series of tests by METAS, the Federal Institute of Metrology. Simply said, it stated that Master Chronometers have an accuracy of 0/+5 seconds per day, power reserves of at least 60 hours, water-resistance of at least 100 meters and are resistant to magnetic fields of 1.5 Tesla. The first watch to receive the Master Chronometer Certification was the famous Globemaster, from the Omega Constellation collection (more about it in the section Collections). Nowadays, the Master Chronometer Certificate represents the Swiss industry's highest standard of chronometric performance.

Omega Speedmaster Professional Chronograph

Omega Speedmaster Professional Chronograph, photo credit


As the Omega states, watchmaking can take up to 500 working hours. It seems that the true value of this brand is not only in extraordinary craftsmanship but also in time dedicated to the process because time is our most valuable currency.

On top of that, Omega partners with Orbis International that stands behind the Flying Eye Hospital, which delivers high-quality eye care to remote regions around the globe. And, you must admit, we all love brands with a higher purpose. In the end, such brands may be the only one to thrive in the complicated future ahead of us.

In 1984 and 1990, Omega created two watch lines as a tribute to the brand’s founder Louis Brandt, who was only 23 when he founded the company.

 ... to be continued next week

Written by M.H. , image sources as noted

Vintage Omega Speedmaster Mark 3


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