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Luxury Watch Brand Review: Omega Watches
Omega watches have become a household name among horological aficionados for as long as anyone can remember. Omega is no newbie in the watch industry, and its accomplishments and feats are not only known to enthusiastic watch collectors but also plebs in the industry. But the story about the road to success of a luxury watch brand never gets boring, and Omega isn’t just any luxury watch brand. In this article, I’ll reveal the many interesting accomplishments of the Swiss watchmaking giant, celebrity fanboys, and some classic Omega collections. Let’s dive right in.
Omega Watches: How and Where It Began
Omega Watches initially started up as La Generale Watch Co. when it was founded in the hilly Swiss city of La Chaux-de-Fonds by Louis Brandt in 1848. The whole journey started at Louis Brandt’s workbench where he assembled key-wound pocket watches using parts made by the local craftsmen.
At the time, the main market for his merchandise was in England, but he also sold his watches further across Europe, from Italy to Scandinavia. The company was called Louis Brandt & Fils when his elder son, Louis Paul joined the family business. Later in 1891, it was renamed to Louis Brandt & Frere. During this period, the company was under the control of the two sons, Louis Paul and Cesar, who had moved the company to Biel – Omega’s headquarters till today. Not long after the brand was renamed to Louis Brandt & Frere, it achieved its first major accomplishment, the first minute repeating wristwatch in 1892. But it was a collaborative effort with another Swiss watchmaking giant, Audemars Piguet, the maker of the minute repeating movement.
Nonetheless, it was the beginning of many groundbreaking innovations to come for Omega. And even better, it was achieved in the true spirit of a legacy by none other than the sons of Louis Brandt himself.
The Brandt brothers achieved a truly groundbreaking feat that will change the face of the brand in 1894. They created a revolutionary in-house caliber, called 19-line Omega Caliber,which made massive waves in the watchmaking industry at the time. The Omega caliber included a mechanism for setting the right time and allowed component parts of a watch to be interchangeable. The major success of this new production method brought about a revolution that swept through the Swiss watch industry. It also ushered in Omega’s first major award recognition, winning a gold medal at the Swiss National Exhibition in Geneva, 1896.
It was such a huge success then that the company was later renamed to the watchmaking behemoth we all know today at the turn of the century, 1903, to be precise. Actually, the company was renamed Company Louis Brandt and Brother - Omega Watch Co, as a brand of the La Generale Watch Co.
The Omega Era
Shortly after the transition to Omega in 1903, the two brothers, Louis-Brandt and Cesar, both passed away. Irrespective of there being any good time for death, that of the brothers seemed to come a very bad time, or so did the watch community think.
The reins of one of the largest Swiss watchmaking companies – producing 240,000 watches annually – was left in the hands of the young children of Paul-Emile and Cesar Brandt. The oldest at the time was Paul-Emile Brandt, and he wasn’t even up to 24 years old. He took up the Finance and Production of the company, while Adrien (23) was in charge of operation, and the youngest, Gustave (20), became Commercial Director.
Against all odds, he changed the face of the brand for better over the next half century. Only a few years after his succession, he started acquiring assets and buildings to expand, and by 1914, employed 1000 people. During this period, Omega delved into sports watchmaking and signed its first sports chronometer in 1909 during the Gordon Bennett Cup (Oldest Gas Balloon Race).
A major accomplishment for Omega in this new era was becoming the official timekeeper for the British Royal Flying Corps in 1917, and the US Army in 1918. Between 1939 and 1945, the British Royal Air Force more than 100,000 of Omega’s waterproof watches. This later developed into the classic Omega Seamaster line in 1948.
Big as this feat was, it was only the beginning of more to come. Omega won so many awards and broke so much record between 1919 and 1970 that no other brand as ever being able to surpass. Among the many prestigious accomplishments was winning gold in all six categories at the 1932 Observatory Trials in Geneva. A truly historic achievement that gave the company a well-deserved new slogan “Exact time for life.”
It was an achievement that earned the brand the position as the official timekeeper at 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. Since then, Omega has been the timekeeper at 28 Olympic Games, and this romance will be a century-old at the 2032 Olympic Games.
To see the company through economic difficulties after the First World War, Brandt worked towards the union of Omega and Tissot, which culminated in a merger with the SSIH Group in 1930.
The group continued to take over several companies under Joseph Riesser’s new leadership in 1955, like Lemania, the company that developed the chronographs and speedometers for the 1932 Olympic Games and other famous Omega movements.
SSIH was on a high in the 1970s, becoming the top Swiss producer of finished watches and #3 in the world. The Omega brand outsold Rolex at the time, though Rolex watches were more expensive. In the battle for the “King of Swiss Watch Brands,” Omega took a more professional approach to its watch designs.
The Omega era had a huge hit during the 1970s quartz crisis.
Omega Watches: The Struggle
Omega and many other Swiss watchmakers were seriously affected by the coming of the cheaper and more accurate quartz movements in the 70s. Omega, for one, tried to compete with the Japanese giants in the quartz market by making Swiss-made quartz movements.
Eventually, the SSIH faced an economic crisis between 1975 and 1980 before the banks came to their rescue in 1980.
Some of the pioneers of the quartz movements, Seiko and Citizen, showed keen interest in acquiring Omega during this period, but talks ended up being futile.
Ultimately, refuge came for the falling SSIH group in 1983 through an alliance with another Swiss watchmaking giant, ASUAG that was in deep economic crisis. After radical financial measures, both companies had to merge the production operations of their R&D departments at the ETA complex in Granges.
Omega Watches: The Resurrection
The turnaround for the new ASUAG-SSIH company came just two years after the alliance. The new holding company was acquired by a group of private investors, with Nicolas Hayek, who had just recently established Swatch, as the lead investor. Omega remains a subsidiary of the Swatch Group till today.
That being said, the takeover resulted in a change of name of the group to SMH (Société de Microélectronique et d'Horlogerie. Most importantly, it brought about the resurgence of the group as one of the top watch producers in the world.
The Omega brand, specifically, took new steps to its advertisement strategy. For instance, the constant appearance of Omega watches, like Omega Seamaster diver 300m, Omega Aqua Terra in James Bond 007 movies.
Omega also borrowed many business practices from Rolex, such as increasing its entry prices, stringent control of dealer pricing,and more. Omega recently raised the prices of all its watch collection to keep the price on the rise.
In the end, the new business model was successful in increasing Omega’s shares and brand recognition.
Omega Speedmaster “Speedy” Cruise in Space
Of all the greatest accomplishments of Omega watches, its success in space expeditions remains evergreen.
The dawn of Omega’s exploration began in the autumn of 1969 when a duo of astronauts in Houston embarked on a watch search for their upcoming Mercury program flights. In the end, the astronauts left the watch store with an Omega Speedmaster for themselves. From that moment, the stage for Omega’s partnership with NASA was all set. At the end of the program the following year, astronauts became enchanted and asked NASA to issue watches for their training and flight.
At the time, NASA hired a group of engineers to test and certify equipment. The engineers put several Omega, Rolex, and Longines-Wittnauer watches through months of rigorous tests. They had to pass tests for humidity, vibration, shock, vacuum NASA eventually chose the Omega Speedmaster Professional as the official watch for the U.S Space Program and became “Flight Qualified for all Manned Space Missions” in 1965. This model was worn from the Gemini program into the early space shuttle years.
But the most prestigious accomplishment yet for Omega in space came in 1969. On July 21st, 1969, Omega SpeedmasterProfessional in the hands of Buzz Aldrin became the first and only watch on the moon. For clarity, the Omega Speedmaster Ref. CK 2998 worn by Walter Schirra during the Mercury program is the first Omega in space.
The Omega Speedmaster Professional is also known as the “moonwatch” “omega moonwatch” for obvious reasons. The current entry point price for that particular model is 5,350 on the Omega website. To be sure, it bold has “First Watch on the Moon” and “flight-qualified by NASA for all manned space missions” on the case back.
On July 17, 1970, Omega Speedmaster Professional played a significant role in saving the lives of the astronauts aboard the Apollo-Soyuz flight.
After the explosion of an oxygen tank, the crew had to cut nearly all power on the Lunar Module, including cabin clock, to survive on the limited available resources. To maneuver the LM back to earth safely, they needed to time the burn of fuel, 14 seconds to be exact. Since the cabin clock was shut down, the astronaut in charge used his Omega Speedmaster Professional and was successful in the end.
This historic feat earned Omega a “Snoopy Award” from NASA, which is presented by the astronauts for “for outstanding achievements related to human flight safety or mission success.”Later in 2003, Omega released a limited edition Omega Speedmaster Professional “Snoopy Award” chronograph in honor of the award.
Omega Seamaster Cruise
The Omega Seamaster is arguably one of the greatest omega watch collections ever, in a close battle with only the Omega Speedmaster collection. For one, it is the longest-running collection produced by Omega.
Omega Seamaster Professional Diver 300M Watch Collection
The Seamaster line first became popular when it launched the Omega Seamaster 300. It borrowed from designs used in the watches supplied to the British Royal Navy during WWII.
The key feature of the watch is the O-ring gasket it uses as its waterproof seal, which later helped Gordon McLean set a diving record (205ft) in 1955. The vintage Omega Seamaster was also used by Jacques Costeau and his team for the Janus Operation in 1970.
Another major breakout for the Seamaster 300 was when Peter Brosnan used in it the 1995 James Bond movies, GoldenEye.
Omega, James Bond, Planet Ocean & Aqua Terra Watch Collections
One of the greatest marketing tactics for Omega was having special Seamaster watches sported by several James Bond characters. Daniel Craig is an avid watch wearer and Omega ambassador.
The Seamaster Professional Diver 300M was last used in the 2006 James Bond movie - Casino Royale. But a new Seamaster Masterpiece, in Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean was sported by Daniel Craig in the movie. It is the second limited edition watch in the Omega James Bond line. The Omega Planet Ocean is a diver’s watch that’s capable of reaching a remarkable 600m depth and is now also a commercial piece.
Next in the James Bond Line is the Omega Aqua Terra, another “World’s First” watchmaking feat by Omega. The world’s first truly anti-magnetic mechanical watch capable of a magnetic resistance of 15,000 Gauss. The astonishing gauss resistance of the Seamaster Aqua Terra also makes it the most magnetic resistance watch in the world.
The Omega De Ville Watch Collection
The Omega De Ville collection was originally in 1960 as part of the Seamaster collection, but later became a collection of its own in 1967.
The De Ville watches simply offer a more classic look, away from the sporty designs of the other Omega watches. It’s more or less the most vintage-looking omega line, and it is no surprise that Pope John Paul II wore Omega De Ville watches.
The Omega Constellation Watch Collection
The constellation line first launched in 1952 and is named after the eight stars embellished on its crest. The stars are a symbol of Omega’s prowess, setting eight precision records at the Kew Teddington and Geneva Observatory in the middle of the 20thcentury.
The line also launched omega’s first automatic ladies watch,which was launched in 1955. The Ladymatic also world’s smallest rotor-equipped automatic caliber.
Since the release of the Constellation collection, it’s overall outlook has been upgraded over time to meet demands. For instance, a new line, Constellation Ladies, was launched in 2009. The appealing use of gold in most Constellation watches is particularly an eye-pleaser. But of course, there’s also the precision and exquisite craftsmanship.
A quick fact. The most expensive Omega watch is The Constellation Baguette, selling for $708,742 at the Omega Boutique in Geneva.
Where To Buy Omega Watches?
If you are interested in new and pre-owned Omega watches or luxury watch brands on sale, you are just a step closer if you are in Naples, Florida. Visit our certified store, Exquisite Timepieces, located at 4380 Gulfshore Blvd., N. Suite 800., or contact us for more details.