Omega (Est. 1880 – ) is a Swiss watchmaker based in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland. The company has a long and illustrious history. It began in 1848 when Louis Brandt, age 23, established La Generale Watch Co, an assembly workshop, at his family’s villa in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. It was here that local craftsman supplied the parts necessary to build key-wound precision pocket watches. Louis traveled much of Europe selling the watches. His trips to the UK made England his primary market.
When Louis died in 1879, his two sons, Louis-Paul and Cesar, took over the family business and, in 1880, changed the company’s name to Louis Brandt & Fils. The sons, troubled by drawbacks in the workshop system, abandoned that arrangement and moved to in-house manufacturing in order to have total production control.
To achieve its goals, the company moved a second time. This move in 1882 was to a converted spinning-factory in the Gurzelen district of Bienne, Switzerland. It is this location that became home and headquarters to the company and is where it is located today.
By 1889, Louis Brandt and Fils had become the largest watch producer in Switzerland manufacturing over 100,000 watches per year. During this time, the company introduced significant innovations like the minute-repeating wristwatch that was developed in 1892 in partnership with Audemars Piguet and thought to be the first wristwatch of its kind.
Louis Brandt and Fils first series-included the Labrador and Gurzelen calibres, but more importantly, the famous Omega calibre of 1894 that boasted a new, 19 lignes pocket watch movement.
The banker Henri Riekel suggests the brothers call the piece, “Omega” after the last letter of the Greek alphabet, and also to represent the final stage of possible perfection (“Alpha to Omega.”) This watch would become enormously popular and ultimately give the company its lasting name.
The watch’s quality led to a prestigious award in 1896; the gold medal at the Geneva exhibition. In a magazine published at the time by the Fédération Horlogère one reads, “The Omega is a remarkable watch. It is certainly worth twice its price. That is the only thing one could complain about.”
By 1903, the Omega brand’s success led to the official founding of the Omega Watch Co. The same year also brought a stunning quirk of fate when brothers Louis-Paul and Cesar both died.
This left one of Switzerland’s largest watch companies (now producing 240,000 watches yearly and employing more than 800 people) in the hands of a group of young heirs, the oldest of whom, Paul-Emile Brandt, was not yet 24. Paul-Emile became the driving force behind the growth and influence that Omega achieved in the half century that followed.
At first, Brandt re-named the company to S.A. Louis Brandt & Frère, Omega Watch Co. and it was managed by six direct descendants. Its outstanding technical production methods allowed it to keep pace in emerging sectors of watchmaking and expand into wristwatches as well as sport, military, pilot, navy, automotive, and ladies’ watches, plus other complications.
By 1925, economic difficulties resulting from World War I led Brandt to begin seeking a union between Omega and the Tissot watch company. In 1930, Paul Tissot, who was also a Managing Director at Omega, initiated the merger that formed the S.S.I.H. (Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère) an antecedent of the Swatch Group that will form later.
Under this leadership, then that of Joseph Reiser beginning in 1955, the SSIH Group continued to grow and multiply, absorbing or creating some fifty companies. By the 1970s, SSIH had become Switzerland’s number one producer of finished watches and number three in the world.
After drastic financial restructuring in the 1970’s caused – at least in part – by the recession that had occurred in the middle of that decade, the R&D departments of ASUAG and SSIH merged production operations. The two companies completely merged in 1983 and formed ASUAG-SSIH, a holding company.
Two years later this holding company moved into the hands of a group of private investors led by Nicolas Hayek. Renamed SMH, Société de Microélectronique et d’Horlogerie, the new group became one of the top watch producers in the world. In 1998 it became the Swatch Group, which now manufactures Omega and other brands such as Blancpain, Swatch, and Breguet.
Omega’s early reputation for precision watches led to company’s entrance into the world of sports measurement at the beginning of the 20th century. Omega made its sports debut during the international ballooning match by timing several events that led to the awarding of the Gordon Bennet cup.
The British Royal Flying Corps chose Omega watches in 1917 as their official timekeepers for combat units. The US Army followed suit in 1918.
Omega was the first company to be entrusted with official timekeeping of all events at the Los Angeles Olympic Games of 1932. Since then, Omega has been awarded the Olympics timekeeping responsibility and privilege 21 times, including the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. No other watch manufacturer has achieved such a record. For the 2008 Olympics, Omega introduced an Olympic edition watch with its logo on the second hand.
In 2011 Omega became the official timekeeper of American Professional Golf Association (PGA) when it signed a five year agreement that goes through 2016. In 2014 Omega became the official timekeeper of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.
The company’s work in sports and scientific scuba-diving led to the creation of the Omega Seamaster. It should then come as no surprise to learn that Olympic swimmer and multiple gold medalist Michael Phelps wears the Seamaster Planet Ocean.
Today’s Omega model range today consists of primarily of four collections: Constellation, De Ville, Seamaster, and Speedmaster. There are also “Specialities” models that include the “Specialities Tourbillon” and the Omega Museum Collection that are watches in retro designs.
The Constellation model entered the market in 1952 as an automatic chronometer and has played a major role in the company’s reputation. In 1969, Omega was the first watch on the Moon. The Speedmaster Professional, now known as the “Moon Watch,” is a manual winding timepiece and a legend. Worn by Neil Armstrong on the first moon landing, 21 July 1969, it had been extensively tested in space by NASA before the flight and remains the first and only watch on the moon.
Omega’s instinct for branding led to its product placement strategies including the James Bond films. Since 1995 Omega has sponsored these films so Bond always wears the actual top model of the Seamaster series. There has also been a special Bond edition of this watch.
Bond had first worn a Rolex Submariner but switched to the Omega Seamaster with Golden Eye (1995) and has worn an Omega ever since. Omega also adopted many elements of Rolex’s business model (i.e. higher pricing, tighter controls of dealer pricing, and increased advertising) that successfully increased Omega’s market share and name recognition and led to its current position as a more direct competitor of Rolex.
Space does not permit a complete compendium of the company’s considerable and notable achievements and awards nor is there room for a comprehensive list of those who have worn Omega timepieces, however some of the more impressive of these are below:
1919: 1st Prize at observatory trials in Neuenburg with a 21 caliber. This caliber was slightly modified to become the famous Cal. 47.7 later.
1931: Omega achieves 1st place in all 6 categories at observatory trials in Geneva.
1936: Another Cal. 47.7 achieved the precision record of 97.8 points of 100. This record was not broken until as late as 1965.
1943: Launch of the 30mm caliber 30T2 (first rose gold-plated Omega movement).
1947: Creation of the first Omega tourbillon wristwatch movement (Cal. 30I). Specially developed for observatory trials only 12 were made.
1958: New record in Geneva movements. Creation of the Cal. 30GD, a 30mm caliber with better mainspring and higher frequency (25,200 instead of 18,000 vph). This unusual frequency is now used in the latest coaxial movements.
1967: Quartz movement Beta 1 (later Beta 21) is included in the same category as mechanical movements. This was the last year Omega competed in the market using mechanical movements that are referred to as “old technology” and not comparable to quartz movements. The production watch was released in 1970 as the Omega Electroquartz and was accurate to 5 seconds per month.
1974: Omega Marine Chronometer was certified as the world first Marine Chronometer wristwatch, accurate to 12 seconds per year.
While Omega and Rolex dominated the market in the pre-quartz era, this changed in the 1970s when Japanese manufacturers such as Seiko and Citizen became dominant due to their pioneering of the quartz movement. Rolex continued concentrating on expensive mechanical chronometers while Omega competed with the Japanese in the quartz watch market with Swiss made quartz movements.
Rory McIlroy Golfer
Buzz Aldrin Astronaut
Jacques Cousteau Oceanographer
George Clooney Actor
Daniel Craig Actor and current James Bond
Cindy Crawford Fashion Model
Nicole Kidman Actress
Greg Norman Golfer
Michael Phelps Swimming champion
In addition, those seen wearing Omega watches include Prince William with an Omega Seamaster 300M Quartz and Joe Biden, the current US vice president, with a blue Omega Seamaster Professional 300M Quartz
Among historical personages, John F. Kennedy wore Omega at his Presidential Inauguration in 1961, Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China wore an Omega for 31 years, and Mikhail Gorbachev, the former president of the Soviet Union wore a gold Omega Constellation “Manhattan.”
Elvis Presley wore the black-dialed Constellation Calendar; the actor, producer, writer, and director Tom Hanks wears an Omega Speedmaster Professional. Stone Cold Steve Austin, the American film and television actor, producer, and retired professional wrestler wears an Omega Seamaster Professional Chronograph, and Jack Hanna, the American zookeeper and Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium wears an Omega Seamaster Professional.
In 2013, Omega announced the creation of the world’s first movement resistant to magnetic fields greater than 1.5 tesla (15,000 gauss), that far exceeds levels of magnetic resistance achieved by any previous movement.
Most anti-magnetic watches have used a soft iron – faraday cage to distribute electromagnetism in such a way that it cancels the effect on the movement contained within. Omega instead built a movement of non-ferrous materials that eliminated the need for such a cage and provided far greater resistance to magnetic fields.
Over the years, the Omega brand has been frequently copied and offered in email ads as “imitation” Omega watches at deep-discounts. These watches are cheap, poorly-made fakes that are not serviceable, do not perform like the genuine article, and are a waste of money.
In its quest for elegance, Omega has turned to prestigious jeweler designers to create masterpieces of the highest quality. Consequently the company has received the Triomphe de l’excellence européenne prize for the quality and originality of its models.
Omega’s reputation for watchmaking excellence is, in large part, due to the quality of its movements. These superb watches are highly collectible and a special and treasure part of many owner’s collections.