Chances are, your grandfather or father was a fan of Omega watches. First founded in 1848, and preferred for generations, the company refreshed its image as the sexy modern brand we know today by making appearances upon the wrist of James Bond in the 90s. While the original novels and movies placed Bond in a Rolex, 2006’s Casino Royale further hit home the point that Rolex had been sent packing.
“Rolex?” the lovely Vesper Lynd surmised as she sized James Bond up.
“Omega,” Bond corrected.
“Beautiful,” Lynd added, pausing for just a moment before continuing her verbal sparring with the world’s favorite spy.
The latter Bond films made headline news for generating millions from product placement, so there’s little doubt the brand paid for this clever interlude, yet it did the trick. “I can show a graph for eight films,” said Stephen Urquhart, who was company president at the time. “It’s a perfect chart. Every time it goes up when the promotion starts and comes down when the promotion stops. But the sales are always higher than they were before the film.” Modern brand aficionados are typically drawn to the timepieces because of their association with Bond, whereas those who preferred Omega watches before the movie’s release did so largely because it was the brand preferred by their fathers and grandfathers. That being said, it doesn’t necessarily matter how you were introduced to the luxury watchmaker. The company and its timepieces have a lot going for them, and we’ll go over ten more of the biggest draws below.
1) Their Craftsmanship is Excellent
Whereas most watchmakers name their timepieces after a founder or owner, Omega is actually named after one if its first major accomplishments. The brand was originally known as La Generale Watch Co, created by Swiss watchmaker Louis Brandt in the 1800s. Brandt sourced components from local craftsmen, but his timepieces made their way throughout Europe. When his sons came of age and joined the family business, they worked under the name Louis Brandt & Fils. The boys had bigger dreams for their father’s company, and soon moved things in-house to ensure components would be interchangeable. In 1894, they had their first breakthrough: The Omega movement. The superior design and increased precision led to great success for the brand, so it only made sense to rename the company in honor of it.
Since then, the company has undergone many changes, such as becoming a subsidiary of Swatch and thus ESA. Many will argue that this means some of the brand’s movements can’t truly be considered “in-house” because ESA manufactured them, yet the watchmaker has certainly gone the extra mile to control as much as possible about each component of its timepieces, from the design to the materials.
Although the company doesn’t talk much about its internal processes, preferring to focus on the recognition others have given it and its achievements, we do know is the brand focuses on using quality materials and isn’t afraid to experiment with new options. For example, the Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon is manufactured with a zirconium-based ceramic case, making it more scratch-resistant than stainless steel. The finished product is so tough that the company has to use diamond-tipped tools to refine the cases and their engineers needed to develop Liquidmetal so gemstones could be set. This is also used to fill in lettering, leaving each piece with a smooth and permanent display. It’s the use of ceramic which gives Dark Side of the Moon its steely-gray signature look that’s not seen anywhere else.
2) The Company Built a Name on Accuracy
It may be difficult to imagine a time before digital timekeeping became available, but initial timepieces were marine chronometers. Keeping exact time was essential for navigation aboard ships, yet there was no reliable standard to verify the accuracy of any given timepiece. All this changed when observatories began popping up throughout Europe in the mid-1800s. One, in particular, was the observatory in Neuchatel, Switzerland. It essentially became the timekeeper of the world, as it was able to calculate the exact length of a second based upon the earth’s motion around the sun; a distinction which the observatory held up until 1967. The observatory began checking the accuracy of timepieces, determining if they were accurate or inaccurate, which ultimately led to the creation of observatory trials, a series of tests carried out by observatories in Neuchatel and Geneva to verify precision. To be clear, these were grueling tests carried out over a 44-day span, subjecting the devices to all sorts of conditions. No longer was it simply about creating an accurate timepiece, but about creating the most precise timepiece of them all.
Omega took part in the observatory trials for the first time in 1922, taking third place. While not bad, the brand knew it could do better and returned in 1925 to take first. It continued to do so dozens more times, blowing old records out of the water, creating firsts, and setting new standards for watchmakers across the globe. No other brand has set more records for precision. After one particularly good run, the company chose the slogan “Omega – Exact time for life.”
It’s also no surprise, then, that the brand was chosen as the “Official Timekeeper” for the Olympics. This relationship goes back to 1932, when the watchmaker supplied the Los Angeles Games with 30 stopwatches for tracking the speeds of athletes. This is a tradition which carries on today.
3) Their Timepieces were the Only Ones to Survive NASA Testing
NASA needed to outfit their astronauts with wristwatches in 1964. Engineer Jim Ragan was responsible for determining which timepieces qualified and, as such, devised a series of demanding tests that would subject them to virtually every harsh condition an astronaut might encounter. Only three brands made it to testing: Omega, Rolex, and Longines-Wittnauer. “Actually, two of the watches got eliminated in the first test, which was a thermal vacuum test,” Ragan recalled in an interview. “Omega was the only one that passed all the testing. Even I was surprised that I could get any watch through those kinds of environments because the environments were really made for pieces of hardware you mounted on the vehicle and that type stuff. The most extreme test you could do to a piece of hardware.”
By the time man landed on the moon in 1969, the Speedmaster was favored by engineers and astronauts alike, and yes, it was the first timepiece on the moon. The catch; it wasn’t worn by Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, but by Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon. Armstrong had a Speedmaster as well, but when the digital clock on the lunar module malfunctioned, Armstrong took his trusty Speedmaster off and left it onboard, so they’d have something to keep time with too.
4) You Can Wear a Piece of History
Wearing an Omega watch is like carrying a bit of history with you, even if you aren’t holding an heirloom. The Speedmaster, which is still in production today, was the first timepiece on the moon and was also on the wrists on those making the first successful surface expedition to reach the north pole. There is, of course, the Olympic connection, with numerous timepieces involved, as well as Bond and his Seamaster. JFK wore an Ultra-Thin, ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau and Prince William a Seamaster, and Elvis a Constellation.
If you caught the 2017 film Dunkirk and have a keen eye, you may have noticed a CK2129 on actor Tom Hardy’s wrist. That was not by chance. As an RAF pilot in WWII, that would have likely been the model he had. The UK/CK2292 and CK2444 were also among the 110,000 or more timepieces Omega supplied the Allied Troops with. In fact, the brand has a long history of providing military and civil responders with their wristwatches which continues today.
5) They Embrace Innovation
People can, and will, debate all day over whether Rolex or Omega watches have better quality, but one thing all can agree upon is that the latter embraces modernization and innovation more. The ceramic case of the Dark Side of the Moon is one example of how the company has embraced new materials and design elements, but even going back decades, the brand has stood at the forefront of innovation. It created the first ever first tourbillon wristwatch movement in 1947, released the first mass-produced watch incorporating the coaxial escapement in 1999, and totally rocked the world in 2013 by unveiling a movement resistant to magnetic fields greater than 15,000 gauss. “Magnetism is the biggest enemy of mechanical watch that exists today,” Urqhart said just before retiring as company president. “Magnetism is rampant today — you find it in induction stoves, in handbags, in every tablet cover. If I take a normal watch and put it on a tablet cover, the watch will stop.”
And while their attempts to be innovative have not always taken flight (consider their steps into the digital watchmaking world), there’s no doubt that, if something really new is coming out in a luxury timepiece; be it a mechanical improvement or design element, it’s likely through Omega watches.
6) They’re Tough to Top as an Entry-Level Timepiece
Urquhart was never fond of associating the brand with luxury. “I don’t like the word,” he explained. “It makes you think of diamonds; remember, good water is also a luxury. But luxury in Webster’s Dictionary is defined as ‘what you don’t need.’ I would have to agree with that.” There’s some truth to that. In the world of luxury timepieces, it’s easy to top six figures, particularly when the piece is encrusted in diamonds and other rare gems. Yet, Omega watches have remained true to their roots; always focusing on precision, quality, and functionality. There’s a reason why it’s the brand chosen by astronauts, deep sea divers, north pole explorers, and the military. Although it undeniably steps into high-end design, the brand by and large keeps itself on par with Rolex, and typically a price point or two below. That makes it the ideal choice for someone who wants a quality timepiece, yet isn’t interested in crossing even the five-figure mark. A few models even come in below $3,000.
7) Omega Watches Hold Their Value Well
Particularly if you’re looking into luxury timepieces as a first-time buyer, one of your biggest concerns is whether the piece will hold its value or not. “Certain relatively attainable ($4,000-$9000) watches are known to hold their value extremely well—even appreciating in some cases,” according to Ethan Wolff-Mann of Time Magazine. While he and his experts give nod to Rolex, they also add that Omega watches hold their own in the secondhand market too. The challenge the brand has, however, is that it hasn’t maintained a steady product line over the years. All that innovation means that some of their timepieces wind up in swap meets and garage sales (yes, the digital versions rear their ugly heads again).
8) They’ll Take Whatever You Give Them
Obviously, a wristwatch that can withstand the observatory trials and NASA’s rigorous testing will be able to tackle whatever your lifestyle entails. Again, these are timepieces used by explorers and scientists in the harshest of conditions. All watches are tested for water resistance. The brand further subjects a selection of test pieces to forces equal to 5,000 g (the force of gravity at the Earth’s surface 5,000-times over) to ensure they’re shock-resistant enough to handle everyday life. So, whether you’re a secret agent, diver, sailor, or just want a nice-looking timepiece for everyday use, you’ll find it with the brand.
9) You Prefer Understated Elegance
You almost have to work hard to find flashy Omega watches. Their classic designs have been around for generations and remain largely untouched, aside from technological advancements. This makes the brand a favorite for those who want a quality timepiece that can be worn to office and in social situations without coming off as pretentious in mixed company.
10) You Want a Timepiece You Can Feel Good About
There’s actually a lot to love about the brand when you get into its heart. First and foremost, it prides itself in being an ethical and responsible brand. It’s a member of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), a non-profit which sets “an international standard on responsible business practices for diamonds, gold and platinum group metals. The Code of Practices addresses human rights, labour rights, environmental impact, mining practices, product disclosure and many more important topics in the jewellery supply chain.”
One other really great thing the brand doesn’t really boast about, but should, is its partnership with Orbis International. Orbis runs something called the Flying Eye Hospital, which is a massive cargo plane converted into a state-of-the-art medical facility, complete with an operating room. The plane flies to remote parts of the world with trained medical staff on board, then treats people suffering from blindness; giving them the gift of sight. Omega does a lot of work with Orbis and has partnered with them since 2011, but one of their signature offerings is to provide children undergoing surgeries a teddy bear. The doctors then use the bear to help teach kids about their surgery, and the children have something to cuddle for comfort. If you ever catch Omega watches with teddy bears on them, it’s in honor of this.
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