Omega. The name itself is a symbol of greatness and the quest for perfection. Long recognised as perhaps one of the two most famous and important Swiss watch brands—alongside Rolex—Omega is known for the incredible quality of its mechanical engineering and the trend-setting appeal of its designs.
1848: Louis Brandt sets up a watch workshop in La Chaux-de-Fonds at the age of twenty-three
1894: The Omega calibre is created, a movement with unparalleled technological advancements
1932 : The father of the Seamaster line is created, the Omega Marine, the first commercial divers’ watch
While the company was founded in 1848, it wasn't called Omega until 1903, when it was named for the game-changing ‘Omega’ movement that was among the most accurate and easily repairable ever made at the time. This creation, along with other major breakthroughs (the first minute repeater wristwatch, first big date calendar etc) had propelled Omega to the top of the industry, selling an unprecedented 100,000 watches per year and employing 600 people. It was also around this time that the firm became dominant in major watchmaking trials and competitions, its timepieces testing better for precision than any others. Omega still holds many records today.
Throughout the 20th century, Omega maintained its reputation for stunning, revolutionary new ideas and technologies—a style that some observers have contrasted to Rolex's comparatively slower and steadier ‘evolutionary’ approach. Even in recent years, Omega has produced some of the world's most cutting edge horological accomplishments. In 1999, it created the first mass produced watches with co-axial escapements, a mechanism now incorporated into almost all of its movements. The co-axial escapement, invented by genius Englishman George Daniels, eliminates friction and is considered one of the most important advances in modern watchmaking.
1957: The Speedmaster is born, not as we know it today, but as the ‘broadarrow’ design
1965: NASA awards flight qualification for Omega’s Speedmaster, authorising it for use in space
1969: The Omega Speedmaster goes to the moon with Apollo 11, the first watch to ever do so
Other recent accomplishments include pioneering materials such as Ceragold, a ceramic-gold hybrid that combines the best qualities of both; Liquidmetal, a zirconium alloy with low melting point and extreme hardness, used for applying details to ceramic bezels; and silicon technology. Omega has become so proficient in building laser-etched silicon components to replace conventional steel ones that it was able to construct a movement without any ferrous parts at all, making it almost entirely resistant to magnetic fields and overcoming yet another ancient problem faced by watchmakers.
Of course, any story about Omega that only included its technical achievements would be missing half of what is loved about the brand: its cultural achievements. This is a company that has become so well recognised for its effortlessly suave appeal that it has been James Bond's watch of choice in every film since 1995's GoldenEye. Daniel Craig's Bond wore not just the iconic Seamaster Professional but also the newer Planet Ocean.
1970: Tragedy is avoided on Apollo 13, thanks in part to a thruster burn timed with a Speedmaster
1995 : An Omega appears on the wrist of super spy James Bond for the very first time
1999: George Daniels’ efficient co-axial escapement debuts in the Omega calibre 2500
Omega is also known as the sportsman's watch thanks to its sponsorship of the Olympics, a partnership it has maintained for a whopping eighty years since 1932's Los Angeles games. And of course, Omega is also associated with space exploration; in the 1960s, the Omega Speedmaster was selected by NASA as its official watch thanks to its performance in testing. After being used in earlier missions, the Speedmaster made what is probably the biggest accomplishment in watch history when it was taken out onto the moon’s surface for the first time. Now known as the Moonwatch, it has inspired dozens of commemorative re-releases in the years since.
With a unique brand identity based on its high-achieving history and an ever-growing capacity for innovation, Omega is set to continue its spectacular dominance in high-end watches for many years to come.