La Chaux-de-Fonds is synonymous with horology. Several watch brands have been founded in this Swiss city, located in the canton of Neuchâtel, including the company which would ultimately become OMEGA.
In 1848, Louis Brandt, aged just 23 years of age, established an assembly workshop in his family home. His sons succeeded him after his death, taking over the reigns of the company, Louis Brandt et fils. In 1880, the business moved to Biel / Bienne, a bilingual city in the canton of Bern and the current location of the business. By moving to this city, the company enlarged its manufacturing capability, focusing on all aspects of watchmaking.
In 1894, the Louis Brandt et fils produced a new movement, the OMEGA calibre, employing groundbreaking industrial production methods. The large movement measured 19 lignes, approximately 42.9mm, earning the watchmaker much respect and leading to OMEGA being adopted as the new name for the company.
OMEGA has enjoyed a long standing relationship within the world of sport. It has provided timekeeping equipment for a multitude of sporting events harking back to 1909 when the company was tasked with timing its first sporting event, the Gordon Bennett Cup, a balloon race commencing in Zurich. Most notably, Omega has gone on to be a long-time supporter of the Olympic Games, providing timepieces and timing services to the sporting organisation.
OMEGA merged with Tissot in 1930 forming SSIH (Sociéte Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère). In 1983, SSIH merged with another group, ASUAG. The merged concern was then acquired by Nicolas Hayek in 1985 to form SMH, which subsequently became known as the Swatch Group in 1998.
In 1936, the company produced a calibre measuring 47.7mm which, when tested at the Kew Observatory, achieved world precision records in all categories and received a score of 97.8 points out of 100. This degree of precision is part of the OMEGA paradigm to this day with several of the brand’s models attracting chronometer status.
The Speedmaster – an iconic chronograph
Most notably for many fans of OMEGA, the most important period of the company’s history was marked with its iconic watch, the Speedmaster.
Released in 1957, the Speedmaster was the first watch equipped with a tachymeter scale on the bezel. It was this feature which provided the inspiration for the name of the watch. The hand-wound timepiece featured a tri-compax layout and “Broad Arrow” hands.
James H. Ragan, an employee of NASA, was responsible for the testing and preparation of flight hardware for the Apollo program. NASA purchased a number of Speedmaster chronographs, the model 6049, from OMEGA. These were subject to extensive testing by NASA and the initial models were used for the Gemini program.
Ragan noticed that during use the crew would sometimes bend or break the chronograph push pieces as the case band accorded little protection to them. He asked OMEGA if they would consider redesigning the case to address the problem and they obliged, releasing the model 6126. This model contained the same movement as the 6049 and was used for Apollo missions.
NASA chose the Speedmaster as its official chronograph in 1965, declaring it ‘flight qualified’ for manned space missions.
When Apollo 11 made history in 1969 with the first moon landing, the Speedmaster Professional, often referred to as the “Moonwatch”, was worn by the astronauts. This “first” conferred legendary status upon the Speedmaster.
Over the years, OMEGA has released many versions of the Speedmaster, including reproductions of the historic models. Some Speedmaster models have been delivered in noble metals and equipped with self-winding movements, but they retain many of the design codes of the legendary chronograph.
An eye-catching model released in 2013, is the Speedmaster “Dark Side of the Moon” featuring a large ceramic case, measuring 44.25mm in diameter, and paired with a matching ceramic dial. Whilst this watch references the past it also contains many modern aspects to its specification including the OMEGA Co-Axial calibre 9300 featuring a silicon balance spring. Convenience is accorded with a self-winding movement and the use of ceramic grants the watch a note of modernity.
While OMEGA will forever be linked with the Speedmaster Professional, the brand has not shied away from creating other types of watches.
The Constellation, available for ladies and gentlemen, evinces an elegant mien. The Seamaster collection, with its close links to the ocean, includes the Ploprof, a diver’s watch with an impressive water resistance of 1200 metres and the Aqua Terra > 15,000 gauss exhibits incredible resistance to magnetic fields.
The brand has produced models featuring an array of complications including the rattrapante, annual calendar, perpetual calendar and tourbillon.
With the vast resources of Swatch Group at its disposal, the future of OMEGA looks bright. The brand is able to offer high specification watches, delivered at competitive prices and imbued with pioneering technology. It is for this reason that OMEGA is a well respected watch brand with numerous admirers around the globe.