It’s made it to the Moon, seen the Apollo-13 team home safely, travelled deep into the Marina Trench and been sported on the wrist of the world’s most famous fictional spy – wherever history’s being made, Omega has built a name on making itself part of it.
The brand we know actually started life as a watch assembling business, Louis Brandt et Frere, in 1848. It was renamed Omega in 1903 after Brandt, like many similar outfits of the time, realised the real money lay in making movements rather than just putting pieces together. He set about designing a calibre in which all the parts were interchangeable – an innovation that would allow anyone in the world with access to its parts the means to repair it.
an early omega watch advert i courtesy of omega
Prioritising practicality might not be the sexiest sell, but it was a canny move then and has continued to be the driver behind many of Omega’s advances. The excellent timekeeping for which the brand quickly became known saw it become the go-to name for sports timing and eventually earning it its place as official timekeeper of the Olympic Games. It’s a title Omega’s held since 1932 and has led to advances such as wearable tech for competitors that harnesses data for use by athletes and coaches to improve training and performance.
The watch’s superior robustness was the main reason the Speedmaster was selected for inclusion in NASA’s astronauts’ regulation kit in 1962. NASA put three watches – the Omega, a Rolex Cosmograph and a Wittnauer (Longines) Genève Professional Chronograph 242T – through testing in conditions rigorous enough to show they could survive space travel. These included testing at high to low temperatures (including four hours at -18º C), pressure oscillation trials, and others for humidity, shock, oxygen atmosphere, acceleration and more.
The Omega was the only one to survive, coming through with nothing more than a bit of time loss and gain. Which was how it came to be on Neil Armstrong’s wrist as he took that famous step on the moon’s surface and was used as the crucial timing instrument for the crucial four minutes and 24 seconds that saved the crew of Apollo 13.
Omega may be a brand more readily associated with the solid steel forms of the Speedmaster or Seamaster, but it’s these moments of expression – designing a ‘laser’ jewellery piece for Ursula Andress to wear in Dr No, say, or placing diamonds on a diving watch that’s good to 600m complete with helium escape valve – that still inform the design language of its women’s watches today.
The quest for ever-more accurate watches saw Omega establish its Master Chronometer status – a system of incredibly stringent tests for anti-magnetism, accuracy and water resistance devised in partnership with the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology (METAS) – in 2015. Four years later, it strapped a version of its own Seamaster watch to a submersible and sent it 10,928 metres underwater to the deepest part of the Mariana Trench.
Not only pioneering in terms of adventure, Omega has also been at the vanguard of women’s watch design. In the past its enjoyed collaborations with the likes of revolutionary 1960s jewellery designer Andrew Grima and contributed a clock to Salvador Dali’s famous bronze sculpture of a reclining nude woman with drawers in her torso and a clock for a face, Prémonition des Tiroirs.
It might come with a ‘cappucino’ dial, but this Speedmaster is no bit of froth. Powered by its famous co-axial chronometer movement, it uses Omega’s own-brand 18ct Sedna gold on the case and even has a diamond-set bezel. The classic Speedie with its masculine edges softened a bit.