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Omega has a rich history of horology dating all the way back to 1848, meaning they are one of the oldest watch manufacturers in the world. Omega watches have served on many a trip to space and even became the official timekeeper of the Olympic games.
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Alongside Rolex, the world’s best-known prestigious watch brand is undoubtedly Omega. The company was founded (under the name of ‘La Generale Watch Company’) by Louis Brandt in the Swiss city of La Chaux-de-Fonds, in 1848. Louis initially assembled pocket-watches using parts supplied by local craftsmen. He then sold his watches all over Europe, England being his best market.
In 1894, Brandt, along with his two sons Louis-Paul and César, developed an ‘in-house’ system that gave them full control over the manufacture and production of components. This enabled individual parts to be interchangeable.
Louis enjoyed such success with his own ‘Omega’ brand that it separated from the La Generale Watch Company to become a brand in its own right in early 1903.
Tragically, both Louis-Paul and César Brandt died later in 1903. This left Omega, by now employing 800 people and producing over 200,000 watches per year, in the hands of four very young men. The eldest, Paul-Emile Brandt, was just 23 years old.
Despite his tender age, Paul-Emile would become the most influential figure in the history of Omega watches after Louis Brandt. He guided the company forward for the next 50 years. This included steering Omega through the difficulties encountered during WW1 and the economic downturn in the years directly afterward.
Paul-Emile united Omega with Tissot, to form a company called SSIH (Société Suisse pour l'Industrie Horlogère, Geneva), in 1930. The watchmakers Lemania, along with others, were also included in this unification. This new company specialised in the creation of horological complications (timepieces that showed more than just hours, minutes and seconds). This development was crucial to the future growth of Omega. It enabled them to be named the official timekeeper of the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and would lead to the creation of one of Omegas most important ranges, the Speedmaster.
Under the guidance of Paul-Emile Brandt, and then, from 1955, Joseph Reiser, the SSIH Group continued to multiply and grow, creating or absorbing around fifty other watch businesses. By the 1970s, SSIH were Switzerland’s number one manufacturer of finished watches, and number three in the world, after Casio and Citizen of Japan. Whilst Omega and Rolex had dominated world markets in the era of mechanical, wind-up watches, the invention and influx of quartz movements changed the mass-market demand for watches from mechanical to quartz.
Whilst Rolex primarily stuck with their mechanical movements, Omega embraced the new technology and produced quartz powered watches (using high-quality Swiss-made quartz movements) alongside their mechanical/automatic models.
By the mid-1970s, worldwide recessions and a severe monetary crisis had badly weakened SSIH as a company. In 1981, SSIH, along with many other local businesses, were bailed out by the banks. Switzerland’s other main watch-making business of the day, USUAG, was also in economic difficulty. USUAG was also the holding company for a variety of famous brands, such as Longines, Rado, Certina, Mido and Hamilton. After a dramatic financial reconstruction effort by both companies, the research and development departments of both USUAG and SSIH merged production, basing their operations at the ETA plant in Granges. The two businesses then merged completely in 1983, forming USUAG-SSIH, a holding company.
In 1985, the company was taken over by private investors, and renamed SMH (Société de Microélectronique et d'Horlogerie). Over the next decade SMH became, again, one of the world’s top producers of wristwatches. In 1998 it was renamed again, becoming ‘The Swatch Group’.
Omega experienced a huge boost to their profile and success following a policy of product placement within films. This was particularly true with the brands’ link with James Bond. Up until 1995, Bond had worn the Rolex Submariner. In that year, ‘Goldeneye’ was released, and Pierce Brosnan was wearing the Omega Seamaster Diver 300m. Since then, Ian Fleming’s stylish spy has stayed with the Omega Seamaster, also opting for the Planet Ocean and Aqua Terra variants.
In addition to James Bond, Omega are worn by many actual celebrities, such as Buzz Aldrin, John F. Kennedy, Mao Zedong, Elvis Presley and Prince William. Elvis Presleys Omega (given to him by RCA records in 1961, to commemorate the sales of 75 million albums), sold at auction in 2018 for $1.8million.
In recent years, Omega have also taken on board many aspects of Rolex’s businesses practices, such as premium pricing, strong controls on trade pricing and increasing advertising. This business model was highly successful in greatly increasing the market share of Omega, making them a head-to-head competitor with Rolex.
Significant moments in the history of Omega.
1892 Louis Brandt makes the world’s first minute repeating watch. (Made in conjunction with Audemars Piguet, who manufactured the movement). Fitted to an 18-carat gold case, this watch is now on display in the Omega museum.
1947 Omega made the first tourbillon watch movement. In 1949 one of these movements delivered the best results ever recorded by a wristwatch until that point.
1999 Omega adopted the now-legendary coaxial escapement – invented by English watchmaker George Daniels – into their movements. The coaxial escapement vastly reduces friction within the movement, thereby improving both reliability and accuracy.
2007 Omega revealed two new movements, the calibre 8500 and calibre 8501. Both of these movements were designed, developed and manufactured exclusively by Omega.
2013 Omega develop the first watch movement that will resist magnetic fields greater than 15,000 Gauss. This far exceeded the performance ever achieved previously (ie the Rolex Milgauss was resistant to 1000 gauss). The watch was listed as being resistant to 15,007 gauss, in another homage to James Bond. Whilst previous watches of this kind fitted the movement inside a Faraday cage (an encasement of soft iron), Omega used non-ferrous metals to build the movements, making a Faraday cage unnecessary.
2015 Alongside the industry standard certifications issued by COSC (the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute) and METAS (The Federal Institute of Metrology). Omega introduced their own Master Chronometer Certification. This denotes that a movement has also passed a series of eight specific tests. Master Chronometer watches have an accuracy rating of plus/minus 5 seconds per day, a minimum power reserve rating of 60 hours, a minimum water-resistance rating of 100 meters, and are resistant to magnetic fields of 15,000 gauss. The Master Chronometer Certification was originally available only on the Globemaster but Omega now offer it across many more of its watch collections.