Historical Horology: Taking A Look At Omega
Omega isn’t the oldest watch brand in existence today – but it is one of the older brands that we have with us today. When I write about Omega, I’m often looking to what they’re doing today (which is interesting). Or, if I’m looking to their past, it’s in conjunction with an older model a current one is referencing. Today, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a quick look at the history of the brand.
Fun fact: Omega was originally known as Brandt, being named for it’s founder Louis Brandt (more on the name change in a bit). When Brandt started his work, he was interested in scaling up watch manufacturing. At that time, things were done very much in a small-batch method. Brandt, on the other hand, wanted to take things onto a more industrial (read: large) scale. This is what led him to set up shop in Bienne (rather than the more predominant Jura) – logistics and transportation in Bienne were simply more amenable to his goals.
In 1894, they launched the Omega 19 caliber – which is where the brand got the name we’re familiar with today. Jump forward a year, and the first series was produced, and they had an admirable (for the time) 30 seconds per day accuracy rate. Production quickly ramped up to hit a mark of 100,000 pieces per year – and that was with only 600 employees.
Even as time progressed, however, that Omega 19 caliber remained a large part of what they produced. Twenty years on from it’s introduction, it comprised a third of the total production volume. It’s around this time (1914) that the British Royal Flying Corps gave a big nod to Omega’s accuracy and reliability selected Omega to supply watches for combat units; the US Army followed suit in 1918.
Moving forward to 1924, Omega formed a new group, Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère (SSIH) with Tissot, which Lemania later joined as well. It was this partnership that opened up the world of chronographs for Omega, and ultimately led to their being selected as the official timekeeper of the 1932 Olympics (a relationship that continues to this day; more info here).
In the economic crisis that hit between the two world wars, Omega took another step the watch industry hadn’t seen – focusing on making components interoperable between watches. After WWII was over, Omega began to produce some of their most famous models, ones we’re very familiar with today – Seamaster (1948), Constellation (1952), and Speedmaster (1957).
Then 1969 came, with the quartz crisis. Omega combined with other brands for survival, which ultimately led to the SWATCH Group that we know today. 1999 saw the introduction of the co-axial movement, and every year we see more improvements being made in terms of materials used, and accuracy/reliability improvements – one benefit of having an in-house movement supplier in the form of ETA. This continues on today as well, with anti-magnetism being a recent focus.
Whether or not you care for a particular brand or model, looking into the history of the bigger, more established brands can also give you a glimpse of how the industry itself has changed over time. If you’d like a more in-depth look at Omega’s history, jump over to this article at DreamChrono, or of course the official Omega History page.