In the second part of our Behind the Brand series, we’ll be exploring what lies behind the well-known, luxury watch manufacturer, Omega.
Omega are one of the top watch manufacturers in the world, and are often pitted against Rolex for the top spot. In the first few decades of trading, Omega sold more watches than Rolex and they were seen as rivals, with innovative Omega dominating the professional market and Rolex achieving huge success with their mechanical expertise. These days, Omega is the official timekeeper of the Olympic Games, and is worth around 3.67billion Swiss Francs, which translates to around 2.8billion pounds, and commands great respect and admiration the world over.
When was Omega founded?
Omega was founded in Switzerland – the watchmaking capital of the world – in 1903. While this was the first time the company traded with the name ‘Omega’, some would argue that the company is actually much older. In 1903, La Generale Watch Co changed their name to Omega, but had already been manufacturing watches since 1848, putting them among the oldest watchmakers in the world.
The business began with a man named Louis Brandt, who would create his own key-wound pocket watches. He started out a humble, one-man operation and eventually brought his two sons, Louis-Paul and César, into the family business. In 1894, Brandt’s sons developed a new system for manufacturing everything in-house, and created designs which allowed component parts to be interchangeable. This was when their business really came into its own, and just a few years later, the company was re-named Omega after their unique movements, which the brothers called the Omega calibre.
Omega began life as a standalone watch manufacturer a mere 2 years before Rolex, which is why they’ve always been compared to each other throughout the decades. Both companies have been proactive in designing new and improved parts for their watches, and being at the forefront of innovation in the industry.
Omega on the moon
In our previous Behind the Brand article, we discovered that Rolex watches were worn by sportspeople and adventurers to test how they fared in extreme conditions. This was a valuable marketing tool for Rolex, as it proved that their designs were of exceptional quality, and that their watches were made to stand the test of time.
Omega employed a similar tactic, but rather than compete on a par with Rolex they instead went straight to the most extreme conditions of all - joining the greatest human expedition of all time: man’s first trip to the moon. In the 1960s, NASA astronauts asked to be issued with watches to use whilst in training and on missions, so NASA engineers were put to work testing watches provided by the top watch manufacturers of the time; Omega, Rolex, Hamilton and Longines-Wittnauer. After months of brutal testing (which was designed to push each watch to complete destruction), the Omega Speedmaster came out victorious and became the first watch to be declared ‘Flight Qualified for all Manned Space Missions’.
On July 21, 1969, the Eagle Lunar Module landed on the moon, along with two crew members and two Omega watches. However, the first man on the moon - Neil Armstrong - was not wearing his Omega watch when he descended those famous steps. He had been forced to leave his watch behind inside the Lunar Module due to a malfunction with the on-board clock and timer. Instead, Buzz Aldrin had the honour of wearing the first watch on the moon – his NASA issued Omega Speedmaster Professional. Unfortunately, Aldrin’s Omega watch was lost or stolen when he donated a number of items to the Smithsonian Institution. It may well be out there still, perhaps being worn by someone who has no idea how far it has travelled and what a famous watch it really is.
Famous Omega wearers
As one of the oldest high-end watch brands in the world, it’s no surprise that Omega has its fair share of famous fans. Many notable people have worn Omega watches, which have a timeless elegance to their designs and a universal appeal –here are some of the most interesting:
- Prince William has an Omega Seamaster 300M Quartz, which was a gift from his mother, the late Princess Diana.
- Elvis Presley wore a 1960 gold Omega watch, which was a gift from his record company, RCA Records to celebrate his achievement of selling 75million records. This watch was recently auctioned in Geneva on May 12, 2018 and fetched an amazing $1,812,500 – the highest price ever paid for an Omega timepiece. It was purchased by Omega themselves for their collection.
- Hollywood living legend Tom Hanks wears an Omega Speedmaster Professional.
- Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May have all worn Omega watches on television when presenting Top Gear and, more recently, The Grand Tour. Clarkson’s model is the Omega Railmaster XXL.
- James Bond wears an Omega watch for the first time in Goldeneye, (1995) when Pierce Brosnan wore the Omega Seamaster for the role. In every film since then, Bond – no matter who he is played by – has worn an Omega timepiece.
- Even religious leaders are partial to high-end watches: Pope John Paul II wore an Omega De Ville ‘Classic’.
- John F. Kennedy wore an Omega watch, which was gifted to him by a friend while he was running for President. On the back of the watch is an inscription:
“President of the United States John. F Kennedy from his friend Grant.”
Of course, Kennedy had yet to be voted into high office, so this inscription was a gamble, or perhaps it simply shows the faith his friend had in Kennedy to succeed. America’s 35th President wore the watch at his inauguration, where he was sworn in as leader.
Would you like to own an Omega watch? Here at Est1897 we have a wide range of pre-owned Omega watches, all of which have been guaranteed to be authentic and in full working order by our in-house horologists. By opting for a fully serviced, deep cleaned and good-as-new pre-owned timepiece, you can achieve ownership at a fraction of the cost. We have a huge number of models currently in stock, including nearly-new and vintage pieces. Take a look at our Omega range here, or visit one of our 180+ UK stores.