Stone Washington
Defying convention to supersede the realm of possibility: Omega’s impact on time
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By Stone Washington
December 31, 2021

“For Omega, precision is the truest mark of watchmaking excellence. The margins of precision can be measured by mere seconds—seconds that are a testament to superior craftsmanship, a quest for perfection, and an infinite passion for innovation.”

~Prestige magazine, February 2019

Omega’s Exacting Standard as a World-Renowned Watchmaker

Continuing my series of essays reviewing highest quality watches, in my previous horological article I tried to shed light on the remarkable qualities of watchmaking and introduces readers to revolutionary watch companies. Thus, my focus for this piece will be on the iconic Swiss watchmaker, Omega. Omega is a luxury Swiss watch company centered in Biel/Bienne Switzerland, and was founded by Louis Brandt in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1848, originally operating under the name of “La Generale Watch Co.” The company later adopted the name “Omega” into its title, modifying it to “Louis Brandt et Frère-Omega Watch & Co.”

In 1982, the organization decided to strip the name down to its current title of “Omega SA”, and currently operates as a subsidiary of the Swiss Swatch Group, the world’s largest watch conglomerate. Omega is notable for achieving a number of records in timekeeping, in addition to pushing the boundaries of maintaining reliably durable watch calibers. Omega measures each of its watches by having them undergo a rigorous testing process to ensure that they meet the company’s highest standards. In conjunction with the standards of METAS (The Federal Institute of Metrology), Omega has issued eight tests, which include subjecting watches to sustain high levels of heat and maintain accuracy under sub-zero temperatures over periods of time.

Omega’s company motto is “Omega—exact time for life”, which was adopted in 1931, inspired by the stellar performance of their watches that underwent during the Observatory trials. These trials are a series of tests for Chronometers, which is the term used to classify any mechanical watch that has passed a series of stringent precision tests over a 15-day period. These trials rigorously test a watch’s accuracy and precision time-keeping functions so as to ensure the highest level of dependency for chronometers. A watch undergoing the trials must remain within +6 and -4 seconds every day it is observed.

Watches that pass the trials obtain an official rate certificate from the COSC, known as the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute, and are considered to be highly accurate and superior in timekeeping quality. Chronometers are not to be confused with “chronographs”, which are a class of watches invented to keep elapsed measures of time. They do this through a built-in stopwatch function, that allows watches to record intervals of time over periods of seconds, minutes, and hours. Chronographs feature two pushers, one to start the chronograph and one to end it, in addition to pressing the stop pusher a second time will return the hands back to starting position (aka “back to zero”).

Since its founding 173 years ago, Omega has been on the forefront of watch manufacturing, having achieved many notable inventions throughout its history. Beyond this, Omega has joined the likes of American watchmakers like Hamilton to achieve cinematic prominence, after establishing a partnership with the 007 James Bond movie series. Every actor that has played James Bond since 1995 has worn and featured an Omega watch in the 007 movies, even to the most recent and arguably most iconic Bond role (2006—2021), played by actor Daniel Craig.

Omega has also made waves in the world of sports, serving as the official timekeeper for the Olympic Games since 1932. With the intensely timed Olympic sport competitions on the international stage, the honor of Omega serving as the official time-keeper for international sports is a true testament to its renowned accuracy. Omega was also chosen by NASA to be used by Buzz Aldrin as the first watch worn to the moon in 1969, during the daring Apollo 11 mission. The following sections will explore Omega’s rich history and incredible contributions to the realm of horology.

Omega’s Horological Specialties and Range

Within its gamut, Omega possesses a unique variety of watches, each with a specialized approach and unique functionality within the overall collection. Omega provides four separate families of watches: the DeVille, the Seamaster, the Speedmaster, and Constellation. Each caters to a certain style and provides a host of impressive timekeeping functions. Omega’s DeVille collection is oriented toward those with an exclusively professional outlook in life, providing watches that are best expressed for formal occasions. As such, these watches most appropriately accompany dress professional attire, showcasing a classical appearance with the “Hour Vision” series’ Roman numeral face or the sophisticated approach given through the “Tresor” series, which appeals to refined gentlemen. Perhaps the DeVille’s greatest triumph is that it is currently the only collection offered by Omega that features a tourbillion series.

According to Omega’s website, it’s “Atelier tourbillion” is the first-ever manual winding central tourbillon to attain Master Chronometer certification. Tourbillions are one of the greatest complications in the history of timekeeping, devised as a means of maintaining accurate time while offsetting the negative effects of gravity when a watch is shifted upside down or stuck in a certain position. Omega’s Atelier comes in Sedna gold, which is Omega’s most popularly patented alloy, and is comprised of palladium, and smaller quantities of rhodium and platinum. Sedna is popular for its longevity when compared to traditional 18K rose gold watches.

The Seamaster collection is designed for those with a professional aptitude for swimming and taking deep dives. The watches are highly pressurized, capable of sustaining depths of hundreds of meters under sea, with the “Diver” series producing watches that can handle 300 meters, while the more advanced “Planet Ocean” collection can sustain 600 meters. The Seamaster “Heritage” models are inspired by Omega’s special partnership with the Olympic games, each featuring an aluminum ring which includes all known host cities and dates from OMEGA’s Olympic Games journey, spanning the Los Angeles 1932 games to the upcoming Los Angeles 2028 games.

My favorite model in the Seamaster collection is “the Bullhead”, the most uniquely shaped and iconic chronograph that the company features. It is a throwback to their original collection in the 1970’s, with sub dials and crowns at the 12 and 6 o’clock, an insulated inner-bezel, the slightly elongated shape, and a distinctive pair of pushers above the 11 and 1 o’clock (mimicking the horns of a bull; hence the name). Perhaps the most visible distinction in the Seamaster collection is its representation in the 007 James Bond movies, worn as the favored choice for the iconic action movie since Pierce Brosnan wore the Seamaster Quartz Professional in the 1995 Goldeneye film.

The most recent James Bond, Daniel Craig, wore an Omega Seamaster in every one of his appearances in the series, donning the Seamaster Professional 300M in Casino Royale (2006) when he mentioned the brand of his watch to Vesper Lynd when on a train to Montenegro. The watches play more than just an aesthetically appealing role in the movies, as in the classic Spectre (2015), where Madeleine Swan used Bond’s Seamaster 300m master co-axial as a detonated explosive to incapacitate and severely scar the primary villain, Franz Oberhauser, while freeing Bond from captivity.

The Speedmaster collection is most associated with those with a flair for speed and enthusiasts of keeping elapsed time intervals when driving fast cars. All of the models are chronographs, with many featuring three dials for elapsed seconds, minutes, and hours. The Speedmaster is one of Omega’s most iconic timepieces, having been featured as the first watch to be worn on the moon and over the course of six lunar missions. According to Omega’s website, it is “representation of the brand’s adventurous pioneering spirit.” The collection that evokes the moon connection most is the stunning “Dark-side of the Moon”, which features a jet-black zirconium oxide ceramic watch with 18K gold hands, on a coated nylon strap. My favorite of this collection is the watch featuring a gray ceramic bezel and a matching grey meteorite dial, awesomely made from a solid piece of ancient, extra-terrestrial space stone.

Last, but not least, the Constellation collection is divided between the “Constellation” and the “Globemaster” watches. The Constellation watches are often defined by their depiction of half-moons and emphasis on a golden star above the six o’clock, paying homage to its name. They also feature “claws” on the sides of the cases (body of the watch). The Constellation series resembles the sharp look, elegant design, and upscale appeal to formal attire that is embodied through the DeVillle collection. Constellation boasts equipping some of the most sophisticated materials and advanced mechanisms offered by Omega. Omega’s Constellation series was actually the brand's very first mass-production chronometer wristwatch in 1952, solidifying its incredible reliability and accuracy. It was first devised for production in 1948, marking the 100th year anniversary of Omega’s factory in Biel Switzerland.

Omega’s Outstanding inventions and Observatory Trial Performance

Since its founding in 1848, Omega has achieved may pathbreaking inventions and patents as an elite watch company. In addition to this, Omega has set a number of Observatory Trials records for their exceptional performance in precision and accuracy. In 1931, at the Geneva Observatory trials, Omega broke the record for precision in all six featured categories, allowing for a total victory for the competition. With this victory, Omega celebrated by devising its company’s official motto, “Omega—exact time for life”. Between 1958-1969, Omega would further establish its mastery over Chronometer production by being the largest manufacturer of COSC certified Chronometers.

In 1892, the founder of Omega, Louis Brandt, created the first minute repeater wristwatch in collaboration with the notable watch company Audemars Piguet. The minute repeater is considered one of the most difficult horological complications, which sounds a series of repeated chimes at the change of an hour and often every 30 minutes. The 18K minute repeater watch remains featured at their museum in Biel Switzerland. In 1947, Omega was distinguished for having synthesized the first tourbillion into a wristwatch with the 30I calibre, originally designed to offset the negative effects of gravity for pocket watches. Unlike conventional wristwatch tourbillion movements, whose cages generally rotate once every minute (and also house the watch’s escapement and balance wheel), the 30I's cage takes a much longer rotation once every seven and a half minutes. These tourbillions have set records in the Geneva hosted Observatory trials, with Omega breaking its own record in 1950.

With the unveiling of the Calibre 2500 in 1999, Omega made history for being the first to produce its signature co-axial escapement watch movement, invented by George Daniels. The co-axial escapement is widely considered one of the greatest advances in horology since the invention of the lever escapement, functioning with virtually no lubrication as is customary to overcome one of the traditional pitfalls that come with lever escapement movements. And on January 17, 2013, Omega announced the invention of the world's first watch movement that is wholly resistant to magnetic fields greater than 1.5 Tesla (amounting for 15,000 Gauss), going well beyond previous records established for magnetic resistance. Daniel Craig was known to have worn a watch with similar capabilities, featuring a magnetic resistance of 15,007 Gauss (paying homage to James Bond’s 007 title). Omega has superseded the typical faraday cages used for most antimagnetic watches, to construct a movement of non-ferrous materials abolishing the need for such a cumbersome cage and incorporating a far greater resistance to magnetic fields.

Conclusion

Among the Swiss watchmakers, Omega has established itself among the vanguard of horological innovation. Omega’s greatest strengths are in the company’s longstanding success in precision movement and accuracy in timekeeping, with their cherished Chronometers having shattered multiple records in the rigorous Observatory Trials. Omega also sets itself apart from other leading watch companies by its revolutionary pursuit to incorporate horological complications that traditionally were featured in clocks and pocket watches into wrist watches.

This is evident when Omega made history in 1947 to introduce the first tourbillion wristwatch, which has since become one of the most sought after and markedly valuable traditions to emerge in Swiss watchmaking, and, through the collaboration with Audemars Piguet, successfully unveiling the first minute repeater wristwatch in 1892. And to my knowledge, Omega is the only watchmaker to streamline the provenly successful and efficient co-axial movement across all of its modern watches, which does well to reduce against mechanical friction from a timepiece’s inner gears and extends the rate of accuracy for the watch.

With all that Omega has contributed to the world of watchmaking, I feel it appropriate to place the company in comparable light to that of Swiss watchmaking virtuoso, Franck Muller, whose company has also pushed the boundaries of what is possible by introducing a host of pathbreaking inventions. These include, the first triple-axis tourbillion (“The Revolution 3-1”), the “Aeternitas Mega 4”—the world’s most complicated wrist-watch, and the Giga tourbillion—the world’s largest tourbillion wristwatch. Beyond the realm of complications and Observatory Trials, Omega has made a lasting imprint in the realm of cinema with its enduring partnership with the 007 James Bond series, being the official timekeeper of the Olympic Games since 1932, and providing a host of watches for notable celebrities (President John Kennedy and Elvis Pressley included). It will be interesting to see what other revolutionary developments Omega makes in the world of watchmaking and how it lives up to its motto of “exact time for life” in precision and accuracy.

© Stone Washington

 

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Stone Washington

Stone Washington is a second year PhD student in the Policy Studies Program at Clemson University Graduate School. Stone is employed as a Research Assistant in the Legal Policy Department at the Manhattan Institute, where he recently completed the Collegiate Associate Program. He is also employed as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in Clemson's Department of Political Science and serves as a WAC Fellow for the Pearce Center for Professional Communication. Stone is a recent addition to the Steamboat Institute's Emerging Leaders Council.... (more)

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