Omega was founded in 1848 by Louis Brandt in La Chaux-de-Fonds, mainly as an assembly firm that used parts supplied by local watchmakers and craftsmen to produce precision pocket watches. Although Omega was relocated to Bienne a long time ago, the goal to create high precision time pieces never changed.
While most of you are probably familiar with the Speedmaster Moonwatch, the Seamaster and Planet Ocean models, let’s not forget about the long road it took to get where they are today, developing and manufacturing in-house movements with Co-Axial escapements and using very specific materials to fight magnetism from the movement (not the case).
Omega won a lot of prestigious awards for delivering the most accurate movements in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and so on until 1970. Besides Omega, only Patek Philippe participated every year in these trials. Between 1959 and 1969, Omega produced more chronometer-rated (COSC) movements than Rolex. How things have change over time is most likely due to the quartz crisis, where Rolex decided not to give in except with one model (Oyster-Quartz).
With the Omega Centenary watches, and later on the Constellation and chronometer graded Seamaster models, Omega produced some very interesting every-day watches with high precision movements for their customers. At some point, the Constellation was being regarded as the flagship of the brand. In 1957, new models such as the Seamaster 300, Speedmaster, and Railmaster were added to the catalogue.
In the 1960s, besides the Constellation and Seamaster (De Ville) collections, sports models like the Speedmaster and Seamaster 300 did very well. Omega was a brand that held a diverse pallet of watches. Remember in those days it wasn’t very common to collect watches, you just needed one good watch.
Although the 1970s brought a lot of diversity into the brand’s catalogue (and not all for the good), the Omega Speedmaster Professional didn’t change much. Some extra models were added using the ‘Mark’ indicator while the Seamaster diving range got a few extra-ordinary timepieces like the PloProf and 1000M models. Models that are now highly sought-after. The Constellation went all over the place with its design and Omega also started to source movements from third parties for this collection.
In the 1990s things really started to change. After switching owners in the 1980s, the introduction of the Constellation Manhattan in 1982, and a new line-up of Seamaster watches, it seems that the 1990s brought back some stability to the brand. Damage was done though, so Omega came up with a strategy and vision that would put them back on the horological map where they belong. The first real start of that change was not only the ambassador-ships with James Bond (Seamaster) and Cindy Crawford (Constellation), but the introduction of an invention by George Daniels. The Co-Axial escapement that George Daniels invented is worth an entire article on its own, but Omega decided to adopt his escapement and put it in the De Ville in 1999.
The co-axial escapement functions require virtually no lubrication and reduce the friction, which allow the service intervals to be much longer. However, at the time of its introduction, the co-axial escapement was fitted in an already existing base movement (ETA). Since 2007, Omega develops and manufacturers their in-house Co-Axial movements and has become a true manufacture again. Accuracy is still high in the list of priorities, as well as fighting magnetism. In today’s World, we are surrounded by magnetic fields. Where other brands solve this by using soft iron inner cases or similar constructions, Omega made improvements to their in-house movements using very specific alloys to fight magnetism.
In 2014, Omega introduced approximately 70 new references in BaselWorld all using one of their in-house developed movements.
However – and especially for the purists – the Omega Speedmaster Professional will always continue to use the hand-wound Lemania-based movement. Just for the sake of historical concurrence.