The Saga of Omega

“One small step for Man, a giant leap for Mankind”on July 21 1969, Neil A. Armstrong (Apollo 11) became the first man to set foot on the Moon. The dial of his Speedmaster showed 02h56 GMT…

After the Moon, Mars…

Originally created in 1957 for car competitions in 1957, the Omega Speedmaster Chronograph was chosen by NASA in 1965 after the most stringent selection. It went on the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Shuttle space missions and achieved total reliability on six successful lunar landings.

The Speedmaster Professional (renamed in 1966) played a major role during the Apollo-Soyuz link-ups of July 17 1975 where it could be seen on the wrists of both Americans and Soviets. In the final stages of the Apollo Vlll mission the Speedmaster enabled the pilots of the damaged module, without controls and out of contact with Houston Texas, to establish the exact moment the fire broke out and engine combustion time to land safe and sound back on Earth.

An aside: Editor’s note

In our humble opinion, for the past few years in France, Omega has not enjoyed the success it merits. Fortunately, it seems this injustice is being righted. Now, after the Rolex years on the Italian collectors’ market, the Omega is on its way up, and Italy is known to be the precursor when it comes to fashion trends.

Our advice:
You can fall for the pleasures of Omega without setting limits, it is an exceptional brand, unbeatable in terms of quality/price, with exemplary reliability.

A note of caution: as always when a market develops, watch out for the type of con-men who cash in with hand made copies, put together by professional forgers, and spoil the market for everyone. Real fake Omegas are starting to circulate, especially copies of the old Seamaster and Speedmaster models.

Where does the OMEGA name come from?

Omega, the 24th and last letter of the Greek alphabet, Alpha and Omega the first and the last, “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last…” from the book of the Apocalypse of St. John.

OMEGA is synonymous with accomplishment and perfection. The Brandt brothers banker, Henri Riekel, suggested the idea of the name in 1894, when they launched their caliber 19 watch, the the height of absolute technology at the time.

  • 1894, the name Omega was patented on March 10, and gradually supplanted the other brands of the manufacturing company.

  • In 1903, Omega became part of the company name: Company Louis Brandt and Brother-Omega Watch Co.

  • 1947: Omega, Louis Brandt and Brother

  • 1982 : Omega SA.

The beginnings of the brand

Louis Brandt
Louis Brandt was born in the Brevine, Switzerland, on May 13, 1825.

In June 1848, at the age of 23, he established a factory to make key-wound precision watches, with silver cases.

From the cradle of the company, at N° 59, avenue Léopold Robert, he sold watches throughout Europe, from Italy to Scandinavia, his favorite market being England.

On July 14, 1877, Louis Brandt joined forces with his second son, Louis-Paul, to found Louis Brandt and Son.

Louis Brandt died on July 5, 1879.

Louis-Paul et César Brandt

In 1880, Louis-Paul and his brother César (Louis Brandt’s third son) founded their watch-making factory at Bienne, and launched their first mechanically produced caliber. All of the house brands that saw the light of day as a result of this innovation, the Jura, the Patria, the Helvetia, the Celtic and the Gurzelen, were highly successful, as was the Labrador, developed from a recoil escapement caliber of the same name, and launched in 1885, with a precision of 30 seconds a day. It became the pace-setter of the company’s products.

In 1889, the factory took on more employees, bringing the total to 600, compared to 250 in 1880. With over 100,000 pieces a year, its production was the highest in the Swiss watch-making industry.
César Brandt was designated member of the International Jury in the horology section, at the Universal Exhibition of Paris by the Swiss Federal Council.

In 1891 Louis Brandt & Son became Louis Brandt & Brother.

In 1892 the Brandt brothers created the first minute repeater wristwatch in the world, equipped with caliber 13, and a chime for hours, half-hours, quarter hours and on demand.

1894 is the most important date forever for the future of watch manufacture, due to the appearance of the celebrated Omega 19” caliber, made by François Chevillat (The ” sign said lines, 19 lines equalled 43 mm. in diameter.) The caliber’s perfect construction and ingenious mechanisms, including a mechanism for setting the right time, were remarkable.

The affordable price and new production methods also played a big part in the success of the revolution that effected almost every Swiss watch brand.

Also in 1894, Omega chronometers were first mentioned in the official bulletins de marche by the observatories of Neuchâtel, Geneva and Kew-Teddington.

The Omega watch’s first great success was in 1896, when it won a gold medal at the Swiss National Exhibition in Geneva.

1897 Grand Prix at the Brussels International Exhibition. By now the company had over 800 employees, and production had risen to 200,000 watches a year.

1900, Omega won the prestigious “Greek Temple” prize at the Universal Exhibition in Paris.

Between 1899 and 1902, the first Omega wristwatches went into industrial manufacture, they were worn on the right wrist (with the winding crown at either 3 o’clock or 9 o’clock.)

1903 was a year of great change. On April 14, Louis-Paul Brandt died, aged 49; on October 11 his brother César died, aged 45.

Successful succession

Following the death of the two brothers, their sons Gustave (20) Adrien (21) and Paul-Emile (23) took up the torch. Gustave became Commercial Director, Adrien took on Administration and Paul-Emile Finance and production.

Paul-Emile Brandt turned out to be a real captain of industry, and presided over the destiny of the brand for half a century. (See our piece on Paul-Emile Brandt: his life and work).

In 1905, Omega obtained 42% of the bulletins de marche issued by the Geneva Observatory and 68% of the Bienne Office of Controls.

In 1906, Grand Prix at the Milan International Exhibition.

Omega signed its first sports chronometer in 1909 during the Zurich Gordon Bennett Cup (aerostats race).

By 1914, Omega employed 1,000 people.

Omega was chosen to equip British aviators in combat from 1917, and American army units from 1918.

From 1919 to 1971, Omega broke record after record, the brand was an all time winner, with more medals than any other ever, and the most prizes for technical progress.

Omega’s definitive entry into the tight closed circle of sports watch-making wasn’t until 1932, when the brand was declared official timekeeper at the Los Angeles Olympics, with chronographs and flyback hand speedometers developed by Lémania. Until then, records were measured to the nearest 1/5 second. This was the start of Omega and the Olympics great love story…

OMEGA and the Olympics

1932 • Los Angeles1936 • Garmish Partenkirchen (winter)1948 • St Moritz (winter)1948 • Londres
1952 • Helsinki1956 • Cortina d'Ampezzo (winter)1956 • Melbourne1960 • Rome
1964 • Innsbruck (winter)1968 • Grenoble (winter)1968 • Mexico1976 • Innsbruck (winter)
1976 • Montréal1980 • Lake Placid (winter)1980 • Moscou1984 • Sarajevo (winter)
1984 • Los Angeles1988 • Calgary (winter)1988 • Séoul1992 • Albertville (winter)

20 Olympiads.

The 20th century, the OMEGA century.

Great wars, adventure and technical progress.

When the demand for wristwatches sky rocketed with the Great War, and Omega got it right by supplying caliber 13 watches with a white enamel dial to the signal corps of the American expeditionary forces that fought alongside the Allies in 1918.

In 1933, the crews of the hydroplanes of Marshal Italo Balbo (the Italian Air minister) were equipped with Omega wrist chronographs during the Rome-Chicago raid. Omega became the official supplier to Italian Aeronautics.

Between 1939 and 1945, the British Government ordered over 100,000 of Omega’s waterproof steel watches to equip the Royal Air Force. In 1948 this model developed into the Seamaster.

In 1965, NASA chose the Omega Speedmaster chronograph after rigorous selection procedures. On March 23rd, the Gemini 3 mission astronauts, Virgil Grissom and John Young were wearing Speedmasters.

In 1968, the Omega Speedmaster Professional played part in the Plaisted Expedition to the North Pole, (enduring 44 days at an average -52°C), the first successful polar expedition since Peary’s achievement in 1909.

Neil Amstrong and Omega Speedmaster: the first to set foot on the Moon

July 21st 1969, Neil Armstrong wearing an Omega Speedmaster at the moment he became the first man to set foot on the Moon. The Omega Speedmasteraccompanied the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Shuttle space missions and achieved six lunar landings with total reliability. The Speedmaster Professional (renamed in 1966) played a major role during the Apollo-Soyuz link-ups of July 17 1975 where it was on the wrists of both the Americans and Soviets. In the final stages of the Apollo Vlll mission the Speedmaster enabled pilots of the damaged module, left without controls and out of contact with Houston Texas, to establish exactly when the fire had broken out, gauge how long the engines would burn, and land safely back on Earth – and achievement that won Omega the celebrated Snoopy Award, the highest distinction conferred by NASA.

Le Snoopy Award: the highest distinction conferred by NASA

Also in 1969, five Omega instruments - two GMT clocks and three chronographs - were installed in prototypes of the supersonic Concorde.

Seamaster 600 watch to Commander Cousteau
In September 1970, Omega delivered a series of watches to Commander Cousteau for the Janus operation. Three divers were to spend eight days exploring the depths of the Gulf of Ajaccio, wearing the new caliber 1002 Seamaster 600 (known as the Ploprof, for plongeur professionel, or professional diver). This professional’s watch had a single piece (mono-hull) case, screwed down bezel protected by a bolt at 9 o’clock, and a bi-directional lunette with a screwing system controlled by a big red button (which earned it the nickname “the camera”). The watch, which COMEX tested at –263 meters, gained the world record for deep sea diving water resistance. It was also tested at –1370 meters, but the crystal became deformed, blocked the hands and stopped the watch, though the mono-hull case resisted the massive pressure at that depth without exploding.

In 1974, the Marine Chronometer (caliber 1511) was ratified as marine chronometer, the only wristwatch ever to have won this distinction.

In 1976, four megaquartz 32 Khz Seamasters crossed the Atlantic solo, fixed to the masts and keel of Ambrogio Fogar’s catamaran and Paolo Mascheroni’s sloop.

In 1978, once again, NASA chose the Omega Speedmaster Professional as the official watch for the Shuttle program. The first flight was on April 12, 1981.

In 1980, the French Navy issued on-shore personnel with the Omega Megaquartz 4,190 MHz (1525 caliber) a ratified marine chronometer with high frequency quartz at 4.19 million oscillations per second, for high precision of minus 1 second per month.

On November 4th, the famous French diver Jacques Mayol’s apnea descent (without aqualung) off the island of Elba was validated at –101 meters; he wore an Omega Seamaster 120m (caliber 1337).

On July 25 1988, the Seamaster Professional 200 meters caliber 1111 took part in the IFREMER Faré mission, during which the French scientific submarine Nautile dived 4,400 meters below sea level in the mid-Atlantic to install the first link of a channel to monitor seismic shift.

In Hamburg on June 30th 1989 the space agency NPO Energija chose the Omega Speedmaster Professional as official watch for its Soviet cosmonauts.

In the same year, on December 13, Reinhold Messner (the first mountaineer to scale all 8000 on the planet), embarked on a new challenge wearing an Omega Speedmaster Professional on his wrist: a 2,500km expedition across the Antarctic by foot.

In 1999, Omega began to manufacture a George Daniels invention, the co-axial escapement, a mini-revolution that would eliminate most of the friction in the traditional recoil escape.

After the Moon, en route for Mars

“We’ll be back to the Moon and next to Mars,” declared US President G.W. Bush last January.
The date announced for the next moon walk is 2020, and there is a Mars mission in the frame for 2040.

With this in mind, Nicolas Hayek, his son Nick and Stephen Urquhart, President of Omega, met with the astronauts Claude Nicollier and Gene Cernan, as well as Matt Wallace, an engineer on the NASA Mars space program.
Gene Cernan, the last astronaut to walk on the Moon, confided that he wore not one, but two Speedmasters for the mission. One was provided by NASA, and the other was his own, set to his hometown time zone to keep closer to his family.

As NASA’s official watch, the Speedmaster Professional is the only watch that’s been worn on the Moon. So it’s only natural for Omega to be there for the Red Planet and unveil a new version of the Speedmaster Professional, named “From the Moon to Mars” whose three counters represent the Earth, the Moon and Mars.

Earth - Moon - Mars

The life and work of Paul-Emile Brandt

How could the Omega saga be written without a chapter
dedicated to the man who built the the brand?

Paul-Emile Brandt
Eldest son of Louis-Paul and brother of Adrien Brandt. Born in Chaux-de-Fonds on January 12, 1880. Studied at Bienne, than attended the Polytechnic at Zurich, and completed his studies at Cornell University in the US.

In 1903, on the death of his Uncle César in 1903, he became an associate director of the factory with his brother Adrien and cousin Gustave. Nominated President of the Administrative Council, he took special responsibility for the production of movement blanks and supplies, then all manufacture, as well as maintenance and construction of apartment buildings.

By buying up factories and constructing a number of buildings, he increased the size of the company’s property pool from 2,300 sq. meters to 60,000 sq. meters.

From 1925 onward, he helped to bring closer the Omega and Tissot brands closer together, culminating in their 1930 merger within SSIH (Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère SA), the Swiss horology industry group.

In 1943 he created the Omega Provident Fund, followed in 1944 by the Omega Retirement Fund.

He exercised considerable influence on the development of professional horology organizations.

1916: President of the Berne Cantonal Association of watchmakers and manufacturers (ACBFH)

1919: President of the Swiss Chamber of Horology (CFH)

1924: President of the Swiss Horology Federation (FHS)

1928: President of the Manufacturers Group.

He was also member of the Berne Cantonal Chamber of Commerce and Industry and of the local committee of the Swiss National Bank.

He died in Bienne on August 25th 1954.

Omega Seamaster - James Bond - 007

From Daytona
to the Cosmograph Daytona

a lot
very much indeed
not at all

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