It’s pretty hard to debate the significance of Omega SA when discussing the Swiss watch industry. They were a daunting rival to Rolex in the luxury watch arena and ironically lured James Bond away from the crown logo, with Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig as the brand ambassadors. Omega has made numerous important contributions to the watch industry, including being the official timekeepers of the Olympic games upwards of two dozen times and creating the glorious Speedmaster Professional ‘Moonwatch’, the watch that Buzz Aldrin wore when he stepped on the lunar surface in 1969. So where did this irrefutable reputation of precision come from?
The age-old moniker about competition breeding excellence is something that especially holds true for the watchmaking world. During the latter part of the 19th century, established manufacturers and their master watchmakers spent significant time and resources in preparing for observatory trials held throughout Europe. The observatory trials focused purely on the science behind chronometry and the ability to make chronometers measure time precisely, unlike the annual watch fairs in today’s times. Annual watch fairs are meant for showcasing new models but the observatory trials were rigorous and exacting for the watch industry. Only timing mechanisms of perfect technical finish, proven design, and expert regulation were chosen and given a chance to compete in the intense 44 days of testing with 5-positional and 3-temperature changes. The most precise chronometer garnered immense publicity for its manufacturer and acclaim amongst its peers in the horological community.
The precision controls were based on scientific and technical standards, pushing everybody involved in the manufacturing process to achieve perfection. Every cog in the Omega manufacturing wheel had to be so precise that it surpassed trial standards with flying colours. Omega managed to do exactly that and each time it participated in this race it did it with precision.
This was made possible because of new chronometric innovations. Refining the ‘Swiss Straight Lever Escapement’ and developing the ‘Guillaume Balance’, allowed smaller durable pocket watch movements to mirror the accuracy of larger marine chronometers. The expert fine-tuning by Albert Willemin (Omega’s first ‘regleur de précision) coupled with incorporating the above mentioned technical improvements, Omega’s 19 calibre pocket watch chronometer, won the highest rating at the Neuenburg Observatory trials. In 1919, Omega repeated this feat again with the 21calibre winning the first prize. After slight modifications, this movement became Omega’s famous Caliber 47.7. In 1925, a Cal. 47.7 won First Prize with 95.9 out of 100 points at Kew-Teddington Observatory trials. Expert refining and regulation of this movement by Alfred Jaccard, allowed Omega to break precision records at the Geneva Observatory trials in 1931. By winning all 6 categories of these trials, Omega’s prowess as a precision timing company was set in stone and Omega was consequently chosen as the official timekeeper for the U.S. Olympic Games in 1932 held in Los Angeles, California. It was a landmark achievement for a single company to be entrusted with this important task. The Cal. 47.7 achieved near perfection in 1936 when it scored 97.8 points out of 100, an unprecedented precision record. Omega often outperformed other brands and became the largest manufacturer of COSC ( ContrôleOfficiel Suisse des Chronomètres) certified chronometers for more than a decade, mainly with their famous Constellation models.
The company slogan back in 1931, ‘Omega – Exact time for life’, was not a marketing gimmick but a fact-based on Omega’s illustrious performance at various observatory trials. Omega’s quest for precision continues today with its development and incorporation of the co-axial escapement and adjustable inertial mass balance.
The observatory trials were like the ‘crown jewels’ of Chronometry. Omega certainly has quite a few things to show for the legacy it has carefully constructed, spanning across decades of manufacturing superior timekeeping devices.