Omega is a Swiss luxury watch brand which has repeatedly revolutionized the wristwatch industry throughout its history. Its unique approach to manufacturing helped it to grow extremely fast in its early years. High-quality luxury chronographs and dive watches, specifically the Seamaster and Speedmaster lines, define the company.
Today, watch aficionados worldwide are familiar with this brand, which is one of the forefront names in the wristwatch industry. With enviable style that has been to the moon and back, Omega is also known for precision and accuracy. Due to this, the company has served as official timekeeper for numerous Olympic Games throughout the years.
"Rugged classics!" Omega's watches exude masculine style and feature exquisitely-finished movements.
Omega got its start as a brand of watchmaker Louis Brandt’s La Chaux-de-Fonds-based company which began in 1848.
Brandt eagerly pursued expansion throughout Europe, and had covered the continent to promote his watches in only two years.
Before long, his company was the largest watchmaker in Switzerland, making 100,000 watches per year.
Keep reading to learn about Omega’s history, or follow these links to specific eras in the brand’s history.
- Omega’s Modular Model Makes Its Mark
- The Seamaster Series Surfaces
- The Seamaster 300: A Professional Diving Classic
- Ploprof Takes The Seamaster Series To Fantastic Depths
- The Speedmaster: Seamaster Tech In An Unforgettable Chronograph
- Speedmaster in Space: Precision Timekeeping On Earth & Beyond
- The 1957 Trilogy: Three Omega Legends Return To The Spotlight
See Bespoke Unit’s Watch Reviews
Omega’s Modular Model Makes Its Mark
The original Omega watches came about because of the company’s ambitious drive for rapid expansion.
Above all, the goal of the Omega line was to gain customers’ trust through high quality and easily available repairs, even far from Switzerland.
To facilitate excellent service, this watch collection featured interchangeable, standardized components which made repairs straightforward. In contrast, most watch brands had relatively few parts that were interchangeable in case model-specific components could not be found.
This vastly improved manufacturing efficiency, but also made the brand’s watches much more convenient for their users. Thus, there was little worry that customers would be unable to obtain replacement parts.
In 1900, Brandt’s company became one of the first to market wristwatches to the public. Although they were around, wrist-worn watches were, until then, typically a military tool or specially-commissioned for individual aristocrats.
In 1903, the company changed its name to Louis Brandt & Frére – OMEGA Watch Co, showcasing its premier brand.
In the next few decades, the company continued to build its reputation for accuracy by competing in observatory competitions. Because of this reputation, the Olympic Committee selected Omega as the official timekeeper of the 1932 Summer Games.
The Seamaster Series Surfaces
During World War I and World War II, there was a high demand for wristwatches. At this point, Omega had firmly established itself as a manufacturer of quality wristwatches. The British Ministry of Defense ordered large numbers of wristwatches from Omega because of this.
During the Second World War, the company delivered more than 110,000 watches to the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. Following the war, Omega continued to use technologies it developed during WWI and WWII.
The Seamaster, for example, incorporated wartime innovations, and went on to become one of Omega’s enduring classics. For example, the waterproof rubber gasket of the watch employed submarine O-ring technology.
This type of rubber gasket was far superior to both lead and shellac seals, which were common at the time. This was because rubber gaskets are less inclined to shrink in cold temperatures.
Hence, this watch quadrupled the dive depth of Omega’s previous dive watch, the Marine.
The Marine, famously used by diving pioneer and inventor Yves Le Prieur, could withstand a depth of 14 meters.
In contrast, the first Seamaster could reach 60 meters at temperatures between -40° C and 50° C.
The Seamaster collection also included a luxury line, the Seamaster de Luxe.
The Seamaster 300: A Professional Diving Classic
Afterwards, in 1957, the company released the Seamaster 300, effective to a depth of 300 meters. Certainly, professional divers received this watch well.
For instance, famous diver and Aqua-Lung co-inventor Jacques-Yves Costeau used it for many years of underwater oceanographic research.
The first Seamaster 300s sported a distinctive broad arrow hour hand, as well as the classic “Dot Over 90” bezel.
This dot on the bezel, in addition to the hands and the dial’s indices, was luminescent. Unlike later models, which used non-radioactive glow-in-the-dark materials, these luminescent areas used radium paint.
Because this is a dive watch, the bezel rotates and displays a count-up scale to track dive duration.
Ploprof Takes The Seamaster Series To Fantastic Depths
In order to meet the ever-increasing depth needs of professional research divers, Omega next developed the Seamaster “Ploprof” 600.
“Ploprof” stood for “Plongeur Professional,” Professional Diver, and therefore reflected this intent.
For four years before its 1970 release, laboratory and field tests pushed the limits of this watch.
Jacques-Yves Costeau’s team, for instance, tested the watch at a depth of 500 meters off the coast of Marseille.
Accurate to 600 meters, lab tests found this watch to be functional down to a depth of 1370 meters.
Bulkier and blockier than the 300 series in order to accomodate stronger seals, the Ploprof also had heavy-duty crown guards. Overall, it had an unusual thick and blocky appearance. Hence, its 1970 marketing tagline was “It may not look pretty on the surface, but deep down it’s beautiful.”
This Ploprof watch had multiple safety mechanisms in place in order to prevent accidental adjustment. Because divers use their watches to track underwater time and, therefore, remaining oxygen, such protections are potential lifesavers.
The Speedmaster: Seamaster Tech In An Unforgettable Chronograph
In the 1950s, Omega saw a need for an accurate, reliable watch with an emphasis on easy readability. This was to be an offshoot of the Seamaster line, incorporating that series’ waterproof technology.
The name Speedmaster associated the line with sports and high-performance automobiles.
The first Speedmaster, 1957’s reference 2915, featured the broad arrow hand of the same year’s reference 2913 Seamaster 300. Large, luminous hands on a minimal black background took inspiration from the instrument panels of Italian sports cars.
Another element of the Speedmaster which improved visibility was a chronograph seconds hand that was level with the steel bezel. Due to this, the bezel’s tachymeter offered easy legibility from multiple angles.
Two years later, the 1959 Seamaster Speedmaster CK 2998 used a black bezel to improve tachymeter contrast.
This model also swapped the previous hands for Alpha hands. Ending in a point, these flat hands widen near the boss, the ring where the hand attaches to the dial.
Speedmaster in Space: Precision Timekeeping On Earth & Beyond
In the 1960s, NASA was looking for the best and most reliable equipment for the Gemini and Apollo programs. This was a series of spaceflights which eventually led to the first manned moon landing.
Therefore, NASA needed an exceptional chronograph in order to time delicate maneuvers in space. Precise and reliable timing was of utmost importance, because astronauts’ lives and the nation’s reputation were on the line.
To this end, NASA laboratories subjected watches from four watchmakers to extreme conditions mimicking those they could endure in space.
Vibrations in excess of 8.8g and multidirectional shocks of 40g, for example, simulated space impacts and liftoff. The labs also performed tests involving vacuum conditions and rapid alternations between extremes of temperature. Essentially, they intended to push the watches to the breaking point.
The Omega Speedmaster alone survived the tests, remaining within NASA’s limit of five seconds deviation per day after most tests.
Astronauts used Speedmasters throughout the Gemini and Apollo missions and, in 1969, the Speedmaster became the first watch on the Moon.
Both Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had Speedmasters at the time of the first Moon landing.
The digital clock onboard the lunar lander was not working properly, therefore, their watches alone timed this very first moonwalk.
The 1957 Trilogy: Three Omega Legends Return To The Spotlight
The original Speedmaster, the Seamaster 300, and the Railmaster were possibly the brand’s most iconic watches in the 20th century. In order to bring these historic designs into the 21st century, Omega released 60th Anniversary limited editions of each in 2017.
Each of these limited editions had a run of 3,557 pieces, and, accordingly, all sold out in short order.
While retaining the classic designs and features, there are a few differences to distinguish these watches from the original releases. These include, for example, typeface changes and modifications of bezel details.
Another thing changed was the use of SuperLumiNova instead of radium paint on luminous elements. This new paint uses a non-radioactive photoluminescent phosphor.
Besides this, most of the elements of the 1957 designs are intact. For example, all three in the Trilogy use the distinctive broad arrow hour hands of their original counterparts. Meanwhile, the Seamaster 300 retains its “dot over 90” bezel.
Most of these 1957 Trilogy limited editions sold individually. However, the company also created a 3-piece set. This edition of only 557 pieces contains one each of the Seamaster 300, Speedmaster, and Railmaster.
The watches from these 557 sets are mostly the same as the individual watches, although there is one modification. In each set, all three watches display an identical edition number on their dials. Because of this, all of these watches are unique.
You can read even more about the 1957 Trilogy in our review article here.
Learn More About Omega
We hope you enjoyed this concise history of Omega and some of its famous collections.
To read more about the company’s history, you can read about it from the start at the Omega Museum website. Omega also offers a comprehensive database of vintage watch references, where movement caliber numbers and other details may be found.
Finally, for more watch histories, informative articles, guides, and reviews, visit the links below: