You have certainly heard a lot about the first watch carried on the moon, the now-symbolic Omega Speedmaster Professional, in this 52nd anniversary year of the Apollo 11 moon landing. But there’s much more Omega, one of the most well-known luxury watch manufacturers in the world, and probably the most well-known outside of the world, than their lunar milestone. From James Bond to the Olympics, International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation, and to the Mariana Trench, not to mention titles like Seamaster, Speedmaster, De Ville, and Constellation, the brand has earned merited rock-star status among watch fans worldwide. Here are a few facts about the iconic Omega watch brand that you should be aware of.
- Founding of the Brand and Its Name
Louis Brandt established the company that had become Omega in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, in 1848. His sons Louis-Paul and César followed him in 1877, and the business was renamed Louis Brandt & Fils. In 1894, the business introduced a new movement that became a worldwide hit due to its timekeeping precision and simplicity of operation. The movement was recognized as the Omega caliber, and it was so successful that the brand title was renamed Louis Brandt & Frére – Omega Watch Co. in 1903, and the Omega brand name was formed.
- Accurate Timing
Before GPS and quartz, governments and industries relied on precise mechanical watches throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Observatory experiments were organized to stimulate advancements in this sector. These chronometric marathons put many types of watches to the test for extended periods of time, and the winners received significant exposure and prestige. Top watchmakers battled head to head to achieve these “Super Bowls” of watch manufacturing. Omega had a remarkable degree of success in these trials, achieving multiple world records. Omega took first place in all six categories at the 1931 Geneva Observatory competitions. That same year, the business coined the slogan “Omega – Exact time for life.” That wasn’t an exaggeration; it was a claim supported by decades of Observatory trial data.
- Been to the Northern and Southernmost Corners of the Earth
The story of the first surface voyage to the North Pole is fascinating. But who do you think arrived first, Robert Peary, Frederick Cook, or Ralph Plaisted? Plaisted appears to be the least probable of the three prospects to win the title. He was a Minnesota insurance salesman who enjoyed the outdoors and snowmobiling. Friends advised him to take a newly invented snowmobile to the North Pole if he enjoyed it so much. And he accomplished it in what sounds like a contemporary made-for-GoPro narrative. They arrived at their final camp on April 19, 1968, after a 43-day journey on snowmobiles and equipped with Omega Speedmasters and sextants to monitor their placement. When a US Air Force C-135 flew overhead and verified their location, Plaisted’s team (Walt Pederson, Gerry Pitzl, and Jean-Luc Bombardier) became the first to get official verification that they had reached the North Pole. Many polar adventure historians now think that Plaisted’s group was the first to reach the North Pole via an overland approach.
Arved Fuchs and Reinhold Messner accomplished the last feasible land voyage on Earth in February 1990, at the other end of the planet. They walked across Antarctica. It took 92 days to travel 1,740-miles. They traversed the Thiel mountains to the South Pole, then carried on to McMurdo Sound on the Ross Sea, weathering temperatures of -40° F and gusts over 90 mph. On this expedition, Messner’s timepiece was an Omega Speedmaster.
- Functional in Space
In the fall of 1962, a team of astronauts, notably Leroy “Gordo” Cooper and Walter Schirra, strolled into a Houston watch boutique shopping for watches to wear on their future Mercury program flights. They took Omega Speedmasters with them, and thus Omega’s association with space exploration started.
The next year, towards the conclusion of the Mercury program, astronauts addressed NASA Operations Director Deke Slayton and requested that they be given timepieces for use during testing and flight. Their timing was ideal, as NASA had just engaged a team of engineers to analyze, evaluate, and approve gear for astronaut usage. NASA finally put timepieces from Omega, Longines-Wittnauer, and Rolex to the test. The tests were severe, meant to put timepieces to the ultimate test. NASA chose the winner on March 1, 1965, confirming the Speedmaster reference ST105.003 as the watch qualified for all space missions.
In 1969, Neil Armstrong descended from the Eagle to become the first human to set foot on another land. He was, however, not carrying his timepiece. Because the onboard clock was broken, he placed it on the Eagle. A few minutes later, Buzz Aldrin walked onto the Moon’s surface while wearing his watch, making the Omega Speedmaster Professional the first watch to be donned on the Moon.
- Adored by Big Names
Aside from official brand advocates, Omega has been established to be a favorite of many global leaders and stars. Mikhail Gorbachev was frequently spotted sporting his gold Constellation Manhattan. Pope John Paul II was dressed in an Omega De Ville “Classic.” Elvis Presley was pictured wearing an Omega watch while serving in the military and deployed in Germany. When Buddy Holly’s aircraft exploded in February 1959, he was carrying his white gold ultra-thin Omega. Ringo Starr donned an Omega Constellation while performing with The Beatles on stage.
John F. Kennedy, who sported an Omega at his inauguration as America’s 35th president in January 1961, was one of the most prominent owners. A buddy had given Kennedy the wristwatch before the election. The watch has the engraving “President of the United States John F. Kennedy from his friend Grant” and is presently on exhibit at the Omega Museum.
Omega has embraced accurate timekeeping since its inception, as we have observed. A very low-friction escapement is one of the foundational pillars in this field. So it’s no wonder that when legendary English watchmaker George Daniels created his presently successful co-axial escapement, Omega jumped at the chance to mass-produce it. These elements comprise the release of the Omega Co-Axial Caliber 2500 in 1999. Omega hailed the mechanism as the first practical new watch escapement developed in the last 250 years.