OMEGA's history in film "And the Academy Award for the best performance by a timepiece in a feature film goes to . . . Omega!"
While an Oscar has never been awarded to a wristwatch, it's not hard to imagine which Swiss brand would be nominated on a regular basis.
By the time James Bond first appeared on the big screen wearing a Seamaster in Golden Eye (1995), Omega had already played a supporting role in a number of blockbusters. The brand's history made the film careers of the watches inevitable. Any director wishing to make a historically correct film about the Second World War, NASA or the Olympic Games would have to include a role for Omega.
Historical accuracy, however, was not a theme when Omega made its first documented cinematic appearance in The Exile in 1947. Though the film was about Charles II of England’s exile in Holland during the Second British Civil War in about 1648, Rita Corday (credited as Paule Croset), wore an Omega wristwatch in her role as Katie, the beautiful farm girl who captured the heart of the king, played by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Cynics might suggest that this was a result of the fact that the actress's father, a retired member of the Swiss diplomatic corps, was Omega's main agent in China at the time the film was made.
Omega was first featured in a screenplay in King Rat in 1965. Set in a Japanese POW camp, the title role is played by George Segal. He was given the name because he bred rats in the camp to supplement the prisoners’ meagre food rations. In one memorable scene, King Rat trades an Omega for a succulent rat. Bon appétit! It was also in 1965 that the first Speedmaster in space appeared in a movie, this one about the Gemini V mission. From that time, the Speedmaster has been the standard in the majority of films about the American space program, both fictional and those based on actual events.
In the 1971 cult classic, The Omega Man, the hero Robert Naville, portrayed by Charlton Heston, wears an Omega as he searches the streets of post-apocalyptic Los Angeles for a group of plague-infected nocturnal mutants known as The Family. They are trying to kill him as he is the last “user of the wheel”.
Omega’s presence in the movies increased dramatically in the eighties. In The Mosquito Coast (1986), Harrison Ford plays Allie Fox, a disgruntled American inventor who starts a new life in the jungle by creating a small township. In the film he gives his Seamaster to Herr Haddy, portrayed by Conrad Roberts, a member of his new settlement. Herr Haddy later trades the watch for a boat that he christens the “Omega”.
In 1989 the life story of Jacques Mayol was made into a movie. Mayol, the first free diver in the world to descend to 100 meters (330 feet), broke his own record in 1986, testing the new Seamaster 120 while diving to a depth of 101 meters. He followed this with yet another record-breaking dive to 105 meters below the ocean's surface when he was 56 years old. The film, Le Grand Bleu (The Big Blue) told his story and led to worldwide fascination with the sport of free-diving. Inevitably, it featured the Seamaster.
In the nineties, OMEGA celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its first documented film appearance and 1995 alone should have earned it a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. That was the year that the Seamaster made its debut as the choice of the new Bond, Pierce Brosnan. Since GoldenEye, released that year, 007 has never been without an OMEGA Seamaster. It was also in 1995 that the Speedmaster spent as much time on screen as any actor in the blockbuster Apollo 13. As was the case on the actual mission, the Speedmaster plays a pivotal role in the plot and almost every member of the cast wears Omega watches. In the same year, Jack Lemmon plays a former American President in the political comedy, My Fellow Americans. When he is trying to get a truck driver to give him a ride, he offers his watch as payment exclaiming, "That's a Constellation. It was given to me by Gorbachev!” The dialogue indicated that the screenwriter had an eye for detail. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev had, in fact, worn an OMEGA Constellation.
OMEGA has often featured prominently in action films. Robert De Niro was wearing a Speedmaster in one of the greatest screen car chases of all time in Ronin released in 1998. In the political thriller, Enemy of the State, both lead characters wear Omegas. The De Ville worn by Will Smith in his role of Robert Dean Clayton is central to the film's storyline. It is replaced by the FBI with a copy featuring a tracking device. Gene Hackman, an ex-agent who is in a position to help Smith, sports a Speedmaster.
With the arrival of the 21st century, Omega continued to be one of the most in-demand watches on the silver screen and each year makes dozens of cinematic appearances.
At the Omega Museum, there is a dedicated display of some of the watches that have been featured in a range of important films. There are Seamasters that were used to help James Bond escape from dangerous situations, to detonate a bomb and to generate enough light to calm the nerves of his (always temporary) love interest. Maybe she had been worried about the "Bond girl curse".
There are also watches that appeared on the wrists of Brad Pitt in Seven Years in Tibet and Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds. The De Ville Hour Vision worn by George Clooney in his Oscar-nominated performance in Up in the Air is also part of the collection. Not surprisingly, along with the Speedmasters worn in space, there are Speedmasters worn in films about space.
While Omega's watches await their elusive Oscar nominations and their much overdue star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Museum in Bienne is still the best place to experience one of filmdom's favourite brands.