In June of 1848 the young Louis Brandt, then only 23 years old, set up his “Comptoir d’établissage”. Louis Brandt’s passport from 1850 is a telling document. At 25 years of age and having set up his workshop two years earlier, he had already established his name in Switzerland and set off to prove the worth of his watches across Europe. Covering the continent on stage coach, from Scandinavia in the north to Sardinia in the south, he established his brand's reputation for high quality watches throughout Europe. On the 14th of July 1877 he and his son Louis-Paul established Louis Brandt & Fils. Almost exactly two years later, Louis Brandt died in La Chaux-de-Fonds on the 5th of July, 1879.
On the 6th of November 1879 Louis-Paul formed a partnership with his brother César and immediately started looking into the advantages of moving to Bienne, a former textile town which was offering tax breaks to any watchmaker willing to move there, with the idea of revitalizing its industrial base following the collapse of the Swiss textile trade. In December of the same year, the brothers signed a contract to lease the second floor of a factory at 119 Route de Boujean. They took possession in January 1880. The success of the newly-formed manufacture meant that they were soon on the move again, this time to OMEGA’s current home in the Gurzelen district of Bienne.
This move, completed in 1882, allowed the brothers to establish a mechanized manufacture for the movements and thus the launch of several “brands”, each with different characteristics, using these movements. The first brands were Louis Brandt and Gurzelen in 1882, followed by Décimal in 1884 and Labrador in 1885. The combination of these brands covering different market sectors allowed the company to expand and by 1889 it was the largest manufacture of finished watches in Switzerland, producing a then-staggering 100,000 watches per year and employing 600 people.
This unparalleled success led to the firm becoming a centre of research and development with many firsts, including the first minute repeating wristwatch in 1892, the first full calendar watches with “big date” in 1893 and a new Carillion repetition system in 1894. Arguably, the most influential was an improved winding and hand setting mechanism in 1894 which would be used in the newly created OMEGA calibre.
The unprecedented ease of repair and accuracy of this movement, due to the high level of precision during the manufacture, led to global success for the brand and as a result the company officially changed its name to Louis Brandt & Frére - OMEGA Watch Co. in 1903.
This precision of manufacture also had other positive effects for the watches produced by the OMEGA Watch Co. including, most notably, its dominance at the world's observatories in their accuracy competitions for watches. OMEGA watches set and broke the records in these competitions time and time again and to this day still hold many of the records for the most accurate mechanical watches ever tested.
It was this reputation for accuracy that led to the decision made by the International Olympic Committee to appoint OMEGA as the official timekeeper of the 1932 Los Angeles Olympiad; it was the first time in Olympic history that one brand had been given the responsibility to time all events.
OMEGAs position as market leader not only allowed the brand to engage the best technicians and regulators in the industry, it also meant that it had one of the best design departments as well.
The brand's reputation as a design powerhouse started in the very earliest days with its success at the 1896 Exhibition in Geneva followed by a Grand Prize in Paris at the 1900 Universal Exposition. OMEGA would commercialize wristwatches in the same year, the first brand to do so.
This avant-garde approach combined with excellent accuracy, easy reparability and trendsetting aesthetics is likely the reason that OMEGA prospered in the first half of the 20th century despite the geopolitical and economic turmoil which marked these decades.
Finding contracts with many of the world’s militaries during war years and pioneers and explorers during peace time was in no small part due to the brand's technical reputation. These relationships not only ensured that the order books were full during difficult times, it also allowed the firm to further its knowledge and develop watches such as the Marine, to perfect clocks for aviators and to create timers for a broad range of applications, from sports and industry to military use.
The design team was also hard at work during these years continuing to win prizes such as the Grand Prize at the 1925 Exposition of Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris, the birthplace of Art Deco, for a series of watches in highly decorated cases. This continued success also ensured that the great and good were loyal customers and often asked OMEGA to create unique pieces for special occasions. One example of this was Ras Tafari, later Haile Selassie II who, came to OMEGA in 1929, the year before his official coronation in 1930, to commission a small series of highly ornate yellow gold watches with an enamel portrait and diamond set decoration as official gifts. Six of these watches were not only aesthetic masterpieces but were also technical marvels as they were minute repeaters.
This ability to combine high art with technical excellence is no doubt the reason that OMEGA earned the name “The Swiss Watch” and was the number one Swiss watch brand for the better part of a century.