INNOVATION AND PROTOTYPING

OMEGA has always been known for its commitment to innovative watchmaking and the quality of its products. But the brand has also created prototypes and developed technologies that were so far ahead of their time that when some of these "breakthroughs" have been introduced years later by other companies, Omega can say, "Been there. Done that."

 

It's fascinating to take a look at some of the more remarkable of these developments from throughout the company's history. What becomes evident is that behind the watches for which Omega has become famous is a tradition of research and development that suggests that the brand's designers had already peered into the future. Let's visit some of the innovations that changed watchmaking forever and take a peek at some prototypes that were well ahead of their time but for whatever reason, never saw the light of day.

 

For example, in terms of innovation it's useful to revisit our old friend, the 19-ligne Omega movement from 1894. Much has been written about the interchangeability of its parts and the fact that, as it could be repaired by any watchmaker, made it completely revolutionary. But . . . it was also the first industrially produced movement that featured hand winding and time setting via a two-position crown. Today, it's difficult to imagine a time that this wasn't standard but it all started with the Omega caliber!

 

At about the same time its designers were putting the finishing touches on the Omega caliber, Louis Brandt & Frères was granted a Swiss patent for the world's first watch with a "Big Date", another innovation which has become an industry standard.

 

Intriguingly, in the 1940s, Omega had been researching friction-free escapements and in fact, created one. At the time, it could not be industrialized but the idea of minimizing friction remained one of the brand's research interests for the next half century. Those R&D efforts would culminate in the industrialization of the Danniel's  Co-Axial escapement in 1999 and latterly the OMEGA Co-Axial escapement eight years later.

 

In 1943, Omega was anticipating, because of the war, the possible shortage of some of the noble metals used in its movements. The researchers found some viable alternatives that would rely on available materials. The results were dramatic black movements, similar in appearance to some recent ones that have been trends in the industry. As it turned out, it wasn't necessary to use the materials and the black Omega movements remained prototypes.

 

In 1944, Omega created a prototype fly-back chronograph movement with power-reserve indication based on its renowned 30 mm movement.

 

A more recent example of a prototype that was ahead of its time was the Hightech, arguably the first "fusion" watch made in 1983 of carbon, titanium and graphite, in fact its proposed advertising campaign featured race cars, space-ships and sportsmen. Another innovation as most of the brands today which sell "Fusion" watches concentrate their communication on one or more of these same aspects, showing that OMEGA weren’t only innovators in watch making technology, but the way they are presented to the public as-well.

 

Omega has pioneered some of the more compelling concepts in all of watchmaking but . . . it doesn't sell concept watches. On occasion, some of the more remarkable concepts could not be industrialized so they didn't find their ways into brand's product offering. But every Omega watch from every era is characterized by the desire to create the best possible products typified by great quality, design and state-of-the-art innovation.

Calibre 1060 ST "prototype", this movement was created for a deluxe pocket watch whose cancelled launch was previewed for 1987.
Unique skeletonised pocket watch movement with tourbillon regulator, 1984
 
A prototype fly-back chronograph movement with power reserve indication.
The calibre 30 SC CHRON, circa 1940
 
This was an early attempt by OMEGA to eliminate friction and can be seen as a predecessor to the Co-Axial escapement.
The OMEGA-Jaccard "Shockless" escapement, 1944
 
This escapement was an attempt by P.R. Jaccard, OMEGA chief "régleur", to reduce friction in the escapement.
The calibre 43 Spéc with the OMEGA-Jaccard "Slipping" escapement , ca. 1941
 
Louis Brandt & Frère were granted Swiss patent number 6010 on 16 December 1892 for the world's first watch with "Big Date".
The Louis Brandt & Frère "Big Date", 1892
 
The original drawing for a divers' chronograph with pushers which could be positioned at 9 or 12 O'clock.
The Seamaster "PROF Orientable", ca. 1968