Renowned wrists and prominent organizations In its long history, Omega's watches have found themselves on the wrists of world leaders, rock music icons, adventurers and spies. As "the Swiss watch", the company was also often commissioned to create special pieces for important organizations or memorable events. Each of these timepieces is a testimony to the global strength and the worldwide reputation of the brand.
Leaders who made history
One of the most popular watches on display in the Museum is the one worn by President John F. Kennedy at his inauguration as America's 35thpresident in January of 1961. The watch, which had been presented to Kennedy by Grant Stockdale prior to the election, bears a prophetic inscription on the case back: " President of the United States John F. Kennedy from his friend Grant".
Ras Tafari Makonnen commissioned six stunning watches for his coronation at which he became the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie. The charismatic emperor, who was thought to be a direct descendent of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, was one of the most influential leaders of his age and he was the initiator of the Organization for African Unity. His cousin, the Empress Zauditu, preceded him as head of the nation and like Haile Selassie, also relied on her Omega pocket watch.
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was often photographed wearing his gold Constellation Manhattan and the watch was present at some of the most momentous events in the history of the twentieth century. Reference is made to the watch in the comedy film My Fellow Americans (see the "Film" section of this website).
Pope John Paul II wore an Omega De Ville "Classic". The Pontiff, who was head of the Roman Catholic Church for more than 26 years, was another world leader who made an indelible mark on world history during his reign.
The beat of rock n' roll
While Omega's watches have been carried or worn by some of the most significant international political and religious leaders during some of the 20thcentury's defining moments, they were also present at many of the most critical junctures in pop music. Elvis Presley has been photographed wearing an Omega while he was serving in Germany as a member of the U. S. Army. His watch was classy enough for the King of Rock 'n Roll but rugged enough for a soldier. Buddy Holly was wearing his 14 Ct white gold ultra-thin Omega when his plane crashed in February of 1959 – the day the music died.
Omega was keeping the beat in the 1960s too. Ringo Starr had a Constellation that he'd received in 1961 and wore it at times on stage with The Beatles.
Elvis, Buddy and the Beatles. It's hard to imagine a better pop music pedigree.
Organizations that relied on precision timekeeping also turned to OMEGA. Some of these were industrial groups – for example, railroad companies. Historically, no profession relied more on the precision of their timepieces than the railroads. Engineers and conductors worked to strict timetables and they needed watches and clocks with a high level of accuracy. One of the great ironies is that as the years passed, trains tended to become less punctual in many places in the world when time became centralized and it wasn't the conductor's watch which ran the show. An exception? Switzerland, of course. It shouldn't be surprising that punctuality is part of the culture.
But OMEGA's watches were prized by railroad professionals in China, the United States, Canada and much of Europe. By the end of the 19thcentury, Omega and its sister brands had an excellent reputation for the production of railroad watches and were arguably the company's first reference watches, before official chronometers, Olympic chronographs or the NASA-approved Speedmasters.
In the late 19thand early 20thcenturies, shooting matches were a national sport in Switzerland and OMEGA was among the main suppliers of shooting watches – watches that were presented to shooters who had performed particularly well. Switzerland's shooters participated in matches at the cantonal, national and international level. The sport was known for its extreme precision – a centimeter could be the difference between first and second place – and OMEGA watches, with their split-second accuracy, were prized by the shooters who won them.
OMEGA was a major supplier of watches to large ministries of defense, especially during the First and Second World Wars. The U.S. Army supplied its officers and soldiers in the Philippine Expedition with a specially-made enameled pocket watch in 1899. The company's timepieces would go on to be used by the armed and special forces of Britain, Burma, Cambodia, Canada, France, Italy, Lebanon, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Sweden to name but a few.
No military officer was more forthcoming with his praise for the brand than Field Marshall Lord Montgomery who, during his holidays in Switzerland expressed his desire to visit the factories that produced the wristwatch he wore during the War, as did thousands of other British and Commonwealth troops. Lord Montgomery visited first in 1947 and again two years later when he was able to take more time to visit the assembling and finishing workshops.
More than 50% of all of the navigational watches used by the Royal Air Force during the War were Omegas.
Other official watches
Over the years, Omega has also been commissioned to create special watches for corporations, sports clubs and federations and professional associations. Any organization that has wanted to express gratitude or make a statement with a watch defined by its quality and its accuracy turned to Omega, knowing that they would be provided with timepieces of exquisite design and unmatched precision.
It's difficult to imagine a watch brand that has been present at more of the world's defining events than Omega – and even harder to imagine one that has appeared on a more illustrious collection of wrists.
Visitors to the Museum will have a chance to see a selection of timepieces that is as varied as the men and women who wore them. And while they might seem as different from each other as the Emperor of Ethiopia from the King of Rock n' Roll, they each have the unmistakable heritage shared by one of the world's most respected watchmakers.