Pioneering spirit The term "pioneering spirit" is used so freely these days that it has almost lost its meaning. We decided to reflect on the term to determine whether it truly defines the Omega brand. It seemed like a good time to take a look at where we've been and where we're going and also at the explorers who, when they have blazed new trails and faced enormous challenges, so often wore Omegas on their wrists.
The Omega caliber – changing Swiss watchmaking forever
We describe elsewhere in the website that in 1848, when Louis Brandt founded the company that would become Omega, he already had ambitions that distinguished him from the other talented watchmakers in the Swiss Jura. Two years after opening his workshop, Brandt was travelling widely with his products. He travelled by stagecoach to the Leipzig Fair to show his watches and went on to the United Kingdom from there. He would also visit France, Belgium, Holland, Scandinavia, Austria, Italy and Sardinia.
His sons, Louis-Paul and César, invested their considerable energies in the development of the manufacture system focused, as the name suggests, on manufacturing complete watches under the direction of a single business at one location. The components were produced either in-house or from specialized suppliers. They moved their business from the Jura to the city of Bienne in 1880 and enjoyed immediate success. By 1889 it had already claimed the top-ranking position in the Swiss watchmaking industry. A year later, a new 19 ligne caliber for pocket watches was developed for eventual series production. It featured simple but highly reliable construction and offered unparalleled ease of servicing. Its components had been standardized to the point that they could be replaced with interchangeable parts whenever necessary. It was given the name Omega. The name was registered internationally as a trademark in 1894, giving birth to the only watch brand named for a caliber.
Omega descended from watchmakers who, by their very nature, were innovators and pioneers. It’s little wonder that the brand would forge such strong bonds with maritime adventurers, aviators, explorers and others who were drawn to push themselves beyond their own limits and to extend the boundaries of human knowledge.
Omega’s Ship’s Chronometers
In the second decade of the twentieth century, OMEGA was routinely producing chronometers – that is, officially tested high precision timepieces whose deviation cannot exceed -4 to +6 seconds per day. Some of the most stunning products from the 1910s are the ship’s chronometers that were presented in mahogany or Brazilian rosewood boxes. Their precision movements were secured with a gimbal suspension system that maintained the ship’s chronometer in a horizontal position regardless of the list of the ship.
These remarkable clocks were early representation of Omega’s long relationship with the maritime world and a reminder of the brand’s long history of chronometric precision. Omega’s chronometers have only ever been delivered with “mention for especially good results” – and this since 1894!
Few people in the history of aviation have captured the public's interest and imagination to the extent that Amelia Earhart did. Although she and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared in 1937 on an attempted round-the-world flight, there has been decades-long speculation about the shy pilot's fate. Even now, three quarters of a century later, potential crash sites in the Pacific are being investigated in the hopes of solving an enduring mystery.
Earhart's Lockheed Electra 10E NR was equipped with a dashboard an Omega 39 CHRO chronograph. On her wrist, the most famous aviatrix of all time wore an Omega 28.9 chronograph and Fred Noonan sported and Omega Marine.
They disappeared on the 2ndof July, 1937 and while numerous theories have been advanced over the years, to date, the exact location of where Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan met their fate has never been conclusively determined.
When the Concorde, the only supersonic airplane to offer regularly scheduled commercial service, took to the skies, the developers knew that they would the onboard clocks would have to be extremely reliable. When a plane is travelling some 700 metres a second, precision has to be measured in fractions of a second.
Omega’s instrument panel clocks already equipped the pre-series supersonic airliners from 1967 and were part of every commercial flight from the first in January of 1976 until it was retired in November of 2003. The crew also wore Omega chronographs because for the fastest commercial aircraft in the world, accurate timepieces were absolutely essential.
Flightmaster "Pilot" version
Omega has had a long and rewarding relationship with pilots and pioneers of the skies. A direct line can logically be drawn from military pilots to Amelia Earhart to astronauts and cosmonauts and straight to the amazing Omega Flightmaster. The Flightmaster was introduced in 1969 and was designed expecially for pilots and international travelers. Nothing else in the Omega catalogue – or anywhere else – looked quite like it. With a second hour hand in blue for a second time zone, its black and green 24 hour sub-dial at 9 o’clock and red or yellow hands for the chronograph function, it stood out on any wrist.
The dial was also distinguished by a totally enclosed moveable bezel. The satin-brushed steel case featured five pushers which controlled the setting of the main hour and minute hands, the second hour hand, the position of the bezel and the chronograph function.
An advertisement of the day read, "A black face and revolving bezel do not make a special watch for airline and private pilots. You need all the advanced features incorporated in this new Omega Flightmaster,a wrist chronograph derived from the famous Speedmaster – official watch of the Apollo astronauts. We sent that one to the moon before we checked out this one for the jets.”
At the time, Omega didn’t realize that the Flightmasters were also involved in their own adventures in space on the wrists of Soviet Cosmonauts who would continue to wear the dedicates pilot watches until 1974 when they started preparing for their meeting with American astronauts during the Apollo –Soyuz mission in 1975.
When men and women have sought new aeronautical challenges, Omega has often been their timepiece of choice. We have looked at an aviatrix who charted a course into unknown territories and came to a mysterious end. We have remembered the fastest commercial aircraft ever designed – it allowed passengers to breakfast in London and lunch in New York. We have re-examined a watch designed to meet the needs of jet pilots but which also found its way into space strapped to the suits of brave cosmonauts.
But Omega’s adventures in the sky are not always limited to the fastest aircraft with the most powerful engines. The brand is now involved in a completely different kind of challenge that is positioned to contribute to the scientific and ecological development of alternative means of sustainable energy for the future.
Omega is a Main Partner in the Solar Impulse project, which aims to circle the globe in an airplane powered only by the sun, providing not only financial support to the project but significant technological expertise. For example, the OMEGA Instrument, designed by Swiss aeronautics legend, Claude Nicollier, indicates flight path and lateral drift and can be read easily by the pilot.
The lightweight landing light system that delivers an astonishing watts per weight ratio was also designed by Omega’s engineers. On each wing is a set of LED landing lights whose brightness is amplified by a correlation lens. The lights are all protected by very strong windows made from the same resilient plastic used in Swatch watches. The entire lighting system (including wiring) weighs less than two kilograms!
With a flight speed no greater than that of a fit bicyclist, Solar Impulse shows that in some cases, the way – in this case a flight path around the world – is indeed the goal.
Omega on the top – and the bottom – of the world
Ralph Plaisted leads the first surface expedition to reach the North Pole
Ralph Plaisted seems at first glance an odd explorer to lead the first expedition team to reach the North Pole. The Minnesotan was an insurance salesman and avid outdoorsman who was smitten with the first snowmobile he ever saw. Friends said that as he was such an advocate of the winter vehicles, he should drive one to the North Pole. His party, armed with sextants and Speedmasters to keep accurate track of their locations, reached their final camp after travelling more than 43 days from Canada’s Ward Hunt Island. They had begun the 412 mile journey on March 9th. Both Robert Peary and Frederick Cook claimed to have reached the North Pole but doubts had always lingered due to inconsistencies in their stories. There was no doubt that the sextants and Speedmaster chronographs had led Plaisted and his party to their goal. A United States Air Force C-135 flew overhead confirming that they were exactly at the North Pole.
Reinhold Messner and the ‘last possible land journey on earth’
In February of 1990, Arved Fuchs and Reinhold Messner completed a travers of Antartica after a torturous 92-day, 2,800-kilometre trek on foot. Through temperatures of -40° C and blizzard winds of up to 150 km per hour, they made their way across the Thiel mountains to the South Pole, and continued on to McMurdo Sound on the Ross Sea. On his wrist, Messner, who is often called the most important living explorer, wore an OMEGA Speedmaster. The picture of the adventurer, taken at the South Pole on December 13, 1989, shows that OMEGA’s chronographs had proudly served adventurers both on the top and the bottom of the world.
From the depths of the oceans to the surface of the moon and everywhere in-between when mankind has set out to push back the boundaries of the unknown or redefine our capabilities there has often been an OMEGA watch on their wrist.
It only seems fitting somehow that the pioneers who redefine our world often rely on watch from the brand which has been such a pioneer in the world of watchmaking.