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There is hardly a name more recognizable among the Swiss watch manufacturers than Omega. It is considered by some collectors and many watch technicians to be one of the best values in the vintage market.

Indeed, Omega is probably one of the few Swiss manufacturers to strike a good chord among the three factors that determine "worth" in the vintage marketplace: name recognition, quality and value for the dollar. And unlike some of the Swiss companies, which are extinct or merely operating as importers, Omega is still very much in existence producing some truly fine mechanical timepieces.


The story of Omega begins in 1848, when 23-year-old Louis Brandt began to make clock components in La Chaux-de-Fonds. After his sons Louis and Cesar joined the firm, it was renamed Louis Brandt & Fils Co. A year after its founder's death, in 1880, it was moved to Bienne, where a watch factory was established using industrial manufacturing methods.

By 1894 the company developed a caliber for a pocket watch and named it "Omega 19." The use of Omega (the last letter of the Greek alphabet) was meant to symbolize the achievement of the ultimate in watch technology. After the death of the brothers Louis and Cesar in 1903, the third generation came to power and gave the firm the name of "S.A. Louis Brandt & Frere, Omega Watch Co." The first catalog under the Omega name appeared in 1904, in a printing of 10,000 copies.

Even before the wrist watch emerged as an "acceptable" accessory for men, Omega was at the forefront, promoting the reliability and "masculinity" of these smaller watches. In its 1913 catalog, three men's models were shown: a tonneau shaped model and two rounds. One of the rounds was a chronograph.

Omega was a major supplier of military wrist watches to both the Allies and Axis powers. After the war, in 1920, a Spanish catalog featured 226 watches, 48 of which were men's wrist watches -- certainly far and away more than any American watchmaker. We must remember that the wrist watch first caught on in Europe and migrated to this country after World War I. Omega has also had a strong affiliation with sporting events, being named "Official Timekeeper of the Olympic Games" on a number of occasions.

From 1925 on, Omega developed an important association with the watchmaking firm of Charles Tissot & Fils in Le Locle. The company's president (and grandson of the founder), Charles, was named to Omega's board of directors. Tissot had formerly concentrated on the production of luxury clocks for the Russian market, but lost this niche after the revolution.

In 1930, the SSIH Holding Company (Societe Suisse pour l'Industrie Horlogere) was founded, under whose roof Omega and Tissot would, over the ensuring years, be joined by Lemania, Rayville, Lanco, Cortebert, Marc Favre, and Hamilton.

In 1985, SSIH would again merge with another Swiss company and be called SMH, and become the parent company to the firms mentioned earlier. Omega's allegiance with its various "sister" companies is perhaps strongest with Tissot. In fact, some wonder whether Tissot watches are a "poor man's" version of Omega watches. They are not. While the two companies have collaborated on various sales and marketing promotions over the years, the watches (and their movements) remain distinct from one another.

The watches

Among Omega's notable watches are the following:
* Early round, rectangular and tonneau-shape cases. Chronographs and time-only. Many are cased in sterling silver. Some of the time-only watches have "exploding dials."
* Rectangular man's wrist watch with the hidden winding crown by the figure "12." The crown could be seen only if one opens the case, "matchbook" style. This ingenious design also protects against dust.
* Mid to late 1940 models with the '30 T2' caliber chronometer movements. These watches were the predecessors to the Constellations and are prized among collectors.
* The "Constellation" which made its debut In 1952. This is Omega's premium line wristwatch. Most have automatic 24 jewel fully adjusted chronometer grade movement (although some early examples had 17 jewel movements) Most also have an "Observatory" logo embossed on the back, but some of the earliest do not and are highly prized.
* The Seamaster series, initially produced as a waterproof watch in 1948, remains one of Omega's most popular watch today. The numbers and styles of Seamasters produced is staggering. They are very popular among collectors due to the large number of styles and movement types used.
* The Speedmaster Professional chronograph. This manual wind three register chronograph was NASA's choice to accompany many of the astronauts into space, including the first Apollo moon missions. The watch often comes with a back factory engraved with the NASA designation. For more information on this particular model, consult the February 1993 issue of the NAWCC Bulletin. Omega has come out with numerous limited editions of the SP over the years.

Bruce Shawkey
additional text by Don Baker

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