The creator of the watch that has been to the moon and back has been notching up technical firsts since it was founded in 1848. And at the brand’s HQ in Bienne, the Omega development team still love a challenge, resulting in a hat-trick of horological breakthroughs in recent years.
How do you follow a trip to the moon? How about an adventure in the depths of the ocean? For this Omega partnered with the Five Deeps Expedition, brainchild of the explorer and submersible pilot Victor Vescovo, in the world’s first manned expedition to the deepest point in each of the five oceans, in 2019.
Using sonar mapping of the ocean floor the team found the very lowest spot in the underwater world. This turned out to be the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench of the western Pacific, at just under 11,000m, and Vescovo aimed to reach it on a solo dive mission. To support the plan Omega designed the high-performance Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep professional tool watch, which was able to withstand the huge pressures encountered so far down (by way of comparison, the depth measurement exceeds the height of Everest).
Even given its history of producing diving watches since 1932, this was quite a challenge for Omega. Wearing a prototype Ultra Deep, Vescovo piloted his submersible to the deepest any person (and many seawater creatures) had been. With the world record under his diving belt, and his watch still working, he observed: “You need a mixture of determination and a lot of tech innovation to dive that far down.”
Back on dry land, last year Omega boffins created the most complicated movement the company has made. The aim was to revolutionise split-second timing. The horologists devised a plan to connect the pocket chronographs used in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics — the brand’s debut as Olympic timekeeper — with a minute repeater. This is a complex piece of micro-engineering that chimes the hours and minutes on demand, a useful function in the centuries before electricity to figure out the time in the dark. Omega is credited with making the first in wristwatch form, in 1892.
In the spirit of creating art for the art of watchmaking’s sake, Omega endeavoured to produce a timepiece combining both functions, resulting in the Chrono Chime. It’s a chiming chronograph — which is like a stopwatch and a regular “display” watch — that peals elapsed time. Omega housed the tech in an 18-carat Sedna gold Speedmaster watch with a stylish aventurine dial. The “know-how”, as the Swiss call it, uses the dings and dangs of a beautifully toned gong to mark elapsed time. It’s certainly niche — a connoisseur’s piece — but it is a tour de force in watchmaking terms, and what is learnt in the process of making it can be applied to future projects that may turn out to be more commercial.
Omega Seamaster Diver 300m James Bond 60th anniversary watch
More wearable is the latest 007 watch, this time not commemorating a film but 60 years of James Bond on screen. Omega has been a faithful Bond companion since Pierce Brosnan strapped one on in the 1995 movie GoldenEye, and the diamond anniversary Seamaster Diver 300m was inspired by Daniel Craig’s wristwear in No Time to Die. Its new 42mm stainless-steel design has a surprise case back, replicating the opening sequence of every 007 film with a moving silhouette of Bond and a spinning gun-barrel motif under the sapphire glass. This trippy hypno animation is achieved with a moiré effect — like those 3D postcards that seem to animate when you change the angle — that is connected to the running of the second hand so it keeps on moving.
Of course, Q has been issuing Bond with customised watches for each mission, and his Omega timepieces have accommodated built-in lasers, grappling hooks, devices to shoot high-tensile wires and a detonator, not to mention an electromagnetic pulse device to disable electronics. In real life you won’t be getting lasers but other horological wizardry, courtesy of the brand’s ambition to take on new challenges. Any developments from Omega are subject to secret, agent-worthy levels of security.
Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep (water resistant to 6,000m), from £10,600
Chrono Chime Speedmaster, POA
Seamaster Diver 300m Bond 60th anniversary watch, £7,100
Seamaster Diver 300m Bond 60th anniversary watch (back)