Omega has been making watches at the same site, on Rue Jakob-Stampfli 96 in Bienne, Switzerland, since 1882, when it opened up shop as Louis Brandt & Fils. This year, the historic manufacture expands with an all-new production building, designed by award-winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, which opened its doors officially this week.
The new building houses all steps of assembly, testing, quality control, and training under one roof, with five floors of space devoted to maximizing the efficiency of each process. Described as “cutting edge” and “an eco-friendly masterpiece” by Omega, the facility is built entirely of Swiss spruce wood and concrete and displays the blending of traditional Japanese architecture and western modernism that has made Shigeru Ban one of the world’s leading architects. Winner of the 2014 Pritzker Prize, the architectural world’s most prestigious award, Ban also designed, among many other iconic structures around the world, the Nicolas G. Hayek Center in Tokyo, the Japanese headquarters of Omega’s Swiss-based parent company, the Swatch Group.
At the core of the building is a high-tech, fireproofed fully automated storage system for more than 30,000 boxes of watchmaking parts. This central stock system rises through three floors and uses robotic arms, visible through specially built windows, to distribute parts to the workers on the assembly line, thus assigning the menial tasks to the machines while the humans to focus on tasks like fine-tuning and testing for precision. The robotic arms are even programmed for use in the identification and packaging of each watch, able to pick each one from the assembly line and apply its correct warranty and certification; they can also be used for personalized laser-engraving.
Omega has ensured that the new building is carefully temperature-controlled, meticulously dust-free, and ergonomically designed for its watchmaking staff, who perform an array of tasks including hand-setting on dials, final casing of timepieces, and performing the battery of METAS tests necessary for Master Chronometer certification of its movements. All the METAS testing is done on the third floor, which is equipped with all the technology used for each step of the process, including powerful magnets that subject each watch to 15,000-gauss magnetic fields.
The new facility was also designed with an eco-friendly and energy-efficient indoor climate concept, with sun-controlled external shadings on all windows; LED-based artificial lighting with low electricity consumption and low heat loads with occupancy sensors that switch lights off when rooms are not in use; and air-handling fans with variable ventilation rates based on the time of day. The building’s entire energy supply is based on a geothermal system that uses heat-pump-controlled groundwater sourced from several wells on the site, and also incorporates solar panels on the southeast roof to produce electricity for heating, cooling, ventilation, and lighting.
Guests of honor for the official opening of the new production building this week included Nick Hayek, CEO of the Swatch Group; Raynald Aeschlimann, President and CEO of Omega; Johann Schneider-Ammann, Head of Switzerland’s Federal Department of Economic Affairs; and the master architect himself, Shigeru Ban.
“Omega [has produced] watches at this historical site in the heart of Biel since 1882,” Hayek said, adding that the brand “is and was a pioneer of innovation and excellence in the Swiss watch industry and worldwide. The strong tradition of investing in new technologies, new methods of production, but also in its own employees can again be seen through the achievement of this new splendid Omega factory. It reflects the brand’s commitment to the highest standards of watchmaking.”
Aeschlimann added, “Of course, we have created a truly innovative workspace, but the real value of this new building is efficiency. We have been able to now combine all of our assembly and testing processes under one roof. That means a complete consolidation of work that will help Omega to become much more productive and streamlined than ever before.”