Omega is having a big year in 2015, as evidenced by the Swiss brand’s big announcement of its all-new quality hallmark, the Master Chronometer certificate, and the first watch to pass its stringent standards, the new Globemaster; the further expansion of its popular Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon collection; and the release of yet another limited-edition timepiece inspired by the upcoming new James Bond film, Spectre. I sat down with Omega’s longtime CEO, Stephen Urquhart, to get his personal insights into these and other Omega innovations for 2015.
WT: At Baselworld, you announced Omega’s new Master Chronometer Certification and the first watch to use it, the Globemaster. Would you say that this is as big a game-changer for the brand and its identity as, say, the introduction of the co-axial escapement?
SU: I wouldn’t necessarily compare the two but of course they are both very important. The co-axial escapement was a game changer, as you say, though it was obviously more difficult to explain to the consumer. Nevertheless, it was the result of a mission that we set out to accomplish. [Inventor of the co-axial escapement] Dr. George Daniels decided 20 years before that he wanted to make a movement that used little, if any, oil at all: taking away that lubrication problem was the main aim, and this led us to make our own in-house movement in 2007, a step we might not have taken had it not been for the co-axial escapement. We know now, looking back, that the co-axial movement is a big improvement over the older lever-escapement movements that we used at Omega. The Master Chronometer certification is a little bit different in the sense that we already had the co-axial movement as a base, but now we have something we can actually quantify, namely that we’ve overcome the most important obstacle with the anti-magnetic technology that we introduced. But what makes it special is not just the testing to 15,000 Gauss, which is itself very laborious, but we wanted to increase the number of positions the watch is tested in and also test it under different conditions of everyday wear. And all the rest of this is possible because of the co-axial technology.
WT: So for lack of a better description, the new certification should serve as proof that the co-axial technology makes a watch’s movement more accurate?
SU: Yes, without shouting it from the rooftops, I hope that’s what’s going to come out of all this.
WT: You mentioned that it was difficult to express to the consumer what made the co-axial movement special back in the early ‘90s when the first one came out. Is that a little bit easier to express now that the watch connoisseur market is more “mature?”
SU: Yes, definitely. The interest in watches is much bigger now than it was 50 years ago, for sure, and that’s also helped.
WT: Do you know of any other watch brands that make movements with co-axial escapements?
SU: No, and they could if they wanted to. It’s not patented. It’s been in the public domain for 12 years or so now. I’m not sure why they don’t; I think it’s just very difficult to make. We have incredible know-how here and we had the help of George Daniels, as well as ETA and Nivarox, but it still took us from ’92 to ’99 to develop the co-axial because of the very delicate operations involved.
WT: And that technology has obviously become part of this brand’s identity. Is that the goal with the Master Chronometer as well, for the consumer to think that when they’re buying an Omega, they’re not only getting this very accurate movement but also the highest level of anti-magnetic protection?
SU: Well, the magnetism is a problem for watches that needed to be addressed, maybe more so today. Omega made anti-magnetic watches in the 1950’s, like the Railmaster. That was for the guys working on steam engines and such — massive amounts of magnetism there. At the time, manufacturers would just put the movement in a Faraday cage, as many brands still do today. But today we are living in a different world where magnetism is rampant. Our goal is not just to sell this watch to radiologists so they can feel comfortable putting their hand in the x-ray machine; it’s really for everyday use. I would say at least half of all the problems consumers have with a mechanical watch not keeping good time is due to magnetic fields they encounter in everyday life. Most people don’t know about many of them, like when they’re cooking in a microwave oven or opening a refrigerator door. The idea is to make the consumer feel he’s got a more reliable product, without the bother and the cost of sending a watch back to have it de-magnetized, re-set, and sent back. Let’s make a product that’s meant to last not just decades, but hopefully generations. Let’s make it as easy as possible for the consumer.
WT: You’ve also made a point of saying that Omega’s Master Chronometer certification is open to any other brand that wants to submit watches for it. Do you expect that to happen anytime soon, and do you think it would it start within the Swatch Group?
SU: For the moment, no. But it could happen, We’ve always wanted to be very clear that METAS is a federal government Institution, so this certification could never be exclusively limited to Omega or any other single brand.
WT: If the Master Chronometer represents the future of Omega movements, what about the movements inside the Speedmaster Moonwatches, which the brand has long said will remain the same out of respect for this watch’s history? As you launch four new “Dark Side of the Moon” models this year, have you heard from any collectors and fans that they want a more modern movement in there?
SU: We have. We’ve debated about it internally, and to me, both opinions are valid. On the one hand, the idea that it has the authentic, original movement is fantastic. On the other, you can say, look — we’re living in a new era, we’re in 2015, we have to look ahead, we don’t want to live in the past, we want to live in the future. Also, a lot of collectors wouldn’t mind us carrying one with a more modern movement because it might make their original watch more valuable. But ultimately we decided to keep it in there. It’s a nice story, it’s a true story, and it adds to its nostalgic value as a piece of hardware that was used to go to the moon.
WT: A new James Bond film, Spectre, opens this year, and Omega has created another special-edition watch for it. How did you arrive at that model for the latest Bond watch and how much input, if any, did the people making the movie have in its development?
SU: In the last film [Skyfall], Bond started off wearing a Planet Ocean and later wore a blue Aqua Terra, so we and Daniel Craig [who plays Bond] agreed that he would wear another Aqua Terra in the new film. And Daniel, who knows a lot about watches, also liked the idea of having an anti-magnetic one — which doesn’t mean that it will be used in some “anti-magnetism” scene in the movie, by the way.
WT: So Daniel Craig is a true watch fan himself?
SU: He does know watches, and he loves Omega, which has made it quite easy for us. He owns a few Omegas, including one I’ve given him for his birthday, which he loves, and a 1968 model, and he said he would like to wear that watch. But that’s him, as Daniel Craig not as James Bond. So we made a limited edition — not the same exact watch that we first launched with the anti-magnetic movement, but one with a blue dial, like the watch he wore in the last film, and incorporating his idea of the gun-barrel rotor and the Bond coat of arms.
WT: Besides your team and Daniel Craig, who else is involved in producing these limited editions for each Bond film?
SU: Well there are a lot of players in there, obviously. It’s never been our role to say, “You will wear this.” In fact, from the beginning, it was the Bond people who approached us rather than the other way around.
WT: That was when Pierce Brosnan started as Bond.
SU: Yes, in 1995, they came to us and they chose the Seamaster Diver, because they wanted that look for Bond. And the watch was more or less the same in the first three or four films with Brosnan. In Casino Royale, we introduced the Planet Ocean, which was a little bit due to Craig’s influence, because he didn’t want to have the same watch as the other James Bond — which we, of course, were 100 percent okay with. So they listen to us, but which watch is worn is not really our decision. There are usually three parties involved on their end. Daniel Craig is, I repeat, a watch connoisseur, so he has his opinion, a very strong opinion. Then there is the director of the film, Sam Mendes this time, who is not as detail-oriented as Daniel Craig might be, but he has the big picture in mind of what sort of watch he would like. He’s not going to say he wants a Seamaster instead of a Speedmaster, but in terms of the color and overall look, he has his ideas. And then, of course, there’s the owner of the Bond license, Barbara Broccoli, who has a say as well. She wants Craig to be happy and she wants Sam to be happy, so she’s pretty cool about it. And of course, I want them all to be happy. So that’s the name of the game.
WT: A quick thought on the rise of the smartwatch and what that means, if anything, to Omega’s strategy going forward?
SU: The biggest company in the world, Apple, is bringing out a connected watch, and they’ll sell millions. This is a no-brainer; we all know that. But I don’t think that any of our potential customers are thinking, “I was going to buy the new Dark Side of the Moon, but I think I’ll buy the Apple Watch instead.” I don’t think it’s the same customer.
WT: And Daniel Craig’s not going to wear one, right?
SU: No, I don’t think so.
WT: Thank you so much for your time!