Many modern-day watch aficionados know that the Swiss watchmaker today known as Omega was founded in 1848 — 171 years ago — but fewer may realize that the Omega name itself is marking only (!) its 125th anniversary this year. The reason for this all comes down to the story of a historical movement, the 19-Ligne Omega Caliber, which has been given a new lease on life in 2019.
It was in 1894, nearly 50 years after the pioneering watchmaker Louis Brandt established La Genérale Watch Co., Omega SA’s predecessor, in La Chaux-de-Fonds, that Brandt’s sons Louis-Paul and César invented an innovative and technically daring new watch movement that was suited for the industrial-scale production lines that the growing company had embraced. They called the movement “Omega,” after the last letter in the Greek alphabet, to symbolize “the final word” in watchmaking technology at the time. Watches with this movement were marketed by La Genérale under the Omega brand name and in 1903, their success led to the official founding of Omega as its own company.
Last week, at a gala launch event at the Omega Museum in Bienne, Switzerland (the company’s current home), Omega paid tribute to the 125th anniversary with two high-profile launches. One was a very special wristwatch, the Omega De Ville Trésor 125th Anniversary Edition, in a 40-mm 18k yellow gold case with a burgundy leather strap and a striking red enamel dial. Its caseback features an anniversary medallion with a vintage-style logo surrounded by a decorative, engraved motif called “damaskeening,” the same pattern used on some of the early Omega Calibers. Inside the watch, which follows the style codes of the existing gents’ De Ville Tresor collection, is Omega’s modern Caliber 8929, the first manual-winding movement in its Master Chronometer series.
The other major announcement was the return of the caliber that started it all — the Alpha of the Omega brand name, if you will — in the form of 19 re-created examples of that original 19-Ligne Caliber, to be placed inside 19 new half-hunter-case pocketwatches. (A ligne, pronounced “line” by most English speakers, is a French unit of measurement used to measure the diameter of small round items such as buttons and watch movements; 1 ligne is equivalent to about 2.256 mm, thus a 19-ligne caliber is about 42.85 mm in diameter.)
Omega’s watchmakers found and retrieved from its archives a small amount of historical components, including bridges, mainplates, escapements, and bimetallic balance springs and used them to construct the contemporary versions of the caliber, which Omega says will receive several modern technical updates, including a Swiss hand-setting system, and embellished with the same historically inspired “damaskeening” decoration as the De Ville Anniversary Edition’s case.
“Today, we are truly proud to represent such an iconic name,” said Omega CEO and President Raynald Aeschlimann at the launch event. “Omega is the only watchmaker to be named after a movement, which proves our commitment to the art of precision. It is also a name renowned in so many areas – from moon landings and the Olympic Games to James Bond films and ocean exploration. This anniversary certainly deserves to be celebrated.” With other Omega-related milestones, notably the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, also occurring in 2019, it’s already shaping up to be a big year for the Swiss brand and its many fans.