125 years ago, a Swiss watch manufacture started to use its commercial name and became one of the most iconic, most sought-after names in the industry. Not a new brand per se, this watch manufacture took its name from its emblematic movement, a 19-ligne hand-wound calibre fitted in pocket watches: the Calibre Omega. As you’ve guessed, the name Omega celebrates its 125th anniversary today, and the brand has every reason to celebrate.
A brand named after its emblematic movement
Today marks the 125th anniversary of the name Omega but not of the manufacture itself. Omega was established on the roots of the Louis Brandt manufacture, founded by Mr Brandt in 1848. At that time, the business existed only as a small workshop, opened by the young watchmaker Louis Brandt in the Swiss city of La Chaux-de-Fonds. Brandt quickly gained a reputation for his precise and reliable movements. After Louis Brandt’s death in 1879, his two sons – Louis-Paul and César – took over the family business.
One of the main milestones in the history of the brand came in 1894 when the Brandt brothers released their new movement, known as the 19-ligne calibre – a ligne is an ancient unit of length that was first introduced in France and was widely used in the Swiss Watchmaking industry and corresponds to 2.26mm.
Marking an enormous leap forward, the 19-ligne calibre was produced in series using revolutionary new methods and it instantly set a new standard in watchmaking. It was not only extremely accurate, but every component could be replaced without modification by any watchmaker in the world. The perfected combination of winding and time-setting via the stem and crown was also groundbreaking and is still widely used today. The brothers gave this 19-ligne movement the name “Omega”.
The success of the 19-ligne “Omega” calibre was so great that the brothers eventually changed the name of their entire company to OMEGA Watch Co. in 1903. By then, OMEGA had become the largest manufacturer of finished watches in Switzerland.
The 19-ligne Calibre “Omega”
The 19-ligne calibre Omega introduced revolutionary mechanisms into watchmaking. For example, it perfected a method for winding your pocket watch and setting the time by only using the crown. This system was patented by the company on 1 August 1894 and became a true success. The real achievement with this movement was, however, to be seen in the production process.
For the first time, the watchmakers used an “industrial scale” production line. This was divided into sections, where each component was crafted to very precise specifications. This meant that all the parts were interchangeable, making the assembly of the movements much more streamlined and efficient. The idea was so progressive that it was soon adopted by the entire Swiss watch industry. Until the advent of the 19-ligne calibre, most of the movements produced were equipped with purpose-built parts, with their components adjusted according to the others. The 19-ligne calibre Omega introduced standardisation of the parts.
The success of the 19-ligne calibre drove OMEGA to new heights of quality and production. In fact, it rose from this achievement to become Switzerland’s largest manufacturer of finished watches by 1903. The production of the 19-ligne calibre Omega ended in 1923, however, the production processes remained and Omega became the superb manufacturer we know today.
The reborn 19-ligne Calibre Omega
Along with the Jubilee collection, the brand has announced the revival of the 19-ligne calibre Omega. A similar concept was used by Omega in July 2018 with the reintroduction of the First Omega Wrist Chronograph Reissue and its calibre Omega 3018 (based on refurbished historical calibre 18″ CHRO). Today, Omega dives into its archives and brings the refurbished, historical calibre 19-ligne back to life.
Although the production of the Omega calibre stopped in 1923, the last components in stock were stored away for almost a century. Now, in 2019, those components have been retrieved from the vaults of the Omega Museum in Bienne and will be used by the watchmakers in Omega’s Atelier Tourbillon to recreate 19 new movements. All of the bridges, main plates, escapements and bimetallic balance springs will be original 19-ligne components and will give the calibres a truly authentic taste.
Omega hasn’t just refurbished the movement, it has modernized it as well. New components will be installed, such as the barrel, main spring and some screws. The chatons and ruby stones will be recreated and the entire gear train will be recalculated to meet modern standards. As well as this, the movement will be fitted with an innovative Swiss hand-setting system. This will be the first such system in the 19-ligne calibre.
To remain historically consistent, these new-old 19-ligne calibre Omegas will be embellished with a “damaskeening” decoration – just like some of the old movements. The pattern will follow a style first used by Omega in the earliest years of the 20th century.
Where will these movements be housed? These refurbished, historical Calibres Omega will be encased with a crown at 3 o’clock and will be placed inside a new half hunter pocket watch. No official photos of these pocket watches have been released yet, except the one you can see above.
The Omega De Ville Trésor 125th Anniversary edition
In addition to these 19-ligne calibres, Omega is also unveiling a new model for the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the name Omega. This watch is based on the elegant and discreet De Ville Trésor, launched at Baselworld 2014 – a re-edition of a 1940’s watch produced by Omega.
While the overall style of the De Ville Trésor remains intact – with the same 40mm gold case and display – the 125th Anniversary Edition of this watch presents several novelties and unique touches. The case is crafted in 18k yellow gold but the most striking part is the red enamel dial – a first for Omega. This colour is inspired by the iconic colour of the brand and is matched with a burgundy leather strap with tone-on-tone stitching.
The vibrant red enamel is applied by hand on the domed dial, as are the domed gold indexes. The caseback also reveals its dosage of novelties, with a special caseback in lieu of the sapphire crystal. Omega marks the 125th anniversary of its name with a special 18K yellow gold medallion that is filled with red enamel. Surrounding the medallion is the decorative engraving known as damaskeening – the same decorative pattern used on the refurbished, historical Calibres Omega.
Finally, inside the case is a new movement. The De Ville Trésor was already equipped with a former generation hand-wound movement – meaning not Master Chronometer rated. The Omega De Ville Trésor 125th Anniversary Edition inaugurates the calibre 8929, the first manual-winding Master Chronometer movement created by the brand. This twin-barrel calibre features all the latest innovations of the brand, meaning anti-magnetic parts (to withstand up to 15,000 gausses), the signature co-axial escapement, advanced precision, and a 5-year warranty. The reference for this piece is 4184.108.40.206.11.001.
More details about these two new pieces will follow after the event Omega is hosting tonight. More information at www.omegawatches.com.