Monochrome Watches
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Inside Omega’s Very Special Atelier d’Excellence

A unique insight into the proper Haute Horlogerie side of Omega.

| By Robin Nooy | 5 min read |

In all its 174 years of existence, if you take its origins as La Generale Watch Co. into consideration, Omega has left a profound impression on the watchmaking industry. With countless iconic watches and collections in its archives, and of course, always striving for innovative materials, applications and complications, Omega is widely considered to be one of the best in the business. Then, now, and very likely into the future as well. And while we tend to focus on watches like the Speedmaster and Seamaster, both leaving their mark in history for obvious reasons, there’s far more to discover. Naturally, the Master Chronometer certification is part of the story, as well as the Co-Axial escapement, one of the few serial-produced escapements other than the industry standard Swiss Lever escapement. However, there’s one element of Omega’s watchmaking operations that people seem to rarely talk about – the art of Haute Horlogerie. Inside the very modern Omega manufacture there’s a special workshop dedicated to the highest levels of traditional watchmaking, whilst also pushing boundaries and breaking new grounds. For the first time ever, we are allowed to take our video cameras inside Omega’s Atelier d’Excellence and it is truly spectacular.

The Atelier d’Excellence is responsible for the most complex and finely finished Omega watches imaginable, far beyond the levels of the standard watch collections. Despite the fact that watches and movements seen in the regular Seamaster, Speedmaster, Deville and Constellation collections are fitted with high-precision and well-finished movements, the Atelier d’Excellence takes everything a step further, and then some. Consisting of two teams of expert watchmakers, with one team called “321” and the other “Tourbillon”, the Atelier d’Excellence brings together traditional, handcrafted watchmaking, hand-applied Haute Horlogerie finishing and cutting-edge technology.

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This is showcased best by two watches in particular, both a milestone for Omega in their own right. Last year we wrote an in-depth story on the stupendous Omega 125th Anniversary Pocket Watch, created to celebrate 125 years of the Omega name. Using the historic 19-Ligne calibre, introduced in 1894, Omega went above and beyond to respect the 19-Ligne’s origins and demonstrate just what it can do when it comes to the highest levels of watchmaking. The full-blown reconstruction was done using as many original parts as possible, preserved by Omega’s watchmakers. The bi-metal balance wheel and escapement are all original for instance. This is combined with new components to ensure the 125th Anniversary Pocket Watch meets today’s standards.

Omega 125th Anniversary Pocket Watch 19-Ligne Calibre 518.

The new execution of this iconic movement is simply exceptional, with untreated German Silver bridges and plates, chamfering, black polishing, and more. All is set in a 60mm wide two-tone 18k Canopus and Sedna gold half-hunter case, decorated with red enamel elements. The off-white grand feu enamel dial is paired with petit feu enamel Roman numerals and 18k Sedna gold hands. Presented as a limited edition of 19 watches, each costing EUR 205,300 at the time and being regulated to Master Grade Chronometer specifications, it is truly a testament to the expert craftsmanship of the Omega Atelier d’Excellence.

Omega 125th Anniversary Pocket Watch 19-Ligne Calibre 518.
One of the original bi-metallic balance wheels retrieved from the Omega vault to recreate the caliber. The effect of temperature change is a major source of inaccuracy for mechanical watches. A rise in temperature increases the dimension of the balance wheel and this would cause it to swing more slowly. The need for precise timekeeping drove several advances in technology in relation to the design of the balance wheel and the materials used. Among these, watchmakers developed bi-metallic balance wheels. The rim of the balance is made of two different metals and is cut at two points. Because of the different thermal expansion of the two metals, the bimetallic rim of the balance bends towards the centre of the oscillator as temperature increases shifting the mass inward.

The second watch that is featured in the video is the Omega De Ville Tourbillon Master Chronometer. Few people might remember Omega has had a big influence on the modern tourbillon watch, creating one of the first-ever tourbillon wristwatches in 1947. The complex whirlwind-like complication, engineered to counter-act the effect of gravity on the regulating organ, is still a marvel of mechanical watchmaking. Patented by Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1801, the tourbillon was rarely seen outside watches intended for chronometry contests and with the rise of wristwatches in the early 1900s, it dwindled in popularity even further. Rather unexpectedly, it was Omega that created the first Swiss-made tourbillon wristwatch with the 30 I. Fast-forward to 1994, Omega re-introduced the complication in the De Ville Central Tourbillon, putting the escapement in the centre of the dial.

Omega De Ville Tourbillon Master Chronometer

The Omega De Ville Tourbillon Master Chronometer, introduced in 2020, stays true to the original 1994 concept to place the tourbillon at the centre of the watch. This highly technical execution of a very classical and romantic complication is remarkable to witness, even more so when you see how Omega made this one of the most advanced tourbillons available. We again see the expertise of the Atelier d’Excellence watchmakers come to fruition, using innovative materials and technical solutions to ensure that even this complex movement is Master Chronometer certified. The level of finishing is again of the highest order, with hand-bevelled inward angles, polished screws and sinks, frosting, and much more.

Omega De Ville Tourbillon Master Chronometer

All in all, the work done by the Omega Atelier d’Excellence is truly fascinating and of the highest order. The brand’s best-skilled watchmakers dedicate their craft to creating some of the most endearing and precise watches possible. It reveals there is far more to Omega than meets the eye, as we mainly know the brand as the one to grace the wrist of Astronauts and secret agents. In our eyes, this is something truly special.

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