Omega and METAS – The start of a new Era – Visiting the Omega Manufacture & the METAS certification (Part 1)

Omega revolutionized the watch industry in 1892 by industrializing the production of the components of a pocket watch, enabling faster delivery and larger volumes. Omega has won precision awards and were the primary supplier of time measurement devices for the Olympics. During the past ten years Omega managed to mass produce a reliable co-axial movement that requires considerably less servicing. In 2013 Omega announced a watch that houses the first ever fully antimagnetic movement. This innovation cannot be understated! Now, Omega reaches a new step, by announcing a partnership with METAS, an independent governmental agency, in order to develop an in-house and unique, in-depth certification. Explanations about the METAS tests, visit of the manufacture and of the METAS facilities, challenges and issues, explained by Nick Hayek… All of this will be detailed here.

Omega - METAS - Headquarters visit

Magnetic fields are one of the biggest challenges facing the mechanical watches we admire and love. An increasing problem is that watch owners need to send in their watch for demagnification. Tablets, mobile phones, and other devices could affect watch accuracy, also expensive watches. I experienced that recently with a watch that I wear with care as a dress watch. The upcoming development of wearables and perhaps even the integration of electronic features in mechanical watches require antimagnetic watches (Although Mr. Hayek – President and CEO of the Swatch Group – said at the 21-10-2015 Press Conference in Biel that it is not a priority for Omega at this time, he did not say it will never happen).

Omega - METAS - Headquarters visit - Nick Hayek

Wearables and the integration of mechanical and electronic features offers great opportunities, also for traditional watch companies. Companies like Omega are capable to provide beautiful, reliable mechanical watches with features for measuring health related functions. Computer and electronic companies deliver great looking iPods with date and time functions.

How important is the new METAS certification? When Omega announced the partnership it was not quite clear what it meant and what its implications were. The visit to the METAS Lab and the following Press Conference clarified a lot.

Omega - METAS - Headquarters visit - Omega Globemaster

The METAS certification essentially sends three messages to the market:

  1. It is Swiss Made and Swiss Tested. Each watch is thoroughly tested against the highest standards in the industry by an independent government agency;
  2. Omega challenges the competition to develop watches that meet or exceed these new indicators of the quality and precision of Swiss mechanical watches;
  3. Omega challenges COSC to adapt the current certification process to contemporary demands.

By 2020 all co-axial watches will be METAS certified, with exception of calibers 2500 (that will be phased out), calibre 1861 (the movement of the Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch) and cal. 3300.

Time will tell if the METAS Certification marks the start of a new era or is just a marketing gimmick. We do not know how important certification is to buyers. Omega certainly thinks that trust in the brand is a primary concern of buyers, perhaps having the recent Volkswagen scandal in mind. Mr. Hayek and Mr. Urquhart stressed the importance of independent certification and a transparent test process for consumers. In fact, they stipulated its importance for the entire Swiss watch industry. They believe that Swiss watchmaking should stand for Precision and Innovation, not just Marketing and Historical Significance. For that very reason, every watch company is able to apply for METAS partnership and certification and to develop watches that meet the METAS criteria.

The significance of the METAS certification does NOT reside in quality checks, such as precision (accuracy, consistency), water resistance, shock absorption, service intervals. After all, there are several other, high quality focused certifications, such as Qualité Fleurier. The METAS certification marks the start of an era of mass producing, testing and certifying antimagnetic watches that enable the integration of mechanical watches and electronic functions. This challenge must be answered by other brands. Will they do that? Will the METAS certification trigger a whole new array of certification institutions and/or processes? Will existing certification institutions and processes be updated? Only time will tell.

An interesting detail: “Master Chronometer” is trademarked by METAS, not by Omega. Although there were some intense discussions about this, Omega and the Swatch Group recognized the importance of making this certification available to other companies. During the press conference it was said that several other watch companies approached METAS for certification. Question is how many watch companies are capable to produce mechanical watches with such high antimagnetic capabilities?

Potential buyers will be interested to know if the (extra) METAS certification will lead to a price increase. After all, a considerable investment was required to set up the test facility. For example, there were no devices available that can test up to 15,000 Gauss according to Mr. Hayek. These had to be developed (when he talked about that he expressed his concern about tooling manufacturers moving to other countries and cutting investments in new production facilities). Hayek and Urquhart assured that there will be no price increase.

Omega - METAS - Headquarters visit - Stephen Urquhart

After the press conference, we had the opportunity to elaborate on a few topics with the President of Omega (that also is a veteran in the watch industry), Stephen Urquhart. We asked about the response in the market and the response of COSC to the new partnership.

Mr. Urquhart told us that the response in the market has been hesitant, partly because it was not clearly communicated what the certification meant. Amongst others, there were conflicting messages about the term to be used for a METAS certified watch. As of mid December Omega will start a global marketing campaign to increase awareness. The title will be “Witness The Start Of A New Era”. This is directly after the first batch of METAS certified Globemasters will be shipped. Capacity will be increased – a new building arises in Bienne – to accommodate the demand.

Omega - METAS - Headquarters visit

Before the discussions with METAS, Omega approached COSC about new testing and certification standards, including antimagnetic testing of movements and assembled watches. When COSC could not accommodate the new requirements, Omega approached METAS. Although there had been some internal debates about the value of keeping COSC certification in the process, it was decided not to abandon the COSC certification. For now. Omega wants to be a loyal partner and contributor. For now. Time will tell if COSC will innovate and adapt testing and certification procedures to contemporary demands.

THE EIGHT METAS APPROVED TESTS

  1. AVERAGE DAILY PRECISION over 4 days and 2 alternating temperatures
  2. FUNCTION OF COSC-APPROVED MOVEMENT DURING EXPOSURE TO 15,000 GAUSS MAGNETIC FIELD In 2 positions each for 30 seconds
  3. FUNCTION OF WATCH DURING EXPOSURE TO 15,000 GAUSS MAGNETIC FIELD In 2 positions each for 30 seconds
  4. DEVIATION OF DAILY PRECISION AFTER EXPOSURE TO 15,000 GAUSS MAGNETIC FIELD
  5. WATER RESISTANCE
  6. POWER RESERVE
  7. DEVIATION OF RATE BETWEEN 100% AND 33% OF POWER RESERVE in six different positions
  8. DEVIATION OF RATE IN SIX POSITIONS

Omega - METAS - Headquarters visit - METAS Criterias

We’ll get back in details on the METAS certification in a second article, that will show you the assembly line of the new Master Chronometer movements and the process behind METAS tests. Stay tuned, this story will be online in a few hours. UPDATE: Part 2, visit of the Omega Manufacture & of the METAS Facilities.

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