If you wear an Omega, it might have been a « Louis Brandt ». It might sound less classy, however, it was Omega’s first name for almost its first 50 years ! Right from the beginning, its founder, Louis Brandt, born in 1825, had one goal : produce watches following an industrial path. The idea was completely revolutionary at the time. The very concept of ‘factory’ was seen as the opposite of ‘watchmaking’, and, in a way, things don’t have changed a lot today.
That’s why the two sons of the founder didn’t find a home for their project in the traditional Jura, but in Bienne, where logistics & transportations were more modern. Their plant employed there 250 people and was, on a social perspective, in advance, given the economic context (for instance, the working hours were under 60 hours / week, while the maximum had been legally set at 65 hours).
Omega Brand History: Industrial watchmaking
The very first series produced Omega watches achieved in 1895 a precision of within 30 seconds a day, and the production, a few years later, hit the incredible score of 100.000 pieces produced per year by 600 employees. The Omega 19 caliber, which gave its name to the brand, was launched one year before (1894) and was still representing one third of the production 20 years later, in 1914. As World War 1 started, the British Royal Flying Corps decided to choose Omega watches as their official timekeepers for its combat units, as did the American army in 1918.
But the War generated some important social troubles all over Europe, and Omega, which stood apart from social conflicts so far, had to face its first strikes the following year, in 1919. Despite some union agreements, Omega stood stuck in strikes during 3 years, and, with the Spanish flu in Europe at the same time, the production dramatically fell.
Omega Brand History: The birth of the SSIH, former Swatch Group
In 1924, Omega had to make a deal with Tissot, giving birth to the SSIH, Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère. The duet was joined a few years later by Lemania. This fruitful association allowed Omega to move on very efficiently on the chronograph market segment, which let the brand be the official timekeeper of the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932. To date, the partnerships with the International Olympics Comitee is still on tracks.
However, the economic crisis between the two wars lead Omega to implement new production methods, including the very first steps towards complete interoperability between parts of watches. This might have saved Omega again, as the beginning of World War 2 generated a brutal decrease of its production, especially due to the fact that the brand was relying on roads and railways to sell its watches all over the world, communication axis that were primary targets for the opponent.
Definitly out of war troubles in 1945, Omega focused a lot on innovation, and created some of its best sellers in a very limited period of time : the Seamaster in 1948, the Constellation in 1952, and the Speedmaster 5 years later.
This intense creativity was stopped a few years later when, in 1969, the very first quartz watch was introduced. Omega did produce itw own quartz models but, for the second time of its history, Omega had to make a deal with other brands to survive. The partner was named ASUAG. Combined with the SSIH, it gave birth to the future watch giant, the SMH, now called Swatch Group.
From now on, being supported by the in-house movement supplier ETA, Omega is one of the leading watch brand. It has introduced in 1999 the co-axial escapement, created by Dr George Daniels, which is now used in most of its mechanical pieces. This improvement has extended service intervals to around 10 years.
More resources about Omega on the Official Omega Website.