Omega Watches - Life and Times

Omega Watches - Life and Times
If the average American was asked to name two high-end watch brands, Rolex and Omega would almost certainly be the two. Rolex has long been known as the first premium watch most people buy and we'll deal with them in a later column. For now, let's talk Omega.

Founded in 1848 by ambitious upstart Louis Brandt, Omega began under a less memorable name as a maker of pocket watches. The firm grew steadily and by century's end was the largest watch manufacturer in Switzerland.

Omega was also an early innovator, emphasizing precision and technical advances. It was the first to introduce the minute repeater and its winding and time-setting mechanisms were industry standards for many years.

Widely known for timekeeping accuracy, the company has continued to burnish that reputation. First appointed official Olympic timekeeper in 1932, it have since served in that capacity more often than any other maker.

While Omega has offered a dizzying array of watches in its long history, four lines stand out. All were released during the mid-20th century, a period watch collectors view as Omega's golden years.

The Omega Seamaster was the first, introduced in 1948 and in production ever since. It was initially designed for dressy outdoor use but soon morphed into a watch for SCUBA divers. There have been many iterations over the years, most with numerical names (e.g. Seamaster 300), but diving functionality has remained its focus. Among its most prominent adherents has been James Bond, wearer of Seamasters for more than 20 years.

Next up was the Constellation series, first introduced in 1952 as the Globemaster. Its market was aviators and represented a high-end entry for Omega. Globemasters came in three finishes: Standard, Deluxe, and Grand Luxe. They were highly accurate, innovation rich, and offered good value for the money. A subset known as the Constellation Manhattan was introduced in 1982. These were often enhanced with assorted bling and could be identified by scale markings on the bezel rather than the dial.

Thereafter came the Speedmaster, perhaps the most recognizable of all Omegas. Released in 1957, the Speedy's target market was auto racing but it became best known for its adventures in outer space. Wally Schirra wore one during an early Mercury flight and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon with another during Apollo 11's historic mission in 1969. Speedmasters have been produced ever since in a dizzying assortment of complications and looks, but the Professional Moon Watch remains a brand touchstone. Prices can reach well into five figures.

Finally there is the Omega De Ville. This series began as a Seamaster variant in 1960 and was designed for evening wear. De Villes are slimmer than most other Omegas and regularly include chronometer certifications in their list of features.

For watch collectors today, Omegas have everything: quality, variety, and provenance. More than 28,000 Omegas are currently available on eBay, ranging in price from a few dollars to nearly six figures. As with most collectibles, rarity and condition are key to value. Best of all, however, is knowing that the little machine on your wrist was made by hand from tiny moving parts. If you so choose, there is still a role for old-school craftsmanship in today's world of bits and bytes. Wearing a vintage Omega is one way to show your true colors.

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