This article was first published on Scottish Watches on January 7, 2020
I have always had a soft spot for Omega. I was in my early teens when Goldeneye was released. I can remember watching the video of the film over and over again and playing the game on the N64 for hours on end. It is fair to say that I was a big fan of James Bond with all of the action, adventure and gadgets. That interest extended to the watch he was wearing. For years the Omega Seamaster was my dream watch, but over time tastes change and it has fallen down my wish list. Don’t get me wrong I would still love to own one, and probably one day will, but it isn’t my top priority right now.
I am an Engineer so the history of the Railmaster interests me and I am a little obsessed with space, I have done some MOOCs on stargazing and moons. So it is fair to say that I am a fan of the Omega tool watches. Do I get a little frustrated by the unlimited limited editions and a bit confused by the pricing? Yes, but that doesn’t stop me from having a great respect for the brand and what they do.
The evolution of the Bond watch over the last 25 years has been interesting. The watches have become more distinctive and more expensive with every iteration. I think the collaboration between the Bond franchise and Omega has strengthened over time. In Teddy Baldassarre’s interview with Raynald Aeschlimann it was interesting hearing about how involved the Bond franchise and Daniel Craig have been in the development of the latest bond watch. Daniel Craig always comes across as a serious and pragmatic chap, it is not surprising that he has an interest in Omega and also in military watches. Omega were part of the “dirty dozen”, supplying watches to the British Ministry of Defence during the Second World War. So the decision to draw on these elements and encompass them in a watch designed for a fictional military man, in a way that doesn’t make it a cartoony pastiche, is impressive.
When asked what types of customers Omega were targeting Raynald gave a very political answer choosing instead to focus on the ranges of watches that Omega produce. Omega is clearly aiming to be a universal brand with something for everyone while at the same time wanting to maintain an air of exclusivity. A number of times Raynald referred to achievers, people who are informed, they want a watch, they know about the watches, they are in a position to buy one and they will be proud to wear it. Certainly covering all bases. He referred to the Bond watch but also the moon watch and Olympics pieces, clearly wanting to demonstrate the range of offerings and not pigeon hole the brand. Even when the interview was in theory about the launch of the new Bond watch he managed to make his answer more broad and encompassing.
Teddy then asked Raynald about how they were planning to sell to younger consumers that do more of their purchasing online. Raynald reference the e-commerce that Omega now have available in many countries and the success of some of their online releases such as the Speedy Tuesday limited edition Speedmaster. I think it is fair to say that Omega are further ahead than many of their competitors in the conservative Swiss watch industry. It will be interesting to see how much more they make of their online presence in 2020 and how many online only limited editions they release.
Their conversation then moved on to ambassadors. If I’m honest I sometimes struggle with Omega’s approach to ambassadors. I understand that they want to build long term relationships with recognisable people that share their values, it certainly sounds like a reasonable approach, but I think they sometimes miss the mark. Take the Railmaster for example, I am an Engineer, I think it would be entirely appropriate to use a Scientist or Engineer to promote this watch given the history of the model, but instead they have chosen to use a male model. It doesn’t make sense to me.
Next, there were some questions from Teddy’s followers. Raynald strongly hinted at a non limited steel Speedmaster with the 321 movement in the coming year. I know that this will make a lot of enthusiasts and space geeks happy. If it’s priced right it’s hard not to see how this could be a runaway success for Omega. There was also a discussion around the trend for smaller sizes, Raynald essentially said that Omega is a universal brand, they aim for 50% sales for women and 50% for men. There should be something for everyone across their four lines already (Constellation, Seamaster, Speedmaster and De Ville), they are not opportunistic about evolving lines but they will be introducing more sizes.
Then Teddy asked Raynald which watch he would wear in 2020 if he could only wear one. His first answer was the new Bond watch, the obvious choice given the subject for the interview, and a perfectly fine choice. He very quickly moved on to the one watch he has always loved, the Speedmaster moon watch. The 1861 was the first Omega he bought when he joined the company. A Speedmaster with with the 321 movement or the 3861 master chronometer movement, would be a watch he would love. Clearly he is a big speedy fan and understands the fanatical obsession members of the watch community have with the speedy.
All things considered, I thought it was a good interview. Raynald Aeschlimann, the CEO of Omega, is obviously a polished, corporate, political guy, but at the same time he came across as a true watch fan and he hinted at some future releases that I am sure will make a lot of people very happy. It will be interesting to see what Omega releases in 2020, both the watches that they’ve hinted at and the ones that we know nothing about. They may be a big corporate machine but I think they are genuinely trying to find a balance between producing watches for the fans, the collectors and the general public, and in that regard they do a good job.
UPDATE: Two days after I finished writing this article Omega announced the launch of the steel Speedmaster with the 18k SednaTM gold PVD coated 321 movement. This progressed very quickly from a strong suggestion to reality, and I am certain it will make a lot of people very happy. I think it is a good demonstration of some of the points that were made in the interview. Beyond the obvious, the watch itself, it is interesting that the release was announced via their website, emails and Instagram. Once again demonstrating how progressive Omega are in terms of their use of e-commerce and digital marketing when compared with many of their contemporaries. They have not waited until a stuffy old fashioned watch show to release a new piece, they have set the internet alight on the first #speedytuesday of 2020! This also demonstrates how in tune they are with their fans and collectors, it is a prime example of giving the people what they want, in a way that they want it. I suspect that this watch will be available in weeks rather than months. Consumers nowadays are used to seeing something, liking it and being able to get it within days or even hours, the prospect of having to wait months between something being unveiled and it being available is outdated.
So what about the watch itself? Historically the 321 movement is highly coveted among collectors, it is an important part of the history of the watch and there have been essays written about it. It was the first movement to be used in the Omega Speedmaster and was used in the models that were worn on the moon. Omega reintroduced the movement in 2019 in their platinum Speedmaster, but disappointingly not in their limited edition Apollo 11 50th anniversary watches, after digitally scanning original movements. It was a step in the right direction but what a lot of collectors and fans were really after was a more traditional, affordable and unlimited version of the Speedmaster with the 321 movement. Omega have delivered just that a steel Speedmaster based on the 3rd generation Speedmaster with the 321 movement and some notable updates. The watch now features a black ceramic bezel with a tachymeter scale in white enamel and sapphire crystal with an anti-reflective coating. It also features a sapphire crystal case back so you can admire the movement. A thoroughly modern update to a classic watch.
All of this comes with a significant bump in price through, according to Fratello Watches it will be CHF13000. Now this is prime Rolex Daytona territory price wise. The two aren’t directly comparable, the Daytona has an automatic movement and 100m water resistance (vs 50m for the Speedmaster) but the Speedmaster has a more traditional look and movement. The two watches have often been compared in terms of history, technology and appeal. In recent years it could definitely be argued that that the Daytona is the more advanced of the two watches, but with the updates to the latest Speedmaster the gap has closed. In terms of a robust, scratch resistant face to the watch, the two are now quite comparable. Many of the other features are very much a personal preference, it will depend to a great extent on which story you prefer and how you intend to use the watch as to which you will want to own. Yes, the Rolex will still be viewed by many as the luxury option, but if the Omega is readily available and can be ordered directly from the website then it will certainly add to its allure. I suspect it could become an even more appealing proposition for people looking to buy their first luxury watch or mark a special occasion.
This brings me almost full circle back to the interview. Omega strive to know their market and know their consumers. The seek to produce watches that are both luxury items for achievers while at the same time having something for everyone. They are a brand steeped in tradition but at the same time unafraid to embrace e-commerce and social media. They clearly have an enthusiast at the helm and I for one cannot wait to see what they do next.