There was a time when I could not imagine spending thousands of dollars on something whose basic function was simply to tell the time: something most items around you can also do, from the mobile phone in your pocket to the microwave oven in your kitchen.
That all changed in 2003. The company I was working for had been doing very well and I decided to cash in a portion of my stock options. Suddenly I had cash, more cash than I had ever had at any moment in my life. And I felt the occasion called for an ostentatious, yet respectfully commemorative purchase. That’s how I came to buy my first Omega, the Speedmaster.
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The Omega Speedmaster was first worn in space by Wally Schirra, one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts in 1962. Although the Omega Speedmaster was initially developed as a sports and racing chronograph in 1957, it was endurance-tested (alongside Longines and Rolex) for use in space. The Speedmaster would also be a mainstay of the Gemini and Apollo space programs.
Men on the moon
The Speedmaster is best known as the “Moonwatch”, because it was used during the Apollo 11 mission and it was the first wristwatch worn on the moon. (A little known fact is that Neil Armstrong elected to leave his Speedmaster behind in the lunar module. Thankfully for Omega, Buzz Aldrin decided to wear it during his moon walk.)
Sharp-eyed watch and movie buffs will also see the Omega Speedmaster worn by stars Scott Glenn, Ed Harris and Dennis Quaid in 1983’s The Right Stuff, my favorite movie of all time. Tom Hanks also wore one in 1995’s Apollo 13.
There are many variants but the Omega Speedmaster Professional model is the actual “Moonwatch”. I wear the more practical Automatic version: the Omega Speedmaster Automatic (2002)
Today, it’s often a toss-up between Omega and Rolex in the luxury brand category, with the latter usually winning because of a greater brand prestige. Personally, I consider Omega the better and smarter alternative. And here’s why.
Most modern-day watch enthusiasts may be surprised to learn that Omega offers a much richer history in horology versus its closest rival, Rolex, preceding the latter by 72 years. (Omega was founded in 1848 in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland; Rolex was founded in 1920 in London, United Kingdom.) That’s only because Omega did not weather the “quartz crisis,” the upheaval in the industry caused by the more accurate (and significantly cheaper) quartz watches in the 1970s and early 1980s, as well as Rolex did. This accounts for the significant price difference between Omega and Rolex watches today.
That’s only because Omega did not weather the “quartz crisis,” the upheaval in the industry caused by the more accurate quartz watches in the 70s and early 80s, as well as Rolex did.
The Omega brand stands for much more than that for me because it’s the brand I associate most with my childhood heroes, including the aforementioned Armstrong and Aldrin, and the people I will talk about later, each of them characterized by a piece in my collection.
The Bond Connection
The Omega Seamaster was first introduced in 1948 as a “town, sea and country” wristwatch, based on designs made for the British Navy at the end of World War II. The line would not be firmly established as a divers watch until 1955.
Nowadays, it is impossible to think of the Omega Seamaster without thinking of James Bond 007. But few remember that Omega only became officially affiliated with Bond until 1995, with the debut of Pierce Brosnan as the iconic super-spy.
Until that point, Sean Connery and Roger Moore wore a variety of sport watches, most notably the Rolex Submariner.
The marketing coup by Omega to associate its brand with such a massive film icon was due in part to shifts in the film-making industry. In short, film companies had discovered the magic of product placement, where brands offer millions of dollars to strategically place their products within the story. Rolex, whose watches used to grace many Bond films before 1995, simply wasn’t interested. Omega was. And the rest is history.
Every modern Omega Seamaster has achieved the Federal Institute of Metrology (METAS) rating of “Master Chronometer,” a certification in addition to the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC) standard, proving higher levels of precision, performance and anti-magnetic resistance.
The Omega Seamaster has been featured in every James Bond film since Goldeneye, sometimes serving as a life-saving gadget, as in an explosive detonator or high-powered laser. The one I wear is actually visible in a number of scenes in 2012’s Skyfall which stars Daniel Craig.
My father’s gift
Sometime in 1973, on his first trip to Switzerland, my father wanted to pick up something special to commemorate the occasion. He walked into a watch shop in Zurich with my mother and bought an Omega Geneve Dynamic.
Omega’s Dynamic line of watches is rare, especially when compared to the more popular lines like the Speedmaster and Seamaster, both of which have been in production for over 50 years. In fact, Dynamics were only released three times by Omega: the first was released in 1969 and discontinued by 1975. The Omega Dynamic was released again as a quartz watch in 1984 and then once more between 1997-1999 as an aviator watch.
My dad passed away in 1987 — at a very young age of 49 — and his watch had been almost forgotten, ending up in a drawer in our house in Quezon City. Its leather racing strap was no longer usable. The watch itself had fallen into a state of disrepair: the date could no longer be adjusted, the crystal face was scratched and one of its hands was bent out of shape.
I took the watch back to Singapore with me in 2013. It took several months approaching antique watch dealers in Singapore, asking if they could restore it to its original state. Finally, I found this shop in Tanglin Mall whose technicians were not only willing to take on the job, they were also certified to service vintage Omega watches.
The watch itself had fallen into a state of disrepair: the date could no longer be adjusted, the crystal face was scratched and one of its hands was bent out of shape.
The repair work would take several weeks. Parts would have to be sourced from Switzerland, including the watch crystal. Because the line had been discontinued, its leather strap was no longer easy to find (especially not in Asia) and I would also have to source the accompanying one-piece leather strap on my own.
Months later, apart from some minor scratches on the watch face (which in my opinion only give it more character), the watch was fully restored and as good as new, exactly the way I remember it on my dad’s wrist.
My father may be gone now but it comforts me to know I will have a part of him with me everywhere I go. Years from today, his grandson, my nephew Luis who bears his name, will inherit this watch.
Miguel Bernas is an entrepreneur, content creator and media & marketing consultant based in Singapore. He has worked as a journalist in Hong Kong and contributed to several publications, including Marketing Interactive, Mumbrella and Esquire. He hosts and produces the Quicksilver Generation Podcast, available wherever you get your podcasts. You can also find his watch photos on Instagram at @twolfsden.
Photos courtesy of Miguel Bernas.