The 12 Best Omega Olympic Watches
During the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, corporate branding was more important than ever.
Coca-Cola, Intel, Airbnb, Visa, Toyota, Bank of China, Samsung and Snickers are some of the global brands with their logos on display.
Omega is another instantly recognizable one.
But the Swiss watchmaker is not just a sponsor of the Games. As the Official Timekeeper of the Olympic Games, it has provided service to hundreds of thousands of athletes and tens of billions of spectators since 1932, when it was chosen to supply stopwatches and standardize the timing of the event. The current competition is Omega’s 30and Olympic Games.
She also presided over more than a century of change.
Holders of stopwatches at the finish line have given way to electronic stopwatches and pioneering digital recording methods. It’s a change driven by Omega itself, including motion sensors, positioning systems, photo-finish cameras that can shoot 10,000 frames per second and its Quantum Timer, with the ability to record time at millionth of a second, are all proprietary technologies developed by the watchmaker alongside Swiss Timing, the company owned by Omega’s parent group, the Swatch Group.
Nowadays, Omega watches have a more commemorative role to play. Each Olympic Games is marked with a limited edition collectible. This year it’s the Seamaster Diver 300M Beijing 2022 Special Edition (pictured above).
But watches, or rather chronometers, are where the association began, 90 years ago this year.
On the occasion of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Petros Protopapas, Director of Omega Brand Heritage and Director of the Omega Museum in Switzerland, has chosen a dozen important timepieces that partly tell the story of the one of the most important and longest-lasting sports partnerships. . (Omega’s Worldwide Olympic Partnership currently extends through the 2032 Olympics and Paralympics.)
“Obviously there’s way too much choice,” says Protopapas Squire. “So it will be a mix between real stopwatches and chronographs for timekeepers as well as wristwatches and pocket watches inspired by the Olympic Games.
“Here is what I propose.”
“It’s the first time the Olympics have been timed by a single type of stopwatch, or chronograph. At each Games up to that point, you had different thumbs on different chronographs, all made by different manufacturers. You could having 16 different results for a race. A jury would then average the results. There was no fairness! And the most important idea of Olympic timing is to do justice to all the athletes who give their best ‘themselves.
“When the Olympic Committee sought an official timekeeper, they wanted off-the-shelf watches. They didn’t want prototypes or specially made watches. They needed to know they could buy them back if they broke – even during the Games. Omega was able to respond to this brief.
“The other factor was that Omega shipped every chronometer from Switzerland to England, where Kew Observatory tested them. They received their rating certificate and then they were sent back to us. [in Switzerland] then we shipped them to the Games in California. If you went to a store in 1932, you could buy the exact same stopwatch used in the Olympics. It would simply not be officially certified by Kew Observatory”.
“This is the very model that timed Roger Bannister’s legendary run at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, when he became the first athlete to run a mile in less than four minutes. You can see it on display at the Omega Museum from Biel, Switzerland. The seconds counter in the middle rotates 360 degrees every 30 seconds. You’ll see that it prominently has a central hand and a small hidden hand below at 12 o’clock.
1968, Cross of Merit
“The first time Omega ventured to release a watch that showed the public what we do for the Olympic Games. The first ‘commemorative edition’, if you like – the Seamaster XVI. It commemorates the 16and Modern-era Olympics and also the first time the Games were held in the Southern Hemisphere, in Melbourne, Australia. It also commemorates the fact that Omega was awarded the Cross of Merit – a medal for its achievements in timekeeping. These models show up at auction houses from time to time and can fetch a lot of money, depending on their condition.
“There is a particularly rare model, with a lacquered dial, applied ‘XVI’ numerals and a 3D replica of the Cross of Merit, which was produced in very limited numbers. Then there is a version which is even rarer which was given to Pope Pius XII in 1956, with a Vatican crest on the dial.
“Neither church dignitaries nor politicians are allowed to receive valuable gifts, so it didn’t stay in the hands of the pope for long.
“Five years ago, our customer service in Italy received a request regarding this watch. It belonged to an old lady, who said her father had received it as a gift from the Pope. She wanted it overhauled and she really wanted us to redo the dial. We calmly explained that it was a very important watch and that it really should not touch the dial! We gave him a few options. She could sell the watch to us or keep it in the family. Unfortunately, she didn’t sell the watch! But she listened to us and got service – without touching the dial.”
“Today it is true that there are a few non-computerized, non-quartz wristwatches capable of measuring up to 100and of a second. But this watch was one of the first examples and it’s quite amazing. It has incredible technology inside, a tiny hairspring so small that when it winds it doesn’t even make a full circle. In order to maintain such a tight winding, when you start the chronograph you have something like a small internal hammer, a kicker, which is thrown onto the balance wheel to set it in motion, otherwise it doesn’t have enough energy on itself to start moving. It is a very interesting horological complication, introduced in 1952.”
1968, “Space Night”
“In 1968, Omega developed a whole series of professional chronographs and chronometers for the Olympic Games in Mexico. The series was called ‘Space Night’ and the models all had cases made of a special non-slip material colored black. The design was considered far ahead of its time, and the series was honored with a top industrial design award, predating today’s Red Dot award. [Annual international design prize. Previous winners have included Dyson and Apple]. No watch or timepiece has ever received an industrial design award. Today everyone and their mom gets a red dot! At the time, this made people think of watches in a different way.
1968, Chrono Stop
“Also in 1968, the Chrono-Stop model was released. It has a nice little complication – a little button that does one thing. Whenever you want to time a short event, tap it and it instantly resets the running seconds hand, so you can start it again. This era was such a great time for design, if you look at all the colors and case designs available. Times were changing, design was evolving, people were getting louder and louder, everything was more colorful. An incredible moment in film, music and art. And there have been incredible adventures in design.
1976, Chrono Quartz
“I like it. It’s a crazy watch. At the time, it wasn’t particularly unusual in terms of functions, but it was certainly unusual in the way it was arranged. It looks like a table of sporty edge, something I think was obviously intentional. When people talk about quartz watches rather than mechanical, they always have connotations of cheap, plastic, something disposable. Let’s be honest! But if you open this watch, you will experience something completely unheard of for a quartz model.You have the digital chronograph on one side and the analog watch on the other.Everything on the analog side is of the same quality as any manual Omega watch or automatic at the time. And it has this beautiful rectangular design. It’s plastic but the quality of these parts…it will never break. It is considered the first watch to have both an analog display and a display. digital age.
“You will sometimes see the Chrono-Quartz called “albatross”. This is because Omega gives code names to its secret projects. Countries, cities and states for templates. Movements are always called birds.
1980s skeleton reissues
“Starting in 1980, we released commemorative skeletonized versions of the original chronograph. They used the same movements used in 1932, but finished to the highest standards. These were literally all the “leftovers” we found. It’s cool because it’s one of those rare cases where you literally find gold in your drawers – I don’t know, 100 or 1,000 coins that we found that weren’t being used. And then they were repaired, completely renewed, then they were entrusted to specialists to be skeletonized.
2007, pocket watch reissue 1932
“Three limited editions of 100 watches, each in white, yellow and rose gold. These editions represent the best of both worlds for a collector. You get history and you get high-end timepieces. The dial, the leaf hands, the enamel, the polished case are all as close to the original 1932 design as possible. Then, at the same time, if you turn the watch, you get the haute horlogerie of the movement. They are wonderfully finished historical interpretations.”
2008, Seamaster XVI reissue
“The 2008 reissue of the Seamaster XVI, released during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. There were only 88 released and they were only available for purchase during the Games. After the last day , they were sold. There was no point walking into an Omega boutique and saying “I want this one!”
2018, Seamaster Olympic Games Collection
“A five-color Seamaster collection based on the 1968 ‘Space Night’ watches. I love that this gives you a wearable, designer version of one of my absolute timekeeping favourites.” If you look at the hands, the numbers, everything…it’s that same watch distilled. They came as a set, but you can also buy them alone.
A pop-up, the Omega Olympic House and boutique is open until the end of February in the Burlington Arcade, 1 Piccadilly, London W1J 0QJ.
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