As the first watch on the moon, the official timekeeper of the Olympic Games and James Bond’s timepiece of choice, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Omega would be content to rest on its considerable achievements. But playing it safe has never been part of the brand’s DNA, and forward-thinking president Raynald Aeschlimann has set his sights firmly on the future.
After taking over the reins from Omega veteran Stephen Urquhart in 2016, Aeschlimann, who himself has 20 years experience at the company, is now settling into the high-profile role. Rather than focusing on making his own mark, however, Aeschlimann is far more interested in ensuring the storied brand enjoys decades’ more success.
“I’m not looking at how many years I’ll be here, I’m not looking at how much of myself I can bring into the brand, I just want to focus on how much I can do so that the brand will grow. We need to achieve success with the next generation, by being close to them and reaching them in their space, and with their instruments – which are predominately digital – so that we are talking to them on their own terms.”
It’s this forward-thinking approach that has delivered some groundbreaking firsts such as Speedy Tuesday, which saw a limited-edition Speedmaster Professional sold exclusively on Omega’s Instagram page last year. The idea, based around the #SpeedyTuesday handle used by Speedmaster enthusiasts all over the world, saw Omega sell all 2,012 pieces, the first time in its history that the brand made its pieces available for purchase online.
Aeschlimann says: “We have created some milestones lately, with one of the best examples being Speedy Tuesday. It’s an area that challenge us, but I think we mastered that challenge very well. We made history, selling our first watch online. Speedy Tuesday was a watch made for its community, and was the right product for it.
“This is something that people might see as a disruption, but we see it as an opportunity and a way to reach our consumers. If you look at Instagram or the digital world as just something for young people, then you’re totally wrong.
“No matter what the disruptions are in the industry, whether smart watches or changing macro-economics, if you create the right products, people will still buy them. In this regard, Omega will always be strong.”
With this new generation of watch enthusiasts front of mind, Omega is poised for a strong showing at this month’s top industry gathering, Baselworld watch fair in Switzerland. The brand is set to showcase the stunning new Omega De Ville Trésor collection, launched with millennial model-of-the-moment Kaia Gerber, daughter of Omega ambassador Cindy Crawford.
Aeschlimann says: “At Basel we will be talking about the launch of a new watch – which we have launched only in the States so far – the Omega De Ville Trésor. The new version of this classic piece was designed and made especially for ladies, and we launched it with Kaia Gerber.
“We have found that there is a great deal of demand from young ladies for pieces like this, especially those who relate to Kaia herself. The new Deville Trésor is classic Omega, but also has a trendy, fresh design.”
If the aim was to appeal to a new generation of aspirational young women, Omega got it spot on with this sleek new timepiece. Re-imagining the original 1940’s De Ville Trésor, the fresh design comes in nine references with two case sizes. Like the original, the new models are ultra-thin, at just 9.75 millimetres, with an even slimmer option at just 8.85 millimetres. Elegant and simple, the ‘treasure’ reference from the original model’s French name is exemplified by 38 diamonds curved around the case, while the crown boasts a ceramic flower of five interlocking Omega logos framing yet another diamond. Other stand-out features include a mirrored caseback, dial colour options of black, taupe, white, mother-of-pearl and opaline silver, and straps in either black, blue or grey.
Omega is also celebrating some major collection milestones at Baselworld, including the 60th anniversary of the Seamaster.
“The Seamaster is an iconic watch. The Seamaster 300 metres has been James Bond’s watch forever and now we’re creating a new one with the rigorous tests of our Master Chronometre Certification, so a lot of exciting things are coming to Basel. This shows again the dynamism of our brand and the dynamism also in terms of our product lines,” says Aeschlimann.
He adds: “We have a very diverse product line and I think it’s a strength, especially today with the brand name being so strong. A diverse product line could be an issue if you don’t have brand strength, like starting to make anything and just putting the Omega name on it. But lines like Speedmaster, Seamaster, Constellation and De Ville, they have their own spirit.
“It means we have to have dedicated people working around the lines, respecting them and passing that on to the next generation. We have sometimes three generations working with us who have trusted the brand, and we have invested a lot with our factories – last year we opened a state-of-the-art new factory at our headquarters in Bienne, Switzerland.
“We wanted to open the factory exactly where, 125 years ago, Omega was created, and where our core values were formed. All around the world we are very much respected, and loved, because of our intrinsic values.”
At the heart of those core values is the brand’s connection to some of the world’s greatest sporting occasions – as official timekeepers of the Olympic Games, Omega Dubai Desert Classic, and as sponsor of major swimming, athletics and sailing events.
While the precision of Omega’s timekeeping instruments is without doubt the main focus when it comes to its sporting connections, Aeschlimann also sees a prime opportunity to reach out to customers.
He explains: “Whether you think about the 15 years of the Dubai Desert Classic, or the Olympic Games – which we have just signed until 2032 – our main focus is taking a 360-degree approach.
“Let’s take golf as an example and Dubai Desert Classic. We are involved with this event because it has the best players and it’s special. It’s “the Major of the Middle East” because, for me, there is a whole story about it that makes it very valid. It’s about emotion. It’s the inspiration.
“In today’s world we are so connected and we get information everywhere. It’s far better if you can get your message to people when they are linked to you, they get the message about a brand that has a backbone to it, linked with sports and ambassadors that people like. Our sports ambassadors are special people, not because they are number one, but because they have values and charisma that make them different.
“I believe in today’s world, if you’re not creating an emotion around it, then it makes no sense, it’s just another brand that has another tournament.”
Aeschlimann’s idea of a tailored approach to reaching customers is particularly relevant in this region, he explains: “The Middle East market has always been a special part of our business, it is important in terms of what’s happening in Dubai and throughout the GCC.
“There’s not one country in the GCC where we don’t have a store or a franchise boutique. Dubai is a major city because of what’s happening here in terms of fashion and in terms of luxury. The Middle East is important, from the people living here to the tourists, it’s an almost perfect mix.”
He adds: “We are very clearly an achiever’s watch, a watch that people buy because they are proud to have it. It’s a watch that you wear with pride. For some of our competitors, you wear the watches just because you want to show off, but we are not an arrogant brand.
“I think our value is demonstrated when you think about the evolution of our watches – the continuity and coherency we bring to our lines. Our watches are not just another piece of branding or a sign of something. That’s what makes the difference.”
—— Discover Omega’s latest collections at Rivoli boutiques in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.