Don’t go to the new Omega Museum expecting a celebration of watchmaking’s grand complications or a show of intricate mechanisms. Omega may have distinguished itself in its time as the maker of one of the first ever minute repeaters for the wrist, or with its central tourbillon, the recently inaugurated museum is an exercise in style more than a statement of principle. This is, after all, a fundamentally pragmatic brand, known for calibres that can be relied on in every circumstance, and a functional yet elegant style. The museum reflects this image: that of a brand established in 1848 that has attempted, and frequently achieved, the impossible in just about every register through a rigorous approach to the measurement of time without the need for complexification.
A 50-metre bracelet
The new exhibition space sits inside a building designed by Shigeru Ban, the Japanese architect behind the extension to Swatch Group’s headquarters in Biel, including this unique architectonic timber structure that “snakes” between the various buildings that make up the campus. Omega already blazed a trail when it became the first watch brand to open its museum. But whereas the original museum lacked space, the new site gives an all-encompassing view of a storied brand that has made its mark in so many of the areas in which watchmaking has played a part.
Proof of this are the watches and artefacts in the 64 windows that form the links of a giant, 50-metre long watch bracelet that extends through the exhibition space. From the time of Louis Brandt and his famous 19-ligne “Omega” calibre in 1894 to the deepest dive in history (10,928 metres) by the Seamaster Planet Ocean “Ultra Deep” in 2019, visitors discover Grand Prix awards, military watches, Métiers d’art and Art Deco watches, the first wrist chronos, the legendary tool watches and the birth of the contemporary collections with the Co-Axial movement. Not forgetting a heartfelt tribute to Nicolas G. Hayek, without whom Omega would not be what it is today. With close to a thousand watches on display, and the benefit of a detailed audio guide commentary, Omega has put together a fascinating odyssey of time.
Six themed exhibits
The visit begins, however, with a journey of a geographical kind, courtesy of a world map set into the floor where digital devices show the time in different cities around the globe. From there, a short 360° film traces the “History of Time” or mankind’s quest to measure time with increasing precision, from the first rudimentary methods to the latest mechanisms. Having set the scene, the exhibition unfolds as six exhibits, each an illustration of an area in which Omega excels: as official timekeeper for the Olympic Games, space exploration, James Bond, the Speedmaster, record-breaking dives and the “Her Time” focus on women’s watches, a segment close to the brand’s heart.
After a sprint along a track, timed by the same technology as Olympic athletes, and a selfie in front of a Lunar Roving Vehicle, next stop is an encounter with James Bond, then a walk through a Speedmaster and the chance for a close-up examination of the Co-Axial escapement in action. Visitors can also feast their eyes on the brand’s first Lépine pendant watches for women. Instructive, immersive, interactive, the Omega Museum invites us to take away our own experience of the brand, and maybe discover a new chapter in its story along the way.