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Already big in China, Omega takes on the US

Already big in China, Omega takes on the US

Thursday, 18 November 2010
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Michel Jeannot

“Eternity is a very long time, especially towards the end.”

Woody Allen

Michel Jeannot is at the head of Bureau d’Information et de Presse Horlogère (BIPH), a Swiss news agency working with a dozen media worldwide.

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4 min read

Just days after the unveiling of its new Ladymatic collection in Beijing, Omega is launching an all-out attack on the US market.

When Omega launched its very first women-only collection at the end of October, it did so in a country where the Swatch Group brand is particularly at ease: China. The actress and face of the brand Nicole Kidman travelled with CEO Stephen Urquhart to Beijing for what is a highly important launch for Omega. Despite the fact that women account for more than half its sales, Omega no longer had a collection specifically for its female admirers. The lady’s models in the Constellation collection, for example, are scaled-down versions of the models for men. The launch of the new Ladymatic collection makes for a radical change.

A silicon balance spring

Designed and developed to become a full-fledged women’s line, one of the first things to notice about the Ladymatic collection is that it features only mechanical movements. This is quite a leap of faith when women are said to still be seduced by the simplicity of quartz. According to Stephen Urguhart, this choice reflects an underlying trend which took root in Asia and is now spreading to Europe and the United States: women are showing an ever-growing interest in mechanical watches and are perfectly able to appreciate their specific qualities. Says the Omega CEO, having “the best self-winding movement for women in the world” was also a decisive factor in this launch.

The movement driving the models in the Ladymatic collection is the Omega Co-Axial 8520/8521 which, as its name suggests, features the co-axial escapement. Each movement is also equipped with Omega’s exclusive Si 14 silicon balance spring. Not one for half-measures, the Biel-based brand has obtained official chronometer certification for the entire Ladymatic collection. As Stephen Urquhart pointed out at the launch in Beijing, “The remarkable stability and performance of the Co-Axial calibres with silicon balance springs make it possible for Omega to deliver each Ladymatic wristwatch with a four-year warranty.”

Omega targets the American market

The new Ladymatic stands out not just for its movement. Its case also sets it apart, with a decorative wave revealing a ceramic ring. These two elements leave the door open for multiple combinations of materials and colours. Despite being launched in China, Omega hasn’t made the Ladymatic specifically for Asia. On the contrary, say its designers, it has a style that appeals to European and North American women. And Omega is in the process of launching an all-out attack on the US market.

Paradoxically, the weak exposure of the Swatch Group, and particularly Omega, to the US market meant the Swiss firm took the blow dealt by the post-subprime financial crisis relatively well. Brands that are big in America, beginning with Rolex, TAG Heuer and Breitling, have been much harder hit by the phenomenal slowdown of the US economy. Because Omega was in much less of a strong position than its competitors in this part of the world, naturally it had less to lose.

OMEGA Ladymatic (spot)

Nine store openings in one month

In a market beset by serious difficulties, when both the country’s economy and structures are on shaky ground, the Swatch Group couldn’t afford to be distanced by its competitors. Omega, which is the group’s number-one brand for both revenues and profit, has therefore trained its sights firmly on American clients and strengthened its presence in the country. Behind the scenes, Omega and several of its rivals whisper that distribution networks are seriously lacking as much in competencies and expertise as financial capacity. A major transformation is clearly afoot.

Omega is throwing its full weight behind developing its presence. In November alone the brand, which previously had just one stand-alone store in New York, opened nine new Omega points of sale across the country, in Chicago, Ross Park, Jacksonville, White Plains, Hackensack, Scottsdale, Los Angeles, Seattle and Nashville. These own-name stores, which will be joined by six more in the coming months, add to a network of 300 retailers that carry the Omega brand. With its moon-landing past and Hollywood stars, the Swatch Group’s flagship has what it takes to win over the American market, which has dropped to second place for Swiss watch exports. The battle of the giants is on.

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