It had to happen. After the initial series, in 1999, of one thousand watches equipped with the now famous co-axial escapement, developed by George Daniels; after the first in-house movement to incorporate co-axial technology, in 2007; after the Master Co-Axial movement of 2013, able to withstand magnetic fields greater than 15,000 gauss, Omega only had one thing left to do: launch a new certification. Stricter than COSC tests, the Master Co-Axial Officially Certified standard will make its debut in 2015, once the multinational has settled into its new building, currently under construction, at its site in Biel. Swatch Group, owner of Omega, convened a press conference in Geneva just before Christmas to paint a clearer picture of what this new certification entails.
A national body
Swatch Group CEO Nick Hayek was quick to put the new scheme into perspective: “We could easily have taken a self-centred approach and simply publicised the new Omega calibres,” he declared. “Instead of this, and in keeping with the group’s philosophy which has always been to defend Swiss watchmaking as a whole, and we have given ample proof of this in the past, we wanted this new certification to be open to everyone. No-one needs me to remind them how essential innovation is if our industry is to remain at the cutting edge, and on a global scale. But innovation is more than just a way of thinking. It requires investment in research and in production resources. This is also the message we need to get across.”
Needless to say, Swatch Group hasn’t contented itself with half-measures, particularly since changes made in 2013 to the statutes of Switzerland’s federal institute of metrology (METAS) allow it to collaborate on projects in the private sector. METAS, which rules on all questions concerning metrology, measuring instruments and methods, is a neutral and independent body that already works closely with the COSC (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres). Its involvement lends the new certification important credibility and legitimacy. “I’ll say it again: we wanted this certification to be available to the entire industry,” continued Nick Hayek. “Watchmaking activity by companies in the region must be associated with Switzerland and its institutions. The partnership with METAS has a large part to play in this. Make no mistake, competition is knocking on the door, whether from Japan, India or China. They are working on the same points that are uppermost in our minds, with the aim of carving their niche in high-end mechanical watchmaking. This is one of the reasons why this standard goes further than anything we have today.”
In concrete terms, the new certification is clearly focused on the negative effects of magnetism*, currently identified as the number-one enemy of the mechanical watch within Swatch Group. “What does someone who wears a high-end mechanical watch expect?” asked Raynald Aeschlimann, member of the extended Swatch Group management board. “First and foremost he wants precision over the long term; he wants his watch to function properly in all circumstances, and to be 100% water-resistant. Now, we have observed that watches are frequently returned to after-sales service for problems caused by magnetism, and these problems are increasingly commonplace in our present-day environment. Often, customers aren’t even aware of this. They think it’s a purely mechanical defect. This new certification carries on this line of thinking.” The bar has been set at 15,000 gauss, which is the average value measured next to a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. This is infinitely greater than the current standard set by the Swiss watch industry (NIHS), which requires a watch to withstand 60 gauss in order to qualify as antimagnetic.
As the situation stands, only Omega and its Master Co-Axial movement can lay claim to this new certification. Rolex and its Milgauss fall short of the mark. Hence there is little risk in the near future of empty order books for the COSC, particularly when brands such as Tissot and Mido are upping their game, now with some 100,000 COSC-certified watches. “Increased recourse to certification is in line with customer expectations,” Nick Hayek concluded. “At these price points, they know exactly what they can expect from a mechanical movement. This new standard should be seen as an additional guarantee as to the quality of the product.” A guarantee that will soon be offered, and possibly for a long time to come, by one single brand which has nonetheless succeeded in making it an official denomination.
*Every Omega Master Co-Axial watch entered for official certification will be tested on the following points:
• functioning of each movement when exposed to magnetic fields greater than 15,000 gauss
• functioning of each watch when exposed to magnetic fields greater than 15,000 gauss
• average daily precision (different positions and temperatures) between 0 and +5 seconds/day before and after being exposed to magnetic fields greater than 15,000 gauss
• power reserve in hours, defined as per the model
• water-resistance in bars, tested in water, defined as per the model