Omega – A Journey through Time

By Marco Richon

Omega – A journey through Time; by Marco Richon (Curator of the Omega Museum in Bienne, Switzerland), translated from French by Myriam and David Lea (Concurrently also published in the original French edition ”Voyage à Travers le Temps” and in a German translation “Reise durch die Zeit”). Published 2007 by Omega Ldt., Bienne Switzerland, Hardcover, dustjacket, 32x26cm, 831 pages, more than 5000 color illustrations, ISBN 978-2-9700562-2-5), available from horological booksellers or www.omegawatches.com/shop, approx. US$ 330, plus postage. NAWCC members may borrow the book from the National Watch and Clock Library in Columbia, PA.

Omega fans already know Marco Richon as the author of “Omega Saga”, the hereto most comprehensive history of the prestigious Swiss watch brand, published in 1998 (ISBN 2-88380-010-3) which documents their corporate history in great detail. The new book under review both complements and expands on the earlier book. Actually, it includes a compressed version of “Omega Saga” as its introductory chapter. While the earlier book primarily documented the history of the company and the brand, the focus of the current book is the documentation of individual timekeepers.

The lion’s share of the space is devoted to showing 1001 specific watches. It is organized into 12 chapters of significantly varying length:
1. Sister brands (20 p.) deals with the various 19th century brands that eventually were merged to create the Omega brand
2. Pocket watches (50 p.) documents primarily with the first quarter of the 20th century. but excludes pocket chronographs
3. Wristwatches (60 p.) deals with the early wristwatches before the creation of specific product lines
4. High Precision (40p.) discusses primarily chronometers and related precision timekeepers, such as their submissions to timekeeping competitions at observatories
5. Official watches (50 p.) includes sections on Railroad watches, Shooting watches, Military Watches, and Watches of the elite
6. Automatic (20 p.) is devoted to the early self-winding watches from the 1940s to the early 1960s
7. Seamaster (75 p.) deals with this waterproof brand segment, including diver watches, and Omegas involvement in yachting.
8. Constellation (40 p.) is a relatively short chapter in spite of the huge numbers of watches sold under this popular label over the decades. Its broad market acceptance and fewer specialties and variations make this segment less interesting to the collector.
9. De Ville (35 p.) is devoted to Omega’s elegant line, from its beginnings in 1960 to the latest watches with George Daniels’ co-axial escapement.
10. Specialties (80 p.) covers small clocks, 24 hour dials, masonic watches, moon-phase watches, the Century, Genève, Dynamic, and Ranchero product lines, the Omega Electronics, their Central Tourbillion, as well as automobile and aircraft watches.
11. Chronographs (160 p.) is by far the largest chapter and includes a special 35 page section on Olympic timers and a subchapter of 75 pages on only the Speedmaster line, with its own 10 page nomenclature index.
12. Creation (100 p.) deals with style and fashion driven watches, including ladies’ jewelry watches

Each of the twelve chapters consists of a “catalog” of numerous individual watches, ordered thematically or chronologically. Each catalog entry is made up of one short paragraph of text, consisting of the catalog number (corresponding to the inventory numbers of the Omega Museum in the many cases where this is applicable), the “title”-or name- of the watch, and a one or two sentence description, accompanied by one to four images. Image size varies greatly, from one square inch to full page. The core content of the book is clearly its wealth of images; not only are there a lot of them – I would guess more than 6000 – but they show the details relevant to the collector: dial, case, details of movement, hands, crown, inside caseback etc., whatever is relevant. On virtually every page there are additional images of related ephemeral material, most often miniature reproductions of related advertisements; the depth of Omega’s corporate archives in this regard is overwhelming.

A 55 page reference section on the Omega calibers concludes the book. This part is an expanded and updated version of the information found on pages 179 to 220 of “Omega Saga”. It includes a listing of the calibre nomenclature for 1874 to 2007 and a spread of 36 pages of 1:1 images of all omega calibres, which serves as a user friendly quick movement identification guide.

The whole breadth of the Omega line is covered, from the earliest experimental prototypes, and their marine chronometers, to the modern mass produced marvels and their limited edition pieces, the examples go on and on, and never seem to end.

Clearly this is NOT a book one sits down with to “read” a chapter, yet alone the whole book. It really is a catalog rather than a narrative. Essentially, this book is a catalog of most of the watches in the Omega Museum in Bienne, Switzerland, that has been selectively augmented by including other important or interesting Omega watches, which the Museum does not own. As a catalog, this publication is for browsing rather than for reading, and it is clearly meant as a documentation and as a reference source, because it contains an enormous amount of information, both in the short text descriptions, but especially in the countless images. However, as a reference tool it has one giant drawback: It lacks an index. The structure of the book allows the information hunter to get to the right general area relatively easily, but for locating a specific watch one wants to research or one remembers an index would have been essential. This book is more than a pretty coffee table book to pick up randomly to enjoy the pictures; it can be used to carry out serious historical research on Omega products, but that is nearly impossible in its current state. This reviewer realizes how enormous the indexing task would be for this book, and assumes that time or budget constraints prevented indexing (Even as it is the book missed its publication target by four months: It was to be launched during the Omegamania auction in April 2007). But I believe it is never too late: A supplement containing an index could still be created and published, and I believe that both the content of the book and the readers deserve this to happen.

In spite of this major drawback “Omega – A Journey Through Time” is destined to become the most consulted book for any serious collector of Omega watches, and a part of the core reference library of most wristwatch collectors. Omega and Marco Richon deserve the thanks of wristwatch enthusiasts for having created one of the most “content rich” publications on 20th century wristwatches ever published.

Bookreview by Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ
July 29, 2007