If you are a collector of vintage watches and you have an interest in the history of space exploration, you probably have at least some familiarity with the name Omega.
Indeed, the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch is probably the brand’s most famous timepiece. But there are a number of iconic vintage Omega watches that are worth a look.
In this article, we will introduce you to some of Omega’s most well-known vintage watches. But first, we will tell you more about the history of the company.
La Generale Watch Co. is founded in Switzerland
Omega wasn’t originally known by that name—or rather, the company that served as its forerunner was not.
In 1848, Louis Brandt founded a company in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland called La Generale Watch Co.
Brandt made his watches using parts that were manufactured locally, and then exported his completed products mainly to Scandinavia.
Brandt’s sons were Louis-Paul and César, both of whom became involved in the business. They were the ones who came up with manufacturing processes that involved interchangeable parts.
“Omega” at that point was the name of a brand manufactured by the company. That was the precursor for the Omega company.
Paul-Emile Brandt gives the company new direction
Following the death of Louis-Paul and César, the business passed to 23-year-old Paul-Emile Brandt and three other heirs, all of whom were even younger than he was.
That was when restructuring took place, and Omega became a company unto itself. It was under Paul-Emile’s leadership that Omega would thrive over the decades to follow, taking its place as one of the world’s premier watch companies.
Indeed, by 1955, Omega had either bought or created an astonishing fifty companies.
Earlier in the 20th century, the US Army and the Royal Flying Corps of Britain turned to Omega for their watches.
Also early in the 20th century, Omega cemented itself as a key watch company in the world of sports.
Some of the company’s milestones included:
- 1909: Omega timed the first precision balloon race in history this year, the Gordon Bennett Cup.
- 1925: Omega won the Grand Prize at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes” in Paris for its art deco watches.
- 1931: In this year, there were six trials at the Geneva Observatory for watch precision, and Omega set records for all of them.
- 1931: That same year, Omega created a prototype for the first ever automatic movement that could wind in two directions with the help of two weights.
- 1932: The Olympic Games took place in Los Angeles in 1932. Prior to that year, no watchmaker had ever timed the entirety of the Olympic Games. Omega became the first to achieve it.
- 1937: Omega introduced a watch that included a central seconds hand this year, the Medicus, that was called the “nurses’ watch” during WWII.
Those are just a few examples of some of Omega’s important contributions over the decades.
Omega’s role in space exploration
While Omega is famous for its military and sports timekeeping milestones, the brand is probably most famous for the part it played in the history of space exploration.
In 1957, Omega introduced a series called Omega Speedmaster. If there is one Omega watch you have heard of, that is probably it.
The Omega Speedmaster Professional was selected by NASA for its missions, and even made it to the moon on the wrist of Buzz Aldrin. We’ll share more with you about this exciting achievement shortly!
Iconic Omega vintage watches
Now that you have some context on the history of the Omega watch brand, we can take a look at some of the company’s most striking and innovative timepieces.
Elvis Presley’s Omega Constellation (1960)
Omega has manufactured Constellation watches since 1952. Over each decade, watches in the Constellation line had distinct design elements that exemplified what was trendy at those times.
For example, in the 1950s, pie-pan dials were all the rage, and that is what we saw with the Constellations from that era. But in the 1970s, thin watches were in, so that was what we saw in the Constellation range.
Elvis Presley is the celebrity that really made the Constellation famous, however. His Omega Constellation watch from circa 1960 is the definitive watch from this collection. A Cal. 504 manual winding chronometer movement powers the timepiece, and it resides in a stainless steel case that is capped with rose gold.
Its overall look is one of pure elegance. Rose gold markers for the hours and sleek, matching hands stand out against a black backdrop.
Elvis gave his Omega Constellation to his friend, musician Charlie Hodge. Eventually, it went up for auction in 2011, and again subsequently in 2012 and 2014. It sold for $15,535 at Heritage Auctions in 2011, and the next year went for $42,000 at Antiquorum Auctions. When it sold again at Antiquorum Auctions in 2014, it was for $52,000.
If you do not have $50,000+ to spend on Elvis’ watch the next time it is auctioned, you can purchase another vintage Omega Constellation watch. They typically go for between $2,000-$3,000.
JFK’s Omega Ultra-Thin (1960)
Another iconic watch from the same era that was also made famous by a celebrity is President John F. Kennedy’s Omega Ultra-Thin.
Florida businessman Grant Stockdale (later a US ambassador), who was a friend of JFK’s, gifted him the watch during the summer of 1960. For that reason, it is sometimes known as the “Stockdale watch.”
Previously, he had been wearing a “chunky little” watch from Jacqueline Kennedy. When his friend gave him the Omega Ultra-Thin, he put it on straight away. Jacqueline herself liked its design, calling it the “thinnest most elegant wristwatch.”
The watch features a rectangular case made from 18kt gold. The manually wound movement measures just 2mm in thickness. The dial is white, and the hour markings are simple black lines that are longer at 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, and 9 o’clock, with a double set of lines at 12 o’clock.
Most notable, however, is the engraving that is on the back of the watch. It reads, “President of the United States John F. Kennedy From His Friend Grant”.
What is significant about this is that JFK was not yet president at the time that his friend gave him the watch.
Grant was an optimist, and hoped that the words would come true following the election. And indeed, they did. When Kennedy was inaugurated on January 20th, 1961, he was wearing the now-famous Omega Ultra-Thin on his wrist.
As with the Constellations, Omega Ultra-Thin watches tend to sell in the $2,000-$3,000 range.
Omega Seamaster (1948)
The Omega Seamaster line started in 1948, when the company was celebrating 100 years in business. Poetically describing these watches, Omega writes, “A blend of battle-proven technology and beautiful design, they would go on to conquer the watchmaking world.”
Omega embarked on the project to create the Seamaster after supplying over 110,000 watches during WWII to the British Ministry of Defence. Using the technology they developed for wartime use as a platform on which to build, they came up with the Seamaster for peacetime applications.
The original 1948 Omega Seamaster was a small watch in a steel case. It was not yet a dive watch, but it was water-resistant.
Finding an original 1948 Omega Seamaster isn’t easy; you are more likely to come across one of the many iterations that followed over the decades.
Regardless of the model you are looking at, the Omega Seamaster series is defined by an elegant combination of simplicity in aesthetics and rugged functionality in design.
Notably, Omega released a “1948 Limited Edition” of the Seamaster to celebrate its 70th anniversary.
If you look up the 1948 Seamaster, most of the pictures and listings you will find are for this modern Limited Edition, not the original 1948 watch.
Shopping for a vintage Seamaster? You can expect to pay more than $2,000 for many old Seamasters on the market, and over $6,000 for particularly rare specimens.
Buzz Aldrin’s Apollo 11 Omega Speedmaster Professional (1966)
Now we are ready to talk about what is arguably the most famous of all Omega watches, the Speedmaster Professional, sometimes known simply as the “Speedy.” You may also hear the Omega Speedmaster Professional referred to as the “Moonwatch.”
Speedy watches played a big role in the early NASA space program. Indeed, in 1962, Wally Schirra wore a Speedmaster aboard the Mercury-Atlas 8 (Sigma 7).
To determine what the official watch for the Gemini program would be, NASA held a competition to subject watches from Omega, Rolex and Longines-Wittnauer to extreme tests.
It was Omega Speedmaster watches that prevailed, so those became the official Gemini watches, and later, the official Apollo watches.
There were two particularly famous Omega Speedmaster watches. The first was that which Buzz Aldrin wore when he set foot on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. Neil Armstrong would have worn the first ever watch on the moon, but he couldn’t. The electronic timer on the lunar module malfunctioned, so he had to leave his behind.
Thus, it was Aldrin’s watch that was the first ever on the moon.
Technically, Aldrin did not need to be wearing the watch. He opted to make history simply because he liked wearing it.
He said, “It was optional to wear while we were walking on the surface of the Moon … few things are less necessary when walking around on the Moon than knowing what time it is in Houston, Texas. Nonetheless, being a watch guy, I decided to strap the Speedmaster onto my right wrist around the outside of my bulky spacesuit.”
The odd thing about Aldrin’s watch is that it went missing. After the Apollo 11 crew returned, the watch was meant to head to the Smithsonian. But it didn’t get there.
You can sometimes find vintage 1966 Omega Speedmaster Professional watches on the market similar to what Aldrin wore. You can also find versions made in other years such as 1960 or 1969.
These watches in stainless steel cases feature matte black dials with triple sub-dials. They contain caliber 321 movements. Specimens in good condition with authentic parts cost a pretty penny.
Jack Swigert’s Apollo 13 Omega Speedmaster Professional
So, now let’s talk about the role that the Omega Speedmaster Professional played in bringing back the crew of Apollo 13 after the service module oxygen tank ruptured in 1970.
The crew needed to precisely execute a 14-second burn as part of the descent procedures. They used Jack Swigert’s Omega Speedmaster to do it.
To honor the critical role that the watch played in saving the lives of the astronauts, NASA bestowed it with the “Silver Snoopy Award.”
Since then, there have been multiple commemorative versions of the Omega Speedmaster, including the 2003 Omega Speedmaster Snoopy, the 2015 Omega Speedmaster Snoopy, and the 2020 50th Anniversary Limited Edition Omega Speedmaster Snoopy.
You can view photos of and details of each of these in our detailed write-up about the 50th anniversary of the Omega Speedmaster Snoopy award.
Omega SA today
Now you can identify some of Omega’s most famous vintage watches. Curious about Omega’s more recent history? Between 1975 and 1980, Seiko considered buying the company, but it never happened.
In 1983, a holding company called ASUAG-SSIH formed through a merger between Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie AG (ASUAG) and Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère (SSIH).
To clarify, SSIH was in the watch-making group that formed in Geneva in 1930, comprised of Omega, Tissot and Lemania.
A group of investors took over ASUAG-SSIH in 1985. The name of this group became “Swatch Group” in 1998. You likely are familiar with this name.
Swatch Group manufactures Omega watches as well as watches under other brands.
There are still new additions to the Omega watch collections we have discussed, including Constellation, Seamaster and Speedmaster.
Every Omega Watch Tells a Story
You now are familiar with the Omega watch company and some of the most famous watches this brand is known for. Collecting an Omega watch is a great way to get your hands on a piece of sports, military, or space exploration history. Many of these vintage watches are still in excellent working order. They tell the time with precision, bring style to your wrist, and make wonderful conversation pieces.