Most half-decent watch brands treat precision timekeeping as a requirement — a kind of necessary technical hurdle that needs to be overcome in order to justify a price tag. For OMEGA, the pursuit of chronometric precision is something closer to a holy crusade. The Swiss marque is renowned for the most accurate watches on the planet: a fact that’s best embodied in their ongoing status (since 1932) as the Official Timekeeper for the Olympic Games. World class athletic connotations aside, mechanical precision has always been a fundamental aspect of the OMEGA identity.
In truth, OMEGA’s quest for accurate mechanical wristwatches began over a century ago, following the creation in 1894 of the 19-ligne OMEGA calibre — a movement so pioneering it was quickly immortalised as the company’s namesake. Many years later in 1999, OMEGA’s unflinching dedication to precision resulted in yet another, now widespread innovation — the co-axial escapement. The design ensured an impressive reduction in friction — generated when rotational energy from a movement’s mainspring is converted into lateral impulses — thus elongating the duration that watches could go without servicing. It represented a significant advance in mechanical watchmaking; and moreover, laid the foundation for what we’re talking about today — OMEGA’s Master Chronometer certification.
Raising the watch industry’s standards
Before we dive into the fine print of OMEGA’s Master Chronometer, a little bit of backstory. In the watch industry, the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute (“COSC”) is the most widely known organisation responsible for measuring and certifying the accuracy of mechanical wristwatches. For most Swiss brands, COSC certification is the logical end goal — you’ll often notice the words “superlative chronometer” (or some variation thereof) printed on the dials of watches that have undergone successful COSC testing. However, following considerable internal research, OMEGA concluded that standard COSC tests only measured accuracy under a very narrow spectrum of conditions (i.e. in deviations of -4/+6 seconds per day, adjusted in 5 positions).
Despite its importance to the wider watchmaking industry both at home and abroad, OMEGA were determined to go beyond what was expected; and this (in conjunction with technical innovations like the aforementioned co-axial escapement) compelled the manufacture to develop an even more demanding set of precision measuring criteria.
Since 2015, OMEGA has utilised a series of 8 “Master Chronometer tests” that are applicable to both movements and fully assembled watches. Within its Bienne-based production facilities, these tests are administered over a 10-day period by representatives of the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology (“METAS”) — a government sanctioned yet independent accuracy measuring authority.
Involving some of the most creative testing conditions imaginable, watches and the movements powering them are exposed (among other things) to: magnetic fields of 15,000 gauss; 24 hour delayed interference; alternating temperature zones; comparative analysis linked to power reserves (between 100 and 33 percent); and testing in six different positions. Timepieces that successfully run this painstaking gamut are stamped with the “Master Chronometer” designation (usually visible at the 6 o’clock position). Ostensibly, those that fail even one of the METAS-approved tests end up in the horological equivalent of Auric Goldfinger’s laser room.
Calibre 8901: The first Master Chronometer and its disciples
Despite the ambitious performance standards that OMEGA had imposed upon itself, the manufacture’s cumulative experience with chronometer watches quickly came to bear. Before 2015 was out, METAS examiners conferred “Master Chronometer” status upon the calibre 8901 — a robust and dependable 39 jewel movement with a little under a 3-day power reserve — and it was immediately leveraged for use in the manufacture’s Constellation Globemaster. Since then, OMEGA has steadily increased the number of watches/calibres that it submits for Master Chronometer status each year — half a dozen have been released so far — culminating in the recent launch of METAS approved models from the Seamaster and Speedmaster ranges.
Made with a case fashioned from 18K Sedna™️ gold, the Seamaster Aqua Terra 150M will be, for most female enthusiasts, the ideal “office diver”. Powered by the calibre 8800 (certified in 2016), this release eschews an overly ornamental movement in favour of well-executed peripherals. In the metal and on the wrist there are a lot of details that work nicely together: the mother-of-pearl dial faintly echoes the watch’s two-tone bracelet; and the various diamond settings utilise small evenly spaced gems, making this Master Chronometer release much more wearable than initial impressions would suggest.
Naturally, OMEGA has committed to applying the Master Chronometer technology to as many of its iconic watches as possible; and Speedy fans everywhere are bound to be thrilled that the industry’s favourite two-register chronograph is also getting attention. OMEGA’s METAS approved Speedmaster Racing is a thoroughly modern release all round: powered by a 21st century movement (the calibre 9900); and sporting 21st century proportions (its case maxes out at a hefty 44.25mm). That aside, its classic styling and long-term chronometric precision — tested in six positions over 96 hours in two variable temperature zones– ought to endear it to its intended audience.
The OMEGA Speedmaster Racing Co-Axial Master Chronometer Chronograph (44.25mm) is available now for HK$70,000.
The OMEGA Seamaster Aqua Terra 150m Co-Axial Master Chronometer (34mm) is available now for HK$141,700.
For information on all of OMEGA’s precision tested models, visit their website.