The origins and development of the ‘Cermet’ model, or as it has also been known, the ‘Black Tulip’, is shrouded in mystery. Not much information is available about this series, not even from Omega itself.

The very ambitious project started certainly towards 1973 (1). What can be extrapolated from known info is, that Omega, together with Tissot, who were associated under the mother company SSIH (Societé Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère S.A.), searched into making a high quality electronic watch model using revolutionary case materials such as tungsten – carbide.

Advertisement for the first watch built out of tungsten-carbide, the Rado DiaStar 1 in 1962. Picture credit: (3)

This material had been already successfully used by Rado starting from 1962 for its ‘DiaStar 1’ model, and had proven to be extremely scratch resistant.

Manufacture of the tungsten – carbide cases

To produce the tungsten – carbide cases, tungsten and titanium carbide, mixed with cobalt or nickel powder were first completely pulverised. The mixture was pressed and pre-sintered at a temperature of 1000°C. Then the blanks were moulded into the final shape and finally sintered at 1400°C. During the process the case volume shrank by 30%, which gave the alloy its high hardness of 1000 Vickers. Finally, the cases were ground and polished with diamond tools (6).

Development of the hard-metal cased Omega ‘Cermet’ and the Tissot ‘Tissonic’

The 3.9.1974 SSIH announces in Bienne the foundation of a subsidiary of SSIH named ‘SSIH-Quartz’ with around 60 employees (7). This new unit, lead by Omega and Tissot, was planned to concentrate the research and development of quartz watches for the SSIH group.

The combination of exotic case material and revolutionary electronic movement should ensure the development of a high quality and very futuristic watch model. As electronic watches were regarded as the ultimate path for the future of high precision watches and their production the only way to stay competitive on the evolving world wide watch market, the two companies invested not negligible resources in making the best electronic product available. This change of mind, which concerned the whole Swiss watch industry, from neglecting the potential of battery powered watches to the speculation that the quartz system would completely wipe out mechanical watches, culminated in the watch manufacturers disposing of many of their machines to built mechanical movements and getting rid of their stock of mechanical pieces during the early 1980s (5).

Concerning the development of a SSIH hard-metal cased electronic watch, the timeline of the development of these revolutionary models is quite speculative, but it must have started in 1973 by Omega, which was joined in late 1974 by Tissot, as soon as SSIH-Quartz was operational. The prototype cases made of tungsten – carbide were sourced from Rado and made to specifications to be equipped with whichever electronic movement was planned to be inserted. During the early to mid 1970s Rado was one of the few Swiss watch companies to constantly show relatively high watch sales, which was surely partially due to the application of competitive prices and use of exotic case materials and designs. In order to promote their own watch sales SSIH tried to adhere to Rado’s concepts by sourcing their cases and be inspired by their designs (4).

The few available tungsten – carbide versions of Tissot’s ‘Tissonic’ model are in line only with Omega’s ‘intermediate prototype‘ phase (see below), somehow confirming that the development was initiated by Omega and that Tissot adhered to the project starting from late 1974, upon foundation of SSIH-Quartz. Tissot marketed the tungsten – carbide cased version of their ‘Tissonic’ model in late 1975 until about 1977. Due to the high price compared to the other ‘Tissonic’ model versions, only very few of them were sold.

Codename ‘Tortue’

Cermet evolution from left to right: Cermet P1, P2 and P3

At some point, internally at Omega the project to develop this complex watch model was known as ‘tortue‘ (1), maybe as a reference to Certina’s turtle logo, see below. However, looking at the shape of the prototypes, one can easily imagine a less ‘concurrence driven’ reason for this name. When analysing the available prototypes for the Omega ‘Cermet’, at least three developmental levels can be distinguished:

early prototypes (P1), intermediate prototypes (P2) and late prototypes (P3)

The connotations ‘early, intermediate and late‘ for these prototypes do not designate a linear timeline, but only a logical evolution in developmental phases, especially when analysing the cases. The engineers working on the project must have realised, that the material used for the cases is intrinsically very heavy, hence along the evolution of the prototypes their case size gets smaller, making the watch head lighter and more comfortable to wear. To optimise the weight – size ratio also the mineral crystal gets thinner, ultimately being replaced with a very thin sapphire crystal for the P3 prototype. Judging from their production numbers, the movements used for the available prototypes were made from 1973 until about 1980, but it is not excluded that some prototypes were made later, using earlier movements or that later movements would be inserted in earlier cases. As many of these prototypes have production movements, it can be deducted, that most prototypes are of the ‘aesthetic’ category, functional testing mostly being reduced to the case material resistance and comfort. The P1 prototypes show a preliminary and experimental case back fixing method with methodological flaws, which are bettered in the P2 prototypes.

Corporate politics: ASUAG vs. SSIH

Certina ‘DiaMaster’ issued in 1974/75. The collaboration with Rado is credited on the dial. Picture credit (6)

It would be conceivable that Rado (as part of ASUAG) would radically reduce the delivery of cases to Omega and Tissot (both part of SSIH) starting from 1975, thus as soon as Certina (also ASUAG) together with Rado issued the ‘DiaMaster’ models in 1974/75 featuring almost identical tungsten – carbide cases. As a reaction to Certina’s ‘DiaMaster’, Tissot would issue a very limited number of tungsten – carbide cased ‘Tissonic’ models starting September 1975 and Omega would be forced to look into alternatives for the development of a futuristic and high-end electronic model.

The timeline for the marketing of these tungsten – carbide cased watches is confirmed through Certina adverts of 1974/75 promoting the revolutionary use of tungsten – carbide as material for their cases (6).

Complete turnaround in design and material

Due to the production and release of Tissot’s ‘Tissonic’ model cased in tungsten -carbide in September 1975, most probably as a reaction to the release of Certina’s ‘DiaMaster’ models, also cased in tungsten – carbide (6), Omega had to come up with an alternative solution for a high end electronic watch, as explained above. As Omega was considered the ‘alpha’ brand within SSIH and Tissot as one of the ‘beta’ brands, Omega would need to make an even more futuristic and high end watch than Tissot. The solution was to use CERMET as case material, which lead to the development of the P3 prototype and ultimately to the marketed version.

Hence, the P3 prototype shows another construction altogether as compared to earlier prototypes P1 and P2, as the movement choice is restrained to cal.: 1310 (thus quartz and not tuning fork driven) and the case is now made of CERMET, the material ultimately used for the production model. CERMET is an alloy of CERamic (alumina) and METal (titanium-carbide). As material CERMET is even more advanced than tungsten – carbide and also much harder. Whereas tungsten – carbide has a declared hardness of 1000 vickers, CERMET shows a hardness of 2000 vickers, the only harder, natural material being diamonds. Nowadays both materials are used to build high quality cutting tools and burring bits.

Because of its chemo-physical properties CERMET is very difficult to work with and to render the development even more difficult, tensions began to arise between the engineer Lucien Gurtner and the metallurgist Gottfried Küchli, concerning the strategy to adopt in order to circumvent existing patents (1). However, the use of the new CERMET material would also have the considerable advantage to be independent of the delivery of watch cases by Rado. Finally very few CERMET cases for prototypes were built for Omega by the case making company ‘Lascor’ in northern Italy, who was also part of SSIH since 1974 (8). ‘Lascor’ was also responsible for the production of the cases and the bracelet elements for the marketed version of the watch and among others they also produced the cases and the bracelets for the ‘Omega Megaquartz 2.4MHz’, ‘Omega Marine Chronometer’ and ‘Omega Seamaster Titane’ series (8,9).

The marketed Omega ‘Cermet’ model

Omega Cermet model issued 1982. Picture credit: (2)

The marketed Omega ‘Cermet’ model, as part of the Seamaster line, was issued in 1982 (ref.: YR 396.0945)(2). It was equipped with cal.: 1420 (cal.: 1380 for the ladies version) and had a case and bracelet elements made of CERMET.

As explained above, the Omega ‘Cermet’ model was difficult and costly to produce. They were only made upon request and costed 1375£, five times the price of the ‘Speedmaster’ model (295£). It came in two versions: a black and a golden coloured version. It is estimated that in total only 700 to 800 pieces were made.

Lacking the confirmation from Omega’s archives for the development of the ‘Cermet’ model is of course an important set back, but an attempt to reconstruct the path for developing this high end quartz model using futuristic materials for their cases can be advanced by scrutinising the very different, existing prototypes.


  1. Richon M; Reise durch die Zeit; Omega SA, 2007
  2. Omega Watches
  3. Gear Patrol
  4. Wegelin J., Mister Swatch : Nicolas Hayek and the secret of his success; London, Free Association, 2010
  5. Jean – Claude Biver, Documentary: Vogel Friss oder Stirb, SRFDOC, 2019 (German)
  6. Vintage Certinas
  7. Journal de Geneve, 6.9.1974
  8. Montres Mechaniques
  9. Omega Megaquartz