Omega has been founded by the Brandt family, firstly represented by Louis Brandt, who in June 1848 will install his ‘établissage’ (assembling bought in parts to create watches) at the ‘Promenade 51’ in La Chaux-de-Fonds, where he will specialise in precision timekeepers, which will bear the name ‘Louis Brandt’ (6). Two of his four children, Louis-Paul and César will inherit the firm now named ‘Louis Brandt et Fils’ upon Louis passing (5.7.1879) and have the ambition to transform the former ‘établissage’ into a proper manufacture (1).
As La Chaux-de-Fonds did not seem to be the most favourable environment for the development of a new factory to the Brandt brothers, due to the shortage of manpower, the lack of available land, the lack of energy supply and the opposition of the population to this type of ‘industrial’ enterprise, they moved to Bienne, initially to the ‘119 Route de Boujean’ and later to ’96 Rue Jakob – Stämpfli’ were the firm still resides (1,5).
Children of the Industrial Revolution
The procedure chosen by the Brandt’s for creating a large scale industrial manufacture is the one introduced by Pierre – Frédéric Ingold (1). Of Swiss origin (born in Bienne) and trainee of Abraham – Louis Breguet (from 1817 – 1823), he unsuccessfully tried to introduce and establish his vision of machine manufactured watch parts and watches first in Switzerland, then in France and starting from 1840 in the UK, where he experienced a mitigated success. In London, he set up a workshop at 75 Dean Street, complete with equipment, and set about forming the ‘British Watch and Clockmaking Company‘ for which there were three prospectuses in 1842 and three patents, including one in December 1843 for the plate machine and a wheel press with an important four-pillar guide system for the punch and die. The company was to be established by an Act of Parliament, but failed on the second reading of the Bill on the 31st of March 1843. Upon repeated, initial failure in convincing the respective European watch industries of his vision, he then transferred his knowledge to the USA, where he managed to spread most successfully his ‘machine run watch manufacture principles’, which will considerably contribute to catapult the USA to be the most influent exporter of affordable pocket watches next to Switzerland during the 1870s and beyond (2).
In January 1880, the brothers Louis-Paul and César Brandt launched their first calibre produced by said mechanised processes in their brand new Bienne factory ‘l’usine Perret – Gentil‘: a cheap winder with cylinder escapement, sold in silver or white metal cases. The successful innovation of their first caliber will soon allow the creation of the first brands of the company: Décimal (1884), Gurzelen (1885, which was immediately very successful), Jura (1886), Patria, Helvetia and Labrador (all three 1892) (1).
1880 sees also the birth of Paul-Emile Brandt, the eldest son of Louis-Paul. He later studied in Bienne, at the Federal Engineering School in Zurich (ETHZ) and at Cornell University in the USA and will enter the firm upon his return to Switzerland (1). He will start with the process of creating the SSIH (Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogére) already in 1925 (7).
Following the family tradition of engaging in precision watches, the caliber ‘Labrador’ was launched in 1885, featuring an anchor escapement and an accuracy of 30 seconds per day (1,5).
1894 will mark the creation of the famous ’19”’ calibre’, called ‘Omega’ remarkable for the perfection of its construction, the ingenuity of certain features (such as the time setting mechanism) and its modest price! It was not only extremely accurate, every component could be replaced without modification anywhere in the world. Taking reference to this most successful caliber, the ‘Omega’ trademark is filed the 10.3.1894 and registered internationally on 11.4.1894 (1,5).
Pierre – Frédéric Ingold (British Watch and Clockmaking Co.) No. 88 for Thomas Bloomfield, No. 1850, London, 1843
Prototype category: proof of concept (although commercialised in extremely small numbers, see below)
Description: Gilt brass, slim 2/3 plate pillar-less and key wound caliber, front plate numbered ’88’ under the dial. Single-roller detached lever escapement. Steel balance, spiral balance-spring. Backplate engraved ‘Thomas Bloomfield London No. 1850’. Enamel dial with sunk seconds at ‘6’, black, slender Roman numerals and railway minute track with ‘losange’ markers for every 15 minutes (3).
Dimensions: 44mm diameter
Additional info: We are at the verge of the second industrial revolution (1840 – 1870), there was not yet the notion of distinct research and development sections within manufacturers. Patent applications were submitted and granted, but the pieces used for these new developments were not hidden away, once the patents were obtained experimental pieces were treated as normal merchandise and sold. Therefore, we have a very pertinent exception concerning the definition of a prototype, as this movement, although having been constructed using experimental setups and machinery, was indeed itself commercialised in the UK in extremely small numbers.
This movement has of course no direct connection to the Brandt brothers. However, it is an extremely rare survivor showing the first result following the principles upon which the first manufacture in Bienne is created and which success will later permit the creation of ‘Omega’. On a wider scale, it represents a proof of principle for most later machine made watch movements and one earliest representative for watchmaking on industrial scale.
This movement shows the distinctive and unique style of the earliest and few machine made pieces by the ‘British Watch and Clockmaking Company’ between 1843 and 1845. Pierre-Frédéric Ingold’s attempts to establish a new way of making watches is now well known, and finally led directly to the advent of ‘machine-made’ watchmaking in London by ‘Nicole & Capt’ (the earliest), followed by ‘Lange’ in Dresden, what became the ‘Waltham Watch Company’ in the USA and the ‘Omega’ firm in Switzerland. Such was the impact of this new way of making watches, dispensing with the established trades of rough movement (ébauche) manufacture and its subsequent finishing by many other specialists, that the world of watchmaking was to change forever. (3)
This movement has been produced in two sizes, this being the larger. Less than twenty examples in total (small and big versions) are known to have survived, most of which are movements only. (3)
As an important reference on the subject please refer to the article on Ingold and his impact by David Penney published as part of the 2002 NAWCC Special Order Supplement No. 5, entitled Boston: Cradle of Industrial Watchmaking.
- Verge Fusee
- Antique Watch Store – David Penney
- La Centrale Biel
- Boettcher D.; The Omega Watches ‘Marine’ and ‘Marine Standart’, January/February 2012, NAWCC Watch & Clock Bulletin