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Interview: Stephen Urquhart, President & CEO of Omega

At the end of February, Omega celebrated the worldwide launch of the Globemaster, the first watch to achieve the Master Chronometer certification.

In order to earn the Master Chronometer distinction, the finished watches - not just the movement - must pass a number of tests performed by an independent body, the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology (METAS). The new certification was first announced at the end of 2014 (we wrote about it here).


The 8 main tests are the following:
1. Average daily precision of the watch over 4 days and in real life wearing conditions.
2. Function of cosc-approved movement during exposure to 15,000 gauss magnetic field.
3. Function of the entire watch during exposure to 15,000 gauss magnetic field.
4. Deviation of daily precision after exposure to 15,000 gauss magnetic field.
5. Water resistance.
6. Power reserve.
7. Deviation of rate between 100% and 33% of power reserve.
8. Deviation of rate in six positions.

On occasion of the unveiling of the new Globemaster in Milan, we had the pleasure to speak to Stephen Urquhart, President and CEO of Omega as well as member of the Swatch Group's Extended Group Management Board, on the new certification and more.

A veteran of the watchmaking industry, Urquhart began his career at Omega in 1968. He then pursued his career with Audemars Piguet from 1974 to 1997 and returned to Swatch Group in 1997 as President of Blancpain. Appointed President of Omega in 1999, he is the man behind the return of the brand to the eminence of the past.



Time and Watches: Omega watches were already considered exceptional watches in terms of precision. Would you explain the reasons behind your decision to raise the bar with the METAS certification? Was the new certification introduced as a demonstration that the co-axial technology makes a watch movement more accurate?

Stephen Urquhart: The initial reason for finding a new independent body was the introduction in 2013 of the new mechanical movement resistant to magnetic fields greater than 15,000 gauss. Since COSC could not provide this type of certification, we looked around and contacted METAS, the Swiss Federal Institute for Metrology which makes all the industry measurements and agreed about the various testing criteria: the average daily precision of the whole watch, precision of the movement when it is not yet cased (like COSC), deviation of daily precision after exposure to 15,000 gauss magnetic field, precision when the movement is fully wound or near to the end of the power reserve (because it changes a lot), water resistance, and anti-magnetic resistance of the movement alone as well as of the entire watch.

Of course, the major breakthrough is the anti-magnetic technology but all the rest is there. What you say in your question is true because having the co-axial escapement makes all these tests easier to achieve offering the great advantage of reliability over time. Co-axial is 15 years old and our in-house movement is 8 years old so we have a track record and we can see the results and benefits over time.

This test is a big challenge for us. It is not just on paper, we have to pass it and at two different stages: with movement alone and then when it is cased, which is not the same thing.


Time and Watches: It was good to discover that you are not planning any price increase as a consequence of the new certification process. Of course this is not a minor investment.

Stephen Urquhart: We had invested a lot of money over the year on co-axial technology and we had already made the movement anti-magnetic to 15,000 gauss so the largest investments had already been done. Now it is more about the human investment. But we do not want the METAS certification to be an excuse for a price increase. And with quality, we are sure we can get the costs back in a short term.


Time and Watches: Would you explain which criteria will be adopted for extending the METAS certification to your collections?

Stephen Urquhart: The plan is that every Omega mechanical watch will be a certified master chronometer by 2020, including models for women. To achieve this, we will have to modify existing movements, which basically means to incorporate the anti magnetic technology as well as developing new ones to cover all ranges. In fact, this year at Baselworld we will present six new movements with METAS certification, including the first chronograph movement, which is much more complicate to certificate.


Time and Watches: What about the Moonwatch and METAS certification? We wouldn't mind to continue to see the 1861 on the Moonwatch but any plan to bring a METAS certified movement to the Moonwatch?

Stephen Urquhart: The exception that confirms the rule. I think that while keeping the legacy of the 1861 movement, somehow the nostalgia, there's room for improvement.


Time and Watches: Omega has a special attention for women. In most of models for Ladies, the jewel nature is clearly dominating. Do you see any opportunity for adding more mechanical complications to watches for Ladies in the future?  

Stephen Urquhart: The term complication might be somehow misleading if you start thinking to tourbillons and so on. Very often there's more interest in the complication look than in the function in itself. We do not necessarily buy a chronograph watch for the function but more for its look. In this sense, we have some plans to add more power reserve, more moon phases, more things like these.


Time and Watches: The patent for the co-axial escapement technology expired. Nonetheless, there are no other watchmakers that developed their own movements based on this technology. Why do you think they don't? 

Stephen Urquhart: I think that every watchmaker will agree that the technical advantages of the co-axial technology are certainly there. We have a track record now and we see the clear benefits. But the great challenge for this technology, as we understood since the beginning, is to industrialise it. That's not easy. Not everyone can do it. Not just a matter of money but is is a mix of components, the right stuff, the right technicians and synergies. Several conditions are needed to succeed.


Time and Watches: Every decade or less is characterised by specific technology challenges - ultra thin movements, adding complications, creating tourbillons, introducing composite materials for bezel and cases and so on. From a technology point of view, do you see any specific trend for the industry?

Stephen Urquhart: Good point. I remember 30 years ago at Baselworld, in the late 1980s, not long ago, you could go around and ask what a tourbillon was. Very few knew about it and even less talked about it. Same for ceramics. There was just Rado. So it is true what you say about trends. Now, if I should give you an answer today about future trends, maybe it is going to be the smart watch technology but I really do not have the answer. If I had it, I could be a very rich man. In any case, people will keep looking for beautiful design and emotions in a watch, not for functions which we keep for granted. This is confirmed by the fact that most of the time you look at your watch you are not actually checking the time.


COMMENTS

BLOGGER: 2
  1. Does anyone know where he is from?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Michele, he was born on the Caribbean island of Trinidad to a Scottish father and a Portuguese mother. Regards!

      Delete

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Time and Watches | The watch blog: Interview: Stephen Urquhart, President & CEO of Omega
Interview: Stephen Urquhart, President & CEO of Omega
Interview: Stephen Urquhart, President & CEO of Omega. At the end of February, Omega celebrated the worldwide launch of the Globemaster, the first watch to achieve the Master Chronometer certification. On occasion of the unveiling of the new Globemaster in Milan, Europe's fashion capital, we had the pleasure to speak to Stephen Urquhart, President and CEO of Omega as well as member of the Swatch Group's Extended Group Management Board, on the new certification and more.
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