What would later become Omega was initially a watch assembly business, a “Comptoir d’établissage” started by Louis Brandt at La Chaux-de-Fonds in June 1848. He was 23 at the time. Just two years later, he was making enough watches to warrant a journey by coach throughout Europe to establish an international distribution. On 14 July 1877, he and his son Louis-Paul formed a company named Louis Brandt & Fils; Louis Brandt died two years later, in 1879. Louis-Paul and his brother César became partners in the business, introduced in-house manufacturing, and moved the company to Bienne in 1880. Production and sales increased, and so they introduced several brand names with different characteristics, such as Louis Brandt, Gurzelen (named after the district of Bienne where their factory was located), Décimal and Labrador. (They seem to have founded another company, La Generale Watch Co., in Bienne in 1880, and their trade mark Helvetia was transferred to La Generale in 1885. They abandoned La Generale or transferred it to new owners at around the time that Omega appeared as their own company name in the early 20th century). By 1889 Louis Brandt & Fils was making 100,000 watches a year.
Their innovations included a minute repeater watch (1892), a full calendar watch with big date (1893), a carillon repeater (1894), and an improved winding and hand-setting system (1894). The latter was used in the calibre named Omega, introduced in 1894, which had been designed for precision and easy repair. It became very successful, and so the company name was changed to Louis Brandt & Frère – Omega Watch Co. in 1903.
Louis-Paul and César both died in 1903 and what had become a very large concern, with watch production at 240,000 per year, was taken over by Paul-Emile Brandt, who at that time was just 23, with three other people. Development continued, with Paul-Emile building a huge industrial concern that absorbed and created many other companies, including Tissot, with whom they merged to form the SSIH group in Geneva in 1930. By the early 1970s, Rolex and Omega had become the two dominant powers in the Swiss watch industry. With the onset of the quartz revolution, Omega ran into difficulties, and in 1983 merged with Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie AG (ASUAG for short), a large movement manufacturer that also owned other brands including Longines, Rado, Certina and Mido. In 1985, Nicolas Hayek led an investment group and took over ASUAG-SSIH in 1985, renaming it Société de Microélectronique et d’Horlogerie (SMH). This became Swatch Group in 1998.
Rue Jakob-Stämpfli 96
Omega opened its museum in January 1984 just opposite its head office, and exhibits include Louis Brandt’s watchmaking bench that he started using in 1848, and about 4,000 other items, mainly watches, including the Omega Archives that documents the history of Omega as a brand from 1894 on.
Rue Jakob-Stämpfli 96
CH-2500 Biel 4
Tel. +41 (0)32 343 91 31
Open Tuesday-Friday 10am-6pm; Saturday 11am-5pm; closed on Sundays and public holidays. Admission free.
Raynald Aeschlimann, president as from 1 June 2016
Stephen Urquhart, President from 1999 to 2016
Nick Hayek, CEO
Jean-Claude Monachon, Vice President, Product Development