Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Omega is a watch company based in Biel/Bienne Switzerland and one of the most prestigious brand of timepieces. Omega's Speedmaster Professional Chronograph was the first watch worn on the Moon. All subsequent manned NASA missions also utilized this wristwatch. More recently, its Seamaster 300m Diver Chronometer is the current official James Bond watch, used in each of the Bond movies since its first appearance in GoldenEye. Luc Besson's movie The Big Blue featured Omega's Seamaster Professional 600. The watch is currently impossible to replicate due to a lost tool, and therefore also immensely sought after. The seamaster is a holder of an Imperial Mark, one of only three watches in the world to have one.
Founded at La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland in 1848 by 23-year-old Louis Brandt who assembled key-wound precision pocket watches from parts supplied by local craftsmen. He travelled throughout Europe selling his watches from Italy to Scandinavia by way of England, his chief market. After Louis Brandt's death in 1879, his two sons Louis-Paul and Cesar, troubled by irregular deliveries of questionable quality, abandoned the unsatisfactory assembly workshop system in favour of in-house manufacturing and total production control. Due to the greater supply of manpower, communications and energy in Bienne, the enterprise moved into a small factory in January 1880, then bought the entire building in December. Two years later the company moved into a converted spinning-factory in the Gurzelen district of Bienne, where headquarters are still situated today. Their first series-produced calibres, Labrador and Gurzelen, as well as, the famous OMEGA calibre of 1894, would ensure the brand's marketing success.
Louis-Paul and Cesar Brandt both died in 1903, leaving one of Switzerland's largest watch companies - with 240,000 watches produced annually and employing 800 people - in the hands of four young people, the oldest of whom, Paul-Emile Brandt, was not yet 24! Considered to be the great architect and builder of OMEGA, Paul-Emile's influence would be felt over the next half-century. The economic difficulties brought on by the First World War would lead him to work actively from 1925 toward the union of OMEGA and Tissot, then to their merger in 1930 within the group SSIH, Geneva. Under his leadership, then that of Joseph Reiser beginning in 1955, the SSIH Group continued to grow and multiply, absorbing or creating some fifty companies. By the seventies, SSIH had become Switzerland's number one producer of finished watches and number three in the world.
Weakened by the severe monetary crisis and recession of 1975 to 1980, SSIH was bailed out by the banks in 1981. Switzerland's other watchmaking giant ASUAG, principal producer of movement blanks and owner of the Longines, Rado and Swatch brands, was saved in similar fashion one year later. After drastic financial cleansing and a restructuring of the two groups' R&D and production operations at the ETA complex in Granges, the two giants merged in 1983 to form the Holding ASUAG-SSIH. In 1985 the holding company was taken over by a group of private investors under the strategy and leadership of Nicolas Hayek. Immediately renamed SMH, Societe suisse de microelectronique et d'horlogerie, the new group achieved rapid growth and success to become today's top watch producer in the world. Named Swatch Group in 1998, it now includes Blancpain and Breguet. Dynamic and flourishing, OMEGA remains one of its most prestigious flagship brands.
In 1999 Omega made history by introducing the first mass-produced watch incorporating the revolutionary co-axial escapement invented by English watchmaker George Daniels. Considered by many to be one of the most significant horological advancements since the invention of the lever escapement, the co-axial escapment functions with virtually no lubrication thereby eliminating one of the shortcomings of the traditional lever escapement. By utilizing radial friction instead of sliding friction at the impulse surfaces the co-axial escapement significantly reduces friction, resulting in longer service intervals and greater accuracy over time. Omega is now part of the Swatch Group.
Omega and The Moon, The Speedmaster Professional
Flight-qualified for the American astronauts in 1965 and the Russian cosmonauts in 1975, the legendary Speedmaster is probably the most famous watch in the world. Equipped with a calibre built by Albert Piguet and encased by Pierre Moinat (successor to René Bannwart), the Speedmaster first appeared in 1957... forty years after the impressive model designed for pilots of World War I and used by the British Royal Flying Corps, ancestor of the RAF.
In 1962, NASA decided to equip the astronauts of its future Gemini and Apollo programmes with a highly accurate, legible, resistant and reliable wrist chronograph. For the purpose of comparison tests, NASA purchased chronographs of a dozen different brands from Corrigan's, a large retailer in Houston, Texas. The watch manufacturers were not informed of the project. By 1964, only six brands remained in competition. In September, NASA called for bids for a final series of tests on a dozen pieces from each competing brand - a total of eleven. With the chronograph running, the watches were literally boiled at 93°C then frozen at -18°C without interruption; they were soaked in oxygen for two days, exposed to shocks of 40 g's in every direction, repeatedly placed in a vacuum chamber 15 times, compressed, decompressed, subjected to vibrations, ringing, etc. Several of the competing brands fell victim to the violent treatment and were eliminated in rapid succession. Only the Speedmaster withstood all the severe tests with a comfortable margin of tolerance to the limits imposed, namely 5 seconds per day!
On March 1st 1965 the Speedmaster was declared "flight-qualified by NASA for all manned space missions". Its moment of truth however came on June 3rd, on its second flight, when it was worn by Edward White on the American astronaut's first walk in space: it performed perfectly! Since that time, the Speedmaster has accompanied every astronaut with faultless precision and reliability on every space mission, including six moon landings, from Gemini, Apollo and Skylab to the current Space Shuttle programme. On July 21, 1969, at 2:56 GMT, there was "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind". Interestingly enough Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon was not wearing a Speedmaster when he left the Lunar Module (LM),,. An internal timer inside the "Eagle" Lunar Module had failed, so it was decided that Armstrong would leave his Speedmaster on board the LM to serve that function. Thus it was when Buzz Aldrin set foot on the Moon that the Speedmaster's place in history was set. In recognition of this Omega renamed this particular model of the Speedmaster line the Moon Watch.
Ironically, even though Omega often claims that the Speedmaster was the only watch ever to be worn on the Moon, this information is not accurate. In the Apollo Lunar Surface Journals , Astronaut David Scott states: 142:14:22 Scott: "Verify cabin at 3.5." Okay, cabin's at 3.5. Suit circuit's locked up at about 4.4. My PGA is coming through 5 and decaying. And let's slip on a watch. [Scott may have had his watch hanging from the instrument panel and, in any event, he is now putting it on and is probably starting the stopwatch function.] [Scott, from a 1996 letter - "I do not recall ever having looked at my watch after egress. In the cabin after EVA-2, I noticed that the crystal of my Omega had popped off sometime during the EVA. Therefore, on EVA-3, I used my backup Waltham watch (which was) of a similar type. It worked just fine during the even higher temperatures of EVA-3."]. Hence, we can, based on first-person testimony, state that at least one other watch was worn on the moon, even though the Speedmaster was the one watch to "earn" it's way via the aforementioned NASA testing..
On April 17, 1970, the Speedmaster contributed actively to rescuing the mission Apollo 13 after an explosion in the service module damaged the main power supply, cutting off the ship's chief source of oxygen. The crew was forced to switch down all power circuits, with the exception of the radio receiver. The Speedmaster was used to time the fraction of a second rocket firing for re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere - a time window of 14 seconds with a 10% margin of error. Any slight deviation would have sent the vessel into the infinity of space! The crew successfully pulled away from the lunar orbit and returned to Earth - saved by OMEGA... The performance earned OMEGA the Snoopy Award, the astronauts' highest award given to their suppliers.
Five years later, on July 17, 1975, the famous American/Soviet Apollo-Soyuz space rendezvous spotlighted the Speedmaster, which was worn not only by the Americans Stafford, Slayton and Brand, but also by Leonov and Kubassov.
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