By Thomas Shambler
Raynald Aeschlimann, President and CEO of Omega, on heritage, embracing Instagram and the contentious 'Swiss Made' label on watches
The number of companies that makes watches – just in Switzerland is ballooning. What makes Omega different?
First and foremost, Omega is a brand with real heritage, and our watches tell the story of the brand. From our conquests of the oceans to precision records, Olympic Games timekeeping and space exploration. There are so many areas where Omega has excelled and been able to establish its name in the watchmaking world.
For someone unfamiliar with the brand, what would you say your 'hero model' would be? Which model is Omega most known for?
Perhaps our most recognised watch is the Omega Speedmaster. In fact, we are celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. It is a beautiful watch, but it also has a remarkable story. It was tested by NASA in 1965 and passed everything, so they used it for all their manned missions in space. In 1969, it became the first watch ever worn on the moon with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. And it’s still used in space today. I would say it’s one of the world’s most iconic watches.
What's your goal for Omega now that you are CEO?
Many things are changing in the world in regards to watch tastes, marketing and purchasing. My goal is really to keep up with those changes and ensure that Omega remains relevant to the new generation of watch wearers.
Traditionally, Omega has always sought to 'overtake Rolex'. Is this true under your leadership?
Omega's primary focus is itself. We must be true to who we are and establish our own identity. Of course, Rolex creates a powerful image through its marketing and products and competing with other leaders is all part of business.
How much interaction is there between yourself and other Swatch group CEOs? Are there partnerships with other brands? Or does everyone keep to themselves?
Swatch Group is a wonderful 'community' of brands and the network is very supportive of each other. But each brand is still able to create its own voice and individuality which is important. I know many people, including CEOs, within the Swiss watch industry and especially those within Swatch Group. What is great is that we are all able to inspire each other in furthering the watch industry as a whole.
What can we expect from Omega in 2017?
As I mentioned before, Omega creates its own path, so we don’t try too much to capitalise on particular trends. If anything, we try to take advantage of our own brand DNA. This was demonstrated last month when our new Speedmaster 'Speedy Tuesday' sold out within a matter of hours. That watch was based on models from our past and was marketed and sold purely through our digital platforms. I think you can expect to see more of that design influence coming through in 2017 as well as many more of our new models being certified as Master Chronometers, which is the highest standard of precision and performance in the Swiss watch industry.
That 'Speedy Tuesday' watch was announced and sold over Instagram. Does embracing things like social media mean that Omega's target customer is changing?
I wouldn’t say that our target market is shifting. But there’s a new generation of wearers coming through, and media usage is highly important and persuasive within their lives. Older buyers frequently use social media too, so it’s not just about connecting with young people. We have to react to a changing technological world and take advantage of every communication channel we can.
A lot of what makes Omega known in watch circles is your Co-Axial Escapement. How do you explain its importance to the general public?
Firstly, it’s important for knowing Omega, because it shows that we are a brand that pushes the limits of precision and always tries to revolutionise the mechanical movement. That’s been constant throughout our history. For the general public, it’s easiest to say that the Co-Axial escapement has a smaller contact surface, which enables us to reduce friction and lubrication within the watch movement. The result is better accuracy over a longer period, a more stable power reserve rate and longer intervals between getting your watch serviced.
The new regulations around the 'Swiss Made' label on watches has been contentious. Where do you and Omega stand on it?
The label 'Swiss Made' is something that represents real quality and is something that all brands within the industry proudly display. Anything that safeguards the integrity of its use is important. I’m pleased to say that Omega watches are 100 percent made in Switzerland. Some leather for the straps comes from outside, but the watch parts and manufacture is all done here. There is no compromise on that.