Ultra-Cool OmegaBy Wei Koh
One hour, 53 minutes and 17 seconds. That’s all it took Omega to sell the 2,012 examples of its stunning Ultraman re-edition. In so doing, it caused the internet, social media, chatrooms, forums and the brain of the man writing this article to explode. Buyers desperately tried to double, triple, quadruple-tap the “complete purchase” button, which remained frozen despite the greatest available bandwidth on the planet, as an overwhelming tsunami of demand ignited the moment the veil was lifted off what has instantly become one of the most desirable wristwatches of all time.
During the time it took to read that last sentence the value of the watch trebled. And I say this simply to demonstrate that in the year of our Lord two thousand and eighteen, there is not a single man and a better team at creating watches that we watch collectors genuinely want to buy, than Omega CEO Raynald Aeschlimann and his team, chief amongst them Jean-Claude Monachon, Greg Kissling and Jean-Pascal Perret. In the immortal words of Dr. Dre “Booyakasha!” Case closed.
You can regard that statement with searing, carved into the stone for Moses, Old Testament finality. Because right now Aeschlimann and his crew are at the very top, apogee, and peak of their game and I suspect they are only getting started. And why are they so damnably proficient, why are they baddest of watchmaking badasses right now, why are they so beyond the game that they define the game? Well it’s because they genuinely love watches.
I hate the word product. I have no problem with it when applied to consumable goods like lettuce. Or cheese. But I do have a major problem with it when applied to watches. Which is why I wince every time I attend a watch trade fair – if it’s Basel I’ll wince twice, the first time from the price of the sausages – and someone runs their hand over a shimmering new array of timepieces and says something like: “Behold our new product.” In my mind, I am hitting him in the head with that product. Especially if it is tantalum or tungsten carbide. Because watches are not product. They are ticking symbiotic companions that are meant to endure our lifetime and beyond. They are endowed with what the Greeks called anima or spirit. They are living entities that in the greatest act of magic consume only the energy we impart from our own life force by winding or wearing them. Would you call a litter of golden retrievers “product”? Well maybe you would. But then you have no soul.
My point is at Omega watches are not product to the people behind the brand. Because you can feel that every watch that they create is born out of love for their brand and for horology in general. Each time they create a technical coup like a ceramic bezel with a luminous tachymeter, you can feel their love for what they do, because only someone that adores watches, that is geeked out to the max and besotted with amorous affection for chronographs would even dream of something like that. And they do this kind of thing constantly, and because they love watches and because they love Omega in the same way that collectors do, we can feel it. They decimate our impulse control. Each time they create something special like the 2017 Speedy Tuesday, or the 2016 Silver Snoopy, or like the 2018 Ultraman, it’s as if they’ve reached into our collective unconsciousness and extracted all our dreams and hopes and compressed them into a new magical, mythical, magnificent timepiece. And when it comes to delving into their past to create inspiring new watches for the future, no one is better.
Case in point the Speedy Tuesday Ultraman. One thing that no one has talked about yet is that the original Ultraman – a watch with an unusually long orange chronograph hand (18.80 mm, to be exact) and a unique black satin dial found only in ref. 145.012-67 in movement numbers ranging between 26.076.xxx – 26.079.xxx was dubbed the “Ultraman” by collectors because of its appearance in the 1970s Japanese TV series The Return of Ultraman. The reason why collectors lose our minds when discussing the Ultraman is that of the 28,000 or so 145.012-67 – already a super cool watch as it’s the last Speedmaster with the legendary Calibre 321/Lemania 2310 – only 3,000 watches fall within the movement correct range. And of those 3,000 watches, only 50-odd Ultraman watches are known to exist.
This is why I recently paid what I believe is the most in recorded history for one of these in perfect condition, in the right movement series, and most importantly accompanied by an extract from Omega’s archive signed by Raynald Aeschlimann himself. Because, considering the rarity of these watches I think it will easily be a half-million-dollar watch in the near future.
Gracias James Fisk and Analog Shift. You guys are muy macho. My dear friend William Roberts, also known as Speedmaster 101, emailed me this when I asked his opinion about pulling the trigger: “I’ve been thinking about your Ultraman. You will be the only person I know to pay this much for one, but just because you are the first does not make it wrong. No one else will sell theirs… Now we have extracts and a certainty of the hand length I am happier we have a defined execution that can be verified and valued.” Roberts of course refers to how amazing it is that Omega goes through the trouble to verify and certify its vintage watches, something that provides absolute certainty and assurance to us collectors and a testament to their love for their watches both new and old.
OK, let’s get back on track. Apparently, the creator and producer of The Return of Ultraman, Eiji Tsuburaya, was a watch geek like us. However, the Speedy in question could not be officially called the “Ultraman” because it had no official association with Tsuburaya… that is until now. During the past few years Aeschlimann and his team actually flew to Tokyo, broke bread and kampai-ed over much sake with the Tsuburaya Production Group and convinced them to collaborate on an officially sanctioned Speedmaster Ultraman. And man, is it good.
Let’s get some initial things out of the way. Yes, it has all the incredible vintage codes we know and love. Is the stepped dial back? Yes. This would be correct for a 1968 watch. (Watches with casebacks marked 67 were assembled and delivered in 68.) Is the DON or dot-over-ninety bezel back? Hell yes it is! Also correct for a watch from this period. Does the dial have an applied Omega? You bet your sweet tuchus it does. And does it have a big-ass orange chrono seconds hand? Hell to the yeah!
At this point I need to give a huge shout out to Robert-Jan Broer and his team at Fratello Watches that collaborated with Omega on the first Speedy Tuesday – the tribute to Alaska III – and the new Ultraman. But the watch has a lot of great original codes as well. The first is the appearance of the orange hour markers on the step part of the dial, which to my mind is a witty tip of the hat to racing dial watches. The second is that the word Tachymetre with its period correct accent is also rendered in orange along with the word Speedmaster on the dial. The first three minutes in the chronograph minute counter are painted orange too? Why? Because Ultraman could only retain super hero form for three minutes. Dude this was so cool that when I read this in my buddy Brice Goulard’s story on Monochrome I totally high fived myself.
But what is perhaps the coolest detail of the watch, and again something of a clin d’oeil to Omega’s massively successful Silver Snoopy, is the hidden luminous Ultraman silhouette painted inside the continuous seconds marker. Under UV light it glows… you guessed it, orange. Boom. Mic drop. Cue fireworks and DJ Khaled’s All I do is Win. The great thing about Omega is that I can only imagine other brands responding to a request for a hidden luminous orange silhouette with the typical Swiss French mantra: “Mais non, c’est impossible. Non-non-non.” But Team Omega was immediately up for it. Raynald Aeschlimann said: “We love the details that when taken together create such a love affair with our watches. And we always push ourselves to achieve what hasn’t been done before. That’s our culture at Omega. Remember that during the Space Programme we were the ones pushing watch technology to the maximum with the Alaska project. We were not instructed to do so, we took it upon ourselves to do it. That’s Omega.”
The Ultraman comes in a box designed after the table used by the Monster Attack Team, replete with black and orange accented NATO strap, black leather strap with military style tack stitches and a UV flash light so you can summon Ultraman on your dial anytime you like.
A Night To Remember
I knew I was in for something special when I started to see the guys around me. It was a Who’s Who of the watch collecting community including Auro M, alias John Goldberger; Michael Tay, who is probably the watch collector and retailer I respect most on the planet; Nick Foulkes, a man so brilliant and articulate it’s as if he invented the English language; mega collector Jack Wong; the man behind Speedy Tuesday and a true inspiration, Robert-Jan Broer, vintage dealer and font of Speedmaster knowledge; and Roy Davidoff, amongst others. The other thing I realised was that considering that this was going to be one of the biggest events on the Omega calendar, the group was amazingly intimate, numbering less than 40 people.
OK, so imagine this. Say you were sitting at a Porsche collectors’ dinner and they pulled aside a curtain and there sitting there rumbling in all its combustion engine glory was their stunning tribute to a 356 Carrera GT. As you walked around it jaw agape and loin enflamed they opened up the engine bay and explained to you that rumbling inside were actually 70-year-old vintage new-old-stock four-cam racing engines that had been re-configured with modern technology, titanium connecting rods etc and that they were making 18 of these to place with very special customers. I mean you would lose your shit, right? You’d be mortgaging the house, cancelling the kids’ boarding school tuition cheques, whatever you had to do to get one of these in your garage, right? Well that’s pretty much what Omega has done with the First Omega Wrist-Chronograph Limited Edition.
This incredible series of just 18 watches pays tribute to the watches created by the Brandt brothers in 1913, the brand’s first – and very possibly the world’s very first – wristwatch chronographs. These watches exploded in popularity as the artillery shells of the First World War fell and in particular were embraced by aviators of the Royal Flying Corps. These watches featured large clear visible dials, 15-minute chronograph counters and were powered by the legendary and highly acclaimed 18 CHRO calibre.
Today these watches are incredibly collectable and highly coveted. I know this because John Goldberger, who knows far more about vintage watches, explained this to me. And because he was wearing an example of precisely this watch on his wrist. That says something that the man who has one of the greatest watch collections on earth wore his 18 CHRO calibre watch to an Omega collectors’ dinner even though he had no idea that they would be launching a tribute to that very watch. I mean this is the watch of a true horological badass.
What is also amazing about this watch is once again it is an amazingly salient demonstration that Omega loves its past. Unlike other brands that care only about the latest “novelty”, Omega cherishes every part of its history. Which it why it has an incredible museum in Bienne, probably the best watch museum curator on earth in Petros Protopapas, why it accepts any vintage watch to be refurbished or restored and will issue an extract from its archive to certify said watch and why it makes brilliant timepieces like the Speedmaster Ultraman and this particular timepiece, the First Wrist-Chronograph Limited Edition.
Aeschlimann said: “We wanted to create something with a really powerful and beautiful connection to our history and we thought what could be better than a tribute to the very first wristwatch chronograph, a complication that we have become synonymous with. But to take it a step further we decided to use actual 105-year-old movements from our archive. Of course this means we could only make 18 watches because we had to reserve movements also for servicing and spares, but think the result is very charming.”
A Fine Vintage
His head of production, Jean-Claude Monachon, said: “They were vintage movements but we wanted to achieve two things. First, we wanted them to function perfectly. This entailed fitting the bridges and plates with modern jewels. However, because each movement is slightly different as is the case with calibres of this age, each individual element had to be analysed to ensure that placement of the jewels was optimised.” Greg Kissling said: “We actually photographed each individual wheel and studied the teeth profile and in many instances altered these to ensure that the engagement of teeth was done correctly. We used a topping tool to reconfigure or rather refine the profile of the vintage gear wheels and I can assure you that this is far more challenging and expensive that simply profile-turning new gear wheels. But we didn’t want to compromise in any way. We wanted the movements to be original and with full integrity but to work flawlessly.”
Aeschlimann added: “The second thing that we wanted to achieve was to elevate the decoration and finish of these movements to the level of high complications. As such each movement was finished in our Atelier Tourbillon and you can see from the quality of the finish, for example the black polish of the steel components and the angling of the bridges that this is the very highest level of craft expressed at its finest.”
These 18, 18 CHRO movements were then placed in 46mm white-gold cases almost identical in appearance to the more pragmatic steel cases of the vintage watches, replete with the hunter casebacks.
Dials were crafted from grand feu enamel and are amongst the most complex grand feu enamel dials I’ve seen. Look, for example, at the quality of the seconds track found at the perimeter of the dial. I can assure you the rejection rate of a dial this fine was high. Look also at the detail of every fifth second index designed with a stylised square with a centre dash, it is simply mesmerising in finesse and elegance. The sunken subdials were crafted as separate units then fitted and aligned perfectly. A touch of modernity exists in the use of Omega’s proprietary Sedna gold for the crown of the watch and the chronograph monopusher found a 6 o’ clock.
The resulting watches are a wonderful union of new and old, of modern and vintage and – if you will allow me – Alpha and Omega. These watches could only be created by men who are the ultimate disciples of watchmaking, who love horology and Omega with ceaseless devotion and who have the creativity, brilliance and courage to create watches that transcend even our greatest dreams as collectors. Chief amongst these men is the single most dynamic CEO in the watch industry a man I am pleased and honoured to call my friend, Raynald Aeschlimann.