This post is accompanied by some Constellations from the collection of Peter Wagenaar who runs the excellent Omega Fanatic site. The pics provide a very useful reference to collectors and aficionados who want to know what authentic Constellations look like.
In the 1930s, the Omega developed the Calibre 30.10 mm movement. This beautifully engineered and built timepiece impressed all with its precision and the company decided to enter it in major chronometer competitions in Geneva, Neuenberg and also at Teddington in the United Kingdom. In fact, there is evidence that Omega’s owners, the talented and visionary Brandt family, viewed the development of chronometers as a natural next step in the company’s horological journey.
Astronomical observatories have had a long association with time measurement because of its earlier critical importance to longitude and latter significance to astrophysics and cosmology. The word ‘chronometer’ has had an equally long association with observatories. It was coined by English clockmaker, Jeremy Thacker, in 1714 to describe his design of a clock entombed in a vacuum chamber that protected the movement from the vagaries of humidity and atmospheric pressure.
Thacker’s chronometer was accurate to six seconds a day, falling well short of the three seconds a day required to win a 20 thousand pound ‘King’s Ransom’ offered by the English Board of Longitude in the 1700s. It was William Harrison’s H5 ‘pocket’ chronometer produced in 1772, accurate to one third of a second per day, which earned him the title of The Father of Longitude and led to the greatest breakthrough in navigation since the beginning of time.
Harrison’s chronometers and their descendants allowed Britannia to literally rule the waves. Precision timekeeping in all conditions gave navigators the means to fix longitude by comparing real time with Greenwich time and ended forever the legacy of shipwreck, misery and death caused by not knowing where one was on the world’s great oceans.
Omega Constellation chronometers were worthy ambassadors of the grand tradition of precision timekeeping. In the 1920s and 30s highly spirited contests were held by observatories in a number of important centres in Europe. The Omega 30.10 mm won numerous contests against the most important houses of the day, often achieving victory over Rolex, the market leader in chronometers.
Omega released commercially the 30.10 chronometer in 1939. By 1946, it had built more than 100 thousand certified chronometers, many of which were used by various combatants in World War Two.
Having established its credentials through the 1940s and 50s at major competitions, Omega decided to exploit fully its reputation as a builder of precision watches, and in 1952 released the first Constellation. It branded the watch with an observatory emblem showing a night sky lit by eight stars. The emblem appeared in gold or stainless steel on the backcase and was a distinctive feature of every model. The watch was also sold with a C.O.S.C (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronometres) certificate of precision.
Omega launched the new brand with a modest production run of approximately 8000 watches. This first automatic chronometer wristwatch featured a 12-sided dial that caused a sensation when it was introduced and the Constellation soon became the company flagship, which remains so today. In 1958, Omega surpassed the Rolex Oyster-Perpetual Chronometer in numbers produced: a market dominance that lasted until 1969.
(c) Desmond Guilfoyle 2006