UK Omega CEO Raynald Aeschlimann tells tough truths

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Raynald Aeschlimann

The announcement earlier this year that Stephen Urquhart was to retire as president and chief executive of Omega after 17 years created a vacancy for one of the most important positions in the Swiss replica watch industry.

Mr Urquhart had brought Omega back from the doldrums of the late 1980s to become what many regard as the jewel in the crown of Swatch Group. He cemented the brand’s role as James Bond’s watch supplier, reinstated its sponsorship of the Olympic Games and recruited Hollywood stars such as George Clooney and Nicole Kidman as ambassadors.

Now Omega is the closest rival to Rolex replica in the market of £400-£1000 watches, selling around 600,000 timepieces per year against an estimated 800,000 for the latter. (Rolex does not release production figures.) And almost six months since he took over, 46-year-old Raynald Aeschlimann intends to achieve an elusive goal.

Overtaking Rolex “would give me the greatest pride”, says the Swiss Mr Aeschlimann, who joined replica Omega in 1996 and became vice-president and international sales director in 2001, having run the brand’s operations in Spain and the US. “But while we would very much like to be number one, what we need to do first and foremost is to work towards giving customers more confidence. And those customers are the people of Generation Y, the ones in the 20-40 age group.” Mr Aeschlimann’s opportunity — much like everyone else’s — is millennials.

“They are the ones who are supporting us because the people in the 40-60 age group remember us from the time when Omega was selling crap,” he says, referring to a period during the 1980s when the brand had all but abandoned its mechanical fake watchmaking heritage in favour of an extensive range of quartz-powered models. “At one point back then, someone even suggested killing off the Speedmaster and went as far as reducing the range to a single reference.”

The Speedmaster is now Omega’s “hero model” and the firm has capitalised on its heritage as the “moon watch”, worn by Neil Armstrong when he took his “giant leap for mankind” during the Apollo 11 mission of 1969. It is just such history and proof of technical prowess that Mr Aeschlimann believes will attract those important Generation Y buyers, who like “true stories” and “true values”.

Mr Aeschlimann says Omega has a long history of innovation, ranging from the creation of the Marine diving watch in 1932 to the introduction in 2000 of the first industrially-produced coaxial escapement, which offers enhanced accuracy and reduced servicing. Now, more than 90 per cent of cheap Omega’s mechanical watch movements are of the coaxial design, which was invented by the late English horologist George Daniels.

Surpassing Swiss standards is part of Mr Aeschlimann’s plan. Omega is working with the Swiss government’s agency for measurements (Metas) to enhance the quality and accuracy of its products through a series of rigorous tests beyond the requirements of Cosc (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres, a 40-year-old system). “I don’t think spending £500 or more on a replica watch counts as an everyday purchase to most people, so it gives reassurance to know that what they have bought has achieved Master Chronometry certification and that they can look on our website and check the official test results of their actual watch. We’re aiming to make more than 400,000 Metas-certified fake watches a year.”

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Omega’s store in Rome

Another set of rules governs what can be called “Swiss Made”, but these are not taxing: “Swiss Made” may only mean that 50 per cent of the movement’s value is from Switzerland. (This will change to 60 per cent of the entire product’s value from 2017.) To keep the label credible, Mr Aeschlimann insists a higher percentage of the watch’s value is actually produced in the country. “I just don’t understand why anyone would not fight for that to be protected. I would say 50 per cent of the credibility of a brand comes from it and, apart from the straps and the ruby bearings, everything that goes into an fake Omega watch is made here.”

He knows that the label hides all kinds of behaviour. “I think the possibility that the Swiss Made label should ever be misused represents a big danger that could bring trouble for the whole industry,” he says. He adds that a focus on technical improvement and quality has enabled Omega to treble its average price during the past 15 years while cutting the number of outlets globally from 7,000 to 3,000.

He maintains, however, that it is still vital to spread the history and culture of Omega around the world, something which the brand is doing through ambassador choices and sponsorship. George Clooney is “a bridge across the generations”, while Eddie Redmayne is the millennial star.

“We’re also very conscious of our corporate social responsibility which is why, for example, we are no longer involved in motorsport. Michael Schumacher was an Omega ambassador for a long time, but that was in a different era — Formula One no longer matches our values, it’s too commercial and not sufficiently eco-friendly for us.

“Athletics, swimming, golf and sailing have become our focus, and the fact that Omega is the only watch brand anyone sees during the Olympic Games is incredibly valuable.”

Such events, says Mr Aeschlimann, all help to bring Omega the exposure he believes it needs in order to attract and retain those Generation Y buyers. Things have moved on from the days when Piccadilly Circus was the ultimate place to advertise. Now, Piccadilly Circus is everyone’s mobile, tablet and laptop.

Omega’s Latest Replica Watch Is the Straightforward Timepiece We Need Right Now

— Know the second, minute, hour, day, and month at a glance.

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On the most complicated of days, anything that can simplify your life is a very good thing. And that’s one of the reasons Omega’s new Globemaster Annual Calendar watch feels so appealing right now: At a glance, it can tell you the present second, minute, hour, day, and month.

It only helps that all this modern functionality is wrapped up in a design that takes its cues from vintage replica watchmaking: The fluted bezel on both the brushed stainless steel and rose gold versions gives it a sophistication that you won’t find in more contemporary designs. Both versions feature a 41mm case, a leather strap, and cursive writing indicating each month along the outer edge. A fourth hand jumps to the section indicating each month of the year, and a window at six o’clock makes sure you’ll always know the date.

The stainless steel version carries its deep blue strap into the details on the face, while the rose gold version’s dark gray face makes for a dial that’s easy to read. But they both represent a marriage of timeless design and contemporary convenience that’s hard to beat.

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Which new replica watches will become legacy pieces?

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Out of this world: the Horological Machine No.8, from MB&F.

The first timepieces I recall coveting were my grandmother’s.

Maybe they were the first objects of any kind I hankered after, given I was not yet a teenager, but there was a carriage clock by her bed that looked somehow important, a small battered Rolex handed down to, and in my formative years, on the arm of an aunt, and a gold Waltham pocket watch that I chanced upon while visiting my grandmother’s home in Somers Avenue, Malvern, Victoria. The latter was a 17th birthday present from her parents; by the time I spotted it, many years later, it seldom appeared in daylight, like her best silver.

On passing to my mother it remained in the realm of the unavailable – but with the tantalising rider of “maybe one day” which, eventually, arrived, as is the way of such things. Ditto for the little Rolex replica that migrated in my direction on my aunt’s passing. Treasures then, and still treasured, the only exception being the carriage clock, whereabouts long unknown.

As to the value of these objects, that’s something that’s both minuscule and immeasurable; early Rolex replica watches and Waltham pocket pieces are easily found in the secondary marketplace and command modest prices, but owning pieces handed down by forebears – well that’s a different proposition, the worth here being sentimental and historical rather than monetary. This is assuming there are no 5512 or 5513 model Rolex Submariners or military issue Jaeger-LeCoultres or Blancpains in your immediate past, sought-after collectables that now bring prices many times the original ask.

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The Omega Seamaster 300: a watch as likely to be regarded as good-looking in 50 years’ time as its 1970s-style suggests now.

Either way though, you have to like the object in question, which brings me to the question of what watches today might make the grade as a future prized piece. Even better, should you still have a favourite and functioning grandparent – or elderly relative – is there a timely treat they might be persuaded to invest in before looking your way?

Timeless wonders

Something – almost anything – with Patek Philippe adorning the dial has traditionally fitted such a bill and still would, but your options have broadened in recent times thanks to special replica watches appearing at almost every level – and catering to almost every taste. If it’s a simple everyday wearer you might suggest an replica Omega Seamaster 300, a fake watch as likely to be regarded as handsome in 50 years as its 1970s-style lines suggest now. You can imagine a little patina and use would only enhance such a model, whereas Omega’s latest ceramic-cased Planet Ocean, a resolutely modern-day statement, might not age so well; treasures are like that, they wear history like a badge.

Moving up a bit there’s a classic that most certainly won’t date, the Richard Lange Pour le Mérite from A. Lange & Söhne. The name mightn’t trip off ancestral lips like “Patek” or come with the same clever advertising reassurance – that “you never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation”. But make no mistake, Lange has its own impressive history, surviving World War ll’s divide of Germany and now thriving at horology’s high end.

As for the Glashütte-based brand’s recently announced Pour le Mérite, it’s a quietly confident beauty in white gold with a black dial. What makes it special is not so much the presentation – impressive as it is – nor the limited production run of just 218 pieces. Rather, it’s heirloom material because of its uncompromising approach to precise timekeeping. It achieves this by employing a complex fusée-and-chain transmission arrangement inspired by the mechanism of historic pocket watches. You read correctly. Peer closely into the back of the replica watch and you’ll spot a tiny 636-part chain wrapped around the mainspring barrel, 0.25 millimetres thick and 156 millimetres long, we are told. It delivers power from the mainspring to the wheel train via the cone-shaped fusée in a way that guarantees constant torque and stability across the entire power-reserve range; when the watch is fully wound, the chain pulls at the smaller circumference of the fusée.

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A classic watch that most certainly won’t date: the Richard Lange Pour le Mérite from A. Lange & Söhne.

Conversely, when the tension of the mainspring is nearly depleted, the chain pulls at the larger circumference of the fusée. The Lange spans a happy 40.5 millimetres and it doesn’t hurt that previous versions – cased in rose gold and platinum – sold out. Mind you, you’re looking at a price tag in the region of $120, but what else are your grandparents going to be splashing out on at this stage?

One of a kind

The answer to that is probably not another similarly priced arrival regarded by enthusiasts as a treasure, as that’s MB&F’s Horological Machine No.8. This low-six-figure item is a fake watch that blends high-end craftsmanship with high-octane, race-car-inspired design and is destined to be just as rare as the Lange. Exquisitely sculptured, and undeniably a wrist-borne fantasy, it looks better than anything you’ll see at a race track, but is probably not your average octogenarian’s idea of a fine timepiece.

Barely recognisable even as a watch, it’s all angular forms and optical prisms with two of the latter showcasing bi-directional jumping hours and trailing minutes.

Dominating the structure are so-called roll bars milled from solid blocks of grade 5 titanium and hand-polished “to gleam like tubular mirrors”. No matter the time, they draw the eye, while the engine sits in full view under a sapphire crystal cover. It’s a view few will get to see, and given the limited production (as little as 20 in a year) and intrepid nature of such pieces, a mere sighting would be something to be treasured.

If the HM8 is a bit outré, the other go-to names on aficionado wish-lists are De Bethune and Greubel Forsey, whose models may not be familiar in family circles but include nary an ordinary timepiece – and barely anything that might pass for a bargain. If you or a favourite forebear could afford one, they’re undoubted treasure. And if you can’t? Just pray that your old uncle’s Longines is a good-looking one with a story.