Tom Hamilton-Dick’s Omega Chrono-quartz watch turns heads. Designed for the 1976 Montreal Olympics, it was the first digital / analog chronograph. “Looks like this is something Buck Rogers should wear,” says the Omega collector, adding that the design resembles the stadium timing charts used at the Games.
The flagship piece is one of five watches belonging to the Briton, deputy director of a higher education institution, which were made to mark the Olympics. He noted a growing interest in these commemorative timepieces among collectors. “These are such great talking points,” he says.
Next year’s Winter Games, which take place in Beijing in February, will be Omega’s 30th opportunity to take on the role of official timekeeper at the Olympics. To mark a year, the brand released a Seamaster Diver 300m in stainless steel with minute markers at 2, 4, 8, 10 and 12 in the five colors of the Olympic rings and the Beijing Games emblem stamped on the back. of the housing.
Jonathan Darracott, global head of watches at auction house Bonhams, says collectors are “turning away” to purchase Olympic watches, rather than such pieces being the focus of collections. “They are collectable because they are unusual watches,” he says. “Not only is it a one-year watch, but it’s also a city watch.
His favorite is a gold Omega Seamaster, produced to commemorate the 1956 Melbourne Games, with the Olympic Cross of Merit on the dial. Bonhams sold one for HK $ 38,125 ($ 4,900) in 2019, which Darracott says is roughly three times the value of the same model without the Olympic connection.
Most of the watches that were made to commemorate the Olympic Games are Omega, thanks to the brand’s long association with the event: it was first the official timekeeper in Los Angeles in 1932. There are exceptions, however. A stainless steel Longines chronograph designed for the 1972 Munich Olympics sold for HK $ 14,025 ($ 1,800) at Bonhams last year.
A rare stainless steel Seiko chronograph with a lap counter, produced for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics – the first of six Games for which the brand served as official timekeeper – conducted the first auction dedicated to the Japanese watchmaker . Described as the “holy grail” of Seiko watches prior to sale at Bonhams last year, the piece cost HK $ 138,125 ($ 17,740) and is now on display at the Seiko Museum Ginza.
But it’s not just vintage models that are popping up on the aftermarket. Phillips sold an Omega Speedmaster designed for Tokyo 2020 for HK $ 63,000 (HK $ 8,090), against the peak estimate of HK $ 50,000, in November of last year – more than six months before the Games were postponed. . The model, which has a red bezel to represent one of the Olympic rings, was part of a limited edition of 2,020 pieces launched on the Japanese market ahead of the Games.
Raynald Aeschlimann, Chairman and CEO of Omega, affirms that the appearance of its Olympic watches on the secondary market reflects “the very clear worldwide success of some of these references”.
However, Alexandre Ghotbi, head of watches for Continental Europe and the Middle East at Phillips, says Olympic watches are a “very niche” field, even though the pieces are auctioned off at a premium of 5 or 10 for. hundred compared to comparable models without the connection. It’s scarcity that makes a watch desirable, he adds, so a watch designed to commemorate the Olympics “doesn’t tick all the boxes for it. . . a true collector’s item unless this watch has actually been sold, or never made public and offered as a gift to athletes or organizers ”.
Sotheby’s sold a Rolex Datejust, dated circa 1988, which featured the Olympic rings on the dial and was designed for members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for 21,250 Swiss francs ($ 23,000) in 2014, or more three times its low estimate.
Today, Omega’s partnership with the IOC, which runs until 2032, protects the brand from competition from other companies making Olympic watches. In return, Omega takes its creations to the IOC, while respecting the protection granted to the Olympic logos.
Aeschlimann, who has noticed a greater interest in his company’s Olympic watches due to the postponement of Tokyo 2020, says Omega’s association with the Games highlights the brand’s values, including legacy, responsibility , precision and pioneering spirit. “We’re onscreen not because it’s marketing, it’s because the CIO gives us that right to make sure people. . . know [the timing] is precise, ”he says. There is also an “emotional part” to the role, he adds, of being there for the athletes and emphasizing their performance.
Such global exposure has a ripple effect: Sales of Omega watches were higher during this summer’s Olympics than in a “normal” month, says Aeschlimann.
The brand’s social media networks also saw “extremely high spikes,” with the website attracting up to 100% more visitors.
Aeschlimann says Omega’s research and development for its Olympic timekeeping mission is helping it evolve its mechanical watches.
It is the history of innovation and precision of the brand that seduces Hamilton-Dick. He says Olympic watches are “so special because they commemorate a moment in time. There was a specific design, a specific philosophy, a specific reflection on the introduction of this watch at the time to commemorate something so important. The Olympics have been one of the contributors to giving us all more hope this year. “