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Watches

Still talk of the town – how Omega revamped its De Ville

Alex Doak
July 5, 2024
6 min

Ladymatic, Trésor, Prestige, a properly prestigious Tourbillon, even? Every one of them highly accomplished Swiss creations, as you would expect of Omega’s dress watch oeuvre. But all of them capital-lettered sub-collections fall beneath yet another umbrella: the historic Swiss watchmaker’s buttoned-up De Ville. A collection enjoying a major facelift in this, the 30th anniversary of its Prestige line. In terms of headline-grabs, the mechanical bit is the most significant, since the spring-wound models now become 100 per cent Master Chronometer, ticking to the tune of Omega’s next generation of highly precise movements.

The watchmaker of Biel/Bienne has also been busy at the drawing board, honing a design language first introduced in 1960s advertising campaign when Omega promised a watch “so slim it hugs your wrist.” In 1967, Omega conjured the original De Ville as an eponymously urbane range, denoted by its most sophisticated mechanics. But even more tortuously, De Ville was actually a revived continuation of Omega’s classic (unnamed) pre-war dress-watch codes, via the conduit of its newly forged Seamaster; a competitor to Rolex’s own newfangled Submariner diving watch, both of which stem from the two horological giants’ war efforts on behalf of Britain and its allies.

SILK POLO AND CARDIGAN HERMÈS, STEEL AND YELLOW GOLD 41MM SELF-WINDING WATCH OMEGA DE VILLE PRESTIGE. Photography © FIRAT ARSLAN for QP Magazine UK

So, De Ville originates from Seamaster De Ville, which was a dressy spin-off from one of the famed Dirty Dozen infantry watches. De Ville’s design codes, however, came from unnamed pre-war dress watches. But the design codes of 1994’s De Ville, being celebrated and updated in 2024 actually stem from when Omega threw down the gauntlet to Rolex’s dominance in 1952, when it unveiled the Constellation Chronometer. Toned-down and rounded-out, the dials of the modern Prestige models are a soft dome, whose profile nonetheless shares direct lineage with the 1952 Constellation’s pie-pan dial – so-called by collectors because it looks like an upside-down pie tin.

But then, something else happened that would change the De Ville's fortunes. On the Isle of Man, the self-appointed genius of 20th-century watchmaking, Dr George Daniels took it upon himself to invent nothing less than the 20th century’s greatest horological advancement after quartz. He reinvented the escapement – the mechanism that controls the transfer of energy in a watch from the power source to the counting mechanism. He took the lever escapement, which was invented back in the 18th century by British watchmaker Thomas Mudge, modified it with some elements of the detent escapement, and created something that used pallets rather than sliding components to create an escapement that needed barely any lubrication. Despite its revolutionary implications, Daniels struggled to find a market for it until 1999, when Omega took the plunge recognising it as a timekeeping innovation that would move watchmaking into the 21st century.

LEATHER AND SILK TRENCHCOAT, LEATHER VEST AND SILK SKIRT HERMÈS, YELLOW GOLD 34MM SELF-WINDING WATCH OMEGA DE VILLE PRESTIGE. Photography © FIRAT ARSLAN for QP Magazine UK

“Omega’s movement-maker ETA needed a forward-looking technology that would attract new blood back into the industry,” explains Daniels’ biographer, Michael Clerizo, speaking about a dark time when Switzerland’s engineering graduates were more likely to be attracted by the local medi-tech sector than a historicalwatchmaker. “The Omega Co-Axial, as it became known, turned a dead end into a highway; it kickstarted a spirit of watchmaking innovation.”

Through prickly dealings with the late genius who passed in 2011, Omega fitted its ETA bases or ébauche mechanics with the new escapement. It debuted in 1999's De Ville in a heavily modified ETA 2892 self-winder, renamed Calibre 2500. Despite the future-forward escapement, it was dressed in the Prestige’s signature motifs, from linked bracelet to ‘triple-apple bassine’ case shape, both present and correct in its 30th-anniversary year.

COTTON-CASHMERE BLEND JACQUARD SWEATERAND COTTON TWEED BLEND TROUSERS DIOR, YELLOW GOLD 41MM SELF-WINDING WATCH OMEGA DE VILLE PRESTIGE. Photography © FIRAT ARSLAN for QP Magazine UK

As you’d expect from the first major modification to a timeworn system such as the Swiss lever escapement, Calibre 2500 had its teething problems. But sure enough the sheer scale of production birthed a second generation of Co-Axials as soon as 2001, now chronometer- certified and yes, housed in De Ville Prestiges. For 2024, you have to look carefully, but there’s so much to unpack and admire in what’s now the third generation, embracing as many as six new watches.

Across the board, there’s an even-slimmer profile that remains, true to the promise of that 1960s poster, “so slim it hugs your wrist.” Where sizes allow, notably for the 40mm and 41mm models, sumptuously PVD-coated blue dials are hollowed underneath to accommodate the extra thickness of the Calibre 88XX movements (either with central or small seconds and/or power reserve; quartz 4061 powering the 30mm and 27.5 ladies’ models). Consistency is clearly a guiding factor, in binding such a disparately sized and coloured capsule collection.

VISCOSE KNIT SHIRT TOM FORD, YELLOW GOLD 34MM SELF-WINDING WATCH OMEGA DE VILLE PRESTIGE. Photography © FIRAT ARSLAN for QP Magazine UK

All sizes feature domed sapphire crystal with inner anti-reflective treatment; crowns are redesigned in both men’s and women’s variants. Yet there is still some important differentiation. While mechanical models are built with a sapphire crystal caseback, quartz models feature a caseback in metal engraved in relief with a ‘God Chronos’ medallion – aka the hourglass-touting Kronos, who personified space and time for the ancients and has been the emblem of the De Ville Prestige since 1994. Roman numerals are applied in a sparing fashion, but not only are ‘XII, II, IIII, XI, VIII and X’ perfectly domed on top, but also underneath: to seamlessly hug the ‘drop-off’ at the domed dial’s circumference. Economical in aesthetic, but like everything in watchmaking, deceptively tricky to achieve so seamlessly.

Then those dials: PVD coated but with a finesse exclusive to Omega; what they call their 2-in-1 finish, which combines a random vertical pattern as well as radiant sun-brushing. From platinum-gold to rose silvery, sandy rose, moonshine gold, even a Japanese breakfast in salmon, matcha green or pine green, the dials of 2024’s De Ville Prestige really do represent the Omega of 2024 with flying colours. And, needless to say, yet another fresh lexicon of historic confusion.