By Aaron Recksiek, CW21
When Omega and the Swatch Group announced their intentions to create a new watch certification in September 2014, many saw it as a direct jab at their biggest competitor. Omega claims it needed to create a new standard by taking into account new technologies and new innovations in watch manufacturing that the longstanding tradition of the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètre (COSC) fell short on. The justification was in response to Omega’s 2013 release of a watch movement capable of withstanding magnetic fields of up to 15,000 gauss. These new watches incorporated balance, escapement, and other movement components, made with silicon and a proprietary metal alloy referred to as Nivagauss.
In collaboration with the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology (METAS), a Swiss government agency, Omega spent more than a year in development before releasing their first watches branded with this new certification in October 2015, the caliber 8900. Omega is branding them as Master Chronometers, for achieving both the METAS certification and the COSC certification. Shortly after the debut of the Master Chronometer, Omega and METAS released details of the test to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH).
First the watch movements are sent to the Saint-Imier COSC facility in Bern. Here they undergo the initial chronometer testing spanning fifteen days, in five positions, and three different temperatures. The watch must perform within seven different criterions. Average daily rate: −4/+6, mean variation in rates: 2, greatest variation in rates: 5, difference between rates in horizontal and vertical positions: −6/+8, largest variation in rates: 10, thermal variation: ±0.6, rate resumption: ±5.
After passing the first round of tests, the watch movements are then forwarded to the new Master Chronometer lab at the Omega Bienne facility. The movements are subjected to two 30-second-long passes of a 15,000 gauss magnetic field in two different positions. If the movements still perform to specification, they are subsequently cased up. The watch head is then exposed to another 30-second stronger (unspecified) electromagnet. After this, the watches are put through a vigorous “roughness” test in six different positions at angles of 23° and 33°. This is intended to simulate the extremes of everyday wear. The final tests are a round of wet water-resistance tests at varying simulated depths. If they pass the final condensation test, the watches are then allowed to carry the title of Master Chronometer.
The tests in Bienne are mostly carried out by Omega staff, but the process is overseen by an independent office of METAS within the facility that has full access to the process and the results data. When the watches reach the point of sale, they are accompanied by a special card giving the eventual owner access to the all the data captured from the eight different tests. The first and only model so far to carry the Master Chronometer certification is the Omega Globemaster.
Aaron Recksiek is an independent watchmaker in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was a graduate of the 2008 WOSTEP class at the Lititz Watch Technicum.