I’ve always been an enthusiastic reader. In my medical training I used to read textbooks in my specialty from cover to cover. Although it was a lot of work, I enjoyed finding little tidbits that proved useful later on. My watch collecting in a way is similar, poring over voluminous online listings and combing through many small shops to find a treasure. Omega, A Journey Through Time is a book that rewards the persistent.
For context, this book was published in 2007. This was the same year at the legendary Omegamania sale by Antiquorum which achieved surprisingly high prices. Swatch group had revitalized the Omega brand in the 1990’s after some years in the quartz wilderness and was ready to promote it as a rival to Rolex. This book was assembled by Marc Richon, the curator of the Omega museum. It can be seen as an investment in order to elevate the brand by providing a definitive guide to its history. A book like this with limited readership needs to be subsidized in order to reach publication, and Swatch was willing to put significant resources behind it.
The book itself is a massive 831 densely packed pages. It is 12.5 inches tall, 10 inches wide, and 2.5 inches thick. The challenge in a book about watches is the organizational scheme. It is necessary to strike a balance between telling a story about a product line like speedmaster versus telling the history in chronological order
A Journey Through Time is divided into 3 chapter units. There is first a preface covering the history in brief. The first set of chapters covers the early history of the brand through manual wind wristwatches. The second set covers chronometers, watches produced for specific purposes such as military issue, and automatic watches. The next set covers the history of the major product lines of Seamaster, Constellation, and De Ville. The last set covers miscellaneous topics, chronographs including Speedmaster, and jewelry watches. The book ends with charts and summaries of important calibers.
Overall, an enormous amount of material is presented. The format is mostly to have several images of watches or vintage ads with captions, similar to a museum presentation. There are also some sections that include sidebars which have longer stories that provide information or context. At times when there is a long and important story like the role of Omega in the space program, the sidebars go on for several pages. Other times they are more self-contained as in the section on railroad watches
In the effort to be comprehensive there are at times small sacrifices that might bother the detail-oriented. I noticed a few blurry images and a handful of incorrect reference numbers. The blurry images seem to represent low resolution internet images of rare references not otherwise available. More commonly, some pages suffer from having many different images on the same page such that some images are hard to examine in detail due to small size. This occurs most commonly with vintage ads which is unfortunate because these are critical for establishing the correctness of vintage watches references. Perhaps vintage Omega watch advertisements deserve a dedicated book. The chapters on contemporary lines also sometimes overemphasizes models that were current at the time of publication.
These small issues pale in comparison to the value of the book overall. There is a treasure trove of material here covering the history of the brand and rare references. It is rare to find similarly comprehensiveness in one resource. Reading the whole book helps give some perspective on the brand and its history. The book even touched on my own family history in showing ads running in Shanghai in 1936 shortly before the Japanese invasion. It was also interesting to see the evolution of a line like Seamaster from representing a “dressy tool watch” incorporating water resistance from the WWII production to the dive watches of today. Omega A Journey Through Time is a monumental work that deserves a place on the watch enthusiast’s bookshelf.