There are numerous facets to Omega as a brand today, with long-standing associations with the cinematic world through its modern stars, and certainly the Bond franchise, through to a wide range of sports, and, of course, its close link with the space program through the past half-century. Its Speedmaster Moonwatch is perhaps one of the most iconic watches, bar none, with an awareness that spreads well beyond the inner circles of watch aficionados. We’d like to draw your attention though to an era that preceded it, one which Omega themselves have seldom addressed in recent years, which we find unusual given that it was quite an important one: the brand’s aviation watches.
Horological developments are often linked to each evolution in transportation technology; as we learned to move around our world with ever-increasing speed, the timing equipment needed to adapt to those activities, not only in accuracy but in usability. The marine chronometers of the early explorers evolved into the clocks and watches that kept the railways running in a timely fashion. Then the advent of the aviation and automobile industries required that these timepieces become more rugged, transportable, and easily accessible; watches had to move from the pocket to the wrist while being subjected to the elements. Omega, already one of the world’s largest watch manufacturers always kept up with these developments and was a keen participant when the aviation world required accurate, well-built watches and even flight instruments that could withstand the rapidly changing environment within an airplane. The brand even developed mechanisms that were more resistant to vibration and others to temperature changes linked to higher altitudes. Usability and legibility were key for aviators, which led to larger cases, making the watches easier to read and operate. This Omega CK 2042 Aviator watch certainly fits the bill, with its 41mm diameter case, very much oversized for that era. It was designed so that it could be worn over a flight jacket on the wrist; there is even reference in Omega literature at the time that the watch could be worn on the knee. Although it has a very functional aspect to it, with the bi-directional rotating bezel and large numerals ensuring the pilot could easily see the required time readings, it has an elegance that would soon be eschewed when these pilot’s watches would be transformed for their military applications. It’s indeed curious that today’s Omega has not devoted more attention to its rich aviation-related history, even though it can be presumed that many of the technical developments related to it eventually gave rise to the Speedmaster collection, which remains one of its modern keystones.