Omega x Swatch blast off together on the BioCeramic MoonSwatch collectionLuke Benedictus
Standing in the Omega HQ in Bienne, Petros Protopapas is visibly excited. The Brand Heritage Director of Omega is holding forth under a vast cosmic backdrop that depicts the planets in technicolour detail in a star-lit sky. “This revolutionises the Swiss watch industry for me,” declares Petros with tangible emotion in his voice. “This is what watchmakers should actually be doing.”
The cause of this animation is laid out before him in a briefcase that has just been opened by Swatch Group CEO Nicholas Hayek Jnr. Inside are 11 watches that feel like a mad anomaly for the watch world. They’re the result of a wildly unexpected collaboration between Omega and Swatch to produce a playful take on the iconic Speedmaster Chronograph. Here in Bienne, I’m witnessing the unveiling of the BioCeramic MoonSwatch.
First, let’s rewind a couple of paces. Ten days ago in Melbourne, Time+Tide received a call from Omega inviting us to attend a secret workshop at their Swiss headquarters. That was the only detail they were able to share at that stage, but they assured us the announcement would be big. When Omega dangles an offer like that, you drop everything and get on a plane.
And so it was that last Friday, I was one of six journalists from all around the world, sitting in a bus on the way to Omega. En route we speculated as to what we were here to see. None of us had the faintest inkling of what was to come.
The bus arrived at Omega and we were shown into a massive room containing multiple drawing boards covered with white cloths. Standing around were some very big hitters. Nicholas Hayek, the CEO of Swatch Group, was chatting over an espresso with Raynald Aeschlimann the dashing CEO of Omega and Gregory Kissling, Omega’s Head of Product Design. Petros Protopapas – the walking Wikipedia on all things Omega – was also present. But so was Carlo Giordanetti, the creative director of Swatch. And weirdly, with the exception of Raynald, everyone was wearing Swatch watches. What on earth was going on?
Then Mr Hayek stood up to address the group. “It’s all about collaboration at the moment,” he admitted. “Collabs are very fashionable between Gucci and Balenciaga or whoever. But often it’s just about the marketing gig – you put the logos from one product to the other one and that’s it. But here we wanted to go a step further because Omega have a product that is an icon in this Swiss watch industry. Then on the other side, there is Swatch. That’s an icon, too, because Swatch saved the Swiss watch industry [during the quartz crisis].”
Swatch, he continued, often take their design inspiration from beloved works or products – from Mickey Mouse to Moma and Keith Haring to Charlie Brown. And so, one day Mr Hayek had a crazy idea. Swatch should collaborate with Omega to create a lively take on the Speedmaster Chronograph.
The BioCeramic MoonSwatch collection
We’ll get into why that is so unusual in a second, but first let’s take a look at the product which, by the way, is priced very keenly at 250 CHF a pop.
As Mr Hayek explained: “The inspiration is the solar system. It’s not just the moon.” What that translates to is 11 watches that each riff off a different planet ranging from Neptune to Mars. Visually, the key Moonwatch design features are all there from the famous tachymeter scale with the dot over 90 to those distinctive Speedmaster subdials with their concentric graining. All models feature the same type of Super-LumiNova used for the Speedmaster on their indexes and hands. The watches’ dimensions are also the same as the Moonwatch and share its 42mm diameter and 13.25mm thickness.
Nevertheless, these watches feel like they come from another galaxy – one that’s a bit more fun-loving and where the aliens won’t invade the earth because they’re far too busy having a good time. That’s because the watches are made not from steel or gold, but Swatch’s proprietary BioCeramic material, a unique mix of two-thirds ceramic and one-third bio-derived plastic. BioCeramic is smooth to the touch and extremely lightweight. But it’s also highly colour-stable, a quality that is exploited to the full in this new collection.
Some other fun details – the MoonSwatches come on Velcro straps that feel like something you can imagine an Apollo astronaut strapping over his spacesuit.
Powering the watches is the Swatch Chrono Quartz movement. But flip the watch over and each of the watches’ battery covers are decorated with a digital photo of their planet that come courtesy of NASA themselves.
Each watch is co-branded Omega x Swatch although they will only be sold in Swatch stores. But my favourite detail is the subversion of the Moonwatch name with an extra “S” cheekily implanted in the middle of the word.
Mission to the Sun
This was the first watch of the collection to be devised and the only dial to feature a sun-brushed finish. The chronograph seconds hand, subdial hands and tachymeter scale are delivered in a perky orange while the subdials, bezel and Velcro strap are in dazzling white. Did someone say summer watch?
Mission to Mercury
This introduces a new BioCeramic colour for the case with a deep grey that is enlivened by the metallic sheen of the velcro strap. The chronograph seconds hand, subdial hands and tachymeter scale are in white, while the subdials and bezel come in black. It’s a dark horse you want to back.
Mission to Venus
Here the white strap perfectly offsets the powdery pastel pink. Oval subdials embellished with diamond-like details on the edges add a touch of feminine elegance. The hours, minutes, chronograph seconds hand and counter hands are also pink. This watch has the option of a smaller velcro strap for the daintier wrist.
Mission to Earth
In the metal, or rather BioCeramic, this a very strong colour combo with the pistachio-green case anchored by the navy. Against that backdrop, the chronograph seconds hand and counter hands are in brown while the subdials are white.
Mission to the Moon
Inspired by the OG, this steel-grey watch is finished with a black velcro strap. All hands and the tachymeter scale are in white, just like the original Moonwatch.
Mission to Mars
This watch features the distinctive spacecraft-shaped hands of the Alaska Project Moonwatch that shares this colour scheme. Present at the workshop was Robert-Jan Broer from Fratello, an Omega obsessive with more than 30 Speedmasters in his personal collection. This is the watch that RJ picked due to the Alaska connection.
Mission to Jupiter
The orange colour here used in the chronograph seconds hand and subdial hands is inspired by the Omega Ultraman. That vivid shade is bedded down with the soothing beige tones and the black velcro strap. It’s an extremely wearable option.
Mission to Saturn
The winning detail here is the seconds subdial that in a quirky twist depicts Saturn’s rings. That’s presented on a background of cool, sandy tones that contrast nicely with the brown bezel and velcro strap.
Mission to Uranus
The colour of the year is evoked with a pastel blue on a bright white strap. The Chronograph seconds hand, counter hands and tachymeter scale background all come in white to complete the fresh, summery feel.
Mission to Neptune
Who can resist an absolute belter of a blue-dial watch? This delivers a winning combo of deep navy tones in a sky-blue case, while the chronograph seconds hand, subdial hands and tachymeter scale are in white. This was my pick of the bunch.
Mission to Pluto
Poor Pluto was recently relegated to dwarf planet status. Luckily, it gets looked after here – the burgundy tones of the counters and bezels complementing the light grey case and eggshell tone of the dial.
Why is this such a big deal?
The BioCeramic MoonSwatch is significant for two reasons. In the watch world, the Speedmaster is an icon and everyone knows, you don’t mess with a classic. In fact, the mere idea of meddling with it is almost blasphemous as Petros readily admits.
“I did not expect anybody within the group would be allowed to touch this most iconic watch. I mean it is the most untouchable watch. I thought changing it would have been a sacrilege, but in fact it is the opposite.”
For Omega to be open to such a free-spirited collaboration is therefore as unexpected as it is refreshing. It’s this meeting of minds and sharing of ideas that Petros believes is so provocative and exciting.
But the other reason why this is such an unusual collection is that it sees the union of two very different brands. Omega is an exceptional brand due to their long history of technical excellence. This, after all, is the brand that didn’t just put the first watch on the moon, they also helped mastermind the METAS certification, they manage the timekeeping for the Olympics, plus they’ve just made a civilian watch that’s water-resistant to 6000m. That’s all wildly impressive, of course, but it’s also pretty serious stuff.
Swatch, on the other hand, are reknowned for their playful joie de vivre and boundless creativity. One upshot of these two brands coming together is that it reveals a lighter side to Omega. It’s as though the revered brand has finally been allowed to loosen its tie and have a bit of fun.
Fun, too, is the reason why the BioCeramic MoonSwatch is a success. It isn’t a straight 1:1 homage. It’s cheekier, more open-minded, more exuberant. Those qualities inform the very spirit of Swatch and they were encapsulated at the end of this event.
As the workshop was drawing to a close, the six journalists were kindly invited to select a MoonSwatch to take home. But this generous offer quickly became a little bit tense. With only one model of each watch available, arguments as to who would secure which watch seemed inevitable. True to form, Swatch’s Creative Director Carlo Giordanetti had a solution and it couldn’t have been more quintessially Swatch. “To decide who picks first,” he suggested, “Why don’t you play musical chairs?”
BioCeramic MoonSwatch pricing and availability:
The BioCeramic MoonSwatch is released on March 26 and will be available from physical Swatch retailers. Consumers will only be allowed to buy two of models of the watch at one time. Price 250 Swiss francs. For more information click here