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From Bulova to Omega: 50 years of lunar adventures

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March 2020


From Bulova to Omega: 50 years of lunar adventures

Today, we tend to associate the conquest of space with the Omega Speedmaster – the only watch worn on the moon, as the Swatch Group manufacture emphasises in its communications. The Europa Star archives provide a more nuanced insight, showing when and how Omega appropriated the image of watchmaking partner of NASA for itself, mainly to the detriment of US company Bulova.

D

uring the 1960s, space exploration was not tied up with any unique relationship between Omega and NASA. The latter used watches from several watchmaking companies. In their advertising, all emphasised two fundamental aspects: the strict selection process of the American space agency and the engineering prowess of Swiss watches.

Such was the case of Breitling, for example: one of its watches was worn by the astronaut who orbited the Earth three times in 1962. The watchmaker stated that its chronometer “functioned perfectly” despite the “very unusual conditions, particularly the absence of gravity”. The Neuchâtel Observatory itself supplied NASA with atomic clocks in the mid-1960s.

Breitling, the precursor, Europa Star in 1963.
Breitling, the precursor, Europa Star in 1963.

Bulova and its Accutron

But it was Bulova that really glamourised its role in the American space programme in its communications: “The trust NASA places in the Bulova factory and the devices derived from the Accutron electronic watch is further proof that, when it comes to precision mechanics, certain watch manufacturers currently attain the peaks of technical perfection” (1966).

During the entire second half of the 1960s, the American watchmaker showed American astronauts receiving their Bulova Accutron in its communications. It also made much of its participation in the moon landing after 1969, when its watch movements and precision instruments were used in numerous pieces of equipment.

Headed up by a former general, Bulova had close links to military and governmental circles.

The presence of Bulova at NASA’s side is more than probably explained by the company’s involvement in defence, electronics and aeronautics research after World War II.

Omega adopts battle positions

In an advertisement published in Europa Star in 1968, Omega announces its imminent departure for the moon.
In an advertisement published in Europa Star in 1968, Omega announces its imminent departure for the moon.

Where Bulova advertised on the basis of its collaboration with NASA, in 1969 Omega portrayed itself as the supplier of chronographs to astronauts. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Neil Armstrong wore Omega watches at their first press conference after their return to Earth. They recounted a few anecdotes about the timepieces – such as how they kept them synchronised with Houston time – which delighted journalists and were published in the specialist press.

© Europa Star 5/1969
© Europa Star 5/1969
© Europa Star 5/1969
© Europa Star 5/1969

Well aware of the interest of stepping up collaboration with the astronauts and NASA, in the early 1970s Omega set out specifically to position its Speedmaster as the watch that was worn on the moon – all the more so since Bulova was experiencing major managerial and financial challenges that would finally down the company by the end of the decade. That left free rein for Omega’s communications department, which rewrote history in its favour.

Omega made its lunar adventure the focal point of its communications, as shown by this ad published in Europa Star in 1981.
Omega made its lunar adventure the focal point of its communications, as shown by this ad published in Europa Star in 1981.

Incidentally, in 1980, when the Biel-based company bought out the company that distributed its watches in the United States, a former astronaut, Thomas Stafford, was appointed chairman of the board of directors. Since the 1980s, Omega has made its participation in moon exploration, along with timekeeping at the Olympic Games, the focal point of its communications.

In 1993, in Basel, Nicolas Hayek summoned astronauts to set out his next grand project: to take Omega to Mars!
In 1993, in Basel, Nicolas Hayek summoned astronauts to set out his next grand project: to take Omega to Mars!
© Europa Star 1993
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