So, we are talking about the Omega Marine Chronometer 2.4MHz, MEGAQUARTZ! For those of a management persuasion, someone who hasn’t got the time to have a leisurely read; the synopsis of this article is, I love this watch!
For those with a little more time on their hands, here is a rather long reminisce…
Let me start by saying, I am an old fart, a techy fart, but nonetheless, an old fart. I have just turned 60 and I must remember to get my Senior Citizen train pass; except I keep forgetting. He-Ho…
I was born in 1961, and I didn’t know it at the time, but the 60s and 70s were going to be a great time to be growing up. Life was much simpler then, and the green shoots of recovery from the War years were well established and new innovations seemed to be arriving daily.
Take 1969 as an example, here are a few highlights…
On January 30th, The Beatles performed live for the last time on the roof of Apple’s building in Savile Row, London. Their record label’s building, not the Apple Corporation of today!
Boeing’s 747, the world’s first wide-body commercial jetliner, made its maiden flight on February 9th, making air travel affordable for millions of people around the globe.
Concorde made its first test flight from Toulouse in France, on March 2nd before making its first supersonic flight on October 1st.
On Sunday, July 20th, Neil Armstrong became the first man to step onto the surface of the Moon, saying “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”. Oh; and he just happened to have an Omega Speedmaster on his wrist, changing the “watch world” into the “watch Universe”!
Being cheeky, here is a ‘69 Speedy we have for sale…
The legendary three-day Woodstock music festival began in upstate New York on August 15th. One of the most prolific line-ups in history including such icons as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, Santana, and The Who, all played. It attracted 500,000 people and defined a generation.
The first permanent ARPANET link between computers across the U.S. was established on October 29th, a milestone in what becomes the World Wide Web; enabling you to read this without a Newspaper, magazine, or letter!
and not forgetting,
This was the year that a race between Zenith, Seiko, and a consortium of Heuer, Breitling, Dubois Dépraz, and Hamilton-Buren was on; to be the first to bring an automatic chronograph movement to market. This culminated in the creation of some of our most iconic and coveted timepieces, which people can’t stop talking about, even today.
Life was on the up!
For me, aged between 0 and 10, if I’m honest, I wasn’t really aware of these milestones in history.
Yes, I remember “One small step…”, I watched it on a Phillips COLOUR television with three TV channels, and they were all showing the same thing.
Being a BOAC Junior Jet Club member myself, I remember seeing a Jumbo Jet flying for the first time and couldn’t believe something so big could stay in the air.
Watching Concorde was, like the Moon landing, a televisual feast; with the whole family sitting around the TV, to see it majestically take-off from Toulouse Airport in France. We ate Shipham’s fish paste and cucumber sandwiches followed by Mr Kipling’s Cherry Bakewell Tarts. Exceedingly good!
Only later could you set your watch by it, as it flew overhead. It roared over our house at about 4 pm, if I remember correctly, and was as regular as clockwork. What a glorious sight and the sound – wow, nothing else sounded like Concorde!
No, the 60s for me, was either school time or holiday time. A time of long hot summers, outside from dawn to dusk,
and back for teatime where I would be fed (most of the time) Beans on Toast or Birdseye Fishfingers with two slices of bread. This was followed by a Choc-Top yoghurt or Angel Delight.
Who remembers Choc-Top yoghurts?
Happy days indeed!
No, it was the 70s, that I have the most vivid memories of.
There were still the long hot summers (who remembers 1976!), me on my Chopper (another product launched in 1969!), and my brother Paul, on his Tomahawk; much to his chagrin!
My father, Michael, had left the Army shortly after I was born and he joined a fledgling organisation, as a salesman, in the new world of computers. That fledgling company was IBM, and it turns out, He was a very successful salesman. He had a fabulous career in the computer world culminating in becoming Vice President for Europe, for Memorex Corporation, and having the honour of an entry within “Who’s Who of America”. Life in the Kelly family, I have to say, was fantastic.
Having a father in the computer industry, I was very aware of technology, and I was fascinated by it.
It may seem strange today but seeing a calculator in 1971 was truly amazing; let alone a computer system the size of a football pitch!
Particularly when you consider a calculator, with four functions and a red “wire display” read-out cost over £180.00, that’s £1500.00, in today’s money!
Just to put that into perspective, the average weekly salary for a man in 1971 was £28.00 per week, so it would take (using a calculator) 6.428571428 weeks to pay for it. That doesn’t take into account, that in 1971, the average rate of income tax, on earned income, was 40%.
I feel like saying “Whaaaat?” in an Oprah Winfrey type way :0)
Taking taxation into account, this calculator would take over 10 weeks to save for and that is saving everything you’ve got; no food, no nothing.
So, as I say, technology fascinated me, it was in my veins, so it was only natural and inevitable, that I would crave a digital watch. They were impossibly expensive, but that didn’t stop me from asking for one, for literally EVERY birthday… only to be disappointed.
I forgot to mention one other significant event that occurred in 1969.
On the 25th of December, Seiko introduced the Quartz Astron 35SQ, the first-ever quartz wristwatch in history. An incredible achievement that was lauded by the whole watch industry at the time.
Little did the Swiss watch industry realise the devastating effect Quartz would have on their sector, and how quickly.
Many have described what happened as being the “Quartz Crisis” and if you were a Swiss manufacturer, unable to adapt to the new world order, I can see why you would view it that way.
Someone famous once said although I can’t remember who (another CRAFT moment!), “Adapt or die”.
The Swiss watch industry was slow to react with only a couple of manufacturers, Rolex & Omega, even willing to attempt Quartz technology. There is no doubt the Swiss watch industry nearly disappeared entirely.
However, I preferred the view from the other side of the fence. I saw it as a “Quartz Revolution”, with infinite new possibilities just over the horizon. Someone less famous (that’s me) once said, “When there’s a revolution, be revolting!”.
Rolex played around the edges of the Quartz crusade by introducing the Oysterquartz, and these today, have become very collectable in their own right.
Here is one of several we have for sale…
However, Rolex never really joined the revolution, instead, they let the Oysterquartz slowly die on the vine.
Omega, however, were up for a scrap!
They understood the significance of Quartz, they had the technical capability and a desire to remain at the cutting edge of horological innovation.
What’s more, they were secretly developing their own quartz technology in an underground bunker deep in the Swiss mountains
Ok, I made the underground bunker up, sorry; but they were secretly working on quartz.
Yes, a double oops!
I have just realised; Omega launched their first Quartz wristwatch, the “Electroquartz” in 1969 too, although it wasn’t marketed for sale until January 1970, thus was pipped by Seiko, just one month before. Damn it!
The Electroquartz was accurate to 5 seconds per month, far better than any automatic or manual wind chronometer at the time and an enormous leap forward in accurate timekeeping.
Omega didn’t sit on its laurels either, they were committed to improving quartz technology and in doing so, making watches that were more and more accurate still.
Their early efforts within the quartz field culminated in a watch that I have coveted for many years, and I have been lucky enough, to have recently bought one!
I am speaking of course, of none other than, the Omega Marine Chronometer 2.4MHz Megaquartz Constellation, ref: ST398.0832.
What a king mouthful!
The last iteration of Omega’s Marine Chronometer, utilising the updated 1516 Megaquartz movement, which was launched in 1976, and was only sold for a very short time, three to four years at most.
There is a wonderful website which is well worth a visit if you are so inclined, which gives a lot of information on these technological marvels. You can find it here…
Within the mass of information available on this site, when talking about production numbers, they state, “Following detailed research and correspondence with the observatory at Besançon it would appear that the production numbers of the Marine Chronometer have been grossly overestimated”. They go on to say, “It may well be that numbers of movements were kept as spares but the following correlates with the watches as tested by Besançon and certified in the observatory, the total Certificates issued is 5682, of which 1809 were “1516” movement watches”. This makes these watches quite rare, and even rarer in perfect working condition, which mine is!
Exotic, strange-looking and painfully expensive, the Marine Chronometer was presented in a chunky, oh-so 70s, pyramid ingot stainless steel case, measuring a massive (remember we are talking pre-Panerai days) 12.4mm thick x 32.7mm wide x 44mm long!
The solid case is adorned with a 14ct yellow gold bezel and was signed “MARINE CHRONOMETER” across the top of the black stepped dial.
A 14ct gold insert proudly displays the movements serial number (in my watch’s case, 37060302 making it one of the last few hundred ever made), on its substantial sloping, almost pyramidal, brushed steel case-side. This wasn’t just a watch; it was a scientific instrument!
It really made a statement and is still a “heavyweight” to wear today.
This watch just oozed “70’s COOL” like nothing else.
It was widely advertised within the national press, but particularly in, The Sunday Times Magazine, which was “THE” magazine of good taste and aspirational temptation of the time.
The advert promised unbridled accuracy with their bold headline stating,
“This is the only wristwatch ever to be certified a marine chronometer.”
They were right!
The Marine Chronometer Megaquartz was the most accurate non-thermo-compensating watch ever made, having an unrivalled accuracy of 12 seconds per year. A manual wind watch could lose that in a day!
And over 45 years later…
it is STILL the only watch to hold the title of ‘Certified Marine Chronometer’.
Amongst many other revolutionary features, it was also the first watch produced with a TSA (time second adjustment) to enable the hour to be changed independently of minutes and seconds along with a separate pusher for setting seconds. Thereby allowing extremely accurate time signal synchronisations with an atomic clock; whilst being able to change time zones easily too.
What glorious stuff to read as a teenage techy?
Even more appealing, Omega presented the owner of such a watch, as an international traveller, a TWA Chief Pilot, no less. In the American Omega advert (above), serial number 37058421 is worn by Captain J.E. Frankum, who also appears in this 1981 TWA advert (below), for TWA’s new L-1011 widebody jet.
He was quite the star!
It does make me wonder, where has 37058421 gone? Does anyone know?
Ok, as a 15-year-old, myopic teenager, I was never going to make the grade to be a Pilot, let alone a Chief Pilot, but if I had the watch… well you never know what might happen.
Have I mentioned – I absolutely love this watch! No?
Well, I thought it would suit me down to the ground and would enhance my Brut smelling, spotty faced, odorous aura no end.
There was just one problem though… the price!
I hope you can read the copy in the advert (sorry it’s not very good quality), there you will see this watch was for sale at $1850.00 or the equivalent of £1100.00, in 1976; and quickly using the calculator again, that’s £8100 today, considering inflation.
And to enhance this watches absolute “unachievable-ness-ness” even further, that perennial favourite, the stainless-steel Rolex Submariner “Date”, was going for just $230.00 or roughly £140.00.
Blimey, you could have bought 8.04347826 Subbies for the same price!
So maybe, the reason I desired the Marine Chronometer so desperately was because of its unachievableness-ness? Perhaps, but that doesn’t explain why, to this day, I had an itch that needed to be scratched.
History hasn’t been kind to the Omega Marine Chronometer.
Although it was cutting edge for its time, technology moves on; is anybody still using a Nokia 6210? Do you see what I mean? Seiko was to become the dominant force, and ultimate Victor, of the Quartz Revolution.
They understood; to make it pay, you had to make it available to all. Pricing for Quartz watches fell rapidly resulting in watches so cheap, you couldn’t give them away. The Swiss watch industry was decimated and, on its knee’s.
And, at the end of the day, Omega just didn’t have the resources or might to compete.
Yes, they were fully paid-up members of the Quartz-Club and even today, quartz is still an integral part of Omega’s portfolio, ranging in price from a few hundred £’s to tens of thousands of £’s.
But, with Omega suspected of losing money on every Marine Chronometer they sold, and that watch tastes had moved on, they stopped retailing it in early 1980.
A Supernova of a watch, in Omega’s Constellation! There burning bright, for a nano-second, then gone.
But not completely forgotten…
I can’t claim the Marine Chronometer was high up in my psyche; no it was on the periphery, a fleeting memory, sparked by seeing one on ChasingChrono.com, or by someone mentioning it in a “Do you remember…” type conversation.
The flame was there, barely flickering, but it was there.
I suppose as you get older, you reminisce for days gone by. You look at the ever-changing world and pine for simpler times. More change is on its way. This time it’s not quartz, but Lithium, which is being hailed the new wonder drug, sorry, power-source.
When you look back, you get the feeling, it’s now or never. I want to and will do things, to satisfy my inner soul. Rather selfish, but you only live once.
For example, soon we won’t be able to drive petrol cars, these being frowned upon and seen as planet killers. That’s why I drive a Mercedes E500, a monstrous V8 gas guzzler, from 1994, capable of 175 miles an hour. That’s if you have big enough Cahoon’s and an Autobahn the size of Germany to wring its neck out on.
You only live once.
I am trying to retire from the Promotions Company I have run for over thirty years, to concentrate on the things that I love doing, those which don’t seem like work at all to me, and a big part of that, for me, is Watches!
It’s funny, but being in the watch business, you can buy almost any watch you desire, budgets allowing and assuming you can get permission; or have a good “wheeze” to get forgiven, by your business partner for doing so.
I usually go for the “wheeze”.
Ask David, my business partner at The Chrono Duo, about the Chromachron ColourTime, I once bought!
Anyway, during one of my many auctions “watch dredging” exercises… scroll no, scroll no, scroll no, scroll no – ahh… hang on, what was that?
For a fleeting moment, I had spotted a thin gold bezel and a gold lozenge, nothing more, but it was enough to pause and go back to look.
And there it was, what is now, my watch.
It looked good, not too scratched or dinged and the rather weak description said it was working. The price seemed reasonable as well.
At that moment, the flickering flame, burst into a full blaze, and all reasoning left my body!
I immediately put an absentee bid into the auction house, thinking, it will never go for that, and if it does, then I will just have to talk David round. It was to my surprise, therefore, that an email popped into my in-box, a few days later, telling me, I was the new lucky owner!
What had I done?
And it gets worse…
I bought my watch from Italy, which is normally a very good hunting ground for vintage watches; we at The Chrono Duo have bought many from there in the past. But I purchased the watch on the 6th of January 2021, six days after the UK had officially left the EU.
As you can see, I wasn’t thinking, and little did I know of the chaos that was about to ensue.
The watch was sent in all good time, communication from the seller was great and I received the tracking number straight away too. The parcel appeared on UPS’s system that afternoon, and its journey started well. However, when it got to Cologne in Germany, its progress ground to a halt.
Three, then four days passed without any further movement of the parcel and a complete lack of communication from UPS didn’t help. When I called them, I was told, “It’s with Customs and they are snowed under with parcels, we don’t know how long it will take.” How about six weeks and a Customs payment of nearly £700.00!
This really wasn’t going very well, now was it.
My joy at finally receiving the watch was short-lived too. It was working, but it was losing minutes an hour.
My fault of course. I had not used my noggin, by asking myself all the right questions before purchasing; like, “has the watch ever been serviced?” and “when you say it works, what do you mean by that?” Had I done any research whatsoever?
Nope, I hadn’t done that, heart-over-head, you see.
So, what to do?
Selling the idea of The Chrono Duo, buying it to sell, wasn’t going to be an easy wheeze to get past David.
No, instead, I decided to bite the bullet and put my impetuousness solely down to me and vowed never to be so foolish again. OK, it didn’t work properly, but I was happy to have a Marine Chronometer in my collection. Heh-ho.
This long-winded drivel does have a happy ending though.
Having decided the watch was mine, I did what I should have in the first place. I did some research. And thank (your) God I did, as I found out about Swiss Time Services.
Their name had popped up on several Omega forums and chat groups, as the Marine Chronometer gurus. I made a call and they confirmed they could provide a full service and restore the watch to its former glory.
I sent it off and the tantalising wait began. Nearly 10 weeks pass by, but finally, the email, saying its restoration was complete, hit my in-box. It arrived the next day, safe and sound.
What can I say, all those joyous feelings I had for this watch when I first saw it in those Sunday Times adverts, all those years ago, came flooding back? Oh, you bet they did!
I was 15 again, and I couldn’t believe this was actually my watch.
What a stupendous job Swiss Time Services have done, it is like a new watch and most importantly of all, it works perfectly.
It’s a beast on the wrist.
Its heft is not dissimilar to wearing a Solid Gold Rolex, on a Solid Gold bracelet. Let’s put it this way, you know it’s there!
I just adore the chunky “Ghost” brushed bracelet that glistens like a Pearl under indoor lighting, and shines like White Neon, in sunlight. The gold bezel and serial number lozenge, giving it just the right hint of opulence. These 14ct Gold highlights, perfectly enhance and counterbalance what would otherwise be a slab-sided pyramid of Steel. Take a look at the French version to see what I mean.
Knowing its beating heart is one of the most accurate movements ever made, tickles my inner techy too.
Have I told you, I love this watch?
Well, it hasn’t left my wrist since I got it in my hot sweaties, and yes, I love it!
Isn’t it strange how an inanimate object can make you feel that “all is good in the world”, particularly considering the world we are currently living in?
That’s a tick in the “food for the soul” box, for sure.
Have you ever experienced a similar watch “heart-over-head”, purchasing experience?
I would love to hear about it.
I was chatting to a friend about my meanderings above, and probably boring him ridged about my wonderful new watch; when he asked if I knew about the CITIZEN “Calibre 0100” quartz watches?
Recently launched and named after the Eco-Drive movement, they deliver the world’s most precise time-keeping accuracy of within ±1 second per year. That’s twelve times more accurate than Omega’s pinnacle effort.
Wow, that’s truly amazing!
And the price?
Well, it’s a limited edition, and if you can find one, of the 100 White Gold models that is still available, then its retail price is $16800.00. That’s just 1.142857142 times more than the retail price of a new Rolex Daytona 116500LN. That’s the Stainless Steel, Ceramic bezelled one!
There’s progress for you.
However, it hasn’t been tested as a Marine Chronometer, so I still win!