I don’t know if anyone paid attention, but there was one small change in the criteria for watches eligible to be nominated between the first election last year and this year. In 2022, I stated that watches launched in previous years with only a cosmetic tweak in the election year, such as dial color, could not be nominated. After all, I was thinking, it’s the same watch, just with a different dress. So what changed in 2023? Well, after some feedback and further consideration, it felt unfair to discriminate against pure aesthetics. They require a lot of worthy work too, and certainly matter to watch enthusiasts.
I’m mentioning this because the 2023 Bienne Watch of the Year is in large part a cosmetic variation of an existing model. Still, even with last year’s rules, it probably would have been eligible. You see, the Omega Aqua Terra World Timer in its Seamaster 75th Anniversary edition is about more than just the new “Summer Blue” dial color.
From a watchmaking standpoint, there is one notable difference between the Summer Blue Worldtimer and its predecessor launched in 2020, or the more recent green variant from last year: the caseback is closed, instead of see-through sapphire, with an engraving of Poseidon pulled by Omega’s signature seahorses. The other, more symbolic difference, is that it’s not simply yet another color: the watch is meaningfully part of a collection created to celebrate the 3 quarters of a century of the legendary Seamaster line. Finally, there’s another detail on the dial: London, the reference city for GMT, no longer stands out in red as in the other versions.
Regardless of its variants, there is certainly a lot to like about the Aqua Terra Worldtimer. The laser engraving of the surface of the earth, as seen from the North Pole, is exceptionally precise, and absorbing. The function, telling time in 24 different timezones at once, is both romantic and useful. Where the watch perhaps stands out most is that the majority of worldtimers out there are very classic, dressy watches. This one is sporty, bold, and between its Master Chronometer certification and 150 meter water resistance, it’s a true toolwatch. Last but not least, it says “Bienne” on the dial, where most world timers have Paris or Geneva for the GMT +1 timezone.
I personally find that in this Summer Blue edition, something really comes together, making the watch even better than its predecessors. To start, I’m a personal fan of closed casebacks, especially on a toolwatch. Beyond that, the color just suits the model perfectly. It augments the sensation of water, of the oceans, of the world on your wrist, but it also almost feels like that favorite pair of jeans. Something that can go with just about anything, gently toning down a design that could perhaps be a bit much otherwise.
A few hours after the vote opened at 2 pm Bienne time on Saturday, it became pretty clear that a duel emerged. The Christopher Ward C1 Moonphase and the Worldtimer detached themselves into a 2 horse race. On Sunday morning, the Aqua Terra was ahead, with a lead consistently held until votes closed. It claimed 38% of the total, with 29% for the C1 Moonphase. In third place, the other Omega Summer Blue edition, the Seamaster 300, obtained 21% of the vote, with 12% for the titanium Rolex Yacht-Master.
It’s quite remarkable that Omega managed to have 2 watches among the final 4, and end up with one of them winning the contest. Personally, I thought that the presence of 2 models, especially from the same collection, would split the vote and open the path to one of the other brands.
It is equally remarkable that Christopher Ward claimed second place among such powerhouses of watchmaking. It’s the first time an independent brand makes it to the final, and it performed extremely well. Many of you showed a lot of interest in what the British company is doing in general, and its production in Bienne specifically. I hope to have the opportunity to visit them early next year for an article!
What this means for Omega
To be honest, probably not much! Omega is one the largest watch brands in the world, and this informal award from a small local blog is likely the last thing on their mind. That said, I do think there’s a few things to take away from it, and some may bring a smile to the faces of Raynald Aeschlimann and his teams.
Last year was the year of the Speedmaster, and Omega was everywhere. People were waiting outside for a MoonSwatch while others paid 4 times retail for a Silver Snoopy Speedmaster. Sales of classic Speedmasters went up 40% according to unofficial accounts. This year’s headlines took somewhat of a different turn, following a scandal around the record-breaking auction sale of a chocolate-dial Speedmaster that involved alleged wrongdoings from some employees, terminated since.
Seeing Omega win the award again this year (after sharing it last year with Swatch) is a small reminder that the brand is doing extremely well, both in terms of the quality of its products and its popularity. 143 years after the Brandt brothers settled in Bienne, Omega still manages to capture our attention and our imagination, reinventing a product we thought we’d already seen into something even more desirable. I would like to extend a warm congratulations to the entire team there, and am already looking forward to seeing what they will all come up with in 2024.