Olympic connection gives timepieces a winning charm

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""Olympic Games"" – Google News

Tom Hamilton-Dick’s Omega Chrono quartz watch is an eye-catcher. It was made for the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal and was the first digital / analog chronograph. “This thing looks like it’s something Buck Rogers should be wearing,” says the Omega collector – adding that the design is similar to the stadium timing boards used at the Games.

The landmark is one of five clocks owned by the Briton, an assistant director at a university, that were made for the Olympic Games. He notices a growing interest in these commemorative clocks among collectors. “These are great things to talk about,” he says.

At next year’s Winter Games, which will be held in Beijing in February, Omega will be the Official Timekeeper at the Olympic Games for the 30th time. To mark one year, the brand launched a stainless steel Seamaster Diver 300m with minute markings at 2, 4, 8, 10 and 12 in the five Olympic ring colors and the Beijing Games emblem embossed on the case back.

Jonathan Darracott, global watch division manager at Bonhams auction house, says collectors are “distracted” to buy Olympic watches rather than being the focus of collections. “They are collectibles because they are unusual watches,” he says. “It is not only an annual clock, but also a city clock.”

Tom Hamilton-Dick’s Omega Chrono-Quartz for the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal © Tom Hamilton

His favorite specimen is a gold Omega Seamaster, made for the Melbourne Games in 1956, with the Olympic Cross of Merit on the dial. Bonhams sold one for HK $ 38,125 ($ 4,900) in 2019, which, according to Darracott, is about three times the price of the same model without the Olympic connection.

Golden Omega Seamaster to commemorate the 1956 Melbourne Games © Omega

Most of the watches made to commemorate the Olympic Games are omegas, thanks to the brand’s long association with the event: it was the official timekeeper in Los Angeles for the first time in 1932. There are exceptions, however. A stainless steel Longines chronograph made for the 1972 Munich Olympics was sold at Bonhams for HK $ 14,025 ($ 1,800) last year.

Longines Chronograph for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich
Longines Chronograph for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich

A rare stainless steel Seiko chronograph with a lap counter produced for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 – the first of six games in which the brand acted as the official timekeeper – ran the first auction dedicated to the Japanese watchmaker. Described as the “holy grail” of Seiko watches prior to being sold at Bonhams last year, it was priced at HK $ 138,125 ($ 17,740) and is now on display at the Seiko Museum Ginza.

But it’s not just vintage models that appear on the secondary market. Phillips sold an Omega Speedmaster made for Tokyo 2020 for HK $ 63,000 ($ 8,090) last November, up from its high of HK $ 50,000 – more than six months prior to the postponed games. The model with a red bezel representing one of the Olympic rings was part of a limited edition of 2,020 pieces that hit the Japanese market before the Games.

Raynald Aeschlimann, President and CEO of Omega, says the appearance of his Olympic watches on the secondary market reflects “the very clear global success of some of these references”.

Seamaster Diver 300m for the Beijing Olympics next year
Seamaster Diver 300m for the Beijing Olympics next year

However, Alexandre Ghotbi, Phillips’ watch director for continental Europe and the Middle East, says that Olympic watches are a “very niche area,” even though pieces at auctions sell at a 5 or 10 percent mark-up on unlinked comparable models. It is a rarity that makes a watch desirable, he adds, so that a watch to commemorate the Olympic Games “does not meet all the criteria. . . a real collector’s item, unless this watch was never actually sold or never made public and given to the athletes or the organizers ”.

Sotheby’s sold a Rolex Datejust from circa 1988 that sported the Olympic rings on the dial and was made for members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for CHF 21,250 ($ 23,000) in 2014, more than three times its low estimate .

Today, Omega’s partnership with the IOC, which runs until 2032, protects the brand from competition from other companies that make Olympic watches. In return, Omega leads its designs past the IOC, in line with the protection granted to Olympic logos.

Tyson Gay from the United States wins the Men's 100m Round 1 Preliminaries, on day 8 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 4, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Omega via Getty Images)
Omega was the Official Timekeeper of the Olympic Games almost 30 times. Pictured: Tyson Gay from the USA wins the men’s 100m round 1 on day 8 of the London 2012 Olympics © Getty Images

Aeschlimann, noticing more interest in his company’s Olympic watches due to the Tokyo 2020 postponement, says Omega’s association with the games highlights the brand’s values, including heritage, responsibility, precision and pioneering spirit. “We’re not on screen because it’s marketing, but because we got that right from the IOC to make sure people. . . knows [the timing] is precise, ”he says. The role of being there for the athletes and emphasizing their performance also has an “emotional part,” he adds.

Such a global presence has consequences: sales of Omega watches during the Summer Olympics were higher this summer than in a “normal” month, says Aeschlimann.

The brand’s social media networks also recorded “extremely high peaks”, with the website receiving up to 100 percent more visitors.

Swimming: 2008 Summer Olympics: USA Michael Phelps in action at the start of the third stage of the men's 4x100m medley relay final at the National Aquatics Center
© Simon Bruty / Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

Aeschlimann says Omega’s research and development for its Olympic timing mission is helping to further develop its mechanical watches.

It is the brand’s history of innovation and precision that appeals to Hamilton-Dick. He says the Olympic watches are “so special because they remind you of a particular moment. There was a certain design, a certain ethos, a certain consideration to introduce this watch at this time to commemorate something so important. The Olympics helped give us all more hope this year. “

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