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A Look Inside The All New Omega Factory In Bienne

A Look Inside The All New Omega Factory In Bienne Inside the Manufacture

After 12 years of planning and development, Omega watches opened the doors to its newest mechanical watch assembly facility in late 2017. Japanese architect Shigeru Ban proved his exceptional skill as well as understanding of Omega’s core values when designing the Nicolas G. Hayek Centre in the Ginza business district of Tokyo. Inspired by traditional watch manufacture style, the Omega Watch Factory is anything but your typical watchmaking facility.

A Look Inside The All New Omega Factory In Bienne Inside the Manufacture

It is a brief, but telling medical report on the state of the watch industry how many – or, shall we say, how few – truly new watch manufactures have been built and opened recently… And it is an equally telling tale on who’s been doing exceptionally well, when you look at those able to afford such a risky and gargantuan investment into themselves and their own future. We have visited the all-new Omega Factory, as they like to call it, in Bienne, to see how the shining new manufacture is different from the rest.

A Look Inside The All New Omega Factory In Bienne Inside the Manufacture

The Omega factory in 1902…

I mean, no one really bats an eye anymore if a new car, electronics, or clothing manufacture pops out of the ground from one day to the next in any part of the world, but the majority of the luxury watch industry has been having rather more pressing issues to deal with recently than to commission and construct massive new production capacities – especially after many have burned themselves quite badly by overreaching in some bubbly markets.

A Look Inside The All New Omega Factory In Bienne Inside the Manufacture

…The Omega “bureau technique” in 1913…

I know you are by every chance here to learn about how this new manufacture can be different from the others, and we’ll get to that soon enough – I just fancy a tiny bit more mental exercising, before we let the secure, but silent doors of the new building slide apart in front of us. Before our visit, I had been toying with the idea of just how many things have to come together for a watch brand to end up deciding something along the lines of “yep, we are pretty sure we absolutely must spend an incomprehensible sum on a new manufacture to be able to perform at our best!”

A Look Inside The All New Omega Factory In Bienne Inside the Manufacture

…and today, inside the all-new Omega Factory.

Just imagine the number of different minds that must be put at ease about such an investment – if I were an accountant at Omega, I’m pretty sure I’d be grey like Gandalf or, worse still, balder than Vin Diesel by now. But a new Omega factory did happen, in fact it had to happen, because if brands like Breguet and Blancpain and Jaquet Droz and Harry Winston were meant to be the shiniest jewels in the Swatch Group’s crown – which all need a bit of polishing, to put it mildly – I find it’s not a stretch to say Swatch Group’s crown itself is Omega… And, while we are at it, Swatch are the hard-working people.

A Look Inside The All New Omega Factory In Bienne Inside the Manufacture

A Look Inside The All New Omega Factory In Bienne Inside the Manufacture

It’s important to mention that the new factory is not an extension of the previous one but rather a replacement. This is to say that while the new building does have extra capacity built into it – it would be idiotic not to do so when constructing an all new facility – it serves a purpose very different from merely seeking a boost in output.

Unsurprisingly, Omega refers to this new, 16,000 square meter (about 170,000 square foot), five story, high-tech facility as a new chapter in its history of innovation and manufacturing. Brimmed with the latest manufacturing and quality control technologies, it clearly was designed to be sustainable not just from an ecological standpoint, but from an efficient workplace’s perspective as well.

A Look Inside The All New Omega Factory In Bienne Inside the Manufacture

Naturally, the new facility is right next door to the old one, situated in the expectedly sleepy town of Biel – or Bienne, if you prefer the French version like Omega does. It was here, under Rue Jakob-Stampfli in 1882 that Louis Brandt & Fils opened their workshop (self-proclaimed Omega historians will scream at this point saying that Louis Brandt founded the predecessor company back in 1848 in La Chaux-de-Fonds and they’d be right, except for the screaming part of it). Omega, as the operation has been called since 1903, to this day remains to be found on Rue Jakob-Stampfli, though with a much, much increased footprint both literally and figuratively speaking.

A Look Inside The All New Omega Factory In Bienne Inside the Manufacture

One of the main goals with the new building was to bring all operations under the same roof; all steps from watch assembly, bracelets, packaging, and shipping are now performed in this single location, without items having to be transferred elsewhere. Watchmakers’ speak would call these steps T2, T3, and T4. Those with a keen mathematical mind will have realized by now that T1, i.e. manufacturing is missing from this equation. Being a Swatch Group brand, it is easy to understand Omega’s collaboration with the Group’s manufacturing and R&D capacities with ETA, Asulab, and Nivarox-FAR – these are Omega’s sister companies with the know-how and technology required to produce the special movement components exclusively for Omega.

A Look Inside The All New Omega Factory In Bienne Inside the Manufacture

An interesting tidbit I found in Omega’s commentary on its new factory is this: “As a new generation of watch buyers emerges, Omega has revolutionized its facilities with this exciting development, all in readiness to meet their demands.” This actually works in a few easy ways to figure out on your own (a more efficient manufacture and a top-tier quality workplace can only do good for the product) and a few that are not quite so self-explanatory.

A Look Inside The All New Omega Factory In Bienne Inside the Manufacture

Omega’s plans are to move its after sales service department into the manufacture building it had been using up until the opening of the new place next door. This move likely comes as an answer to what has for long proven to be basically an industry-wide issue: the issue of terribly slow and inefficient after sales. Clearly not all brands perform equally (or, should I say, equally bad), but it sounded like ensuring that Omega has an after sales capacity that matches its output and hence provides an ideal experience for Omega watch owners is an important, though little talked about improvement the move provides.

A Look Inside The All New Omega Factory In Bienne Inside the Manufacture

With all this said, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of the new factory. Designed by world renowned architect, Shigeru Ban, the new facility – along with the new Swatch HQ that’s under construction next door (also designed by Shigeru-san) – means a deep breath of fresh air for those tired and bored with the decidedly timid Swiss architecture.

A Look Inside The All New Omega Factory In Bienne Inside the Manufacture

Even all the wood used in the new building was specifically requested to be from Switzerland.

In 2014, Shigeru-san was awarded with the Pritzker prize, one of the most prestigious awards in architecture for his significant contributions to architectural innovation and philanthropy, with the jury declaring him a “tireless architect whose work exudes optimism.” We tip our hats to Omega for hiring someone as widely acknowledged and creative as the Japanese architect.

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  • Woow… New watch factory? No one got the memo about traditional watch sales going down?

    • FrankD51

      Maybe Omega knows more about the watch business than you do.

      • Raymond Wilkie

        Funny………A wee bit cheeky, but funny.

      • Ian Macpherson – U Tube

        Omega probably does, however, aren’t watch makers facing a tech challenge? We know they survived the quartz era which Seiko started, but aren’t young people more interested in Android and other electronic watches. Hey, I’m 63 and in less than two years I have 24 watches. I really got into it, but when I look at the new Samsung and how it can look like a regular watch at the press of a button, I get it. Before you jump on me, I like my watches to the point that I wear a watch on my left wrist and a Garmin on my right – because fitness is more important than mechanical watches or the looks I might get lol. I love the mechanical element of watches, I’m just not sure the industry will sell the PER CENT of available buyers out there from the new generation that covet electronics. Case in point, TAG makes Smart watches. I like the artistry of mechanical watches, but lets be HONEST, mechanical watches are the least accurate and require servicing that with higher end watches can be expensive!

      • Ian Macpherson – U Tube

        Wow David. I tried to get into the discussion by posting a time consuming reply. I’ve only been collecting watches for less than 2 years, but got really into it. I posted at this point and my post is gone? Whats with that? I think part of this blog was about customer satisfaction.

  • Raymond Wilkie

    In some parallel universe i am working there.

    • PollyO

      Actually making watches? Or up in the ”Department of Comments” on Level 4 where people get to just sit around all day and get paid to tell people that their minute hands are too short?

      In my case, i’d settle for being the gardener and getting to mosy around the building looking at all the cool shit going on during my lunch break.

      • Raymond Wilkie

        I can’t help but thing you started your comment as a little dig on me, maybe i’m just being paranoid. Anyhoo, …..
        Once I had graduated from the British school of watch making ( BSOW ) I would do my apprenticeship at some fancy place in Switzerland like JLC or Carter where I would quickly move up the ranks to become a designer with the hope of breaking away to start the design of the RW watch range………then I would wake up ,switch on the TV and have a soda and some cheesy puffs.

        • PollyO

          It was a dig but it was aimed at others.

          Mmm, cheesy puffs.

  • Thanks for the report David. Google Maps still shows the bare ground (well concrete) where the previously demolished building stood. https://www.google.com/maps/@47.1429186,7.2593503,101m/data=!3m1!1e3

  • Tõnis Leissoo

    More pictures please!

    • David Bredan

      As much as we’d love to share more, these are all the images we can feature (not at all just Omega, basically all major manufactures are secretive about their daily operations and even their staff as they are, with reason, worried of the competition). When invited, you can go there and see it, but taking pictures of staff is a no-no 99% of the time when you visit during normal daily operation (as we did). When it’s all set up for a big event, you are sometimes more free to take pictures – but then you don’t get to see the whole thing “at work.”

      • IG

        So did you see something from the Nevada “moon landing” stuff?

        • David Bredan

          See? Pfft! I have footage of myself wearing a spacesuit and jumping in slo-mo!

          • IG

            That must have been fun! I always knew that the “moon landing” was a deliberate marketing ploy by Omega to sell Speedmasters.

    • Tea Hound

      Cue Marius…

  • Tea Hound

    “…and in our secret basement level -3, we’re pleased and proud to house when we affectionately call The Speedipressomaticator, a clever system of hydraulic presses, moulds and cutters designed to eke the last possible drop of value from the Speedmaster design! All our watches pass through this clever device – as have most of our designers come to think of it..”

    • PollyO

      I am choosing to take the path of comparing Speedmasters to the Alien film franchise. The fact that there are so many pointless and cash grabbing sequels doesn’t make the original any less of a simple masterpiece. It might be letting Omega off the hook but I’m staying in the camp of loving the simple Speedmasters. No matter which next edition they pull out of their backsides.

      • Mr. Snrub

        Wonderful analogy. And yes, Alien (1979) is a masterpiece.

    • IG

      And in Level -4 there’s the “moon landing” stage from Nevada.

      • Bobby Peruse

        And on Level 42… some great 80s pop be a playin

  • Raymond Wilkie

    Does anyone see how ironic it is that some guy has built an eco friendly building to produce one of the most unecological items on the market.

    • PollyO

      I’m pretty sure the head offices of BP probably have solar panels on the roof. Humans are idiots after all.

      • Raymond Wilkie

        That is very true.

      • IG

        Every little counts.

    • Mechanical watches avoid the pollution of battery changes. So once a mechanical watch is produced, there is very little environmental harm. And even the small amounts of lubricant are decreasing as silicon is increasing used in watch movements. The box a watch comes in may have a much ecological impact as the watch itself (or not, I really don’t know).

      • Yan Fin

        Thank you Mark! Now I have a solid reason to get a new one- I mean, to support the cleaner ecology ?.

      • IG

        What about Rubba B?

      • Raymond Wilkie

        Granted. But it still needs made.

  • SuperStrapper

    Tastefully lit up at night? Pix plox.

  • DanW94

    Downturn? What downturn? Business be good.

    • Tempvs Mortvvs

      Fiscal strategy or scheme if you like.

  • Sihan Zheng

    Question: does ETA make all the movements for the swatch brands (IE Omega’s stuff, and the custom branded/modified eta movements like Hamilton h10) or does each brand still possess their own movement manufacturing facilities?

    • The industry marketing speak would lead you to believe so. But if you’re Swatch and have a facility like ETA, would you build an entirely separate movement facility for Omega alone? “In house” is a very generalized term as applied.

      • Debashish

        Spot on Mark, very well said and I agree with you in this regard.

  • Debashish

    During 1957, when I was just 7 years old, my Granddad purchased 2 Omega Seamasters and that was the beginning of my love affair with watches, especially Omega. Now, I am a Sr. Citizen and yet I am still madly in love with watches, especially Omega.

    Majority of the timepieces created by Omega are truly outstanding, yet do not cost an arm and a leg.

    Enjoyed the write-up immensely!

    Thanks a lot David!

  • “And it is an equally telling tale on who’s been doing exceptionally well, when you look at those able to afford such a risky and gargantuan investment into themselves and their own future.” Maybe they got a really good interest rate on the financing? 🙂

    Swatch knows (as does most of this audience) that the watch business won’t stay down forever.

    Nice coverage David!

    • David Bredan

      Thank you, Mark!

  • Pete L

    Great article ?

  • Chaz

    Bloody impressive.

    Now if they’ll consider getting out of the small leather goods, jewelry and cologne business….

  • Jason Mirabello

    I absolutely love that a Swiss watch Manufacturing facility was built by a Japanese architect. What next will Seiko actually open a boutique in Switzerland.

  • pingrava

    First off, let me say that I own an Omega (I just passed it down to my 15 year old).
    But a few observations:
    Although I admire the technology that Omega is implementing, I have to ask, “why?” I understand the need for timely service…but all you have to do is hire and train more people. All this stuff that Omega is doing-to what end? How accurate of a watch do we need? How clean does the watchmaking facility have to be? With all these whiz bang innovations, I can’t help but think that the cost will be passed on to us, the consumer. And yet we see more and more watchmakers do the same. Not once has a watch company LOWERED their prices. My Omega (1954) kept perfect time. I’m not saying we should go back to the days of unsafe working conditions and a wholesale reliance on hand tools to build a timepiece, but Omega’s latest changes seem more like a publicity stunt. A publicity stunt that we will pay for. I hate to sound like a curmudgeon, but like almost everyone on this board I bust my hump extra hard if I want to buy something like a new watch. I don’t appreciate manufacturers moving the goal post for some self aggrandizing self abuse.

    • Having the service (“after sales”) department co-located with the manufacture should be a good thing as parts, documents and expertise are all at hand. Cheers.

      • pingrava

        I agree. It’s just annoying that so much is spent on endorsements, chichi euro architecture and advertisement yet their service mentality is downright arrogant, slow and way too expensive. Kudos to Omega for finally addressing the elephant in the room.

    • Raymond Wilkie

      Great word curmudgeon. I whole heartedly agree with you but hasn’t that always been the way?

    • David Bredan

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this matter.
      The thing with technological advancement, even in a long-obsolete industry as the Swiss watch industry, can never stop.
      The workshop of the 1910s was more advanced than that of the 1890s, the ones in the 1960s probably were the be all and end all of their time. But now most of us look back at those and think “I don’t want my watch to be made like that!”
      If a brand misses a beat now in upgrading, that’ll fire back not today or next year, but 10-20 or perhaps 40 years down the line. As for the cost of any new manufacture, although I know a bit about financing, I’m willing to bet my ears it’s all already been well and paid for, as it should have been.
      I also agree with Mark, the investment into after sales service is an investment into customer satisfaction, and that’s a solid way of keeping yourself in business.

      • pingrava

        All true. But all most people care about is that the watch is made and sourced where the company says it is, if it’s made of the materials listed and the watch does what it’s supposed to do. My feeling is that when it took a watchmaker 2 days to make a part by hand, a CNC machine could have made it in 10 minutes. Now we have advanced machines that can made 50 at a time with n loss is quality. This technology I’m all for. The advancement of making things faster and cheaper and eliminating errors. Materials that enhance a watch’s durability. But their is a law of diminishing returns. The more accuracy you seek the more astronomical the cost. And really, how accurate does a watch have to be for ere mortals? Or is it something to put in the brochure and brag about at the company Christmas part.
        Having said all this, I do admire the serious steps their taking in after sales service. This has been an are of the industry that’s been long neglected by Omega’s competitors.

        • Rupert Muller

          their = there
          their = they’re

          Their (sic!) is only one person allowed in here to do that!

          • pingrava

            True. But my legs were tied in knots because I wanted to post and had to go to the bathroom!

      • Philippe Leroy-Vigier

        Totally true: customer pleasure, enjoyment, and long-lasting fidelity have no price. It’s luxury at it’s best.

  • Polerouter

    Cool article. I wonder however what you mean by “decidedly timid Swiss architecture”. Granted, Bienne is not the most extravagant city, but Switzlerand has been providing a constant flux of world-renowed architects for some time now. Just think of Le Corbusier, Mario Botta, Peter Zumthir, Herzog&De Meuron, Bernard Tschumi… not bad for a small country. And yes, there are also important works by foreign architects in Switzerland. Just think of the Klee center in Bern by Renzo Piano or the Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne by SANAA…

  • Edmund Choy

    The photography skills shown in this article is worth clicking on the link itself. Great great job.

  • Andre Braz

    I love the pictures, congratulations for the photographer !

    • Rupert Muller

      I agree.

      On the last picture with the four gentlemen cutting the ribbon, I particularly like the caption. The second from the left is Federal Council Mr. Schneider-Ammann. Apparently not known by David Bredan, he is the most well-known of these four persons in Switzerland.

      • Polerouter

        I am almost sure that Hayek is more well-known than Schneider-Ammann. Switzerland is a really unique country in the fact that although people do care about politics, they don’t really care about the names of their rulers.

      • David Bredan

        Sigh. Or, apparently, I chose to focus on those more directly relevant in this article, clearly written about the opening of a new factory, not about “who’s the better known person in Switzerland.”

        • Peter

          You are being defensive rather than simply accepting the poster’s constructive remarks.

          It’s both good manners and proper journalistic practice to include the names of all the people involved in the main part of the photograph. Then it is easily labelled as in “From left to right, Mr…, Mrs… and so on.

          • David Bredan

            I was being defensive because he made an offensive remark in his feedback and that becomes tiresome after a while. More to the point, if I was inclusive of every piece of unimportant information I come across, these articles would be much more difficult to read for the reader – that focus on readability is what actual proper journalistic practice is, in my mind. Thank you for your feedback.

  • Juan-Antonio Garcia

    Nice article. Enjoyed it very much.

  • egznyc

    Always great to see these kinds of articles. It gives a new appreciation for what the large manufactures are all about. I very much enjoy micro brands, too, but seeing what an iconic, historic manufacture does to stay relevant is very revealing.

  • Philippe Leroy-Vigier

    Sir, please excuse my poor english, it’s my third language.

    I enjoy your funny, youthful and cynical views. In a world were everyone is swooning at History (yes needs a capital H!), pseudo-values (that didn’t fit this History, or an history they created), it’s refreshing and I would like to read more of that kind.

    The best part is that you are knowledgeable about watch, history, but you treat them as they deserve: wearing them!
    Your best articles are when you talk about the sensations, the presence (or not!), something that is subtle and is personal. A different view, with an opinion. An opinion is rare in this commercial world.

    Regards.

  • Neil C

    That factory looks very nice but I would go insane working there! After all the people working there, although highly skilled, are factory workers on a production line which means monotony. Lift this part here, put that part there, repeat, day after day. It would drive me mad. It definitely takes a certain type of person to do that! Its a good job there is otherwise I wouldn’t have a nice watch!

  • aWtchslvr

    Hope they correct the frequently reported hour hand misalignment problems that prevent me to purchase one.