How Apollo 13 Helped Omega Blast Off

04 May 2020
Apollo 13, Omega, Watches of the Week, George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, James Bond, Classic Watch
Image: Courtesy of Everett Collection & Omega / Gabe Conte
An Omega superfan walks us through the brand's best pop-culture moments, including the moon-mission movie's iconic watch

In the ‘90s, watch brand Omega put together a formidable A-Team: James Bond, Cindy Crawford, and a gaggle of Hollywood actors playing astronauts. The mission was straightforward, if challenging: turn around the storied watch house’s business. “At that time, Omega was a completely different company than it is today,” says Robert-Jan Broer, the founder of watch magazine Fratello and creator of “Speedy Tuesdays,” a day for collectors to share their Omega Speedmasters on Instagram. “Fewer people were working there. It was a bit of long-gone glory.” But in the early ‘90s, Omega started to regain some of its juice. The brand introduced its Seamaster Diver model, which almost immediately became the watch of James Bond. Cindy Crawford helped design and then promote its Constellation line. And then Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon wore the Speedmaster as NASA astronauts in Apollo 13. “These three events, focused on three different watches, really helped them moving forward,” says Broer. Since then, the brand has hardly wavered from its winning formula: last year, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, Omega released special-edition gold versions of its Speedmaster. This year, the brand released its newest Bond watch to the general public. And Crawford remains the brand’s longest-serving ambassador. But she’s not the only supernaturally good-looking person wearing Omega. Here, Broer walks us through his five favorite Omegas that have appeared on the silver screen.

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The Omega Speedmasters in Apollo 13

There is no movie more important to the Omega Speedmaster than Apollo 13. The film shows the astronauts’ reliance on an Omega Speedmaster to help them navigate safely back to earth after an oxygen tank onboard explodes. Apollo 13 spread the message of Omega and its connection to NASA—the most important link in the watch brand’s history. “I have an interest in space and, of course, I have an interest in Speedmasters, and this is the movie that brings it together,” says Broer. “And it’s not just me, but I think that goes for 90% of the Moonwatch fans and collectors—the watch’s history plays an important role in their interest. So it was very nice to see that the watch get credit for what it did for the Apollo 13 mission in the movie.”

This history, says Broer, is what separates the Speedmaster from every other watch in Omega’s catalog. Those who prefer a Seamaster “just want to have one good watch,” says Broer. “Whereas if you see someone wearing a Moonwatch and you ask about it, they will know the story behind it. And it played a role in their purchase, whether they were triggered by Apollo 13 or another movie.”

George Clooney’s gold Omega Speedmaster Professional** in Money Monster

In the movie Money Monster, Clooney wore a highly unusual watch. While the Speedmaster is certainly the most legendary timepiece in Omega’s catalog, collectors almost always go for the versions in steel, since they’re the ones most similar to what NASA astronauts wore. “The gold Speedmaster is not a watch that was a big seller,” says Broer. “And it was discontinued by [the time this movie came out]. They didn't sell because these watches were freaking expensive.”

A gold Speedmaster might not be the most common watch, but it makes sense in this instance. In the film, Clooney plays the host of a finance show (think Mad Money), the type of character drawn, in fiction and in real life, to watches like the Rolex Day Date or Audemars Piguet Royal Oak always in gold. But because Clooney was bound by contractual obligations to Omega, he likely sought out a watch from the brand that would fit his character. He would have had several options, but went with this more obscure variation of the brand’s icon. “It shows he is a Speedmaster guy,” says Broer.

Broer doesn’t credit Clooney with turning the gold Speedmaster’s fortunes around, but he says more collectors are looking for these pieces now. “The gold ones are underrated,” he says. And because a gold Speedmasters can often be found for the same price as vintage steel versions, collectors are starting to give them a second look.

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Pierce Brosnan’s Omega Seamaster Diver 300M in Tomorrow Never Dies

Although James Bond has worn Seiko, Breitling, and Tag Heuer over the decades, the argument that rages on in the watch community is whether he is at heart a Rolex or Omega man. Sean Connery wore a Rolex as the first onscreen James Bond, but for the past 25 years 007 has worn Omega. In 1995, the international secret agent started wearing the brand’s new Seamaster model. “[The Seamaster Diver] wasn’t based on anything from their past, their archives, or their history,” says Broer. “They really came up with a new watch so that it would be very recognizable, and could not be confused with another brand.”

As for which brand truly has 007’s heart, Broer says the chemistry between Omega and James Bond is undeniable. “It's a good fit, because Omega is a bit more innovative with their watches,” he says. “They try to put more technology into the watches and I think Omega takes bigger steps.” And if we pretend for a moment that 007 is not a fictional character, Omega is what Bond realistically would wear: the British Ministry of Defense issued the brand’s watches to its members during World War II and again in the late ‘60s.

In the ‘90s, appearing in the Bond films was a massive boon for Omega, and the partnership continues to pull in customers like a grappling hook. “Retailers tell me that since Bond's worn Omega, they get people coming into the shop who ask for the ‘James Bond watch.’ They don't ask for the Omega Seamaster—just the James Bond watch.”

Dennis Quaid’s Omega Speedmaster in Frequency

While Broer called out Dennis Quaid’s watch in Frequency, he could have named several of the actor’s movies. The actor wore this exact watch in 1983’s The Right Stuff (as one of NASA’s first astronauts) and in 1987’s Innerspace. He wasn’t and isn’t an ambassador—just a fan of the brand, likely wearing his own watch. Broer says this movie stood out because it arrived right as he was really getting into watches. “I remember that I was in a movie theater and—boom—there was this Omega Speedmaster on the screen,” he says. The character, too, fit nicely with the watch. “He was a typical Speedmaster guy” says Broer. “Just down to earth and a bit no-nonsense.”

David Thewlis’s Omega Chronograph in Seven Years in Tibet

In Seven Years in Tibet, Brad Pitt and David Thewlis play mountaineers held as POWs in India at the beginning of World War II. The movie follows the pair as they attempt to escape and return to Austria, a quest that requires a starving Pitt and Thewlis to trade a watch for food. The watch that kept them alive? A gold Omega chronograph. Somehow, the watch went through an equally crazy journey to end up in the film.

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James M. Dowling, literally the guy who wrote the book(s) on Rolex, said in 1998 that, years earlier, he’d been approached by a props manager looking for a wide range of vintage watches to appear in a movie called Seven Years in Tibet. The film crew eventually decided on a Rolex Oyster and asked Dowling for two identical pieces to ensure they’d have a backup in case one got damaged while filming. Dowling recalls running off to the movies when the film came out. “Imagine my disappointment,” he wrote, “when Pitt shows off his GOLD OMEGA. The entire cinema turned as one to stare at me when I called out ‘SH*T.’” In Dowling’s telling, the watches he supplied were “not butch enough.”

After those pieces were ruled out, Omega was selected after the brand was allegedly spotted on a crew member's wrist. Like those Rolex Oysters, the film’s director Jean-Jacques Annaud asked for two identical pieces. The watches from the ‘30s now sit in the Omega Museum.


Via GQ