Today marks a special day, not only is it the birthday of my beautiful daughter, it is also the fourth anniversary of our Speedy Tuesday feature and the 70th birthday and the last working day of Stephen Urquhart, CEO of Omega.
Stephen Urquhart was born May 31st 1946 in Trinidad and has both Swiss and British nationality (Scottish father and a Portuguese mother). He started working for Omega in 1968 as an International Account Manager and – as he told me during an event last year – he got to communicate with NASA during that time because of his perfect English, which was something quite uncommon in Switzerland in those days. He worked for Omega for 6 years (must have been an exciting time!) before he started to work for Audemars Piguet where he ended up as joint President and CEO from 1987 till 1997. In the meanwhile, he was also on the board of directors for Jaeger-LeCoultre from 1990 till 1997. From 1997 till 1999 he was Director of Blancpain.
That is already quite a resume, but it didn’t stop there. From June 1999 till today, the 31st of May 2016, Stephen Urquhart was the CEO of Omega. Actually, I [almost] do not know where to start, telling you what happened to the brand in this period.
In 1999, Omega introduced the first watch with a co-axial escapement. This invention, by George Daniels, was adopted inside an existing Omega caliber (1120, based on ETA’s 2892-A2, resulting in caliber 2500 with the new Co-Axial escapement) and used in the Omega De Ville Co-Axial with beautiful ‘brick’ bracelet.
It was – and still is – a landmark for Omega as it paved the way to become a manufacturer again of movements. With their in-house caliber 8500 movement they truly adopted the concept of the Co-Axial escapement as designed by George Daniels. The chronograph version, the caliber 9300 as well of course. Nearly all Omega watches will – in the end – be equipped with these movements or variants of them and certified as ‘Master Chronometer‘ watches. You could say that under the direction of Stephen Urquhart, Omega became a true manufacturer again that it was in the period before the 1970s, but with modern technology and the latest innovations.Innovation is one of the key words that I would associate with Stephen Urquhart. Omega was never meant to create highly complicated watches, although they do have a mighty nice center Tourbillon timepiece, but just to develop, manufacture and sell good reliable timepieces. Omega was the watch that your grandfather had, the watch that your father received for his graduation and that was perhaps passed down to you or at least was your first encounter with a good Swiss watch. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s Omega definitely lost some of its previous shine, but boy did they fought back. It is cool to have an Omega again, also for the young generation (it seems to be the older generation that you need to tell sometimes that Omega is – again – a good watch) due to massive marketing operations like James Bond. Omega is a good watch, based on new technologies and innovations like the Co-Axial escapement, use of silicon parts, scratch resistant ceramics for the bezels and – sometimes – casing etc. etc. The Omega Globemaster (in-depth review here) and Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon series are an excellent example of this.
Besides the achievements of Stephen Urquhart and his colleagues at Omega, I got to know him as a very kind person. Although from a distance he might come across as a bit strict (but that is just appearance), he has always been kind to me and the rest of our team. I remember my first interview with him in Baselworld, being a bit nervous as it was the CEO of Omega after all, it was actually quite a nice and relaxed chat and I was amazed by the knowledge he had, it was like talking to a fellow collector. A few months later, during the introduction of the new Seamaster Planet Ocean (in Capri) with liquid metal and in-house caliber 8500 movement, he invited me over to his table during dinner and again, I had a great time talking about watches with him and his team.Later on, I met him on several more occasions and he is always very kind and good-natured during these encounters. He is the type of CEO that comes to you to shake hands and have a chat, instead of you have to make a nervous attempt to try to talk to him. Impressive, to say the least.
Coincidentally, I bought my first Omega (Speedmaster) in 1999 as well and have followed the brand ever since with great interest. For me personally, Omega is the brand that got me into writing about watches in the first place, with a strong focus on the Speedmaster of course. My great-grandfather, grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, (my wife) and myself had and have Omega watches. Family pieces that are still there and cherished. I love watches in general, love a lot of different brands, but this brand always had and probably always has a special place in my horological heart. The brand to me is always a conversation maker with other people, watch enthusiasts or people that just bought a ‘good watch’.Today is the last day for Stephen Urquhart as CEO of Omega and I would like to thank him for everything he has done for the brand, which is a lot. I also asked some collector friends and fellow journalists to say a few words, which you will find below.
Stephen Urquhart will be succeeded by Raynald Aeschlimann (International Sales Director for Omega). I’ve got to know Mr Aeschlimann a bit in the last few years and have great respect for him. I am convinced he will continue to do some great things for and with Omega.
For now, Happy Birthday Mr Urquhart and thank you ever so much for everything you’ve done for Omega.
Today on Instagram you can see the #thankyoustephenurquhart tags for images (double Omega wristshots) and messages to thank him. If you’re an Omega fan, please do join!
Words of appreciation from:
Alexander Linz, watch journalist (watch-insider.com)
“A clear vision that´s what Omega needed the most in the last years and this is what Omega President Stephen Urquhart always had in mind for the brand. Simply the best should be good enough. Today Omega watches are better than ever, very innovative, stunning beautiful and very much sought-after.
Happy Birthday Stephen Urquhart and thank you for all you did for one of my favorite watch brands.”
Listen to Alexander’s last interview with Stephen Urquhart here.
Kristian Haagen, watch journalist (timegeeks.dk)
“I met Mr. Urquhart at my first Basel World visit back in 2002. We have met several times since. Not sure how he got the impression that my name is Carl. But that is what he calls me. Carl. During interviews too. But since he is such a likable fellow, I let him. Guess I will miss that.”
RJKama (@rjkama on instagram)
“It’s quite bittersweet to see him step down. Knowing what the last year has been like for him in his private world, I am happy to see him retire, and hope that he will find retirement as a wonderful opportunity to enjoy his beautiful family.
I know his young son and his wife will enjoy not having to share him with the world. However, selfishly, I have never known Omega without him. He has always been the quintessential “Omega man”, the ‘Elegance without the arrogance’ that for me, embodies what I love about Omega. I have had the privilege of his company on a number of occasions, and he had always exuded an easy style and grace, commanding respect, yet, at the same time being humble, gracious, and eschewing bravado (again, why I have grown to love Omega more than Rolex – that style and confidence without pretention).
The cufflinks in the attached picture, are one of my favourite possessions. They belonged to him. At the conclusion of my first ever conversation with him, he took these cufflinks off of his own shirt and placed them in my chest pocket. It was one of those gestures that leaves you completely speechless. In future meetings with him, he had always greeted me like an old friend, despite the countless individuals he must have encountered all over the globe, he always had that magical ability to make anyone with whom he was speaking feel like the most important person in the room.The legacy he leaves at Omega will be unparalleled, bringing omega from barely limping along after the quartz crisis, to its rightful place as best in class in Swiss horology.
No one will be able to argue with his accomplishments at Omega. I think he is making an exit that many can only dream of, a high note for his company, and leaving the fan base wanting more.
I am confident in Raynald Aeschlimann’s ability to lead us into the future, but I feel very blessed to have been around during the time that Stephen Urquhart was the President of Omega. He will truly be regarded as a living legend in Omega’s history.”
Harry SK Tan, WatchingHorology.com
“Omega in recent years firmed its industry leadership position with key technological achievements. Most important of all during Stephen Urquhart’s tenure as CEO, was the 15,000 gauss anti-magnetic caliber now known as the Master Chronometer. This development fundamentally changed how Omega made their watches and with this masterstroke, it pushed the rest of the industry to develop and implement anti-magnetic balance wheels just to keep up.”
Jason Saundalkar (@maxtor71 on IG), collector
“I’ve worn watches ever since I was in school, and while there are several brands that I admire and respect, there’s only one that is really close to my heart – Omega. My first nice watch was a Speedmaster Date, and I will always remember my journey to acquire it. I’ve added several other Omega timepieces to my collection since then, and through this journey of collecting, I’ve been able to learn more about the world of watches, and make a lot of friends around the world. I will always be thankful to Omega for that, so I would like to offer my deepest thanks, and birthday wishes, to Mr. Urquhart, who has helped make Omega the company it is today. I also offer my best wishes and congratulations to Mr. Aeschlimann, who I’m sure will take the brand I love to new heights.”
Phil (@PhillTerr on IG), collector
“I only met Stephen once briefly at the NYC Cindy Crawford Orbis screening, but what I can say, is that you did not have to meet him to realize and recognize what he has accomplished. In simplest of terms, in our daily lives and careers we all aspire to leave things in better conditions that the state they were handed to us. Think of where Omega is today as compared to 17 years ago when he took the helm, not only is this an extraordinary accomplishment, but what I believe his biggest legacy will be, will be the management he has left in place.
As I mentioned, I only met Stephen once, but through the last several years I’ve had the opportunity to meet several of Omega’s top management from the US, Latin America and Bienne, and the caliber and enthusiasm of these individuals are sure to not only preserve all the hard ground that has been won, but also succeed in continuing to propel Omega. The legacy that Mr. Urquhart has left is one that I feel we will only fully appreciate and understand with time…”
@Grain305 on Instagram, collector
“My initial love for Omega came when my Mom was given a beautiful Omega timepiece by the love of her life. She adored that timepiece and one day she passed it on to me. Sadly it was stolen many years ago and my quest was to one day bring an Omega back into the family. That day finally came in recent years and it was such a proud moment. Whether it’s a family connection, or Omega’s rich history in space exploration, athletics or simply giving charitably to the world community, this brand and its people are truly special. It’s not just a timepiece, it’s something so much greater.”