A Chat with Omega CEO Raynald Aeschlimann

BRIDGING GENERATION. Joezer Mandagi chats with Omega CEO Raynald Aeschlimann about the attaining new standards and reaching new generations

DAMAN Caliber

Raynald Aeschlimann 

Back in mid-2016, Omega saw a major shift in its top management as Stephen Urquhart stepped down as CEO and president. It goes without saying that he left some very big shoes to fill. But it also goes without saying that Raynald Aeschlimann, the new top guy at Omega, is more than up to the challenge. For one, he seems to embrace Generation Y’s fixation with social media, as seen in the success of the Speedmaster “Speedy Tuesday” Limited Edition which was made available exclusively through Instagram. At the same time, Omega pushes ever forward with the new Master Chronometer standard while still holding firm to its history and lineage. It is, indeed, an exciting time to be an Omega fan.

The Seamaster Aqua Terra

DA MAN: What are the highlights from Baselworld 2017 which will really represent Omega through the year?
Raynald Aeschlimann: It’s not the first time I’ve been asked this question here, but I always say the same thing. This is one of those years where you show the richness of Omega. It’s like having kids. As the CEO, I have four families and they’re doing very good. So, it’s difficult to talk good about one. But two things are definitely very important, and that goes back to the DNA of the brand. I start with the trilogy [The 1957 Trilogy Limited Edition]. Everybody talks about the trilogy. You start with three watches and then you do this whole evolution of these three key watches. But more importantly—and I think it’s a highlight for a lot of people—I want to insist on this one: 60 years of Speedmaster. There’s no luxury in today’s world without roots, without tradition, without history. If you have a bad history, and you try to make one, it wouldn’t be credible. So, I’m very much insisting on the credibility and the history of Speedmaster—a watch that made history on the moon while still featuring the same shape. So, that’s one of the highlights.
The other highlight is obviously the Aqua Terra line, where we’re coming very strongly with the Seamaster. Talking about this is talking about the technology: the Master Chronometer. That’s also something to celebrate. So, that’s why it’s difficult to talk about one highlight. But these are my highlights.

Various stages of the Master Chronometer tests at the METAS lab

DA MAN: Speedmaster seems to be the real “hero” of 2017, so to speak. Especially with the success of, say, Speedy Tuesday…
Raynald Aeschlimann: We reached to this connected community with a Speedmaster. Everybody asked me about connected watches and now I have the answer. I’m going to tell them: We have the best answer for the connected people, but not with a connected watch. It’s very nice. Speedy Tuesday was a big success—even in Indonesia, by the way. I’m not from the young generation, but I’m very much influenced by the new generation. I’m also on Instagram, I also read my news in the morning on my phone, I also get a lot of info from Instagram in the morning about what’s happening in the world. For them—for the #SpeedyTuesday community—we have a watch that was an answer. It respected and celebrated the history of the watch in a retro vintage style. So, the whole concept was right. It celebrates the past but with the means of the future.

Various stages of the Master Chronometer tests at the METAS lab

DA MAN: Is this an approach that you will employ again in the future?
Raynald Aeschlimann: I think we made history; so, obviously we will talk again to all these consumers through many more projects. But I want to emphasize the fact that it was the perfect project: It was the right product, for the right time, for the right people. I don’t want Speedy Tuesday’s success to suddenly become a platform for only commercial activity. If it’s only commercial, it has no emotion. And Speedy Tuesday was very much an emotional watch.

“I’m not from the young generation, but I’m very much influenced by the new generation. I’m also on Instagram”

DA MAN: There has been a lot of talk about new regulations concerning the “Made in Swiss” label. How will this affect Omega?
Raynald Aeschlimann: I’m very much in favor of this. There are two reasons. First of all, I think it’s one of those things that has so much value. It’s one of those phrases that means a lot to people. I’ve been traveling all around the world and whenever I say “Swiss-made” people say “watches” and their eyes are smiling. So, it’s our duty to continue to do that. Because we’re giving you a watch that is 100-percent made in Switzerland, which continues this legacy of the past. And it makes it even more credible when you then ask for the price of those watches. I think that it’s very good.

Various stages of the Master Chronometer tests at the METAS lab

DA MAN: A lot of people are also talking about the Master Chronometer watches. Speaking of which, why did Omega set the bar so high for this certification?
Raynald Aeschlimann: Because it’s Omega! [Laughs] But if you talk to our friends and all the people that we have been working with, they’ll say that at Omega, we do 361-degree projects. A circle is perfect, but there’s that one degree more that makes it an emotional thing. We like to do that. So, why so high? Because we believe only in high targets. We believe in vision. Without such a high target, we would not be what we are today. And I agree: [magnetic resistance up to] 15,000 gauss was a very big project. But, it would have not been an Omega project if this would have been 1,000 gauss.

DA MAN: Is this, in a way, a challenge to the rest of the industry to raise their standards too?
Raynald Aeschlimann: Yes and no. I think this is a challenge to the industry to become better, to get to the next generation. The challenges we see at Omega—because we have the DNA for it—is always go the next level. People work on the past, we work on the future.

The 1957 Trilogy Limited Edition watches

DA MAN: Speaking of an entirely different kind of future, Omega is also working closely with the Good Planet Foundation. Can you tell us more about why this is important to the brand?
Raynald Aeschlimann: Our involvement in some charities goes into clear and great projects. And Good Planet Foundation is one of these projects, because we go and we invest money in a project that is positive. Given the possibility to think about the future, about a brighter future, I think that’s a good value.

DA MAN: And then there’s also the Time for the Planet program in Indonesia…
Raynald Aeschlimann: We are very much present in many countries of the world. The fact that we have an affiliate in Indonesia and having people working there means that we care about this region. That’s why we sometimes have projects far from here.

Seamaster Planet Ocean Big Blue

DA MAN: Back to the business side of the brand, where does Omega stand today?
Raynald Aeschlimann: In some markets we are number one, and the goal of Omega is to continue to grow. I see a lot of market potential; I see incredible products; I see incredible marketing communications; I see new countries; I see where we can build our relationships to the consumers in a much better way. And for me, the goal is to grow there, which would mean, obviously, to become bigger and bigger than we are today. And that’s the most important thing.

The Speedmaster Racing