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Omega - The first shall be the last

Omega The first shall be the last

With three quarters of the around 300 or so timepieces in George Tan’s massive watch collection coming from Omega, one question begs to be asked: Why Omega?

Now in his early forties and the Head Army Protocol Officer in the Singapore Armed Forces, George’s love for watches began when he was between eighteen and nineteen years old. However, his watch collecting journey all started with an unforgettable beating and much pain. “I started off not knowing anything about watches. I recall that I did quite well in my school tests and my uncle, being nice and generous, rewarded me with an 18-Karat solid gold Raymond Weil quartz wristwatch. I didn’t even know it was in a solid gold watchcase when I received it.

“I walked past a vintage shop one day and when the owner saw my watch, he offered me SGD200 for it. I happily sold it off and after I told my uncle of the sale, he gave me a good beating as the watch had cost him a few thousand dollars! Back then, I didn’t even know that a watch could cost so much,” George recounts with candour.

That was just the start of his horological education in the school of hard knocks. “In the early days, I sourced for vintage watches at the now defunct Sungei Road flea market in Singapore. This was the place where I enjoyed bringing Emilyn, my then girlfriend and now wife (read the article What if you marry a chicken), to as I wanted to show her another side of Singapore and to allow her to appreciate what I liked. On top of that, I gained knowledge and learnt many lessons at the flea market. I was seeking in-depth knowledge because I was conned quite a few times.

“Once I bought an Omega for between SGD80 and SGD100 as I believed it was cheap. It stopped working after one week. My friend sensed my anxiety and recommended a watch restorer. To my horror, the watch restorer informed me that one feet on the dial was missing, some parts weren’t original and certain movement parts were attached using super glue! Naturally, I was angry. On the other hand, I was thankful to the seller as it made me more determined to understand and learn more about movements, especially those from Omega. Omega was the first brand I developed an affinity with and that is why I love the brand till today.

“Vintage Omega watches come in many ranges and forms, are reasonably- priced and it is very evident that the brand places emphasis on technological inputs. While Rolex made the first water-proof watch in 1927, Omega produced the first diving watch. It was tested and able to withstand pressure equivalent to the depth of 135 metres in 1932. Known as the Omega Marine, it featured a case within a case. Omega was also the first to place the tachymetre scale outside the watch. If I am not wrong, Omega was also a very prestigious brand back in the 1950s and 1960s,” notes George.

Le premier sera le dernier

Some of George Tan’s Omega Speedmasters: 1: Reference 145.022-69; 2: Reference 105.002-62 “2½ gen”; 3: Reference 145.012; 4: Reference 311.30.42.30.01.004; 5: Reference 311.32.42.30.13.001 “Chocolate dial”; 6: Tokyo 2020 Olympics Limited Edition © WorldTempus /Timmy Tan

Some have opined to George that had he collected another brand, he would have become very richly rewarded. However, that isn’t his aim in collecting watches. “A watch has to bring me joy and happiness. Just knowing, understanding and sharing about watches provides me with immense satisfaction,” George explains.

Among the first Omega watches George acquired was the Genève, a collection that was discontinued in 1979. When he was subsequently introduced to the Omega Speedmaster, he was sold. His very first Speedmaster was the reference 105.002-62 housing the Calibre 321 manual-winding movement. It was love at first sight with the iconic Speedmaster dial and its layout. From thereon, there was no turning back for George with regards to Omega Speedmasters.

“The 105.002-62 was the so-called 2½ gen Omega Speedmaster with the dot over 90 bezel. Such a bezel will today cost between SGD4,000 and SGD6,000. On the case back, it is just the Speedmaster text above the Omega seahorse logo because the Speedmaster wasn’t as yet NASA-certified at that point in time.”

Le premier sera le dernier

Omega Speedmaster Apollo 11 45th Anniversary Limited Edition © WorldTempus /Timmy Tan

Among his other prized timepieces is understandably, the Omega reference 105.012 ST, one of the two Speedmaster models used by NASA’s Apollo mission astronauts, of which quite a few had made Moon landings. “It is the dream of every hardcore Omega collector to own a piece of history. I am proud to own these rare and highly collectible two models in particular,” says George with a big smile.

On his wrist the day we met for this discussion was a more current Speedmaster, the Apollo 11 45th Anniversary Limited Edition introduced in 2014. It is the first Speedmaster with its case made of titanium and Sedna gold which makes it unique and special, George highlights. 

Another very recent acquisition is the Speedmaster Tokyo 2020 Olympics Limited Edition, a model available exclusively in Japan, that another avid watch collector and good friend, Eddie Sng, acquired for George when he visited the country. 

There have been many firsts for the Speedmaster. For example, in addition to being the first watch used on the Moon, the Speedmaster was the first to have the tachymetre on the bezel rather than on the dial. Omega was the first brand George collected after taking a serious liking for it and this interest is likely to last.

For George, what is probably most important is the fact that his wife Emilyn was a “first” as well – she was his first true love and if I may also add, will probably be his last. “Emilyn was the one who advised me to focus on a range or a brand. I accepted her suggestion and have never regretted it. I am extremely glad that my then girlfriend and now wife supported me. Without her, I don’t think I would have been able to sustain this hobby,” concedes George with what I would truly describe as a lasting smile.  

Le premier sera le dernier

Omega Silver Snoopy © WorldTempus /Timmy Tan

The brand

A company of the Swatch Group, OMEGA has been behind major revolutions in watchmaking technology and the timekeeping of numerous Olympic Games. Its watches are worn by world-famous celebrities and have travelled to the moon, the depths of the ocean and everywhere in between.

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