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Raynald Aeschlimann’s rise is not surprising. Watches are, if not his destiny, then at least his inheritance. A Swiss native and the grandson of a watchmaker, Aeschlimann can trace his connection to timekeeping back generations. He’ll be the first to tell you, however, that none of that can erase the pressures of helming the second-largest watch company in the world.
With a tenure dating back to 1996, Aeschlimann has been with Omega through many initiatives and eras,
having overseen the launch of online sales in the United States, the company’s continuing partnership with the James Bond franchise, the construction of a new museum in Switzerland and, now, the development of new technology that will time the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo down to an unprecedented millionth of the second.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity.
Q: You grew up in Saint-Imier, a town with a significant watchmaking heritage. What was that like?
A: Switzerland is generally a very idyllic place to grow up, especially in the beautiful area around Saint-Imier. Of course, the region also has a special history, totally unique in the world, and so I grew up with a great appreciation of its extraordinary past. Watchmaking was always a part of our lives. It was all around us. Even my grandfather was a watchmaker, so the ideas of precision and craftsmanship were passed onto me from a very young age.
Q: You joined Omega in 1996, about a year after GoldenEye was released and James Bond started wearing Omega. Were you able to imagine the significance of this partnership at the time?
A: It’s funny because the idea didn’t come from Omega. It was the costume designers on GoldenEye who chose the Seamaster for James Bond. We were delighted, of course, and we knew that it would be great for our marketing. To be associated with such a stylish and adventurous character really suited our brand’s strengths. But at the time, we didn’t know how far it would go. It’s a credit to EON Productions and the producers for making the 007 franchise so successful, and enabling Omega to remain a part of the journey, right through the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig films. It’s one of those things that happens naturally and then becomes an essential part of who you are.
A: I had an incredible discussion with him, because he wanted [a watch that reflected Bond’s naval background]. That was quite important for Daniel. Light, comfortable, obviously, but also at the same time a watch that looks very good, with vintage features as well. From our many discussions, Daniel’s idea was very clear. And we could be on that level, because we manage very many technical materials and new technologies.
We had the broad arrow, [a sign of Crown property], on many of our watches because we have a huge history with the British army, but we wanted a watch that is for James Bond in particular. A mesh bracelet in titanium never ex- isted before in our history of military watches. James Bond would love that!
Q: Bond has been wearing an Omega for twenty-five years now. In the long run, what would you say that monumental presence has done for Omega’s sales, and its reputation in general?
A: I couldn’t give you a definite figure over the past twenty-five years, but there is always an immediate impact on sales around the James Bond films. Spectre was the perfect example. We launched a comprehensive marketing campaign for the Seamaster 300 across all our channels and witnessed an incredible spike in global purchases. People absolutely loved that watch and its connection to Bond. Customers know our Seamaster Diver 300M as the Bond watch and it certainly enhances our credentials for style, quality, precision and an adventurous spirit. It is definitely one of the best-ever collaborations in the industry — and it’s much more than just commercial.
“It was the costume designers on GoldenEye who chose the Seamaster for James Bond. We were
delighted, of course.”
Q: Omega has released many historical, vintage-inspired watches over the past few years. Do you think that these re-releases hamper creativity? Or do reissues and new models exist comfortably side by side?
A: They can absolutely exist together. In fact, I would say they must. Omega is special not just for where we’ve been, but for the designs that changed the face of watchmaking. Those things deserve to be celebrated. We want to share those stories with fans and our vintage-inspired timepieces allow us to do that. Not everyone can buy a real vintage Omega, espe- cially the early Speedmasters. The new releases give them a chance to own an almost-identical timepiece and continue the legacy. But we can’t remain in the past. Omega is about innovation and pioneering spirit. We need to continue the story of our famous collections by introducing new designs and materials — and by giving them their own personality for a new generation of customers.
Q: When Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon in 1969, his Speedmaster carried a calibre 321 movement. When you resumed production of the 321 last year to power certain new Speedmasters, I understand you had to copy an original movement part for part, correct?
A: It’s not that we had to, it’s that we wanted to. It was my decision that either we do every single part like we had it in the original one, or we don’t do it — except for the coating on some of the bridges which, after so many years, is of course totally different.
Q: There has been huge demand for these new Speedmasters that feature the revamped calibre 321. Would you ever consider amping up production?
A: Production will remain exactly as we have planned. There is, of course, a learning curve for our watchmakers, because while they are very good, it’s a movement that they’re not used to producing. Even though we’ve got thousands of orders and a long waiting list, there is no intention to increase production. The 321 will remain the Speedmaster movement, which was already decided before we had all the success we’ve had with it.
Q: The average price of an Omega watch has tripled during your tenure. What has this meant for Omega as a whole, and how is it changing your relationship with younger buyers?
A: Omega has always been aspirational. That isn’t something new. But it’s important for us to establish a relationship with customers at a young age. These people are savvy. They are from the internet generation, where they have instant ac- cess to information, blogs, reviews, photos, videos and opinions. They know what’s true and what’s just “marketing.” So we need to establish genuine trust and love for our products right now. Maybe they can’t purchase an Omega straight out of college, but they can develop a respect that will stay with them. Then one day, when the time is right, they can own the watch they’ve always wanted. Also don’t forget, with all the technological improvements we’ve made in recent years, the average price of an Omega is still an incredible asset.
Q: You’ve been with Omega for nearly twenty-five years — how would you describe the enduring appeal of the brand? What is it that makes a buyer walk into your boutique instead of the one next door?
A: I think it’s very important to talk about our brand as a genuine brand — there’s a lot of substance, and of course, great values. An Omega is an achiever’s watch, one you wear with pride. Not only for superficial reasons, but also because of the aspirational value of it. There’s a lot of history, like the moon exploration, like James Bond, and now of course the Olympic Games. This brand that I’m wearing with pride, I wear it not only (for these reasons) but because I truly want to have it, and it’s the official timekeeper since 1932 of the Olympic Games, the biggest sporting event in the world.
Q: During your tenure, you’ve spearheaded a whole host of unique initiatives, like revamping old calibers such as the 321, helping establish the #speedytuesday hashtag with Fratello Watches that’s added to the Speedmaster’s ubiquity, and updating the brand’s museum. What’s your favorite kind of challenge to undertake?
A: Can I say that I love every project? It’s true, because each one ignites my passion for a different part of the brand, whether it’s celebrating history or the excitement of launching a new timepiece. I enjoy them all for different reasons. One thing I’ve loved recently has been the projects that are true to our pioneering spirit. For example, in 2019 with the Five Deeps expedition, our new Ultra Deep diving watch was taken to a world-record depth in the ocean. It went deeper than any person or any watch in history. That is a real story of watch- making that shows who we are. That sort of thing gives me a lot of pride.
Q: What can a watch enthusiast expect to find at Omega’s new museum in Bienne
A: Omega is more than a watchmaker. So our museum should be more than just showing watches. We wanted it to be inter- active and immersive, where visitors can actually feel what the brand is really about. Some of my favorite exhibits include a walk-in Speedmaster case, so you can appreciate the inner workings of a watch, and also a running track to give visitors an idea of being an athlete and the role Omega plays at the Olympic Games.
Q: Omega’s arsenal of timekeeping gear for the Olympics can measure down to the millionth of a second. How does the development of atomic clocks, starting guns and other equipment trickle down to Omega’s mechanical watch offerings?
A: Obviously the mechanical watches are handmade. They’re hand-produced in our industrial manufacture, where we’re producing more than two thousand watches a day…and all of our three hundred and fifty watchmakers are crucial to producing them. The development that we do in timekeeping for the Olympics obviously doesn’t have as much of a connection, but still, if you have to have this kind of spirit, have to develop these kinds of technologies, then you have to have engineers who can work on new materials. You have to have new physicists, new chemists, people to make sure that not only is the timekeeping very, very accurate, but that it is accurate in any condition.
We are paid for being the official Olympic timekeeper, but we go beyond what it’s in the contract. Watching these athletes, you can imagine the incredible effort that goes into being first, and that’s the same effort that goes into our watches.
“E-commerce is a vitally important part of our brand today, and it’s really the future of luxury sales in general. I’d say nothing is lost online.”
Q: Omega began selling watches directly to buyers on its U.S. website in 2017, ahead of many other large watch brands. How has this affected the watchmaking land- scape and sales for the company? Is something lost when someone buys online and can’t speak to someone at a boutique?
A: E-commerce is a vitally important part of our brand today, and it’s really the future of luxury sales in general. I’d say nothing is lost online. The boutiques are still essential to what we do. This is where you can go to try on the watches and get expert advice. But the online tool is there as a support and an extra choice for making your first discovery or your final decision. It’s going extremely well so far. We began in the United States and sales have been very encouraging. Now we’re in the U.K. and will expand further in the near future. You have to recognize that this is the way that many people shop now, not just young people. We are all connected. It’s natural to our everyday lives, so a modern brand needs to embrace that.
Q: What does the next five years look like for Omega and for you personally? You’ve given so many years to the company — what are some of the things you’re excited about in the immediate future there?
A: I spoke about e-commerce. This has been a very rapid and exciting development even in my short time as president. I expect it will grow even further in the next five years, with more opportunities to enhance our business.
For me, I really want to help take the company to the next level. I’ve been the president for the opening of a new production factory and a new museum. I’ve overseen innovative new materials, new projects such as #speedytuesday and the incredible development of Master Chronometer certification. We are at the forefront of an exciting era at Omega, and I feel very proud to see how far we can go. Directly ahead, we are already planning for the next Bond film, No Time To Die, the Olympic Games in Tokyo, then the Ryder Cup in golf. Isn’t this the most dynamic program within the industry?
A version of this story originally appeared in a print issue of Gear Patrol Magazine. Subscribe today.