When OMEGA launched the new Ladymatic five years ago, it was rightly hailed as a breakthrough in women’s watches – one that laid as much emphasis on a state-of-the-art movement and mechanics as on the beauty of its streamlined, classic yet modern design at a level more accessible than rarefied haute horlogerie.
It was the first women’s model to bear at its heart the revolutionary Co-Axial escapement, OMEGA’s patented component that ensures maximum accuracy and efficiency and the first major rethink of this part for 250 years, and OMEGA’s own-designed Si 14 balance spring that makes it ultra-shock resistant. Such refinements may be familiar from sporty men’s models but the Ladymatic is aimed squarely at today’s adventurous, accomplished women who lead in worlds from politics to business, who make their own well-informed decisions when choosing a watch and who are increasingly interested in, literally, what makes a watch tick. The only slightly old-fashioned thing about it is its name – Ladymatic has a charmingly retro-modern ring to it, but it is far from a random choice. It recalls a model which is a significant part of OMEGA’s history, an illustrious forerunner of today’s Ladymatic which, though not alike in looks, shares exactly its revolutionary spirit and acted as inspiration for the new model.
In OMEGA’s private museum at its Swiss headquarters there are several examples of the original Ladymatic which was first launched in 1955. Very small and neat, with simple dots or indexes on the dial, it looks totally of its time, yet it is a remarkable timepiece, as forward looking for its day as its modern namesake. OMEGA already had a proud tradition of ground-breaking women’s watches, from one of the first designed to enable nurses to time patients’ pulses (it was the first OMEGA with a central seconds indicator) to the first tubogas bracelet in 1948, immortalised by legendary fashion illustrator René Gruau, and some extraordinary “secret” watches, often unique pieces in gold embellished with diamonds and coloured stones.
Long before the introduction of quartz movements most watches were still wound daily but men’s watches were increasingly fitted with automatic, self-winding movements and in 1953 OMEGA made the tiny calibre 455, the smallest rotor-equipped movement in the world, specifically for women’s watches, and two years later they launched the Ladymatic containing it. At a time when ladies’ watches were mainly a matter of aesthetics, they took care to have the watch tested by the Official Chronometer Testing Bureau (the forerunner of COSC) – it passed with flying colours. This was at a time when women were not expected to know much about mechanics, when advertisements sold new household appliances on the strength of how simple they were to understand and work. Yet Omega’s emphasis on ladies’ models showed how they respected women, and now they were offering them a watch as serious as anything they made for men. And it wasn’t just the movement that was so innovative. Models came with leather straps or cords, or gold bracelets, originally integrated in the same design as that of the already-famous Constellation Gold Luxe. The Ladymatic even came in handcrafted jewellery versions, including models by well-known designers of the day such as Gilbert Albert, who set the Ladymatic as a pendant with probably the first piece of meteorite used in a watch, and later by famous modernist jewellery designer Andrew Grima.
To those used to modern, large, very slim watches the original little Ladymatic looks a trifle chunky yet it was an iconic design for almost two decades. As quartz took over, the emblematic name became redundant but more recently the brand has been inspired by its ambassadors such as Nicole Kidman who, like many modern women, take great interest in the interior value of their watches. So the new Ladymatic was born, with its brilliant movement, its softly curved bracelet segments, its fluid case-sides inlaid with ceramic, its smooth metal and discreet diamonds, and its many variants of colour and style to suit every taste. Some pieces take on the mantle of jewellery watches with pearl and diamond bracelets and, for the first time this autumn, OMEGA’s own 18-carat Sedna gold and mother-of-pearl dials in white, blue and Tahitian black. It is the truly worthy inheritor of a great name.