The year 1969 was a momentous one for Omega. The Swiss watchmaker went out of this world on not one, but two historic adventures. First, an Omega Speedmaster was on the wrist of Buzz Aldrin when he became the second man to step onto the moon. Then, the brand commissioned Andrew Grima, London’s Swinging Sixties jeweller to the stars and the royal family, to create About Time, a collection of one-of-a-kind watches that was unlike anything the world had seen before or has seen since.
The Swiss watch industry isn’t generally known for its far-out thinking and it took two foreigners to bring about the landmark collaboration. Robert Forster, Omega’s director of production at the time, was an American who wanted to bring the brand to the attention of a wider audience, beyond the tool watches it was famous for. “He wasn’t your typical watch-making guy, he knew how to elevate watches and make them universally appealing,” says Petros Protopapas, Omega’s head of brand heritage.
Forster spotted Grima’s talent for pushing the boundaries of design, granting him complete creative control despite the fact that the jeweller had no previous watchmaking experience. Grima, whose birth was a century ago last year, let his imagination go interstellar. With Omega taking care of the movement inside, he eschewed brand logos and watch numerals in favour of flamboyant modern cuffs and jagged gold pendants that did not resemble anything like a wristwatch.
Even more radical than that, he had precious and semiprecious coloured gemstones cut in the German town of Idar-Oberstein, so that the time was read through the jewel itself. Omega has been making women’s watches for more than 173 years but to Protopapas, the Grima collaboration was the most groundbreaking of them all. “The company sent watches to the moon, and with Grima, whose mind wasn’t from this world, it brought the space age to watch design.”