I wanted to define the historical essence of the Omega DeVille collection. But I failed. Don't get me wrong those are beautiful pieces that deserve to be respected and also collected! But beyond beautiful I won't be able to give you an answer about what they are... I must admit this is the first time I can't quite get to the essence of the watch I set forth to define. I can't get my head around what is common to all DeVille models. Maybe (hopefully) there's a collector out there that can and I humbly ask for assistance. Until then you can find my attempt below...

July 11, 2023

DeVille and the Details - Omega's Approach to Classic Dress Watches?

  


Marcus Siems     Marcus Siems @siemswatches
    Collector, Author, Data Analyst


  

The Essence ... is what I wanted to describe for the Omega DeVille lineup. But I failed. Don't get me wrong those are beautiful pieces that deserve to be respected and also collected! But beyond beautiful I won't be able to give you an answer about what they are... I must admit this is the first time I can't quite distill the idea or design of a watch I set forth to define. I can't get my head around what is common to all DeVille models. Maybe (hopefully) there's a collector out there that can and I humbly ask for assistance. Until then you can find my attempt below...

 

Omega's Seamaster lineup just celebrated their 75th anniversary a couple days ago in Mykonos[1]. And the Seamaster is clearly one of the most recognizable and influential tool watch collections of the last ... well ... 75 years. However, we shall not forget that over those years Omega has been experimenting quite a lot with the design to target several markets.

 

vintage 1960s Omega Seamaster 600 in grey with honeycomb dialA 1960s Omega Seamaster 600 in grey with honeycomb dial ... not exactly the classic tool-watch you'd expect from a collection called "Seamaster". Photo @Goldammer.me.

 

As you can see the "Seamaster" wasn't really a purebred tool-watch. Omega always tackled various markets and established hybrid forms that still kinda fit the collection. But this also makes understanding the brand quite tricky at times...

 

1) Bringing order to the collections

During the 1950s Omega expanded their lineup of collections vastly and pretty much established their modern catalogue - at least in terms of branding. Introduced were the aforementioned Seamasters along the racing chronograph Speedmaster, the scientist's Railmaster, the precise Constellation (automatic) and Geneve (manually wound)[2].

 

2017 anniversary set of the original Omega Seamaster, Railmaster and SpeedmasterIn 2017 Omega introduced an hommage (limited edition) set featuring the original designs of the Seamaster 300, Railmaster and Speedmaster for the 70th anniversary. Photo Courtesy of Christie's.

 

All of these were what we'd call today "Professional" watches; pieces that come with a particular purpose and improved specs to fit their niches. Or in other words slightly pricier options. So what were Omega's full-blooded dress watches?

In the late 1950s dressy Omega's are hard to categorize. They were probably mainly associated with the Seamaster range as some toned down versions with less depth rating. But also several "unbranded" models existed.

 

Vintage 1950s Omega watch advertorial for Summer OlympicsIn the 1950s it was all about professionalism for Omega. Seen here in a vintage advertorial from 1956 highlighting the connection to timing the Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. Photo Courtesy of HIFI archives.

 

2) DeVille - The missing link?

Omega Constellation, Geneve and parts of the Seamaster lineup are probably what we'd describe as Omega's dress watches from the late 1950s. However, Constellation and Geneve come in quite pricey as they were (mostly) Chronometer certified. Plus, the strong influences from renowned designer Gerald Genta make the Constellation already more of a design piece than classic elegance[3]. So the dressy favorite would probably be a Seamaster.

 

vintage 1960s Omega Seamaster date 166.002During the early and mid-1960s you'd still have to go to a Seamaster to find a classic (and branded) Omega dress watch... a lot of marketing opportunities left behind if you ask me. Photo @Goldammer.me offerings.

 

But in terms of branding that's quite off... why go through an established professional lineup to find some subtle dress watches in the catalogue? This changes to some extent in 1960 as the Seamaster line gets its long awaited addendum in the DeVille. Or in the words of Omega (catalogue from 1967[4]):

 

"[F]or the man who leads a full, active life. It combines the rugged dependability of a sports watch with the slim elegance of a watch about town [...]"

 

So the DeVille upon introduction within the Seamaster line is still a hybrid, yet a necessary extension. The name holds power as it can develop into something of its own.

 

vintage 1960s Omega Seamaster DeVille with gold braceletA Seamaster DeVille in its full glory... 18k yellow gold on a fitted 18k Omega bracelet. The opulence of elegance. Photo @Goldammer.me.

 

3) DeVille - Timeline of conception

The DeVille idea gets introduced in 1960 but not as an independent part, not even by it's name. It takes until 1963 that the DeVille signature for the first time appears on an Omega dial[5]. And finally in 1967 the DeVille becomes it's own collection, it's own page in the Omega catalogue.

 

early 1960s Omega Seamaster advertorialIt appears that as early as in this 1961 advertorial Seamaster watches have been advertised as "Seamaster DeVille" without putting any additional signature to the dial. Photo HIFI archives.

 

And according to the archives (and lore) it has been a great success. Sold out stores and several design prices won during the 1970s[5]. But that opens the question again: What is the DeVille? Is it a design piece, classic elegance or an entry-level dress watch?

 

vintage 1960s Omega Geneve dress watchAn oddly familiar face with another signature... the Geneve line was launched in the 1950s as a high-end manually wound alternative to the Constellation but this 1972 example looks oddly like a (Seamaster) DeVille. Photo @Goldammer.me.

 

4) DeVille - Popularity

Before we define the collection a bit more let's see how important it was in the entire reference frame of Omega and when it was particularly fashionable. Looking into data from Chrono24 from a total of ~2000 Omega watches between 1960 and 2000 we can start to see some emerging trends:

 

Historic Distribution of Omega (Seamaster) DeVille watches (1960-2000) in relation to all Omega watches from the time. Orange indicates Seamaster-DeVille, the blue line DeVille only signatures.Figure 1. Historic Distribution of Omega (Seamaster) DeVille watches (1960-2000) in relation to all Omega watches from the time. Orange indicates Seamaster-DeVille, the blue line DeVille only signatures.

 

We can clearly see that the DeVille has been an integral part of the Omega catalogue through the ages. Peaking at around 18% it basically sums up to ~10% of all Omega watches sold in that period. This includes the bias for more popular watches listed on Chrono24, so likely this proportion was actually higher (as the DeVille is today not the classic Omega collectible from the era).

Looking more closely we can also see that the collection held the strongest popularity during the late 1970s but all throughout its early years until around 1990. It's a somewhat classic dress watch coming mainly in steel (37%) but showing a decent amount of gold (24%) and gold-colored (19%) variants.

 

setting a vintage 1960s Omega Seamaster DeVille dress watchOver a quarter of (Seamaster) DeVille timepieces left the Omega factory in full gold... a lot more than you'd expect (at least me). Photo @Goldammer.me YouTube channel.

 

5) DeVille - Finding an identity

What makes the pedigree for a DeVille watch? It's hard to tell by the looks. Well, today Omega's DeVille line surely is set apart from the rest of the collections as the Bauhaus-esque (sometimes Artdeco-ish, too) option. But that wasn't the case during the 1960s and 70s. Several watches from the Seamaster and Geneve collection did share quite some features if not complete designs with the DeVille. 

If anything the DeVille was a concept more than a set-in-stone blueprint - at least it is to me. As so often with Omega during the last Century they hardly set their pieces apart by looks but more by the interior. The DeVille is in the details if you would excuse the pun.

 

vintage 1960s Omega Seamaster DeVille sideview of the monocoque case designOmega Seamaster DeVille's monocoque design of the case. Leaving out the classic case-back in favor of a "front-loaded" case design improves water-resistance without tampering with style and design. Photo @Goldammer.me YouTube channel.

 

Initial releases of the Seamaster DeVille featured some of the earliest examples of Omega's monocoque cases[4,6]. This means that they didn't come with a classic case-back but the movements were front-loaded into the case and closed with the dial, bezel and crystal (see above, the recession marks the entry point to open the case)**.

This wasn't the only technological marvel introduced through the DeVille line. In 1994 Omega launched their first central Tourbillon watch in a DeVille. More importantly, George Daniel's Co-Axial escapement, potentially the most important movement development of the last 50 years, was first seen in a 1999 DeVille release.

 

Neo-vintage Omega DeVille GMT with one of the first serially produced Co-Axial escapement movementsAn early Omega DeVille GMT (2001) with one of the first serially produced Co-Axial escapement movements in ever. Photo Courtesy of Christie's.

 

6) DeVille - neither fish nor fowl

This is where I'd typically draw a conclusion but I must admit I'm a bit overwhelmed... Historically, I can't really make sense of the DeVille family. Yeah they have an identity now and it overlaps well with the beginnings in the early 1960s. But everything in between?

Is the DeVille a classic dress watch? A tool-dress watch hybrid? A playing ground for novel developments? An entry-level timepiece? A high-end timepiece? It's all of the above and the answer strongly depends on when you're asking this question. Advertorials and brochures always draw a very clear picture but is it though?

 

mid 1960s Advertorial for an Omega Seamaster DeVilleIt is beautiful and thoughtful that I can sign off on. These ads (1967) make it sounds so easy but don't ask me more about the DeVille... Photo HIFI archives.

 

Don't get me wrong those are beautiful pieces that deserve to be respected and also collected! But beyond beautiful I won't be able to give you an answer about what they are... I must admit this is the first time I can't quite get to the essence of the watch I set forth to define. I simply can't get my head around what is common to all DeVille models. A case-back engraving isn't enough for me. Maybe (hopefully) there's a collector out there that can. I humbly ask for assistance and will keep looking at the prettiest examples online and in the metal.

 

 

* Frankly, it's quite tough for me to make sense out of all the different lineups and collections at the time. Dress watch, high-precision, entry-level, etc. are terms that get attached to certain lines just to change the next year. Omega has over 1000 references/variations in their modern catalogues and it seems it was never too easy to understand their strategy.

** I cannot say with any certainty that this was a unique selling point of the (Seamaster) DeVille lineup but it definitely was part of the ads.

 

 

References

[1] Die Seamaster Kollektion in Summer Blue; Omega Watches;

https://www.omegawatches.com/de-de/precision-at-every-level/

[2] Omega Chronicle - The History of Omega; Omega Watches;

https://www.omegawatches.com/chronicle/1967-the-de-ville-is-born

[3] A Deep Dive into Gerald Genta's Design Legacy; Marcus Siems, Goldammer Vintage Watches;

https://goldammer.me/blogs/articles/gerald-genta-design-legacy

[4] An English Omega Catalogue from 1967; Steve Waddington, Old-Omegas;

http://www.old-omegas.com/cat67en.html

[5] Omega DeVille Watches Ultimate Buying Guide; Paul Altieri, Bob's Watches;

https://www.bobswatches.com/rolex-blog/buying-guides/omega-de-ville-watches-buying-guide.html

[6] Vintage Omega Seamaster De Ville History & Review; Felix Goldammer, Goldammer Vintage Watches;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysdQnKJMO58

 

All Rights on the text and graphics reserved to the Author. 

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