Chuck Maddox on the Awful 50th Speedmaster
Chuck Maddox commented on my rant about Omega's 50th Speedmaster, but wanted to say so much he couldn't fit it all in! So here he is as guest columnist:
"A solid gold opportunity squandered , Not that this should be any surprise...
It has been clear for some time that Omega is pointing itself in a different direction than it aimed in the past. We've seen this in statements from Omega, Swatch Group and even Messers Hayek themselves. Omega, long the firm at the forefront for those who desired accurate timekeeping, geared towards discerning customers who desired robust/rugged/reliable tool watches which also were crafted with a sense of elegance, all for a fair price, has been marching "upscale" towards more of "Boutique" style/brand of watch where image and buzzwords trump real-world performance and value.
This anniversary is certainly the most important anniversary that Omega has celebrated since the Seamaster's 50th, and perhaps going back as far as Omega's 125th celebrated in 1973. With that anniversary, Omega created the first automatic-winding Chronograph-Chronometer, created a new unique case to house it and produced a run of 2,000 units (although many collectors suspect more were actually produced) available to the public. Then they never used the c.1041 movement again.
This time around, and arguably for a more important anniversary, Omega basically did the least they could have done. The silk-screened an anniversary logo on an otherwise ordinary Speedmaster dial, and bumped up the MSRP (50th = £2300/$4544 reportedly, standard moonwatch MSRP's at $3000) by $1,500 or so. With the c.3201 models, they stripped the rotor and auto-winding bits off a F. Piguet based c.33xx movement and offered it up as a "column wheel mechanism and Co-Axial Escapement for greater precision stability and durability of the movement" at a MSRP of £5500 ($10866) reportedly! Precision stability? Sure, I'll grant that most owners of c.33xx series chronographs report great timekeeping. But durability? Here to fore, durability and reliability has not been the c.33xx family's strength, to say the least. [<---- 2008 nominee for understatement of the year!] All of this for a price of £5500 sterling (about $11,000) for the STAINLESS model! The Speedmaster has been Omega's Bread & Butter for 50 years now. This anniversary is arguably the most important, the most significant in quite some time and for quite some time. What does Omega do? Omega has basically phoned it in. If the pages on Omega's website are representative of the 50th Anniversary models that is... All they did was change a dial on the moonwatch, and strip a c.33xx of it's auto-winding capabilities and call it a c.32xx, give them each a new model number and a new exorbitant price increase. Welcome to the "New upscale Omega".
The sad thing is this doesn't come as a surprise, certainly not to anyone who hasn't been under a rock for the past five years or so. It is what we've come to expect from Omega, and likely what we'll see in the future.
All of the calls from people over the years for Omega to move upscale, to go back to an in-house design, to compete directly Rolex,... Smile: Omega's listened to you. Omega hopes [and had better pray] that your dollar's will make up for all of the lost sales to folks who have been buying the models they have been selling the past couple of decades. Why? Because it's fairly clear that few Speedmaster collectors/customers are going to spend an additional $1,500 for a moonwatch with a busy, crowded, tarted-up dial in an un-numbered Limited Production Run watch. At $4550, the MSRP for a manual wind Speedmaster is starting to crowd the MSRP of the Rolex Daytona (which is automatic, COSC rated, a true in-house movement, wish a heck of a lot better record of holding onto it's resale value. Also, it's increasingly likely that many of those same customers will not continue to follow Omega's MSRP price increases up the hill. Those customers will move along to other firms which create, produce and sell watches like those that Omega used to offer at a price consistent with their value.
It's taken the better part of 20-25 years for Omega to get to this position from the last time Omega miscalculated the marketplace. Does the world [much less Swatch Group] need another brand competing in the Blancpain/Breguet price strata? [£5500/$10,866 for a manual-wind Stainless Steel watch certainly put's that model squarely in Blancpain/Breguet's tier] Omega's banking on it. A lot of Omega's customers will be watching this one from the sidelines and helping themselves to Sinn's, Fortis' or other brands which are in the market niche Omega seems bound and determined to abandon.
Best of fortune Omega, you're going to need it. Your old established customer base will be watching, hoping that 2011 won't turn out like 1981 did for the firm."