View all articles

Feature: Rolex Vs Omega

When the name “Rolex” was trademarked in 1908, Omega had already been around for 60 years. The former quickly caught up thanks to some savvy advertising and a focus on innovation. And then came decades where they took turns to gain the upper hand—Rolex equipping the first successful Everest mission, for example, or Omega supplying NASA’s astronauts with its fabled Moonwatch. As their rivalry continues into the 21st century, we look at how the brands compare today.



These Swiss titans have long passed the century mark, their achievements during their 100-plus years in the industry ensuring global recognition. Even someone who couldn’t tell a smartwatch from a sundial will have heard of both.

Like Omega, Rolex was an early advocate of the wristwatch. Co-founder Hans Wilsdorf saw the future of personal timekeeping and it didn’t involve a fob or chain. The brand didn’t shun pocket watches entirely—it manufactured them until as late as the 1940s. Yet a firm commitment to wristwatches from the outset was one area where Rolex stole a march on its competitors.

Image Courtesy of Bonhams

Image courtesy of Bonhams

Two decades after launching, Rolex made headlines—literally—when its water-resistant Oyster watch was worn by endurance swimmer Mercedes Gleitz, the first woman to swim the English Channel. Rolex took out a full-page, front-cover newspaper advert to broadcast the feat and promote its pioneering new product—setting the tone for future advertising campaigns which have relied heavily on high-profile ambassadors from the world’s of sport, culture and beyond.

Throughout the 20th century Rolex was renowned for its relentless innovation, but the years between 1945 and 1956 were particularly fruitful. Almost all the models launched during this time—from the Datejust to the Submariner dive watch—still form the core of Rolex’s catalogue.

Rolex made a huge statement of intent in the late 1990s when it began its journey to full integration, buying up its long-time parts suppliers such as the dial manufacturer, Beyeler, case maker, Genex, as well as Gay Frères, the famed high-end bracelet producer. The biggest of these acquisitions, though, was the 2004 purchase of the Aegler factory, which had exclusively supplied the majority of Rolex’s movements.

Never one to rest on its laurels, the company is now planning to build a $1.1billion factory in Bulle, a 90-minute drive from Geneva, which is expected to launch—and thus increase production—in 2029.

That agonising waiting for your favourite new Rolex might be drastically cut in the coming decades.

Cool factor

Rolex doesn’t exactly make a concerted effort to be cool. Its ambassadors over the decades have included tweed-clad authors, veteran rock stars and clean-cut athletes from elitist sports such as tennis and golf. Long-time official Rolex endorser Roger Federer may be a sporting giant, but he’s no Ronaldo or Michael Jordan. And Rolex seems as reluctant as it ever was of signing up a rising young footballer, boxer or R&B star.

That said, in its indifference to what people think of it, Rolex is cool. Not only that, its appeal spans generations, with grandchildren gratefully accepting the heirloom watches handed down to them by their parents and grandparents—which isn’t something you could say about clothes or record collections.

Rolex also benefits from its many unofficial endorsers, those who aren’t paid by the brand to wear its watches but are arguably far more influential than those who are. Rolex watches have been worn unofficially by everyone from Steve McQueen to Prince Harry, Paul Newman to James Bond (more of whom later).

Add to that it’s unattainability, with most brand-new models requiring lengthy waiting lists, and you’ve got one of the coolest, most desirable luxury brands ever created.

Icon status

Some watch brands are fortunate enough to count one truly iconic model in their catalogue; Rolex, however, boasts several.

Among its more affordable iconic timepieces is the Explorer, a prototype of which was supplied to the successful Everest mission of 1959 when Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hilary became the first to summit the world’s highest peak.

The more premium Day-Date model— available only in gold or platinum—is known as the President’s watch, having been worn by world leaders, CEOs and politicians, including John F. Kennedy and the Dalai Lama. Anyone who has switched on a television in the past twenty years might have also spotted a yellow-gold model on the wrist of Mafia boss Tony Soprano in The Sopranos. Yet despite being the quintessential wealth-signifier of the alpha male, that hasn’t stopped Rihanna and Jennifers Lopez and Anniston wearing theirs with aplomb.

There’s also the Daytona, a chronograph that has had to earn its icon status the hard way. Given a wide berth by most Rolex fans when released, it managed to catch the eye of Joanne Woodward, wife of Hollywood legend Paul Newman.

She bought one as a gift for her husband in the early 1970s, and it was his association with the Daytona that—somewhat belatedly—made it one of the desirable timepieces around.

Image courtesy of Bonhams

Image courtesy of Bonhams

Daytonas with the same quirky dial design as Paul Newman’s watches (he came to own more than one) now sell upwards of $200k, while the actual watch bought (and engraved with a personal message) by his wife holds the world record for the most expensive wristwatch ever sold, a whopping $17.7million.

When Rolex decided to use a crown for its logo it was seemingly a self-fulfilling prophecy. It has indeed become watch industry nobility, a king in its realm.


The fact that Rolex makes everything in-house is no small feat. Before a watch can be called “Swiss-made”, at least 60 per cent of it needs to be made in Switzerland. Every part of a Rolex, however, is not only Swiss-made but made in-house by Rolex itself, ensuring every single watch that leaves its factories meets the company’s extreme demands on quality.

Much to the envy of other brands, Rolex has its own foundry in order to produce its own 18k gold and platinum alloys from the raw materials. Even its proprietary steel—known as 904L—is tougher than the industry-standard 316L steel used by most other watch companies.

It aims for the same superlative quality with its precious stones. Those used are of the highest grade and are compared against certified master stones to ensure consistency.

Incredibly, of the countless millions of precious stones it has purchased over the years for its high-end gem-set watches, it has been reported that only two have been fake.

As for its movements, all current Rolex models bear the words “Superlative Chronometer” on the dial. This means they are certified for accuracy first by the external company COSC (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètre) and then by Rolex itself, the end result being that the watches are accurate to -2/+2 seconds a day—that’s at least twice as accurate as a standard COSC-certified chronometer.

Admittedly, Rolex’s movements are about as minimal as a Japanese dentist’s waiting room. Mostly hidden behind closed casebacks, they don’t feature the intricately engraved components that are the hallmarks of Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin et al. But they are built to last a lifetime and are perfectly finished in their own beautifully austere way.


Claiming that Rolex is good value when a time-only, steel Oyster Perpetual costs ten times as much as, say, a Seiko that looks and feels similar, and performs the same function, is a little hard to digest for some people.

But with a Rolex you’re getting the additional chronometer-testing, the superior 316L steel, plus sundry other components—from Parachrom hairsprings to micro-adjustable bracelets—that have taken the company years of costly research and development to perfect. Plus, Rolex has to pay for its A-list ambassadors and event sponsorship somehow, and that, of course, is a factor in its prices.

Besides, a Seiko won’t rise in market value the second it leaves the boutique—nor for that matter will most Omegas.



We assume Hans Wilsdorf was being facetious—or under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs—when he claimed that a benevolent genie whispered the name “Rolex” into his ear while he was riding the bus.

In contrast, Omega’s name-origin story is far more prosaic—the owners of the company simply asked their bank manager if he had any bright ideas. He obliged with “Omega”, the last letter of the Greek alphabet and therefore a symbol of the ultimate achievement.

That was at the turn of the 20th century. Until then, Omega had operated under several names stretching back to when it began as a one-man operation in 1848 by Louis Brandt (pictured above). His two sons eventually took over, building on their father’s success to make Le Generale Watch Co, as it was called by then, the largest watch factory in Switzerland.

It had already infiltrated overseas watch markets, including the UK, when the British air force chose an Omega to be its official service watch during World War I, the American army following suit shortly after.

An even bigger company milestone was marked in 1932 when it became the first official timekeeper of the Olympics, previous events having been timed by multiple brands. Omega devices have timed most of the summer and winter Olympic games ever since.

Image courtesy of Bonhams

Image courtesy of Bonhams

Without doubt its biggest achievement to date, however, is putting a watch on the moon. Its Speedmaster chronograph fended off a handful of rival brands—including Rolex—and survived a barrage of rigorous tests to become NASA’s official timekeeper. When astronaut Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the lunar surface in 1969 as part of the historic Apollo 11 mission, his trusty Speedmaster was on his wrist (Neil Armstrong left his back on the lunar module as back-up).

Image courtesy of Bonhams

Image courtesy of Bonhams

A few decades later, with Omega now part of The Swatch Group, there was another huge coup for the brand that must have left Rolex bemused.

In a move that was as audacious as one of his enemies’ plots to rule the world, James Bond was signed up by Omega. In Ian Fleming’s novels, Bond—like the author himself—was a staunch Rolex man, and the early movie adaptions honoured this, with every actor from Sean Connery to Timothy Dalton wearing a Rolex (usually, but not always, a Submariner model). But that all changed when Pierce Brosnan took on the role in 1995 with GoldenEye here .

The character has worn variations of the Omega Seamaster ever since.

Cool factor

Omega has been described as “revolutionary”, Rolex “evolutionary”. And it’s true that Omega has never been afraid of introducing completely new lines and ripping up their design rule-book, even doing something as unpredictable as collaborating with Swatch to make the budget MoonSwatch.

Rolex, in contrast, likes to make barely noticeable, incremental improvements to well-established models, introducing brand-new collections about as often as North Korea changes its leader.

Yet despite being less conservative than Rolex, Omega is edged out by its rival in this category. It’s not for want of trying. It’s got celebrity ambassadors galore, including Zoe Kravitz, George Clooney, Nicole Kidman and Eddie Redmayne. It revives vintage 1970s cult classics like the strangely shaped Ploprof and keeps its flagship Speedmaster line updated with collectible limited editions like the Snoopy and Alaska models.

But the allure of The Crown and its clutch of stalwart models like the Submariner, GMT-Master and Daytona—models worn by some of the world’s most famous and influential people—puts Rolex out of reach of all other watch brands.

Icon status

Granted, the Speedmaster’s place in the pantheon of Most Iconic Watches Ever is as fixed as an ancient oak tree, and certain Seamaster models have become enduring classics. But there are probably far too many variations of both, making them less instantly recognisable than Rolex’s most iconic models.

And Omega’s other collections, such as the Deville and the Constellation? They hardly warrant a flicker on the iconometer.

As for the brand itself, nothing can take away the fact that Omega has made huge technological contributions to the watch industry and has been active without interruption since 1848. Awareness is among the highest in the industry and it’s the flagship brand of the entire Swatch Group, a position that gives it enormous clout. Frankly, if Omega isn’t an iconic watch brand then James Bond’s a wimp.


What could be a better endorsement of Omega’s quality than the decision by NASA to equip its astronauts with Speedmasters? And that was after the watch ran a gauntlet of tests to ensure it was up to the task.

In recent years, Omega’s path to decentralization under the auspices of The Swatch Group seems to have U-turned and it’s now returning to the manufacture style of making everything in-house, giving it greater control over quality.

The decision to start equipping its movements with George Daniel’s ingenious co-axial escapement in 1999 gave the brand serious technical bragging rights, and most of its contemporary watches are now Master Chronometers.

This means that they’ve been certified first by the aforementioned COSC, and then by another external lab called METAS (the Federal Institute of Metrology), which subjects the movements to no less than eight rigorous tests.

In a nutshell, both Rolex and Omega go way beyond what is considered to be good watchmaking to deliver some of the most precise mechanical timepieces around.


Next to Rolex, Omega appears good value, although US readers may disagree. In 2023 it raised its prices by eight per cent there, and two per cent elsewhere. Yet the average price of its most famous dive watch, the Seamaster, is still significantly less than a steel Submariner.

Furthermore, the least expensive mechanical steel Omega over 36mm in its current catalogue is a 39.5mm Deville Prestige with date, priced £3,000, while a 36mm time-only Rolex Oyster Perpetual will set you back £5,100.

Still, when it comes to re-sale value, Rolex unsurprisingly comes out on top. Expect your Rolex to hold steady or go up in value, while your Omega, like most other luxury watches, will almost certainly take a bit of a hit.

And that, for many watch buyers—notwithstanding Omega’s longevity, technological prowess and NASA approval—is the only thing that counts.

Shop pre-owned Rolex watches

Shop pre-owned Omega watches