Master and commander: Raynald Aeschlimann, CEO of Omega
by Peter Howarth
Raynald Aeschlimann, president and CEO of watch brand Omega, believes authenticity is essential to success – and this means staying loyal to your team through both wins and losses...
Raynald Aeschlimann is immaculately dressed in a well-tailored black suit, crisp white shirt, black tie and black slip-on suede evening shoes. He looks like something out of Silver Fox central casting, a kind of Swiss 007. Which is fitting, as he’s just presented a new Bond-themed watch to the press, aided by Samantha Bond, who played Pierce Brosnan’s Miss Moneypenny.
The limited-edition Commander’s watch is the latest result of Omega’s relationship with the blockbuster spy franchise. This dates back to 1995 and Brosnan’s debut in the role in GoldenEye. Now it’s Daniel Craig who rolls around every few years with a new take on Omega’s Seamaster diving watch. In the last film, Spectre, it even had a starring role, exploding to save 007’s life.
Bond is one of the well-known pillars of Omega’s activity, the others being the Olympic Games, where it is the official timekeeper, and NASA’s space missions. The Omega Speedmaster Professional was the watch worn on Apollo 11 in 1969 by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first flight to land man on the moon.
Aeschlimann is keen to point out that Omega is a maker of quality, functional instruments, not just stylish accessories. The first diving watches were produced in the 1920s (the Seamaster dates back to 1948). “We get a lot of people who dive with the watch and tell us it is amazing and that it does what it says it will. This point of authenticity is important. The millennials have affected our world: they are so much quicker than us to ask why we create what we do,” adds Aeschlimann. “This is brilliant. It has brought authenticity back on the very top of the agenda for luxury goods, because it explains why you would be ready to pay more for something.”
He recognises that people who buy Omega are not necessarily doing so because of the engineering: “The need to buy a luxury item is when the emotion of it overtakes the reason. But it cannot only be about emotion. Because if it is only emotion and the watch does not deliver on performance… then that is not true luxury.”
A few weeks before the Bond launch, I experienced the authenticity of Omega first hand. I was in Bermuda for the America’s Cup and Aeschlimann introduced me to Emirates Team New Zealand, for whom Omega is a sponsor. Grant Dalton, the team boss, explained how Aeschlimann wanted to make a watch for the squad that they could actually use on the boat, rather than just for show. The result, the Speedmaster X-33 Regatta ETNZ Limited Edition, has a digital display, as well as an analogue one, so Glenn Ashby, the skipper, could see the countdown to start.
Speaking of the relationship Omega has with the team, which goes back to the time when Sir Peter Blake was sailing for the Kiwis, Aeschlimann references the last Cup, when New Zealand threw away an 8-1 lead and lost to the Americans. “Continuity makes you credible: you don’t just go with a team because they won; you stay with them because they lost,” he says. Thankfully New Zealand didn’t lose this time.
Aeschliman sees his role as a type of keeper of the flame. He talks of how centuries ago Swiss watchmaking used to be the work of farmers in the winter months. Men with big hands became jewellers. Today, with this in mind, he is retraining people who have worked in other fields – albeit ones that require more dexterity than farming, like opticians, hairdressers, manicurists – to be the new generation of artisan horologists.
His evident pride in his workforce and their development may have something to do with the fact that before he took over the top job last year, Aeschlimann had worked his way up through the Omega ranks for 20 years. His management style certainly speaks of one who believes in a culture of inclusivity. He tells me the first thing he insists on when a new Bond film is ready, even before the world premiere, is that he hosts a champagne screening at the Omega factory in Switzerland for the workers and their partners. He wants the people who put the watches together to share in the glamour and get a sense of personal achievement.
It seems Aeschlimann, unlike 007, is decidedly more team player than lone wolf.