The New Omega Caliber 8508 Anti-Magnetic Watch Movement

The anti-magnetic Omega Caliber 8508, fitted in an OMEGA Seamaster Aqua Terra

Today in Geneva, OMEGA announced its creation of a watch that is resistant to magnetic fields greater than 1.5 tesla (15,000 gauss), far exceeding the levels of magnetic resistance achieved by any previous watch and solving a problem that has challenged watchmakers for centuries.  Unlike other efforts to combat the effects of magnetism, the OMEGA movement does not rely on a protective container inside the watch case but on the use of selected non-ferrous materials in the movement itself.  Watches such as the the Rolex Milgauss (‘Mil’=1,000) and the IWC Ingenieur (which we will be seeing and hearing a lot about this year) use the traditional inner-protective cage approach in their watches.  By comparison to the Caliber 8508’s 15,000 gauss rating, these famous watches are anti-magnetic up to 1,000 gauss and ~6,000 gauss, respectively.  Offering 15x the magnetic resistance of these famous watches, you can see that the innovation encapsulated here in the 8508 is quite special.  More looks and insights, below.

The technology developed by the team is encapsulated in the new Omega Caliber 8508, though my understanding is that there is still just one prototype of the movement of which 40 prototypes are now being  and the best one will go into serial production (expect an official product launch late this year) . The technology is the result of a joint effort of various divisions within Swatch including Omega, ETA, and ASULAB.

Interestingly — according to — Omega plans to integrate this magnetic technology into to ALL of its calibers over time.  Eventually, then, magnetism will no longer be an issue for Omega wristwatches. This would suggest that the innovations are easily scalable and not cost prohibitive.

Thierry Conus, Director of Research & Development at ETA, described limitations of the traditional approach to include the facts that it can’t well handle the challenge of the increased strength of permanent magnets and that, from an aesthetic standpoint, they block the view of the movement.   He then showed a short film showing how a conventional mechanical watch exposed to high levels of magnetism stopped immediately and dramatically lost its accuracy. The OMEGA prototype was subjected to even higher levels of magnetism (15,000 gauss) and continued to perform. Testing showed that the watch was as accurate after its magnetic exposure as it had been before.

A live demonstration was then made that offered compelling and conclusive evidence that OMEGA’s new >15,000 Gauss movement is a landmark development in watchmaking.

Of course patents are pending in regards to this breakthrough,  many of which apply to the antimagnetic materials used to build the new movement, according to Omega.

OMEGA expects to present the technology at the Baselworld trade fair in April. The new movement, the OMEGA Co-Axial calibre 8508, should be introduced to the market in 2013.

So why announce it now?  I speculate.  Perhaps to front-run the SIHH show?  Possibly.   see before, as brands not at SIHH try to grab their own share of the limelight away from competitors.  And indeed with the Ingenieur being the focal point of IWC in 2013, my (finely tuned) sixth sense suggests that the competitive edge is at play here with regards to timing of this announcement.  The battle for the hearts and minds of watch enthusiasts everywhere continues  :-) I  look forward to being able to share more with you in a few months.