The forerunner of Omega was founded at La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland in 1848 by 23-year-old Louis Brandt, who assembled key-wound precision pocket watches from parts supplied by local craftsmen. He sold his watches from Italy to Scandinavia by way of England, his chief market. After Louis Brandt's death in 1879, his two sons Louis-Paul and César, troubled by irregular deliveries of questionable quality, abandoned the unsatisfactory assembly workshop system in favour of in-house manufacturing and total production control.
Due to the greater supply of manpower, communications and energy in Biel/Bienne, the enterprise moved into a small factory in January 1880, then bought the entire building in December. Two years later the company moved into a converted spinning-factory in the Gurzelen area of Biel/Bienne, where its headquarters are still situated today.
Their first series-produced calibres, Labrador and Gurzelen, as well as the famous Omega calibre of 1894, would ensure the brand's marketing success.
Louis-Paul and César Brandt both died in 1903, leaving one of Switzerland's largest watch companies — with 240,000 watches produced annually and employing 800 people — in the hands of four young people, the oldest of whom, Paul-Emile Brandt, was not yet 24.
Brandt was the great architect and builder of Omega. His influence would be felt over the next half-century. The economic difficulties brought on by the First World War would lead him to work actively from 1925 toward the union of Omega and Tissot, then to their merger in 1930 into the group SSIH, Geneva.
Under Brandt's leadership and Joseph Reiser's from 1955, the SSIH Group continued to grow and multiply, absorbing or creating some fifty companies, including Lemania, manufacturers of the most famous Omega chronograph movements. By the seventies, SSIH had become Switzerland's number one producer of finished watches and number three in the world. Up to this time, the Omega brand outsold Rolex, its main Swiss rival in the luxury watch segment, although Rolex watches sold at a higher price point. Around this time it was viewed as Rolex versus Omega in the competition for the "King of Swiss Watch brands". Omega watches tended to be more revolutionary and more professional focused, while Rolex watches were more ‘evolutionary’ and famous for their mechanical pieces and brand.
While Omega and Rolex had dominated in the pre-quartz era, this changed in the 1970s. That was when Japanese watch manufacturers such as Seiko and Citizen rose to dominance due to their pioneering of quartz movement. In response, Rolex continued concentrating on its expensive mechanical chronometers where its expertise lay (though it did have some experimentation in quartz), while Omega tried to compete with the Japanese in the quartz watch market with Swiss made quartz movements.