You shouldn’t really compare watch brands. Each one brings its own unique styles, designs, and heritage to the table. Comparing them isn’t fair. But gosh, is it tempting. Especially when you’re on a budget and want to get the very most bang for your buck. If you’re in the market for a Swiss watch, you’ve got a score of big-name brands to choose from. There’s Rolex, Patek Philippe, Zenith, Tudor, Victorinox, Alpina, Rado… the list goes on. Two of the biggest names and most internationally recognized players are unquestionably TAG Heuer and Omega. Both are top brands, offering slick, stylish pieces that stand the test of time. Strangely enough (and as we’ll discover shortly), both also share very similar histories. But which is the best? In a straight-out fight, which one comes out on top? Who of the two has the best watch movements, the most classic designs, the most attractive prices? If you’ve ever found yourself scratching your head over those exact same questions, you’ve come to the right place to find the answers.
TAG Heuer vs. Omega: The History of Two Icons
TAG Heuer makes great watches. Omega makes great watches. But which of the two makes the greatest watches? In some ways, it’s not an easy question. The primary purpose of any watch is to tell the time. But you don’t simply judge a piece on how well it beats out the seconds – something which makes comparing a TAG Heuer watch to an Omega watch somewhat challenging. Sure, they both make high end pieces that smack of master craftsmanship and technical expertise, but how they express those two things is very different. TAG Heuer is a brand that’s concentrated its efforts on a relatively narrow selection of watches built around a sporty aesthetic and adventurous appeal. Omega is a brand that clearly doesn’t buy into the maxim that less is more, possessing a broad catalog that covers a wide range of designs, styles, and types. It may not have ventured into Smart watches in the way TAG Heuer has, but its range of mechanical watches is as impressive for its breadth as it is for its quality. So, how can you begin to compare the two brands? As with most things, you start at the beginning….
The Story of TAG Heuer
In 1860, a watchmaker by the name of Edouard Heuer decided to go into business. The result was Heuer Watch Company, a small operation that made its base in St. Imier, Switzerland. Almost from the start, Heuer made a friend of the sports world. In the 1920s, it cemented its status as the ultimate sports brand (not to mention a major contender in the Swiss watchmaking industry) when it won official partner status at the 1920 Summer Olympics. When it patented the first dashboard chronograph, it sparked a lasting relationship with the automobile and airline industries, a relationship that developed further in 1933 when it released a dashboard instrument for automobiles and planes called the Autavia (an instrument that would later serve as the inspiration for one of its flagship wristwatches).
As blog.crownandcaliber.com notes, the 1940s saw Heuer turn its focus to wristwatches, releasing first the Auto-Graph, a wrist chronograph with a tachometer scale and manual reference hand, then the Solunar, the first watch to bear a tide indicator. Its final watch of the decade was the Seafarer, a revolutionary piece (and the world’s very first chronograph) that featured both a tide indicator and dial for regattas. Over the next couple of decades, Heuer’s reputation continued to grow. As well as becoming the first brand to have one of its pieces enter space, it became the epitome of cool when the King of Cool himself, Steve McQueen, chose to endorse the brand by strapping a Heuer Monaco to his wrist in the film Le Mans. In 1985, Heuer was purchased by TAG Group Holdings. And thus, TAG Heuer was born. But despite the change in name, the brand’s reputation remained intact, as did its focus on high quality mechanical pieces that combined precision time keeping with stylish aesthetics.
The Story of Omega
Omega’s history slightly predates TAG Heuer’s, but not enough to make a difference. The brand was founded just over a decade prior to Heuer in 1848. Like TAG Heuer, Omega has always concentrated on ‘straightforward’ watches that might not be at the cutting edge of watchmaking technology, but that cover the basics in a way that other brands could only hope to emulate. Again mirroring TAG Heuer, Omega has a long association with the sporting world, something that reached its pinnacle when it was chosen as the official timekeeper of the 1936 summer Olympics.
In the 1940s, Omega (like Heuer and most other brands) began to shift its focus away from pocket watches and on to wristwatches. On its 100th anniversary, Omega released the Seamaster, an exemplary diver watch that took the industry by storm and would quickly become a modern classic. When Buzz Aldrin choose the Omega Speedmaster (a watch that would later become the official chronograph for space missions) to accompany him as he took his first steps on the moon, the brand’s reputation was made. Since then, Omega has continued to take great strides in popular culture, with its popularity enjoying a major spike when it became the official watch worn by James Bond in the 007 film franchise.
As you read the history of the two brands, it becomes blatantly clear just how closely their stories mirror each other. Both were created around about the same time, both have long-standing associations with the sporting world, both have achieved fame via celebrity endorsements. With such similar histories, it’s little wonder that they’re both considered two of the best brands to emerge from Switzerland. It’s also clear that trying to find a winner in the TAG Heuer vs. Omega battle is going to take a little more work than we may have thought…
TAG Heuer vs. Omega: Accuracy
Unless your primary reason for splashing out several thousand on a watch is to make your wrist look fancy, you’re going to want a piece with a movement that’s capable of delivering precision accuracy. After all, regardless of how stylish the design, no matter how huge the power reserve, and however magnificent the water resistance, a watch is nothing if it doesn’t do a good job of telling the time. So, whose watches are the more accurate, Omega’s or TAG Heuer’s? According to prestigetime.com (who we’ve no reason to disbelief), the title goes to Omega.
For decades, the gold standard in judging accuracy has been considered COSC certification. As techcrunch.com explains, the process of achieving COCS status involves the same procedure for each watch. ‘Each uncased movement is individually tested for fifteen days, in five positions, at three different temperatures. The movements are fitted with a second’s hand and the automatic winding mechanisms are disengaged for the tests. Measurements are made daily with the aid of cameras.’
A watch that passes the test is instantly elevated to a new status (and quite often, a new price point). But then in 2015, Omega pulled the rug from under the feet of the industry when it added its own certification process via the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology (METAS). According to a statement issued by the brand, the new certification process has taken the ball from COSC and gone one step further.
“￼While industry-standard COSC certification remains an integral part of OMEGA’s process, the new METAS testing will effectively double the certification of each watch, giving OMEGA and other Swiss watchmakers the opportunity to demonstrate the quality and timekeeping performance of their watches to a greater extent than has previously been possible. With 8 tests carried out over 10 days, each watch must pass a range of criteria that replicate real-life wearing conditions, including exposure to magnetic fields of 15,000 gauss.” So far, Omega is the only brand to pass the METAS (although considering it’s an in-house testing process, that’s perhaps less of a surprise than it would be otherwise).
But it’s not just the testing (biased or otherwise) that makes Omega such a contender when it comes to accuracy. Over the past few years, it’s gained a foothold in the fight against magnetic interference (the number 1 enemy of accuracy in mechanical watches) via the introduction of a new type of silicon that delivers superb protection against electromagnetic frequencies. TAG Heuer’s watches may be superb, they may offer excellent accuracy, but they can’t quite compete with the technical advancements that have made Omega watches the gold standard in precision time keeping.
TAG Heuer vs. Omega: Functionality and Finish
Functionality isn’t everything. But it is something. While some people are content with a stripped back, basic watch that tells the time but does little else, others want a bit more by way of the ‘wow’ factor. In fairness, neither Omega nor TAG Heuer are brands that put a lot of effort into ramming a whole load of functions into their watches. You’re going to get water resistance on some, time and date display on most, and a tachymeter on others. And that’s about it. Fortunately, it’s enough for most people. But as for saying which of the two is the better… impossible. Different people want different things from their watches. Both brands offer a good range of products with enough variety in functionality and features to please most needs. Neither is superior – it just depends on what you want. When two brands are as neck and neck as TAG Heuer and Omega when it comes to quality and performance, you need to look at the individual watch, rather than the brand, to decide which offers the functionality you want.
With that said, there’s a caveat. And that caveat comes in the form of Smart watches. Over the last couple of years, TAG Heuer has dipped its toes into the waters of Smart technology. In fairness, the results don’t compete with an Apple watch or even some of the Smart watches offered by other competitors. But at least they’re there. In the case of Omega, they’re not… and neither are they likely to be. Speaking to GQ Australia in 2016, the global boss of Omega, Stephen Urquhart, made no bones about his dislike of the very idea of Smart watches. “God gave us two wrists,” he says. “If people want to have a connected watch, they can put it on one and have a beautiful mechanical watch on the other.” Of course, things change, as do opinions, but for now, don’t hold your breath waiting for Omega to join the connected watch trend. So, smart watches aside, Omega and TAG Heuer are much of a muchness when it comes to functionality. But what about the finish? The right finish, after all, can elevate a basic watch to something quite extraordinary.
Here, Omaga wins the prize. TAG Heuer is a high-end watch maker, no doubt about it, but it’s not a ‘luxury’ brand, at least not in the way we’d usually define ‘luxury brands’. It’s a maker of great, affordable pieces with stylish, sporty designs. But it’s not ‘luxury’. Omega is. There’s a finish and a quality to Omega watches that TAG Heuer pieces simply don’t have. Omega’s polishing is finer, its designs are more classic – not great if you want something cutting edge and contemporary perhaps, but ideal if you want a watch that’s going to stand the test of time, both in terms of wearability and value.
TAG Heuer vs. Omega: Warranty
Warranty doesn’t reflect on quality. A long warranty isn’t necessarily reflective of a great brand, and a short one doesn’t mean the brand has no confidence in its products. But ultimately, no one’s going to argue that it doesn’t help. If you’re going to spend a good chunk of your savings on a watch, having a lengthy warranty to go with it is going to give you a little confidence boost. So, who’s got the best warranty? With a 3-year advantage, the title goes to Omega. While TAG Heuer watches come with a very nice 2-year warranty as standard, Omega takes the crown with its very considerable 5-year warranty. It might not be a deal breaker, but it certainly helps.
TAG Heuer vs. Omega: The Winner
By now, it should be clear that Omega and TAG Heuer are both excellent brands. Both have outstanding reputations, both make superb watches, and both have remarkably similar back stories. Both also occupy the same high-end watch market territory: as afr.com notes, while Rolex may be considered the default must-have for the wrist, Omega and TAG Heuer are most definitely the podium place-holders. But which takes silver and which takes bronze? Ultimately (and without wanting to sound like we’re copping out of making a decision), it really depends. Omega may make the most luxurious pieces with the most precise movements, but the margin between the two is thin enough to be overlooked, at least when you consider other factors.
TAG Heuer’s designs are often seen as the more eye-catching of the two. If you prefer a classic aesthetic, this could be a disadvantage. But if you like sporty little numbers with retro appeal, it’s a winner. There’s also the price difference to consider: while Omega watches are seen as the more luxurious of the two brands, this has consequences on the price they command. TAG Heuer may be seen as the more ‘mid-market’ of the two, but what it lacks in status it more than makes up for in affordability. When it comes to choosing which of the two brands is the best, it all boils down to individual preference. If you prefer classic designs, stunning accuracy, and a luxe look, go with Omega. If you prefer a unique look, a sporty feel, and an adventurous spirit, go with TAG Heuer. Either way, you’ll be getting a great watch.