Venice is called many things. It’s the City of Water, the City of Dreams, the City of Bridges – and for me personally, a city full of stories. From the moment we stepped onto a water taxi in Venice, we were fed one story after another, some more believable than others but all equally fascinating. In the city to preview the new additions to the Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra line, we were told at the welcome dinner that the city was chosen because the mythical seahorse emblem, found on the Aqua Terra timepieces, were inspired by the half-horse, half-fish statuettes that adorn all the gondolas that float along the canals.
I flipped my watch around for a quick inspection. I was wearing one of the new models, an elegant pink gold and steel Aqua Terra with a white mother-of-pearl dial and diamond hour markers. There was no seahorse logo at 12 o’clock, just a date window at 6 o’clock. Nor was there any trace of it on the transparent case back, from which you could see Omega’s proprietary co-axial escapement. It was a fun fact to know, I thought, but I doubt Omega took us on a 24-hour ride across the globe to tell us the only connection the Aqua Terra had with Venice was the seahorse. Is Eddie Redmayne secretly shooting nearby and Venice was merely chosen for convenience? We were scheduled to meet him during our trip, after all.
A trip to the Punta della Dogana to see Damien Hirst’s latest, much-hyped exhibition Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable didn’t quite help, either. The show is built on the premise that, in 2008, Hirst discovered a shipwreck of a wealthy figure in antiquity called Cif Amotan II and spent the last ten years financing the excavation and salvage of the lost sea treasures. Upon entering the exhibition, you’re shown an introductory video of the salvaging process and there are documentary photographs throughout that offer a glimpse of the treasures languishing on the ocean floor. How seriously you take Hirst and his monumental bronze, marble and gold sea monsters is up to the viewer, but one can’t deny the fictional discovery of a shipwreck makes for quite a compelling story. Some might say Hirst is commenting on our cultural values today – who is to say legends and myths, even history, are certainly true?
When we meet Omega CEO Raynald Aeschlimann for an explanation (of the new Aqua Terra, not Hirst), he says affectionately, “Generation Y is always about why, why, why.” He doesn’t talk about seahorses again. Instead, he talks about style; he believes that Omega is a very stylish brand. “It’s the same in fashion and in watches – there’s fashion and old-fashioned. But in the middle, there is style,” he says. “That’s what we wanted to create with this watch, no matter if you have it in steel or with a rubber bracelet. The Aqua Terra is the best example on how to be stylish and elegant, but still have the Seamaster feeling.”
The Seamaster dates back to 1948 and Omega claims it as the oldest line among its current collections. Created for the brand’s 100th anniversary, the Seamaster collection was loosely based on the waterproof wristwatches made for the British military at the end of the Second World War, made for individuals who wanted a robust yet elegant watch that could suit any occasion. While the Seamaster has seen sportier incarnations in the Seamaster 300 and Planet Ocean models, the Aqua Terra, which only made its debut in 2002, honours the spirit of the original Omega Seamaster models.
The most defining feature of the Aqua Terra is undisputedly the dial, with a teak pattern modelled after the decks of luxury yachts. The pure lines now run horizontally, as opposed to vertically, across the dial on the new redesigns. Another distinctive change is a unique rubber strap on some models, whereas usually a leather strap or a metal bracelet completes the classic Aqua Terra look. The signature twisted and faceted lugs that recall the classic Omega designs of the 1960s are merely fine-tuned, and are paired with clean triangular hour markers, also an homage to the late ’60s style. The date window has been repositioned and text is reduced on the dial for easier reading. All the gents’ watches and most of the ladies’ watches are certified as Master Chronometers, fitted with anti-magnetic technology and are water resistant up to 150m. That’s no small feat for a watch designed mainly for “business days and social nights”.
“It’s one of the reasons why we are so successful,” says Aeschlimann. “Some watch brands are more arrogant, more about a status symbol, but we are a bit more about inner values. One of the facts is that we have a transparent case back because we have nothing to hide. One of the reasons why the Master Chronometers are so important is that we wanted to give to customers that kind of certification without any additional cost. It isn’t for commercial reasons – no, we’re giving that to customers because they want to know that the watch is very precise, that it’s waterproof and also resistant to magnetic fields.”
Another reason for Omega’s success is its uncanny ability to align itself with top celebrities such as George Clooney and Cindy Crawford, who are able to give the brand the desired exposure for its collections. Eddie Redmayne is the face for the latest Aqua Terra campaign; he explains it’s all very natural for him because his first exposure to watches was also with Omega.
“My first Omega watch was a De Ville, which my dad had for many years – he used to let me wear it,” says Redmayne. Of course, that was before the actor became an ambassador for Omega during its Globemaster launch. “My dad has got this kind of old-school style. He gets dressed in a beautifully tailored suit, he’s got a cool tie and a slightly flamboyant pocket handkerchief. And I’m like, ‘You’re rocking it!’ He’s always got a mixture of elegance and flair.”
Of all the new features in the redesign, Redmayne enjoys the rubber strap. “I used to wear a Globemaster and even though they are water-resistant, I think my life is quite frantic and I don’t want to ruin it,” he explains. “When you have the beautiful leather straps, I don’t always want to take it off before going near water. But now with the Aqua Terra, I feel it’s quite elegant, but since it’s made of rubber, I can throw it in the bath and stuff.”
That night, we dine by candlelight at the historic Palazzo Pisani Moretta, where many of the original frescoes and interior decorations from the 18th century remain. We enjoy a menu specially created by Italian chef Carlo Cracco within the grand hall, which is still lit up using real candlesticks, which flicker hypnotically atop the Murano glass chandeliers. In the presence of Redmayne and his wife, Hannah Bagshawe, as well as Hong Kong actress Fala Chen, and British models David Gandy, Jarrod Scott and Oliver Cheshire (with his fiancée, singer Pixie Lott), we were spellbound. Toasts were raised and speeches were made, with Redmayne gushing: “I’m a history buff and I love Omega’s rich legacy.”
We take on the overcrowded streets for our last evening in Venice. Snaking our way through the throng of tourists snapping photos on the Rialto Bridge, and ducking from the gulls and pigeons that swoop low over the Piazza San Marco, we scramble over arched bridges and turn sharp corners until we lose all sense of direction, all the while staring upwards at the opulent architecture that surrounds us. As dusk falls over the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, the sky takes on a brilliant pink hue and the canals are painted a soft shade of violet. The mother-of-pearl dial on the Aqua Terra on my wrist shimmers iridescently in the twilight.
Despite the hordes of tourists, the beauty of Venice is truly like no other – and then it clicks. There are, as I ultimately discovered, parallels between Omega and the city after all. There’s the obvious, like the gondola’s iconic seahorse on the metal case back of some Aqua Terra models, but there’s more than what meets the eye; there’s also the values the collection represents, the heritage behind the timepiece and the thoughtfulness in its design. Venice is the same, charming and full of history, each palazzo holding secrets behind its gothic arched doorways. Perhaps it’s what Aeschlimann meant. The Aqua Terra, Venice… they’re simply beautiful and, at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
This feature originally appeared in the December 2017 print issue of #legend