It’s the horological equivalent of a rags to riches story. From very humble beginnings as a line of blue collar, entry-level watches promoted in the early 1960s by Omega’s US agent, Norman Morris, the Omega De Ville collection has risen steadily in status to rival most of its siblings in the Omega and other high-value brand stables. It is fitting that the new in-house calibre 9300 and 9301 movements (depending on the depth of your pockets) will purr under a De Ville dial.
The De Ville 18-carat red gold chronograph is classic ‘Veblen’ merchandise and mirrors the ‘riches’ accumulated by anyone able to afford the top end of this line. Veblen was coined by economist, Thorstein Bunde, to describe a range of high-end merchandise that is perceived to be exclusive as long as prices remain high or increase. And, priced at around 29,000 US dollars, the De Ville solid red gold chronograph satisfies most, if not all, criteria for a bona fide Veblen object: it’s pricey; it will be produced in comparatively fewer numbers; it houses some exciting twenty-first century micro-mechanics; it has classic styling and it looks ‘expensive’.
Rolex have appreciated the Veblen effect for decades, churning out millions of watches with robust, albeit ugly-looking movements priced at the retail end from 6,000 to 10,000 US dollars (much more these days) and costing a fraction of that price to produce. The good thing about the De Ville 18k chronograph is that while huge margins are built into the price it is far, far from ugly - on the inside or the out.
If you don’t have the spare change to land the red gold version of this 42mm heavyweight, then the stainless version – either with strap or stainless steel bracelet - may suit your budget at around the 8300 to 9000 USD mark. Still Veblen, but at least there will be some funds left over in the kids’ college accounts that could be designated for their original purpose!
The styling of this piece defers to watch design of the nineteen-twenties to forties: big, plump, polished and brushed case body, and rounded lugs with a long curve, giving an organic, Art Nouveau quality to the overall design. Roman numeral markers on the dial add a touch of classicism, and simple, tapered and faceted gold hands and understated sub-dials preserve the subtlety of this prestige piece. A number of dial combinations in black, silver and blue are available, depending on the model you choose.
All of the expected hallmarks of a dress chronograph are present: twenty-first century two sub-dial movement with silicon balance and tri-level co-axial escapement with some of the best performance and stability numbers in the business; column wheel chronograph mechanism visible through three cut-outs on the bridge; exquisite cosmetic and functional finish of the plates, rotor and bridges; blackened screws, barrel and balance wheel to add a bit more colour contrast, and an exhibition case back to remind you of what you are getting for your money. The 18 carat gold version offers an 18 carat gold rotor and balance bridge, with the stainless model featuring a rhodium-plated rotor and balance bridge. A further feature of the piece is the ability to change the hour hand without affecting the minute hand and sweep.
While the De Ville dress chronograph speaks the Veblen lingo eloquently, it is one of the best, if not the best, in its class.