As the 1960s moved over into the 1970s, one of the greatest jewelry designers of all time was secured by Omega to design 55 of the most extraordinary timepieces ever created. The result was the unsurpassed and much-coveted About Time series.

In 1969, Omega commissioned London-based artist jeweler Andrew Grima to design a collection of watches, About Time, that even today remain unsurpassed for their ingenuity, audacity and powerful, sculptural design. Though Mr Grima was already acknowledged as a maverick of modern jewelry design, and was arguably the most innovative designer of his generation with a wildly fashionable shop at No. 80 Jermyn Street and a Royal Warrant, he had never previously designed a watch. As the jeweler to The Queen, Princess Margaret and Jackie O said: “If you need to know the time, you ask your chauffeur.”

The Elegance watch is a robust, stepped and line-engraved, yellow-gold bracelet with a doorstep of a smoky quartz sitting proud at its center. The hands are offset, cleverly putting time in its place on such a handsome jewel. Grima presented Elegance to HRH Princess Anne
The Elegance watch is a robust, stepped and line-engraved, yellow-gold bracelet with a doorstep of a smoky quartz sitting proud at its center. The hands are offset, cleverly putting time in its place on such a handsome jewel. Grima presented Elegance to HRH Princess Anne
Grima’s expertise in casting gold is demonstrated in the Beachcomber watch with gemstone face set as a brooch...
Grima’s expertise in casting gold is demonstrated in the Beachcomber watch with gemstone face set as a brooch...
...Dispensing with the watch case entirely, Grima floats the stone surrounded by offset diamonds inside a textured yellow-gold, three-dimensional hollowed form reminiscent of driftwood
...Dispensing with the watch case entirely, Grima floats the stone surrounded by offset diamonds inside a textured yellow-gold, three-dimensional hollowed form reminiscent of driftwood
Grima’s expertise in casting gold is demonstrated in the Beachcomber watch with gemstone face set as a brooch. Dispensing with the watch case entirely, Grima floats the stone surrounded by offset diamonds inside a textured yellow-gold, three-dimensional hollowed form reminiscent of driftwood

However, Omega’s Director of Production Robert Forster had the foresight to see that Andrew Grima’s “wearable works of art” aesthetic could revolutionize watch design. Grima’s passion was for mammoth semi-precious stones, often rough and included, set in textured yellow gold with accents of white diamonds. Some of his most successful pieces were yellow gold casts of the simplest forms such as pencil shavings, leaves or molten lava. He was the Pablo Picasso of jewelry design in the 1960s and 1970s when the great jewel houses such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Boucheron were still setting exquisite Old Masters.

“The way Andrew worked was to incessantly sketch an endless flow of ideas on the back of envelopes, scraps of paper, hotel stationery or bar mats,” says Jojo Grima as she opens folders from her late husband’s archive showing the great man’s rough sketches for About Time.

Jojo also owns all of the beautifully described illustrations of the collection of 55 watches and 31 pieces of jewelry, as well as some of the wooden models Grima took to Omega in 1969. As he told journalist Shirley Conran in 1970: “The first time I went to Switzerland with the experimental wooden models, I was greeted with dead silence, then a series of polite questions. The Swiss are not inclined to go mad.

Volcano, one of Andrew Grima’s original architectural designs for Omega
Volcano, one of Andrew Grima’s original architectural designs for Omega

“They instantly started banging the models against the table to check practicality. Then, when they saw the first jeweled pieces, they were delighted and the wife of the Managing Director actually ordered one. As she was the first woman to see them – and she sees quite a few watches – they realized that women might actually like exotic watches.”

The uniting factor in each of the unique watch designs was the concept of seeing time through gemstones. Each stone dictated the design of the watch and, as Anna Motson wrote in her essay ‘Watches as Jewels’ that appeared in The Saturday Book in 1971, “The stone cutters were called on to cut precious and semi-precious stones in shapes and sizes that had never before been attempted, and the whole project faced Grima’s own craftsmen with the highest test of their skill ever encountered.”

Utopia was the first design Grima made for About Time. Technically one of the most difficult watches to make, the face is set at an angle, embedded into the finial of an open, line-engraved gold bracelet...
Utopia was the first design Grima made for About Time. Technically one of the most difficult watches to make, the face is set at an angle, embedded into the finial of an open, line-engraved gold bracelet...
...The smoky quartz face obscures the hands even further. One can see Grima’s influence on Studio 54 jeweller Elsa Peretti’s 1970s jewellery for Tiffany in Utopia
...The smoky quartz face obscures the hands even further. One can see Grima’s influence on Studio 54 jeweller Elsa Peretti’s 1970s jewellery for Tiffany in Utopia
One of three gentlemen’s watches in the About Time collection, Enigma is the closest Andrew Grima came to designing a conventional watch...
One of three gentlemen’s watches in the About Time collection, Enigma is the closest Andrew Grima came to designing a conventional watch...
...This being Grima, the rectangular face is offset, embedded in the thick, bevelled gold bracelet and is cut from a rich green tourmaline
...This being Grima, the rectangular face is offset, embedded in the thick, bevelled gold bracelet and is cut from a rich green tourmaline

Standalone

“My father was adamant that the Omega logo did not appear on his watch faces and he also refused to entertain numerals,” says Andrew and Jojo Grima’s daughter Francesca, who today designs under her own marque as well as with her mother on contemporary Grima pieces. Grima allowed his imagination to run wild designing watches as rings, pendants, pocket watches and clips. Even the pieces worn conventionally as a bracelet were anything but. Tornado sets a rutilated quartz almond-shaped glass in a “springy bangle” of polished yellow-gold wire spattered with diamond strips. Carré is pure Grima: an aquamarine crystal face set on a bracelet of square, textured gold and diamond set platinum blocks not dissimilar to crazy paving.

Purity of gemstones seemed to be anathema to Grima; thus the value in his work is held in the design rather than the jewel. Grima was inspired by nature’s miracles such as the rutilated (included) quartz that forms the centerpiece of Tornado. The fact that the inclusions obscured the hands of the watch rather appealed to his mischievous nature. Weighing in at half-a-pound, Tornado is the heaviest watch in the collection. The mass of polished yellow gold wire forms a cuff interspersed by “inclusions” of white diamond lines
Purity of gemstones seemed to be anathema to Grima; thus the value in his work is held in the design rather than the jewel. Grima was inspired by nature’s miracles such as the rutilated (included) quartz that forms the centerpiece of Tornado. The fact that the inclusions obscured the hands of the watch rather appealed to his mischievous nature. Weighing in at half-a-pound, Tornado is the heaviest watch in the collection. The mass of polished yellow gold wire forms a cuff interspersed by “inclusions” of white diamond lines
The gold work used to craft the bracelet for Caribbean (bottom watch, below Carré) is a bravura display of Grima’s design and his craftsmen’s skill at the bench. The matte yellow-gold “paving stones” are jointed at varying levels to give depth and movement to the bracelet. Putting such a jigsaw together, so that the bracelet is sinuous and articulated, demands great ingenuity and genius hands. The Carré watch face is a pool of aquamarine blue, subtly suggesting time submerged beneath water
The gold work used to craft the bracelet for Caribbean (bottom watch, below Carré) is a bravura display of Grima’s design and his craftsmen’s skill at the bench. The matte yellow-gold “paving stones” are jointed at varying levels to give depth and movement to the bracelet. Putting such a jigsaw together, so that the bracelet is sinuous and articulated, demands great ingenuity and genius hands. The Carré watch face is a pool of aquamarine blue, subtly suggesting time submerged beneath water

The Alpine pocket watch, held in the Grima archive collection, is a smoky quartz crystal face surrounded by an engraved yellow-gold case and suspended from a hand-made chain. At the other end of the chain is a matching engraved yellow-gold torch that seems to be inspired by the 1966 surreal spy movie Modesty Blaise starring Monica Vitti, Terence Stamp and Dirk Bogarde. A personal favorite from the collection is Cerini: a vast citrine crystal face encased in a substantial bracelet crafted from a nest of yellow-gold matchsticks embedded with baguette-cut diamonds.

Also known as Matchstick, the Cerini watch is an example of Grima taking relatively humble forms such as the aforementioned pencil shaving or the piece of lichen that Princess Margaret brought back from the Balmoral estate to be cast in yellow gold. The vivid yellow citrine is a magnificent stone around which Grima weaves a basket of yellow gold matchsticks that sit on top of a bracelet of irregularly interlinked matchstick motifs. Grima famously used white diamonds as accents rather than principal stones
Also known as Matchstick, the Cerini watch is an example of Grima taking relatively humble forms such as the aforementioned pencil shaving or the piece of lichen that Princess Margaret brought back from the Balmoral estate to be cast in yellow gold. The vivid yellow citrine is a magnificent stone around which Grima weaves a basket of yellow gold matchsticks that sit on top of a bracelet of irregularly interlinked matchstick motifs. Grima famously used white diamonds as accents rather than principal stones

It is a tribute to Grima’s creativity that About Time watches rarely come up on the secondary market. Of the original collection, Jojo and Francesca have Teak, Pyramid and Clover as part of their selling collection. 

Teak is arguably the most personal Omega About Time design because it was the watch Andrew Grima wore until his death in 2007. Jojo Grima now wears the handsome unisex timepiece with smoky quartz face, rectangular beveled gold case and integral chocolate crocodile strap...
Teak is arguably the most personal Omega About Time design because it was the watch Andrew Grima wore until his death in 2007. Jojo Grima now wears the handsome unisex timepiece with smoky quartz face, rectangular beveled gold case and integral chocolate crocodile strap...
...It is the design that Jojo and Francesca Grima chose as the inspiration for a limited edition watch released in 2016
...It is the design that Jojo and Francesca Grima chose as the inspiration for a limited edition watch released in 2016
Though the shapes that seemed to enchant Grima were organic, irregular and sinuous, his experiments in geometry for About Time are some of his most successful designs...
Though the shapes that seemed to enchant Grima were organic, irregular and sinuous, his experiments in geometry for About Time are some of his most successful designs...
...Grima sketched Pyramid – a 3D-triangular-cut aquamarine set on a white gold bracelet echoing the watch face – on a Carlyle Hotel menu. The bracelet is exquisitely articulated. As he said in 1970: “If I am told a design of mine is impossible to do, it makes me want more than ever to do it.”
...Grima sketched Pyramid – a 3D-triangular-cut aquamarine set on a white gold bracelet echoing the watch face – on a Carlyle Hotel menu. The bracelet is exquisitely articulated. As he said in 1970: “If I am told a design of mine is impossible to do, it makes me want more than ever to do it.”
A substantial table-cut green peridot forms the centerpiece of Clover: a ladies’ pendant watch that is an exercise in symmetry. The textured yellow gold case that frames the peridot could have been made with a brooch setting. Instead, it is suspended from large diamond-shaped textured gold links. The chain is articulated to sit as a pendant but could equally serve as a man’s pocket watch
A substantial table-cut green peridot forms the centerpiece of Clover: a ladies’ pendant watch that is an exercise in symmetry. The textured yellow gold case that frames the peridot could have been made with a brooch setting. Instead, it is suspended from large diamond-shaped textured gold links. The chain is articulated to sit as a pendant but could equally serve as a man’s pocket watch

The average price of an About Time timepiece in 1970 was £4,000. Today, an About Time original would be north of £20,000. It is curious that, though Andrew Grima’s designs were so of their time, his masterpieces remain timeless and speak to influential contemporary collectors such as Miuccia Prada and Marc Jacobs. But it seems churlish to put a price tag on About Time: the most perfect realization of watchmaking and jewelry design in unison.