Welcome to “Watches You Should Know,” a new bi-weekly (the once-every-two-weeks kind) column highlighting little-known watches new and old that have interesting stories or have had a surprising impact on the industry.
In 1957, Omega had a busy year, dropping three of what are arguably its most iconic tool watches: the Seamaster 300, the Speedmaster and the Railmaster. What these watches all had in common, besides the year of their birth, were remarkably similar design schemes. All three, for example, had the bold, “broad arrow” hands and at least in the case of the Seamaster and Railmaster, the watches shared similar fonts and hour indices.
If values for those original watches (and they hype over last year’s “Trilogy” reissue) prove anything, it’s that Omega created a winning formula, both from a functionality standpoint as much as a design one. It only made sense, then, that the company would expand upon those three offerings with a fourth watch: enter the Ranchero, the forgotten fourth tool watch that Omega introduced during this era.
Released a year after the initial trilogy, the Ranchero was billed as an entry-level timepiece; according to Hodinkee, a catalog from 1959 had it priced at just 147 francs. The watch dial borrowed heavily from the other Omega tool watches at the time and featured triangular hour markers and Arabic numerals at 12, 3 and 9 o’clock. Both a black and a white dial were available. At 35mm in diameter, it was middling in size and featured an Omega Calibre 267 hand-winding movement, part of the brand’s then-ubiquitous “30mm” family of movements, lauded for their accuracy and durability.
There isn’t much about the Ranchero, on the surface, that makes it exceptional; it has many of the attributes you’d find on a basic watch from the time. But what was interesting about it was that it was an early attempt at building an all-around watch that could satisfy both utilitarian, work-related needs and stylish, after-hour sensibilities. Think of it as a 1950s equivalent of the modern city-to-mountain trend.
What’s more interesting is that the watch was a spectacular failure, something Omega realized quickly because the watch was only sold for two years. Much of the watch’s failure came from its name: Ranchero. According to the Omega Museum, “the watch encountered resistance in Spanish-speaking countries from potential customers who were put off by its name that means ‘ranch hand’ in Spanish.” The watch was quickly discontinued, with the existing production of watches being sold into 1959. Aside from a brief revival of the name for the Belgian market during the mid 1970s, that was the end of the line for the nameplate.
Thus, the Ranchero’s short run has made it a bit of a unicorn today with collectors, with good examples fetching huge premiums today — Menta Watches, for example, has a black dial variant listed for $11,500. Adding to the mystique and difficulty in acquiring one is the fact that many rare Omegas can from this era are faked by cobbling together parts from other watches. As with anything vintage and high-value, do your due diligence and work with trusted sources if you’re looking to pick one up — the Ranchero is an increasingly sought-after watch, and you expect values to continue trending upwards.