Like FIAT, the name of this company is an acronym, meaning in this case One Man Army… oh, wait, I’m thinking of something else. It actually stands for Officina Meccanica Armando Simoni, which in English would be “Armando Simoni’s Mechanical Workshop”. This workshop in Bologna had been in operation since 1919, making a wide variety of products, some of which were not particularly writing-related, and did not become OMAS officially until 1925 when it also seems to have become dedicated to the making of fountain pens.
The company’s early production may have included some Parker models whose sanction by that company was questionable, and certainly included some parts production for other brands, but there were also an assortment of original designs. They were an early adopter of celluloid in the Italian market, and appear to have passed through the Second World War without taking as much of a beating as many other companies on that side of the conflict. Like other companies, they did have to struggle along for a while without access to gold for their points, but seem to have maintained production throughout.
Some have suggested that the death of Armando Simoni in 1958 caused something of a loss of innovation for OMAS, although other sources have it that there was no essential change in the way it did its business. The company remained a family concern with various children and grand-children directing its course until the year 2000 when it was bought by Louis Vuitton, or rather, the luxury-goods colossus LVMH. It has since come under control of another investment firm, the Xinyu Hengdeli Group, which bought most of the shares from LVMH. In both cases, it seems that the idea was to foster a luxury writing wing, much as Montblanc represented for its owners; there are no OMAS pens on the market currently which one might call “popular price” models. Even before the transfer from family ownership, OMAS was no stranger to limited and special editions.
Update: In February 2016, the majority shareholders (another Chinese group, O-Luxe; I missed a stage in the transfers in my reading) announced that it was laying off and liquidating, without entertaining offers to buy the company as a unit from them. It seems that this is fallout of what we might call cultural friction between Chinese management and… well, Italy in general (have a look at the highlighted passaged in this entry at The Fountain Pen Network), rather than a coolly considered business decision, which at least adds some interest to a sad development. Sales were, however, not particularly good in the previous year, so the cultural difficulties may simply be decoration rather than foundation for the move. Those who pay attention to economics also point out that OMAS has been slipping under the waves for at least five years.
More Update: On 30 July 2016, Emmanuel Caltagirone revealed that he had managed to talk the previous owners into not plowing the earth of OMAS with salt, and has arranged to buy the physical assets of the company with an eye to re-starting production. In the announcement, he speaks of the recent troubles OMAS has been having with its income as resulting from “incompatible management style” regarding what should be run as a very small enterprise indeed. This sounds about right, and as Caltagirone is a major force behind the return of Wahl-Eversharp to production and apparent vibrant health, there is some chance that he knows what he’s about. There is, for fans of the brand, some reason hope.
Yet More Update: On the OMAS site, a rather sharp message was posted on 16 June 2017, which included this:
- any statement or information different from the above regarding Omas brand ownership and any communication of business activities claiming the rebirth of OMAS brand does not correspond to real situation;
While sort of crushing the notion that OMAS may yet thrive as OMAS, this does not quite end the story. The previous update was not incorrect in substance, and Caltagirone has taken the materials he got from OMAS and established the Armando Simoni Club, or ASC. One assumes that in sharing only two letters with OMAS, ASC gets around the legal wrath of the liquidators responsible for that harsh statement, while being able to offer pens which are very very very similar to the sort of thing OMAS was producing at the end of its days. Not a resurrection, then, but more of a reincarnation, with the spirit of the departed manifesting in a new body.
Models I’ve examined: