Omega’s answer to the Submariner is the perfect entry-level luxury watch for a man or woman, and is deserving of a place in any collection.
If I am asked by a neophyte watch collector what their first luxury watch should be, my answer is invariably the Omega Seamaster Diver 300m, in one of its various quartz or mechanical iterations.
Omega has sold watches with the text ‘Seamaster’ on the dial since 1948. The first true dive watch in the line, the Seamaster 300 Ref CK 2913, debuted almost a decade later, in 1957, a few years after the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and the Rolex Submariner.
In 1994, Omega created the first ‘300’ watches to carry the ‘Professional’ moniker (which had previously appeared on a number of other Seamasters, including the gigantic and lumpen, but undeniably fit for purpose, ‘Ploprof’), the direct aesthetic ancestors of the current line. In perhaps the savviest marketing deal ever penned by a watch brand, Omega got the new Seamaster Professional line onto the wrist of Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond in 1995’s Golden Eye, making the Professional one of the iconic watches of the nineties. Daniel Craig has continued to wear Seamasters, however the costume designers/Omega marketers have had him predominantly wear watches from the ‘other’ two lines of the now-trifurcated Seamaster line-up (the Aqua Terra and Planet Ocean, both of which I find terminally boring).
For me, the definitive Bond Seamaster is the watch worn by Mr Brosnan in Tomorrow Never Dies, the Ref 2531 .
The defining features of the current range are present in the Brosnan Seamaster – the helium escape valve at 10 o’clock, the lumed skeletonised hands, the lumed dot and stick hour markers, the elaborate and comfortable bracelet, the highly ergonomic and deceptively complex case with pronounced crown guard and beautifully twisting lugs (highlighted by well-executed contrasting satin and high polish) and the signature scalloped dive bezel. Any designer of a modern dive watch is faced with the conundrum of how to create something functional, beautiful and enduring that is sufficiently different to the genre-defining Submariner to be interesting in its own right. Omega definitely succeeded with this design, creating a viable alternative to the Rolex juggernaut. In fact, in terms of the way the ‘standard’ 41mm watch wears well on a wide variety of wrists (looking perfectly proportioned on any wrist between 16cm and 20cm, in my view), Omega has surpassed the Submariner, the new ones being a little chunky.
The gents’ Seamaster 300
Our personal Seamaster Professional 300’s each differ from the Brosnan Seamaster. Lets start with my watch, the gents’ model that Omega has given the startlingly long designation Ref 126.96.36.199.03.001.
The Brosnan watch was powered by the caliber 1120, an elaborated and chronometer certified version of the venerable ETA 2892. My Seamaster features the latest iteration of the caliber 2500 (the ‘D’ version of the movement), which borrows much of the architecture of caliber 1120, but with Omega’s implementation of the Daniels co-axial escapement. The debate over whether the co-axial escapement provides any real world advantages over the traditional lever escapement is one I lack the watchmaking knowledge to contribute to. What I can offer is (scientifically worthless) anecdote. I have not owned the watch long enough to say anything about the movement’s durability (which is supposed to be enhanced by the lower lubrication needs of a co-axial escapement), but my Seamaster is the most accurate mechanical watch I have ever owned. Regardless of whether and how I wear it, it has never deviated by more than 3 seconds in a 24 hour period, and usually is far closer to the reference time than that. Truly impressive.
The case of the watch has remained at 41mm, however the bezel insert is now ceramic, in keeping with an industry-wide trend towards the use of that material. Additionally, the wave dial has been replaced by a solid dark navy blue (The same configuration is also available in a 36mm mid-size version.)
I am torn as to whether the newer dial is an improvement or not. On the one hand, the waves are a clear aesthetic link to the nautical world the watch is designed to inhabit. On the other, they slightly inhibit the legibility of the dial. If forced to choose, I would probably go with the new solid-gloss dials. In my view, the new dials set-off the hands, applied markers, logos, and red and silver text a bit better than the old wave dials. It is a near run thing though.
My personal rationale for purchasing this watch was simple – I wanted a durable and attractive dive watch, but I didn’t want to buy a Submariner. At that price point (around $7k USD for a modern ceramic model, even on the used market), there are simply too many other watches that are more interesting and desirable to me. For example, for around $9k USD one could acquire this beautiful Blancpain Leman Perpetual Calendar Chronograph on the used market. That extra $2k goes an awful long way in complication and refinement.
I don’t do homages, which simply make one look too cheap to buy the real thing, so I needed something more affordable yet genuinely different. My Seamaster fit the bill perfectly, and has become one of my most frequently worn watches. At about one third of the price of a Submariner on the grey market (they can be picked up brand new for around $2700 USD), my Seamaster is one of the best value propositions on the market. I also think that the Seamaster has the edge when it comes to movement technology, even accounting for Rolex’s incremental improvements to the caliber 3135.
For someone looking to purchase their first luxury watch, or a seasoned watch enthusiast looking for a reliable, good looking, accurate and well-priced addition to the collection, it represents a very compelling option.
The ladies’ Seamaster 300
My wife’s Seamaster carries the much more reasonable reference number 2224.80.00.
This one omits the helium escape valve, but retains the anodised aluminium bezel and the wave dial of the Brosnan watch. Of course, the watch has also been shrunk down to 28mm, a perfect traditional size for a ladies’ sports watch. Like many of the nineties models (including the Ref 541.80.00 worn by Mr Brosnan in Golden Eye in 1995), the movement is quartz (caliber 1424), however I do not see this as a drawback. At this level of functional, mass-manufactured watches, the sole job of the movement is to reliably and accurately drive the hands and the date. Mechanical movements at this price point invariably lack the kind of refinement and beautiful decoration that will delight the connoisseur and merit a display case back. Accordingly, I don’t care whether the hands are being driven by a gear train or a stepper motor. In fact, I generally prefer quartz at the lower end because of its accuracy and the fact that the watch has a power reserve measured in years (32 months for my wife’s Seamaster, to be exact). I may have gone quartz myself had the ceramic bezel Seamaster been available with a quartz movement. The real value in ‘tool’ watches at this level is in the case, design and functionality of the piece.
My wife’s Seamaster satisfies those criteria splendidly. The design of the Brosnan Seamaster scales very well to 28mm, with the smaller wave pattern dial adding a little sensuality and femininity to a piece that might otherwise have been a little too masculine. It also has a very useful refinement that is lacking in my Seamaster – an independently adjustable hour hand, which can be advanced and retarded in one hour increments without stopping the movement, by manipulating the crown in the second position. Perfect for travelling and accounting for daylight savings.
Like my Seamaster, my wife’s Seamaster also represents excellent value (it can be obtained for around $1600 USD brand new on the grey market). It also fills an important niche in the ladies’ market, being one of the few affordable ‘tool’ watches specifically made for ladies, in a traditional size, by a well-known brand. It has become my wife’s most frequently worn watch, and a worthy sibling of her Rolex DateJust and Lange Arkade.