School of Classics: Omega
By Ken Kessler
Omega's reverence for its past has resulted in a continuing flow of well-conceived model updates, from its Museum collection to more unexpected re-births like the outrageous PloProf. For 2011, the company has not one but three new models steeped in heritage, yet all looking towards the future.
Perhaps the most important of Omega's 'reimaginings' is the new Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Collection. The Seamaster has joined a select group of long-lived, muchloved diving watches, including the Rolex Submariner, the DOXA 600T, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and other perennial favourites, culminating in its role as James Bond's watch du jour. Keeping it fresh, Omega fitted the Seamaster with George Daniels' Co-axial escapement technology in 2005, under the banner 'Planet Ocean'.
As the Co-axial calibres have been the subject of ongoing development, Omega wisely using the technology as the platform for their work with silicon, the time has come to upgrade the entire family of Planet Ocean watches. Now each of the models is fitted with one of the in-house Co-axial calibres: the 8500/8501, the 8520/8521 or the new 9300 chronograph. All of the latest-generation Co-axial movements employ the Si 14 silicon balance spring; resulting in a combination, which Omega deems so dependable, it now offers a full, four-year warranty with all new Planet Ocean watches.
As before, every Planet Ocean model is equipped to deal with serious underwater exposure, suiting the needs of the diver with unidirectional rotating bezels, helium escape valves and water resistance to 60 bar/600m/2000ft. Legibility - a crucial design element for diving watches - is amplified through the use of applied indices and polished, facetted rhodium-plated hands defined by white Super-LumiNova luminous material, which emits a blue light. To make time-telling easier for divers, and to enable them to keep track of their underwater time at a glance, the minute hand emits a green light, as does the indicator dot on the bezel.
Each of the new Planet Oceans is equipped with one of the brand's revolutionary family of in-house Co-axial calibres - the 8500/8501, the 8520/8521 or the new 9300 chronograph.
A host of models comprises the new Seamaster Planet Ocean family, but the most prominent is the Seamaster Planet Ocean 45.5mm Titanium Liquidmetal® Chronograph. Employing an unusual mix of new materials, this chronograph boasts the Calibre 9300 in a substantial 45.5mm case, but the watch is deceptively light thanks to construction from Grade 5 titanium. Its hardness is enhanced by forming an alloy of the titanium with small amounts of aluminium and vanadium, which also lends itself to being polished to a brighter shine than other grades of titanium.
This contrasts a bold blue ceramic bezel, with scaling and numbers made of a zirconiumbased alloy called Liquidmetal®, first seen in 2009 when Omega released a limited edition Seamaster with a black ceramic dial and this unique alloy. Omega chose this tough combination because the bezel will maintain its appearance indefinitely. And this is one handsome beast: the blue bezel complements a blue lacquer dial and the watch is finished with a blue integrated rubber strap. It is also available with a titanium bracelet.
A column-wheel chronograph, the Calibre 9300 has 12-hour and 60-minute counter hands placed on the same subdial at 3 o'clock. This arrangement recalls the hour and minute hands on the main dial, encouraging intuitive reading of the chronograph. It also has a central chronograph seconds hand and a small seconds hand in a sub-dial at 9 o'clock. The two control pushers function totally independently, so there is no risk to the chronograph mechanism as a result of inadvertent manipulation.
Meet the family
Other models in the family will include the Seamaster Planet Ocean 45.5mm, with Calibre 8500, in stainless steel, with a choice of unidirectional rotating diving bezels in orange matte aluminium, matt black ceramic or with a stainless steel bezel paved with 42 diamonds. It can be worn with an integrated strap either in black leather, in black or orange rubber, or with a patented screw-and-pin stainless steel bracelet.
The Seamaster Planet Ocean 42mm, fitted with Calibre 8501, is housed in a red gold case. Its unidirectional rotating diving bezel is set with 42 diamonds, while the movement is fitted with a red gold rotor and balance bridge. Dial choices include black or white lacquer, with an integrated leather strap that matches the colour of the dial.
The union of blue ceramics and Liquidmetal in the Seamaster Planet Ocean 45.5mm Titanium Liquidmetal® Chronograph is another world premiere.
For the Seamaster Planet Ocean 42mm, with Calibre 8500, Omega uses a stainless steel case and offers a selection of configurations. The most luxurious has a white lacquered dial and a diamondpaved bezel set with 42 diamonds, weighing a total of 2.14 cts. The stainless steel Planet Ocean 42mm is also available with a broad selection of bezels, including matte orange aluminium or black or white ceramic, while the selection of straps includes a choice of black or white integrated leather, and black, white or orange rubber. The 42mm Planet Ocean watches in stainless steel are also available with matching bracelets.
And for women there is the Seamaster Planet Ocean 37.5mm, with Calibre 8521. Yes, it's smaller than the others, but its size is still in keeping with the move toward larger timepieces. 40 years ago, this would have been considered a full-sized man's watch. The most opulent edition is made in gold, its bezel set with 42 diamonds with a total weight of 1.55 cts.
Lastly, the Seamaster Planet Ocean 37.5mm with Calibre 8520, is offered in stainless steel, fitted with either black or white ceramic bezels containing 42 diamonds with a weight of 1.55 cts. The selection of straps includes a choice of black or white integrated leather or a stainless steel bracelet.
Improving a classic
Another classic Omega chronograph, has also added a new chapter to its history. For more than a half-century, the Speedmaster has, for many enthusiasts, represented the purest realisation of a chronograph, with inherent functionality, legibility and a durability that's almost impossible to better. But inventive minds never rest, so this nearperfect form has inspired countless variations over the decades, housing a selection of movements and even embracing radical cases. Despite a steady flow of variations, at the core remains the basic set of values clearly defined by the 1957 original. In its manual wind Professional form, the Speedmaster earned the nickname 'the Moonwatch' for its role as the official NASA-approved space mission wristwatch and this is the version of the timekeeper that most watch enthusiasts picture when they hear the words 'Speedmaster Professional.'
With one of Omega's most important achievements being the serial production of George Daniels' Co-axial escapement, the Speedmaster was an obvious candidate. It enters its second half-century in a version housing the Co-axial Calibre 9300/9301, with full COSC chronometer certification. Other innovations in the 9300/9301 are the subjects of patent applications, including a time-zone function that allows the user to set the hour hand without stopping the watch, so that only the hour changes - a welcomed feature for travellers.
In 2012, the Olympics will again be hosted by London and Omega will be the time sponsor once more. To celebrate, the company has launched a limited edition (restricted to 1948 pieces, naturally) Seamaster watch.
Silicon is proving to be a blessing for modern movement, thanks to its resistance to magnetism, temperature change and aging, while lending itself to precision manufacturing. As already mentioned, the Si14 balance spring is fitted to the 9300/9301 Calibres and with this free sprung-balance, the Speedmaster Co-axial chronograph's rate can be adjusted by modifying the moment of inertia of the balance wheel, instead of the traditional method of changing the active length of the hairspring via the index - a boon when the watch is adjusted during manufacture, and later, when servicing may be needed. This adjustment is made with gold micro screws embedded in the circular balance wheel.
At first glance, the latest Speedmaster looks like a Speedmaster Professional minus one sub-dial. The dial at the 9 o'clock position remains the display for real-time seconds, but this cleverly-conceived column-wheel chronograph has its 12-hour and 60-minute counter hands combined on the same sub-dial at 3 o'clock, thus freeing the space below for a date window. Unsurprisingly, this arrangement of the hands, which mirrors the behaviour of the hour and minute hands on the main dial, enables a more intuitive reading of the chronograph. And here's a tip: when travelling, if one is certain that the chronograph function won't be needed, the user can press the chronograph 'start button' at precisely 12 noon or 12 midnight, either at home or when situated at the target destination, so the small dial at 3 o'clock becomes a second clock for either time zone. The user can then set the main hour hand - with the new rapid hour-hand change, which does not affect the minute hand - to represent the other time zone.
Conventionally, the Speedmaster Co-axial chronograph has a central chronograph seconds hand, independent of the small seconds hand on the sub-dial at 9 o'clock, like its legendary ancestor. The two chronograph control pushers function totally independently, so there is no risk to the chronograph mechanism as a result of inadvertent manipulation. Two barrels mounted in series endow the watch with a 60-hour power reserve, and the timepiece winds in both directions. Like the original Speedmaster Professional, the Speedmaster Coaxial chronograph features a black dial with white indices, with Super- LumiNova luminous material on the indexes and the two dots at the 12 o'clock position, Moonwatch-style varnished white hands and black tachymeter on the bezel. Its 44.25mm case is styled like the classic stainless steel case associated with the Speedmaster Professional.
A scratch-resistant sapphire crystal protects the dial, while the polished screw-in caseback is also fitted with a sapphire crystal with antireflective treatment to allow the watch owner to savour the movement within. Offered on a black leather strap or a stainless steel bracelet in its basic form, the Speedmaster Co-axial chronograph is also available in gold or platinum.
As for re-working a classic, in the case of the Speedmaster Co-axial chronograph, Omega has created a fabulous timepiece boasting stateof- the-art technology, while maintaining a case and dial so redolent of the original Speedmaster Professional that even seasoned connoisseurs will be impressed. Their first reaction will be to acknowledge two subdials instead of the more familiar three. Slowly, the other details will register. Ultimately, those who know how to preserve and respect classic designs will be glad that Omega left all of the Speedmaster's signature elements in place. It other words, they'll know that Omega remembered one of watchmaking's truest tenets: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
The Seamaster Planet Ocean 42mm is powered by the latest generation of the Omega Co-axial calibre 8501, the movement that signalled the Co-axial revolution when it was developed in-house by Omega in 2007.
While the Planet Oceans (and the Speedmaster) celebrate the Coaxial movement in its latest form, along with new materials both inside and out, another timepiece reminds us that the Seamaster family has something to celebrate in 2012. That year, of course, marks the London Olympics, for which Omega is the official timekeeper. At a time when no anniversary or occasion seems too mundane to celebrate, when watch stores are flooded with spurious 'collectors' items', it is easy for the significance of an occasion to be lost. Omega has always been careful about the events that its 'special edition' watches commemorate. The company will mark an important space voyage, for example, but in a year with a round number, and always a date worth observing. With the countdown to the Games of the XXX Olympiad, to be held in London in 2012, the timepiece prepared by Omega honours not one but four achievements.
Few watches have a sub-title, but the Seamaster 1948 Co-axial 'London 2012' Limited Edition, to give the timepiece its full, official name, is also known within Omega as the 'One Year To Go' watch. Its very presence counts down to the 2012 Olympics. That, then, is its first and foremost purpose. But there is more to this handsome and understated model than even that extended name reveals.
Why 1948? The year adds triple significance in this context, the most obvious being London's hosting of the XIV Olympic Games that year, after two successive cancellations of the Games due to the Second World War. So, while, this timepiece is a part of the forthcoming Olympic celebrations, Omega has poignantly reminded us of the previous occasion when London was the venue for the prestigious global sporting event.
In 1948, Omega was - as it is in 2012 - the Games' official timekeeper, and it used the opportunity presented by the Olympiad to launch one of the technical by-products of the recent conflict. This, then, is the third significant point of the Seamaster 1948 Co-Axial 'London 2012' Limited Edition, for it recalls the first Olympics to be timed by a revolutionary Omega creation: the Racend Omega Timer, also known as the Photosprint and colloquially as 'the Magic Eye', which provided split-second optical timing accurate to 1/1000th of a second. It was the timepiece that redefined forever the precision by which a sporting event might be measured.
The Seamaster Planet Ocean 45.50 mm Chronograph is equipped with the exclusive Omega Co-axial calibre 9300, the first chronograph in the brand's revolutionary family of in-house Co-axial movements.
A milestone remembered
As glorious as these three raisons d'être may be, watch enthusiasts know another reason why this timepiece is so significant. It was in 1948 that Omega launched one of its most enduring model ranges, with the very first Omega Automatic Seamaster. It was a timepiece with military origins, but in civilian clothing. Omega's brief was to produce a water-resistant watch - benefitting from the practical experiences of creating timepieces for the armed forces - that was purpose-built to house an automatic movement. It was, as well, marking an anniversary, for its debut marked 100 years from Louis Brandt's founding of a manufacture for pocket watches - the house that we know as Omega.
Re-imagined for 2012, the Seamaster 1948 Co-axial 'London 2012' Limited Edition takes the look of the original, styled to suit a 39mm stainless steel case containing the chronometer-certified Calibre 2022 Co-axial movement. Its power reserve is 48 hours. Protecting it from above is an Opalin silver dial with applied white gold indices and Arabic numerals at the 3, 6, 9 and 12 o'clock positions. Above the six is a small seconds dial, with blued steel hands; the hours and minutes are indicated with diamond-polished leaf-shaped hands.
A 'railway' track minute ring around the dial enhances its vintage feel, a polished Omega crown and a white gold applied, vintage Omega logo on the dial. The watch's caseback bears a yellow gold medallion stamped with the distinctive 2012 London Olympics logo. This limited edition of 1,948 pieces is finished with a black alligator strap and stainless steel buckle.
In a way, Omega has been a bit shy about this watch. Yes, it honours two London-based Olympiads. Yes, it commemorates the first Seamaster. And, yes, it celebrates the first Olympic event at which photo-electric timing revolutionised sport. But there's a fifth anniversary for which Omega certainly deserves to be honoured. Omega has been the official timekeeper for the Olympics since 1932, with only three exceptions during that span. The 2012 Olympics thus serve as the 80th Anniversary of Omega holding that position. And '80' is a nice, round - and impressive - number.
And yet there's more, with a certain resonance for music lovers, Liverpudlians, Baby Boomers and a few million more. What Omega has coyly ignored or missed is, for some, the most important moment of all so far in the Seamaster saga. 2012 also marks yet another anniversary since the launch of Seamaster. Think about it: 1948-2012. This venerable timepiece can now be greeted with the singing - or merely the humming - of a much-loved song by the Beatles. All together, then… "When I'm 64..."
Further information: www.omegawatches.com