Upon asking the average person to name the first brand that comes to mind when they think of watches a common answer can be expected, Rolex. Founded in 1905, Rolex wristwatches were conceptualised by Hans Wilsdorf, at a time when wrist worn time pieces were more for elegance than precision. Wilsdorf’s vision led to the innovation of many ground breaking time pieces as well as many which have formed a solid customer foundation upon which Rolex has built its dominance. Products like the Datejust in 1945, the Submariner in 1953 and the GMT-master in 1955 have propelled Rolex into the elite category of the Swiss watch industry.
Along with high quality products, Rolex have partnered themselves with events and people during its lifetime to market themselves as the ‘must have’ name in the luxury watch market. In 1953 the Geneva based watchmakers products accompanied Sir John Hunt, Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay’s expedition to the summit of Mount Everest. On both visits to the Mariana trench, at first with Don Walsh and Jaques Piccard in 1960 and again with James Cameron’s solo expedition in 2012, there was only 1 passenger who made both dives. A Rolex watch. A timepiece meeting the demands of some of the most extreme conditions in the world proves functionality. Not many watches can claim they have gone to both the highest and lowest point on the Earth, a combined journey of 19,842 vertical metres.
Take this functionality. Associate it with a brand, a logo, a slogan. Cleverly market that brand at places functionality needs to be expressed in a stylish, elegant and practical way. Places like Wimbledon, Formula 1 races and even The Oscars. You begin to build a reputation. People begin to want the products that support, and if you believe all the Rolex hype, in some cases actually enable the events to take place.
Continuous striving for excellence and expert product placement has certified Rolex (implied by the crown) as royalty. But is all that about to change?
Omega-living in Rolex’s shadow?
An argument can be made that if you are asking people about watches more often than not they will also mention Omega and more often than not it will be after mentioning Rolex. For a long duration of their existence, whilst they have been very popular, Omega (like most brands) have lived in Rolex’s shadow.
If you were to compare the appeal of 2 watches that are deigned for a similar purpose (the Submariner and the Seamaster) you would be very hard pressed to find someone that would choose the latter over the Submariner. It isn’t necessarily down to the specifications of the watches, it just so happens to be that the Submariner is a Rolex.
Omega close the gap at the top.
Let’s get one thing straight, Omega are a heavyweight of the Swiss watch industry and have been for a long time. They have achieved feats in watchmaking that can arguably be considered the most remarkable accomplishments, like sending a watch to The Moon. They have got a very strong brand image, with great brand ambassadors and support many large events around the world. When discussing the way that Omega compare against Rolex, it is a like for like comparison. The juggernaut that is Rolex and the consumer driven demand for them can very easily distort the criteria upon which brands are compared and can make people easily overlook the brilliance that some brands, especially Omega, have to offer.
What are Omega doing?
Late October introduced the start of a heavy marketing campaign from Omega, embracing their classic connection with the famous spy James Bond with Daniel Craig providing the face for their new product launch. The product in question, a Seamaster diver 300m 42mm. Using images and short films to showcase the capabilities of the new Seamaster, Omega are flexing their horological muscles in a display of skill and enthusiasm as they vie for the top spot.
What makes the new Seamaster any different?
Since 1993 the Seamaster Professional Diver 300m has been a staple product for Omega, instantly recognisable and highly dependable, it has allowed Omega to masterfully conquer the elements. With the modifications Omega have made, they are ready to take the Seamaster to the next level. To the level of the Submariner and beyond.
Everything about the new 42mm Diver 300m is an upgrade. As you delve into the immense detail that Omega have put into the design, manufacturing and marketing of this piece, you begin to understand why it is a piece that can finally have Rolex beat and why it sets a precedent for all their other watches.
During this comparison we will be looking at the old 126.96.36.199.03.001 against the new 188.8.131.52.03.001. Other models are available for the new 42 mm with it coming in over 14 different variants.
The new in house calibre 8800 (more on that later) requires a bigger case. As such the dial has been expanded by 1mm going from 41mm on the old 212.30 to the 42mm of the 210.30. More space allows for larger hour indicators, perfect for increased legibility when used in the dark depths of the ocean.
Providing the legibility are new applied polished hour markers. On the new model they are slightly larger, thanks to the bigger case size. The surrounding stainless steel has been toned down so that the luminous fill is what takes centre stage upon reading of the dial.
The dial itself has gone from a blue lacquered-like dial to a new high gloss zirconium oxide ceramic. The symbol [Zr02] is proudly engraved just below the hands. The gloss dial is laser cut with scientific precision to form the wave design, a homage to the Seamaster professionals that adorned the wrist of James Bond from 1993 in films like GoldenEye. Cutting of the dial allows the watch to really capture attention when light hits the dial. The waves trap and reflect light back off the dial much to the enhancement of the gloss zirconium oxide ceramic. The time telling hands remain much the same but the date features drops down to the 6 o’clock. As well as the move the date window has lost the steel lining, making it blend effortlessly from the dial.
Turning in a uni-directional manner, the bezel has received a very slight but welcome upgrade. Like the 212.30, the new 42mm features a stainless steel bezel with ceramic fill. How the two differ is by the inserts and diving scales. The older 41mm has satin finished numbers and indexes with the 42mm having enamel fillings providing a bright, pleasing display that accompanies the polished ceramic in a more alluring way.
This is the where the biggest difference can be found. The 212.30 utilised Omega’s 2500d calibre which has a chronometer certification and features the co-axial escapement system which eliminates the need for lubricants and reduces the time needed between servicing, as is standard in all Omega movements. Building on this the 210.30 has really been supercharged with an upgraded movement.
Omega’s in-house Co-axial calibre 8800 powers all of the new Seamaster 300m 42mm range. It pulses at the same rate as its predecessors (25,200) but contains 7 more jewels (35 in total) and can run for approximately 7 hours longer (55 hour power reserve). Perhaps that is to be expected from a bigger size watch.
Built with a silicone balance spring the calibre is capable of resisting magnetic fields of up to 15,000 gauss and shocks equivalent to 5,000g. With a screw down crown and helium escape valve, a resistance of water to a depth of 300 metres can be achieved. Part of the METAS testing pushes divers watches even further. An additional 25% pressure of the resistance stated on the dial is added during the testing phase to ensure safety and reliability when in real life use.
Also different to the 2500d is the status held by the 8800. It is tested and certified by both the COSC and METAS. Before the movement is cased it is strictly tested by the COSC and only awarded chronometer status if it complies with the time keeping criteria of -4/+6 seconds per day. Once the movement has been approved, the complete watch is then passed on to METAS for more stringent time keeping tests. 8 tests are conducted on each watch, measuring the function of the time piece during magnetic exposure, chronometric precision from day to day and in different positions, isochronism, power reserve testing and water resistance. During each trial, the watch is expected to maintain a standard of just -0/+5 seconds per day. Upon completion of these test the watch is proudly awarded the title of ‘Master Chronometer’. This title adorns the dial of every new Seamaster 300m, openly broadcasting that Omega are ready to take and hold down the top spot.
Of course the Master Chronometer certification doesn’t just sit on the the dial of the new Seamaster but pretty much every Omega watch on the market. Every piece available is a seriously accurate time keeper and has been tested thoroughly. Omega’s quest for quality is imperious and is definitely something to be taking notice of.
Along with the launch of the Seamaster 300m Divers 42mm, Omega made another big announcement. In a bid to raise industry standard, as well as the faith that they have in the quality of goods they manufacture, Omega raised its level of warranty cover to 5 years on all its timepieces purchased after July 1st 2018.
Knowing that their watches have been approved by both the COSC and METAS, Omega know that there isn’t much that their pieces can’t get through. 5 year warranty coverage is a way of simplifying all the horological jargon to let the buyer know that they are investing in a high quality time piece.
Now Rolex have been offering 5 year warranties since 2015, as is the quality of their goods. Perhaps the 3 year time difference between Rolex and Omega to do so is telling of the difference in market position. But now we are in the day and age that both brands offer the same coverage, what’s happened in the past is irrelevant. Yes, Omega are late to the party but the choice to be fashionably late has meant time has been very well invested to ensure that when they arrive they will turn heads.
Checking in at £3,600 for the new Seamaster on a bracelet, Omega have massively undercut the Submariner (£6,550). When comparing like for like there really is no difference in these pieces. Both are immensely accurate and reliable and very fit for purpose. In fact with the premiums on Submariners you can get 2 Seamasters.
It seems that Omega have been very closely monitoring the situation with Rolex sports models and playing the long game. Whilst low supply and high demand push prices for Submariners and GMTS through the roof, Omega have been biding their time working on something brilliant. High quality of materials and time keeping standards on the new Seamaster means you would be foolish to not consider it during all the time that you have on the waiting list for a Submariner. What’s more, it isn’t just the Seamaster that is at this standard, most Omega watches have Master Chronometer certification and all watches, a 5 year warranty.
People can still argue that Rolex have the brand history and recognition but lets remember that Omega are older than Rolex, are involved in just as many worldwide events as them (The Olympics for one) and have just as many big name ambassadors to endorse their products. On top of this Omega have far exceed Rolex’s 19,842 metre journey to the top of Everest and the bottom of the Mariana Trench with their own 384,400 kilometre journey to The Moon.
Now it is still early in the life cycle of the Seamaster 42mm but early demand indicates that people are very interested in what Omega have been able to produce. Is this the piece that finally shifts the balance away from Rolex and onto Omega? Is this the piece that can knock the famous crown off the top spot? We are just going to have to wait and see, but here at The Watch Source, we would not be surprised at all.