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04/22/2020
 6 minutes

The Design Evolution of the Omega Seamaster

By Tom Mulraney
CAM-1136-Designdevelopment-Omega-Seamaster-Magazin-2-1

The Design Evolution of the Omega Seamaster

The Omega Seamaster probably offers some of the best value for money of any mechanical diving watch on the market today. Its excellent heritage, strong design, and robust all-round performance make it the envy of its peers and the watch of choice of none other than James Bond. Therefore, it should come as little surprise that the Omega Seamaster is consistently one of the most popular models on Chrono24. So, how did the Seamaster become a global watch icon? As it always intended as a diving watch? For the answers to these questions and more, read on as we explore the Omega Seamaster’s design evolution.

The Omega Seamaster

The Seamaster made its debut in 1948 as part of Omega’s 100th anniversary celebrations. The brand had supplied timepieces to the British Ministry of Defence during World War II and following overwhelming demand for a peacetime alternative, created the Seamaster as the company’s first family of watches. However, it wasn’t originally intended as a diving watch though; instead, it was designed to be a robust dress watch for active individuals. This makes sense, given that recreational diving didn’t start getting popular until the early 1950s. The design reportedly came from a concept for an earlier Omega model that had never made it to production. The Seamaster soon developed a large fan base and became a strong seller for the brand.

Omega Seamaster 1948 Re-Edition
Omega Seamaster 1948 Limited Edition, celebrating the collection’s 70th anniversary

These early models measure 34 or 35 mm in diameter and are water-resistant to 60 m (197 ft) – a respectable depth at the time. Given its military heritage, the focus was primarily on functionality and practicality. The Seamaster was designed to be worn on any occasion. It doesn’t hurt that it also happens to be aesthetically pleasing.

Dauphine hands filled with luminous material point to raised triangular hour markers around the dial’s edge. These markers also featured small bits of lume at their base, making it possible to read the time in poor lighting conditions. Dashes for the minutes and seconds appear on an inner track. The dial is gently domed, sloping down at the outer edges. Finally, the “Seamaster” inscription appears in a cursive script above 6 o’clock.

When it comes to classic, ageless design, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Fast-forward almost a decade, and Omega found itself falling behind in the now burgeoning diving watch market. Blancpain had already debuted the Fifty Fathoms in 1953, with Rolex following shortly thereafter with the Submariner. A slew of other models would come to market around the same time. And so, in 1957, Omega introduced the Seamaster 300 as part of the “Master” Trilogy collection, which also included the Speedmaster and Railmaster.

 

The Omega Seamaster 300

Vintage Omega Seamaster 300, 1957
Vintage Omega Seamaster 300, 1957

The Seamaster 300 was a dramatic overhaul of what had previously been a dress watch. The original 34-mm case increased to 39 mm to improve underwater legibility. Likewise, the silvery white dial was exchanged for a black one to improve contrast, and the hour hand became a wide arrow shape. Luminous material (in this case, radium) was used to define the enlarged indices, as well as fill in the hands and dot the bidirectional rotatable bezel’s zero position.

To reinforce its diving prowess, Omega came up with the hippocampus (seahorse) insignia. Its inspiration comes from an image of Neptune riding a seahorse-drawn chariot. The embossed symbol on the case back has since become a globally recognized trademark.

The first Seamaster 300 was water-resistant of 200 m (656 ft) – equal to the contemporary Rolex Submariner. Legend has it that the 200-m rating was a result of the limitations of Omega’s testing equipment, the best that was available at the time. Omega was sure their diving watch could survive deeper depths, hence the use of “300” in the name.

The Second-Generation Omega Seamaster 300

Vintage Omega Seamaster 300, 1964
Vintage Omega Seamaster 300, 1964

Following the success of the initial Seamaster 300, Omega introduced a second generation in 1964. The case had grown one more, this time to 42 mm, and featured twisted lugs with polished and brushed sections. It also had an asymmetrical design that incorporated the same crown protection developed the previous year for the Speedmaster Professional – which would later become the official watch of NASA astronauts. The bezel increased in width and received luminescent markings at five-minute intervals. This made it easier to read underwater and brought the style more in line with that of the Fifty Fathoms and Submariner.

 In 1967, the Royal Navy commissioned the Seamaster 300 as their official diving watch. The military-issue version required several modifications. The lugs had to be welded into place to reduce the chance of losing the watch (worn with a one-piece strap). The use of tritium – a radioactive material –  on the dial also needed to be indicated, due to the watch being worn around sensitive equipment. As such, an encircled “T” appears above the Seamaster 300 label. The third modification called for the removal the 12 o’clock numeral, replaced instead by an extra-large (luminescent) triangular index. This made the 12 o’clock position stand out, improving readability in the dark. The Seamaster 300 was discontinued in 1969.

The Modern Omega Seamaster Diver 300M

 Omega Seamaster Diver 300M, 1993
Omega Seamaster Diver 300M, 1993

The Omega Seamaster most of us are familiar with today is the Diver 300M, which made its debut in 1993. Key design features include a distinctive wave pattern on the dial, skeletonized hands, and a 12-notch unidirectional rotating bezel matching the dial in color. A robust case complete with lyre lugs, protected crown, and helium escape valve at 10 o’clock makes this an ideal diving companion, while the sculpted five-link steel bracelet makes it more than suitable for land-based activities too. A number of variations of this model have appeared over the ensuing years, some more popular than others.

In 2018, the collection received a welcome facelift as part of its 70th anniversary celebrations. At 42 mm in diameter and 13.5 mm thick, it is larger than its most recent predecessor. The current model is well proportioned for a diving watch. The dial is ceramic and is available in polished blue or black, as well as brushed PVD chrome, with raised applied indexes filled with SuperLumiNova. The date window has been moved to 6 o’clock, improving the overall sense of symmetry. Reshaped skeletonized hands and a redesigned minute track complete the dial layout. Best of all is the return of the popular wave pattern from earlier models, which was absent from the collection for a while.

Omega Seamaster Diver 300M, 2020
Omega Seamaster Diver 300M, 2020

Framing the ceramic dial is a new, polished ceramic bezel. White enamel (or Ceragold™, depending on the model) fills the 60-minute graduations. This results in an ultra-smooth surface that offers greater durability and long-lasting whiteness. On the side of the case, the design of the helium escape valve at 10 o’clock has been tweaked ever so slightly. This special valve allows gas to escape while saturation diving at great depths. Otherwise the crystal would likely pop straight off the front of the watch. For the anniversary model, the valve features a new conical shape. Patented by Omega, it even operates under water.

Inside is the caliber 8800, a certified Master Chronometer (approved by METAS). This in-house self-winding movement features Omega’s famed Co-Axial escapement. Resistant to magnetic fields of up to 15,000 Gauss, it’s equipped with a free-sprung balance with silicon balance spring. The power reserve is 55 hours. And for the first time on a Seamaster Diver 300M, the movement is visible through a sapphire crystal case back. Usually this watch has a solid case back adorned with the Seahorse logo. Instead, framing the view of the movement is a wave-patterned edge.

The Bond Effect

No article about the Omega Seamaster would be complete without at least a brief mention of one of its most famous owners: James Bond. The luxury tool watch became an icon on Pierce Brosnan’s wrist, who wore the blue-dial version during his four appearances as British secret agent 007. He started with a quartz version in 1995’s GoldenEye, before switching to the self-winding chronometer for the following three films. Since then, the Omega Seamaster has appeared on the wrist of Daniel Craig in every Bond movie. Hence the moniker “the Bond watch.” Omega also produces special 007 versions of the Seamaster for each Bond movie, which are popular with fans and collectors alike. But that’s an article for another day.

The current version is arguably the best iteration of the Omega Seamaster Diver 300M to date, which explains why this septuagenarian continues to be such a crowd favorite. Good looking, robustly built, and versatile, the unique design of the Omega Seamaster ensures that this watch will always stand out on the wrist.

Read more

The All-New Omega Seamaster Diver 300M 007 Edition for No Time to Die

The History of an Icon: The Omega Speedmaster

Vintage Tip: Second Order Omega Speedmaster – The Mark II


About the Author

Tom Mulraney

Growing up in Australia in the 1980s and 90s, there wasn’t much of a watch scene. There was only one authorized retailer of high-end watches in the city I lived in …

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