Seventy years of the Omega Seamaster

Even though it’s been James Bond’s wristwear for some decades, Omega’s doughty Seamaster has long been overshadowed by the more visible Speedmaster, thanks to the latter’s lunar antics. This situation will be reversed – at least until next year’s 50th anniversary revelries commence to mark the half-century since the moon landing of 1969 – because this year, the Seamaster turns 70.

First released in 1948, the Seamaster’s raison d’être was simple: to serve as a tool watch with style. While this may sound like an argument for defining the watch as heralding the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, the Patek Philippe Nautilus and others of that ilk, there is a key difference. The original Seamaster was not a beefy, macho timepiece but one that could pass itself off as purely a dress watch. The link between its svelte form and its double role as a tough cookie was its solidly made, water-resistant case.

Note, please, the date of its birth – coincidentally the year that gave us the IWC Mk 11. Like IWC’s purely military watch, the civilian-ready Seamaster benefitted from the technological demands and advances of the Second World War. To ensure that this point hits home, Omega itself describes the new Seamaster 1948 Limited Editions as “A tribute to OMEGA’s peaceful use of wartime technology.”

Omega, as enthusiasts know, had “form” during that conflict, having supplied more than 110,000 watches to the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) for use by aviators, sailors and soldiers. This culminated in the W.W.W. of 1945, now known as one of the “Dirty Dozen.” With the Seamaster, Omega was able to celebrate peacetime with a range that provided the same dependability, but clad in a case and adorned with a dial better suited to civilian life.

It also emerges that the Seamaster line was Omega’s first family of watches, something we now take for granted from all watch brands. But they were more than military watches in civvie street. Omega also increased their water-resistance with innovative use of O-ring gaskets, which would enable the line to evolve into a range that included purely functional diving watches with no concession to elegance. To this day, the Seamaster logo appears on watches both dressy and robust. Though Mr Bond has no problem wearing his diving models with black tie.

Over the decades, a number of models have appeared, chronicled in a fabulous book called From Seamaster to Seamaster: The First 70 Years. Page after page of mouth-watering images illustrate the scope of the Seamaster family, embracing movements both mechanical and quartz, as well as Co-axial calibres, time-only models, precious metal cases, chronographs, early use of titanium, models for the Olympics, a chapter on the 007-certified pieces and more. The breadth and depth – no pun intended – of the Seamaster range will challenge any collector to run out of must-haves.

Following the always-welcomed facsimiles of the models worn in the Bond movies – which sell out with indecent haste – are two gorgeous models to mark the 70th Anniversary. Omega showed the press its tribute to the 1948 original in the form of two sublime time-only models. The Seamaster 1948 Small Seconds and the Seamaster 1948 Central Second update the original by containing, respectively, the Master Chronometer movements 8804 and 8806.

Both models feature chunky but elegant stainless-steel cases with polished bezel, opaline silvery domed dials and polished crowns, embossed with vintage Ω symbol. Size wasn’t stated, but I’m guessing 39mm because they felt so comfortable.

Traversing the dials are diamond-polished 18K white gold hands – different types for each model – while both feature different chapter rings. For the Seamaster 1948 Small Seconds, the hour and domed minute hand are in leaf style, while the Central Second is fitted with Dauphine style hour and minute hands filled with white Super-LumiNova.

Also separating the two are their straps. The Seamaster 1948 Small Seconds, its seconds indication at 6 o’clock, is fitted with a brown leather strap with a polished-brushed stainless steel buckle. The Central Second model’s strap is blue-grey leather. Both feature buckles that carry the applied vintage-look Omega logo.

On the caseback of each watch are markings that will always be lined up correctly thanks to Omega’s patented “NAIAD LOCK” system. The backs are engraved with “SEAMASTER, LIMITED EDITION,” the watch’s unique limited edition number and “NAIAD LOCK”. Also enhancing the rear view are symbols of the usage of Seamasters by aviators and mariners: the flat sapphire crystals are laser engraved and lacquered by hand with a 70th Anniversary logo, a Chris-Craft boat and Gloster Meteor aircraft, the first jet plane used by the Royal Air Force. Both of the new models are water-resistant to 6bar/60m/200ft.

These anniversary Seamasters arrive in special collectors’ boxes of soft brown leather. Omega’s fetish for upright orientation manifests itself in each box, with the watch kept upright thanks to a magnetic floor. Supplied with each is a spare over/under strap in the original Admiralty grey colour and a strap changing tool. Each model is limited to 1,948 pieces.

That’s not all, though: the Seamaster celebrations also include four dress watches called the Seamaster Exclusive Boutique Limited Edition, produced for London, Paris, New York and Switzerland. Each of the four features iconic skylines relevant to each location, laser-engraved on the caseback’s grey inner ring.

For the London model, the domed dial is blue lacquered, with a graduated effect. The leaf hands are 18K white gold, as are the Omega logo and the elongated, triangular indices. The watch has a date window at 6 o’clock.

At the back is the circular panorama of London, depicting Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and The Shard. These encircle a view of the Master Chronometer Calibre 8800 movement, seen through the domed sapphire-crystal caseback. To achieve Master Chronometer status, the watch and its movement have passed the eight tests set by METAS (The Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology).

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