Saturday, October 1, 2011

Watching the Watches: On Omega's Newer, Bigger Seamasters

This post is the first in a series titled "Watching the Watches," which will comment on brands, trends, and new developments in the horological world.

First up on the list: Omega, which makes sense as it was the luxury Swiss watch brand that caught my attention when I caught the WIS bug almost two years ago.  Being the official Olympics timekeeper and the modern Bond's watchmaker of choice, it's one of the most visible Swiss watch brands out there alongside Rolex, Tag Heuer, and Breitling.  It's enduring claim to fame is the Speedmaster Professional, which was the hand-wound chronograph chosen by NASA as the timekeeping devices of choice for the Apollo 11 (and subsequent) space missions, earning it the moniker "Moon Watch."  Modern Speedy Pros often have the words "First and Only Watch Worn on the Moon," written along their casebacks (though whether the "and Only" part is warranted is a matter of debate among WISes), and the watch's famous role has ensured its place in the Omega lineup for over fifty years with only minor technical deviations.

The other watches in Omega's lineup have continually changed with the times, from the non-Pro Speedmasters to the Seamaster line, which has gone through several design transitions over its lifetime leading down to the current "Bond" Seamaster and its higher-end offshoot, the Planet Ocean line.  The Planet Ocean models in particular have garnered attention with their introductory use of the Omega 2500 movement, Omega's first implementation of the co-axial escapement, based the Omega 1120 (which was in turn based on the ETA 2892-A2).  The latest iteration of the 2500, the 2500D, is used in the current Seamaster Professional, but the newly revamped Planet Oceans will feature the wholly designed in-house 8500 co-axial movement.  The new movement and the beefed up cases and bracelets designed to accommodate them represent the latest efforts on Omega's part to position the brand higher upstream in the luxury watch market - perhaps to appeal to the Rolex crowd more directly.

The upgrades, including doubled water resistance, in-house movements, sapphire crystal casebacks across the PO line, screwed-in pins replacing the older and more cumbersome friction pins, are nice, though their $5000+ pricing runs the risk of alienating Omega fans used to the PO's former price point.  But my biggest concern is the hulking size of the new PO cases, which will be offered in 42mm and 45.5mm for men's models.  (A 37.5mm will also be made available featuring the smaller Omega 8520 movement, but as ladies' only models with diamond-encrusted bezels.)  42mm is the diameter of the classic Speedy Pro, and on a watch of its thickness (roughly 10-11mm), a 6-inch wrist like mine can just barely pull off the proportions.  The 42mm PO is 15.7mm thick, the 45.5mm version is 16.5mm, and the 45.5mm chronograph (packing the impressive but colossal Omega 9300 movement) tops off the scale at a whopping 19.2mm!  By comparison, the chrono's thickness is almost two centimeters tall, or 53% the width of my midsize Seamaster (which matches the Speedy Pro's thickness at around 11mm).  There's no way that a watch with those proportions won't look ridiculous on slighter wrists like mine.  With many watches looming larger and larger these days, with even Rolex's Explorers receiving 39mm (still reasonable but departing from the classic 36mm form factor) and 42mm (a welcome addition for larger wrists but beginning to push the envelope) upgrades, it's becoming increasingly harder for slight-wristed men to find watches that suit them.  If the PO line ever replaces the "Bond" Seamaster's 36.25mm and 41mm models, the only option for those who prefer subtler watch sizes might be to look back to discontinued models.

What do you think about Omega's new models and the overall trend toward larger (and thicker) watches?  What range of watch diameters do you prefer?  Feel free to voice your opinion by leaving a comment below.

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