Monday, April 16, 2012

Watch Brand Review: Omega

The second installment in the Brand Review series takes a look at one of my personal favorites, Omega.


Omega's recent history is a somewhat tumultuous one.  Most of the tumult can be traced back to the Quartz crisis of the late 1970s and 1980s.  While once a true manufacture, by the 1990s and 2000s most of Omega's mechanical movements had become modified versions of stock ETA movements, which lowered the brand's esteem in the eyes of many enthusiasts.  Omega has made significant progress toward returning to true manufacture in recent years with their adoption of Co-Axial technology, starting with the Omega 2500 movement (a heavily modified ETA 2892-A2) and moving on to their in-house Omega 8500 and chronograph Omega 9300 calibers.  With the burgeoning ranks of models powered by their Co-Axial movements, Omega is making a strong case for its return to the ranks of brands like Rolex, Zenith, and IWC.  The only downside to this up-scaling is that those enthusiasts who favored Omega as a solid value proposition in the realm of luxury watch brands may now find their price-value ratio to be nearly indistinguishable from other, pricier brands.


With one exception that I'll come to shortly, Omega hasn't been afraid to update the look and feel of its models as tastes have evolved over the decades.  The exemplar of this trend is the Seamaster line, which has undergone radical redesigns on almost a per-decade basis, although certain design elements have endured and periodically reemerge.  This in my opinion makes Omega's vintage market far more interesting than those populated by long-standing designs like those from Rolex, which leaves collectors clamoring over the most minute variations (e.g., the "Bart Simpson" Rolex crown, "tropical" dials, etc.).  Omega's back catalog is nowhere as easy to categorize, with a myriad of case, dial, and movement variations.  The wider field also makes it easier to score a deal on the secondary market, netting a rare or long out-of-production variation for significantly less than a showroom-new model.

One other design consideration is that, in a market saturated by 40mm+ watches, Omega remains one of the few that still offers versions of their mainstay watches - the Seamaster Professional and Aqua Terra in particular - in 36mm and 38.5mm versions.


Omega's offerings have started to slant toward more flashy and fashionable design elements, such as applied indices and exhibition case backs, in their bid to reposition themselves as a rival to Rolex in the luxury market.  Like Rolex, however, their pedigree comes from reliable tool watches meant to perform their duties in the midst of the extremes the real world can offer.  Despite their new in-house calibers and more refined trappings, Omega watches continue to weather everyday stresses with poise.

My Pick

The most storied and paradigmatic example in their catalogue is the Speedmaster Professional, aka the "Moon Watch," which was the chronograph certified for use by NASA's astronauts and which was both the watch worn by the Apollo 11 crew when they touched down on the moon, and the device which the Apollo 13 crew used to time the calculated thruster burns that brought them safely back to Earth.  Beyond its history, the Speedy Pro has a rock-solid and proven workhorse movement, and a dial design that, in my opinion, is the standard against which all other dials must be measured.  (And against which a startling number of dials on the market today would be found wanting.)  With the advent of the in-house Co-Axial movements, especially the new chronograph offered by the 9300, the original Speedmaster Professional remains the most venerable and timeless offering in Omega's current lineup.  It also represents one of the few iconic models in the wider watch collecting world that is both attainable at a sub-$5000 price point - a range filled with a dearth of otherwise horologically unremarkable watches - rendering it an excellent starting point for a serious watch collection.

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