History & Overview Of The Omega Seamaster: More Than 007’s Timepiece Of Choice
History & Overview Of The Omega Seamaster: More Than 007’s Timepiece Of ChoiceRafael Dominguez2019-12-26T09:08:07-05:00
The Omega Seamaster has evolved so drastically over the past 70 years that, if you were to place a modern example next to the original from 1948, you’d never believe they are related.
Nevertheless, the Seamaster’s progression through the decades highlights Omega’s intrepidity to continuously tweak and experiment, and which has led the brand to become the watchmaking powerhouse it is today.
On this page, we’ll be tracing the lineage of the brand’s staple ocean-themed Seamaster timepieces, outlining the most noteworthy points and models throughout its history.
We’re going way deeper than just Hollywood cameos, and exploring the references that helped make the historic Omega Seamaster model family one of the most popular of the present day.
History Of The Omega Seamaster
The outline below will allow you to jump down to a specific point in time in the Seamaster’s history:
While the first official Omega Seamaster watch did not come to be until 1948, by that time the Swiss watchmaker already boasted decades of experience under its belt crafting timepieces. In the years leading up to the debut, the manufacturer had been working laboriously to provide wristwatches for the Allied forces and most prominently to English fighters.
Omega’s watches were issued not only to pilots but to seamen and infantry as well. Subsequently, the rigors of these different theaters pushed the brand to continuously innovate on their timepieces, gradually producing watches that were more precise and, likewise, more durable, evermore suitable for soldiers in the air, on the sea, and over land.
These need-based enhancements would eventually become the catalyst that led to the dawn of the first Seamasters towards the end of the ’40s.
The Birth Of The Omega Seamaster
A 1950s Omega Seamaster ref. 2639-16. Image: Antiquorum.swiss
The year was 1948 when, in looking to celebrate their 100th anniversary, Omega introduced the first ever Seamaster. At the time, this tradition of commemorating anniversaries with new collections was not just Omega’s. In fact, Rolex did the same thing in 1945 with the Datejust, a model intended to mark the brand’s 40th anniversary.
The novel Seamaster was, in essence, a product of war in a time of peace. It was a timepiece built to the specifications of soldiers at war, yet it could now enjoy more harmonious applications.
The first Seamaster, advertised as a watch “made for a life of action”, could have been labeled as a strict dress watch if not for it’s ruggedness. One of the first watches to employ rubber gaskets, it featured water resistance generally unmatched by other watch brands. It’s accuracy was also of note given the precise, shock-proof, and amagnetic movement that powered it.
These Seamasters were offered mostly in steel and on straps, though some full-gold examples with matching bracelets were also made available. They’d remain a more elegant and dressy style of timepiece until 1957, when Omega first debuted the ‘professional trilogy’.
The Omega Professional Trilogy
Those familiar with the brand’s modern offerings may already know of a particular trilogy set of Omega watches. Well, that 2017 limited edition set was released to commemorate the original trilogy, the 1957 Omega trilogy.
The 1957 Omega professional watch trilogy was composed of three watches. These were:
Omega Seamaster 300 ref. CK2913
Omega Railmaster ref. CK2914
Omega Speedmaster ref. CK2915
Omega 1957 trilogy: CK 2913, CK 2914, CK 2915. Images: Phillips.com
Each of these three timepieces was designed and built to fulfil a need in a professional setting.
The Railmaster was intended for scientific applications, as its soft iron inner case imparted magnetic resistance of up to 1,000 Gauss (sound familiar?). The Speedmaster was for precise timing and measurement of speed, eventually becoming the quintessential “astronaut’s watch”. And last was the Seamaster 300, a wristwatch designed with career and SCUBA divers in mind.
The Original Seamaster 300
The first Seamaster 300, known as the reference CK2913, was 38.5mm in steel with a matching steel bracelet and a rotating diver’s bezel. It had a black dial with triangle-shaped lumed indices and white minute markings.
Seamaster CK2913 on strap. Image: Phillips.com
The hands, too, were lumed and produced in the “Broad Arrow” motif, a very attractive and desirable style of hands in the modern day. Later models would also possess a “lollipop” seconds hand, yet another vintage cue found on some modern Omega watches that is highly coveted.
Beating inside was the Omega calibre 501 automatic movement, which boasted a 46-hour power reserve. Furthermore, protecting the movement from the elements was an innovative crown system known as the Naiad crown. This new crown mechanism would actually become more secure as pressure on the crown increased with depth, though it was not as trustworthy in shallow waters as Rolex’s patented screw-down crown, for example.
Ironically enough, the Seamaster 300 was not rated to 300 meters of depth. The brand claimed that the equipment of the time could not recreate the pressures encountered at 300 meters below the surface, so the watch was actually only rated to 200 meters.
Vintage Seamaster ad. Image: Omegaforums.net
After the successful debut of the first diver Seamaster CK2913 in ’57, Omega’s next significant upgrade came in 1960 with the CK14755, basically a Seamaster 300 equipped with an improved movement, the Omega calibre 522.
Only two years later, in 1962, more changes would come with a new reference number convention, the ST 165.014. Unlike its predecessor, this Seamaster featured visible differences, mainly its dial and new “straight” hands. The movement inside remained unchanged.
The Seamaster That Paved The Way For All Seamasters
Though the Seamaster CK2913 may not have been the first ever dive watch, after more than half a century we can now appreciate how much of an impact that first release had and how timeless this Omega watch model truly is.
Modern Seamaster 300 ‘Spectre’
The black dial with 3, 6, 9, and 12 numerals is a design that has been successfully implemented in countless varieties since the Seamaster’s inception. The same can be said for the case design, with its sharply-angled lugs and polished steel surfaces. The bezel, likewise, clearly serves as the inspiration for even the Planet Ocean watches of recent decades.
It can be said that only by looking into past watches can we come to appreciate all of the details that modern timepieces have to offer. With a brand like Omega and a model as emblematic as the Seamaster, this philosophy seems to ring more true than ever.
The Seamaster De Ville
With how successful the early professional Seamasters were, you may have surmised that Omega completely discarded the previous, more dressy style of Seamaster. Yet, they did not.
The classically-styled Seamasters (without the diver’s bezel) were still selling well, so the brand found itself at a crossroads. They had two models with very different looks labeled with the same name, and this was bound to confuse potential buyers.
Omega’s response to this was to differentiate those Seamasters meant for the more leisurely occasions with a new name: De Ville. It roughly translates to “for the town” from French, and made for an appropriate and necessary segmentation of the two sibling models.
Seamaster De Ville KL 6068. [Left] & De Ville Prestige Platinum [Right] Images: Christies.com
Omega would further separate the two in 1967, when the De Ville became its own model line, no longer living under the shadow of the unfitting (at least by comparison) Seamaster title.
Both models could then amicably coexist within a catalog, and in fact they did through to the present day.
A New Generation: The Seamaster 300 ST 165.024
Previous to 1962, the year in which the ‘second generation’ of Seamaster 300 was introduced, the model had never boasted a date function and most of the cosmetic changes it received were relatively minimal. This changed with the ST 165.024.
The ST 165.024 was released in conjunction with the ST 166.024, the former being the non-date reference and the latter possessing a date. Naturally, with the new updates also came new movements; they were the cal. 552 (no date) and the cal. 565 (date).
Significant changes to the external look of the watch were also made. The case increased in size from 39mm to 42mm and likewise assumed a new design that integrated the crown into the case flank itself. The lugs were in the “lyre” style, where the top of the lug boasts a substantial polished bevel and is pointed at its end. This design was also introduced in the Speedmaster Moonwatch cases around the same time, when the brand did away with the “straight lug” style almost completely.
The bezel increased in width as did the hour indices on the dial, which now were massive compared to their predecessor. Lastly, the hands at hands were changed; the Broad Arrow aesthetic was gone and in its place were either baton or sword (military-style) hands.
Military Seamaster. Image: Antiquorum.swiss
If these sword-style hands seem familiar it’s because they were also employed on Rolex Submariner ref. 5513 models (“Mil-Subs”) delivered to the British Royal Navy. Omega, too, was commissioned to produce Seamasters exclusively for combat divers though the Rolex design ultimately won over, leaving very few military-specification Seamasters out in the wild today.
The Seamaster Goes Deeper
It’s no surprise that in the ’50s and ’60s, when saturation diving was coming into prominence, that watch brands were also making the biggest investments into R&D of improved diving timepieces.
Saturation diving is a technique in which divers are kept in an underwater environment where the air they breathe is of a very specific helium-oxygen mixture and which mimics that which they breathe from tanks while diving. By getting the diver’s body used to the artificial air mixture, they can complete many dives over days or weeks without having to decompress after each dive, saving a significant amount of time.
When the decompression did take place, many of these professional divers were finding that the crystals on their timepieces were literally popping off. It was discovered that this was due to hydrogen becoming trapped in the watch during the compression phase and later generating enough outward pressure to “pop off” the crystal in its attempt to escape during decompression.
To solve this issue, brands like Rolex and Doxa came put their heads together and devised the helium escape valve. Omega, on the other hand, chose a much less elegant yet equally original solution.
A year after its introduction, the Omega Seamaster 300M made its debut on “the big screen” in the 1995 Goldeneye James Bond film.
This was a significant change as Bond had worn Rolex and Seiko timepieces in previous films. Furthermore, this was also the first Pierce Brosnan Bond movie, a fact that made the film even more memorable and produced the same effect for the timepiece he wore in it.
That first appearance of a Seamaster in a 007 film paved the way for the Omega-007 relationship to flourish and persist until the modern day. Since 1995, Omega timepieces have remained the watch of choice for Bond, with all of them being Seamasters of one kind or another.
Brosnan continued to wear this particular model in his future incarnations of the role. In Tomorrow Never Dies, it featured a remotely-detonated detachable charge. Meanwhile, it was equipped with a grappling hook in The World Is Not Enough.
In Die Another Day, John Cleese’s Q reverted back to the Goldeneye configuration with a remote detonator and cutting laser. When Daniel Craig was passed the 007 torch, Bond returned with less emphasis on gadgets.
Nevertheless, he still wore both a Seamaster Diver 300M Co-Axial and a Planet Ocean 600M Co-Axial in 2006’s Casino Royale albeit without any gimmicks.
Naturally, Omega has also released many special and limited edition Seamasters with a 007 theme. Our personal favorite is the Seamaster 300 “Spectre” with a lollipop seconds hand (check out our review by clicking the previous link.)
The Seamaster Family Grows
After the introduction of the Diver 300M in the ’90s and the widespread success that followed, Omega wasted little time in building on the modern Seamaster concept. Not too much later, the Aqua Terra and Planet Ocean collections would be released in 2002 and 2003, respectively.
These new sub-collections served as two different spin-offs from the traditional Seamaster. One was intended to be the extreme dive watch – this was the Planet Ocean. Alternatively, there was the Aqua Terra, a more refined and classy style of Seamaster, essentially intended for wearing above deck as opposed to under the water.
Both sub-collections have proved successful and the brand has continued to expand on them. Of course, neither is as popular as the original Seamaster 300M, but they still provide a wide range of choice for Seamaster fans who are looking to widen the breadth of their collections.
25 Years Of The Diver 300M
Almost three decades of existence for the Seamaster 300M’s came and went rather quickly so on its 25th anniversary, Omega made some significant upgrades to the model to mark the occasion.
While ceramic had already been introduced in the bezel insert for the Seamaster, it wasn’t until 2018 that Omega began to use the exotic material for case and bezel components. Likewise, dials were also presented in Zirconium Oxide and now boasted the same ocean-wave motif, but this time it was laser etched.
The Seamasters also received Omega’s METAS-certified co-axial chronometer movements, which could also be admired through a new sapphire caseback. New material combinations also became available such as titanium, two-tone, and titanium with Sedna gold, among others.
After years of research, which included testing of Seamasters by COMEX, Omega finally devised a Seamaster in 1971 which solved the decompression problem – the Seamaster 600 “Plongeur Professionnel” ref. 166.077 AKA the PloProf.
The original PloProf possessed some of the same design cues of past Seamasters while also employing a completely new (and gigantic) 55mm case that was one solid piece of 904L stainless steel. This monobloc case design prevented Helium from entering in the first place and therefore solved the decompression problem.
It also boasted an increased depth rating of 600m vs. the Seamaster’s 300m, as well as an innovative bezel-lock mechanism. Moreover, the crown was a twin-locking crown and had been repositioned to the left flank of the case so as to make wearing of the watch more comfortable.
Seamaster 1000 ref. 166.093. Image: Christies.com
The PloProf 600 found some success both in professional settings as well as on the retail market. Therefore, Omega continued work on the extreme-diver concept and, after many prototypes, eventually released the PloProf’s sibling, the Seamaster 1000.
Now colloquially known as “The Grand”, the PloProf 1000 possessed the same monobloc design except in an oval case. Moreover, as its name implied, the depth rating had increased to 1000, making it Omega’s deepest-diving watch until 2009 when the PloProf was modernized and re-introduced as the Seamaster PloProf 1200M.
The most modern PloProf offering, the 1200M is even larger than its ancestor but much is also much more luxurious. The square-ish case design remains, as do the bezel-lock and crown mechanisms though all are now crafted of titanium. Yet the bezel insert itself has been upgraded, as has the movement inside, now a COSC-Chronometer certified Omega Co-Axial caliber.
The Next Seamaster Revolution
The Seamaster model family continued to see many different iterations which included quartz-powered examples, diving chronographs, racing chronograph, ceramic cases and more. Nevertheless, none of these models had as much of an impact at release (as well as into the future) as the Seamaster Diver 300M.
Seamaster Professional Diver 300M
The Omega Seamaster Professional Diver 300M was released in 1993 and, as its ancestors, possessed a bit of the original Seamaster essence while also bringing in a ton of new aesthetic elements.
Seamaster Diver 300M. Image: Antiquorum.swiss
For instance, its case still had the memorable lyre lugs but was differentiated by the curved case flanks that produce actual crown guards and by the addition of a helium escape valve. Its bezel also boasted a ‘scalloped’ edge that is now a trademark of the model.
Additionally, the watch was offered on a new 5-link, highly-articulated bracelet that even in the modern day is recognized as one of the most comfortable in the industry.
Moving on to the dial, the Diver 300M had a new style of hour index, the standard date at 3 o’clock, and skeletonized center hands. Most importantly, the Diver 300M marked the first time Omega used the ocean-wave motif on the dial. Often re-implemented by other brands, this thoughtful dial detail has become an emblem of dive watches the world over, though it was first used in the Seamaster 300M.
While we’ve not covered every single reference in existence, you can now understand that the Seamaster’s history is one filled with wildly varying designs that eventually led us to the contemporary Seamaster style. And whether you’re talking the Diver, Aqua Terra, Planet Ocean or other iteration of the Seamaster, it’s hard to argue that Omega has something special on their hands.
Seamaster London Boutique Limited Edition
The brand has managed to nurture this model family into one of the most popular wristwatches of the modern day. As watch collectors and personal fans of Omega as a whole, it’s nothing short of exciting to think about what the future holds in store for this iconic watch.
Until the next Seamaster release, make sure to check out some of our other watch guides below:
"I'll always see the Seamaster as a more authentic diver than the Submariner. Undoubtedly, they're both great timepieces, but the Seamaster just looks more functional to me. Plus, there's tons of metals and color schemes to help anyone make their Seamaster their own!"