A Brief History of the Seamaster
Written by Anthony Tyme on August 19, 2018
The following article is not meant to be a comprehensive analysis of the entire Seamaster range, as an exhaustive list would surely put the average watch enthusiast to sleep, such would be its length!
The gentleman’s watch: a collection of light-dial Seamasters from the 1950’s and 1960’s showing dial, lug, and hand variants
The Seamaster is one of the pillars of Omega’s collection and possibly one of the company’s most popular watch lines, along with the Speedmaster. But it is the Seamaster, and not its cosmic cousin, that is the oldest watch in Omega’s catalogue. The watch was originally a humble dress watch that happened to be dust and moisture-proof. It was modeled after watches designed by Omega for use during WWII and can trace its lineage to the Omega Marine, ref 679, from 1932. The Marine was the first watch specifically tested and approved for diving at significant depths (135m, in the Marine’s case). As Rolex had by that time already patented its waterproof winding system for wristwatches with its Rolex Oyster from 1926, the Marine had to resort to a different means of guaranteeing hermeticity: the watch had an outer case that was clipped onto an inner case, creating a seal, which would become tighter as external pressure increased. Additionally, the crown was placed on top of the movement, inside the outer case, to prevent damage from shearing. Other technological innovations for the time were the inclusion of a sapphire crystal, one of its first uses in a wristwatch.
The original Seamaster was a gentleman’s watch, designed to stand up to the rigors of daily life. It was designed for “town, sea and country” and is a far cry from what the line has developed into today, with the Seamaster Aqua Terra 150 M being the closest to the intent of its forebearer. The rest of the modern line encompasses dedicated diver’s watches: Seamaster Professional 300M Diver, Seamaster 300, Seamaster Professional Planet Ocean 600M, and the Seamaster Ploprof 1200M.
But back to 1948, the birth year of the Seamaster CK 2518. The model, when released, was to be a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the company. What made the Seamaster revolutionary at the time was its use of a rubber gasket for its water resistance. The technology was the same used in submarines at that time and remains in use even today. In fact, Omega was so convinced of its waterproof technology that a Seamaster was attached to the outside of a Douglas DC6 aircraft in 1956 on the Polar Route over the North Atlantic. The first Omega Seamasters were dressy affairs, which is what makes them such classic timepieces, suitable for both formal attire and casual wear. They offer considerable value as well, as you can find examples for less than EUR 1 000.
Calatrava alternative: both light-dial and black-dial Seamaster variants in 18k yellow or pink gold can be found
The evolution of the Seamaster is a testament to the human spirit that pushes us higher, faster, and most importantly deeper. The age of exploration gave birth to watches built for specific purposes and for specific professions. The ‘50s saw the creation of the dive watch, the racing watch, the engineer’s watch, and the pilot’s watch (e.g. Univérsal Genève Polerouter). Omega capitalized on this trend by releasing a set of three “Professional” watches in 1957, with each dedicated to a specific target group of individuals: Seamaster, Speedmaster, and Railmaster. The Seamaster 300, CK 2913, was Omega’s first dedicated dive watch and featured a rotating dive bezel, and in a bit of a misnomer, water resistance of up to 200 meters. Omega felt that measurement technology was insufficiently advanced to measure the watch’s true capabilities and insisted that the watch’s true water resistance exceeded the “official” depth rating.
The early Seamaster 300 had no crown guards and lacked the characteristic bombé (or lyre) lugs that have come to define many of Omega’s most recognizable models. The Seamaster 300 gained a reputation as being a true tool watch and accompanied Jacques-Yves Cousteau on his Precontinent II Expeditions in the Red Sea in 1963 to prove that divers could live and work in saturate gas environments for long periods of time without aderse effects.
1966 ref. 165.024 Seamaster 300 with a Bakelite bezel and cal. 552 automatic movement
In 1964, the Seamaster became even larger, expanding to 42mm. It was at this time that the watch was also fitted with the graceful and sinuous bombé lugs that are now ubiquitous on most of the current model line.
The SM300 went through several iterations in the 1960s and came equipped with a number of different hand styles (sword, baton, arrow). The Seamaster developed as humans tried to push the limits of their technology further and further still: this was the era of the Seamaster 600 and the Seamaster 1000, released in 1970 and 1971, respectively. The Seamaster 600 is the forefather of the current model Ploprof, an amalgamation of the French Plongeur Professional, or Professional Diver, a truly cutting-edge diver that was worn by divers of the diving company COMEX.
Despite its technical achievements, the Seamaster for many years played second fiddle to the Rolex Submariner. That is, until Omega’s iconic debut on the silver screen in Golden Eye in 1995: an Omega Quartz Seamaster Professional was featured on the wrist of Pierce Brosnan as 007. This contributed to a surge in the line’s popularity, and the ties to the James Bond franchise have continued ever since, with Daniel Craig donning a Seamaster Professional 300M and a Planet Ocean in Casino Royale (2006), a Planet Ocean in Quantum of Solace (2008) and in Skyfall (2012), and a Seamaster 300 and Seamaster Aqua Terra 150M in Spectre (2015).
A trio of Seamaster Professional 300M divers (l-r): “Bond” SMP, Co-Axial SMP, Steel bezel SMP 300 with broad sword hands
As Omega has demonstrated, classics do not need to become stale. Through clever tweaks and line extensions over the years, the Seamaster product range has come to encompass a broad number of styles of watches, suitable for every situation imaginable…
even if your name isn’t James Bond!
exclusively for Vintage Portfolio