Vintage Legends: Omega Seamaster 120
Written by Anthony Tyme on December 14, 2018
Welcome to our series titled Vintage Masters, in which we will take a closer look at vintage watches that have stood the test of time and remain classics to this day.
Omega’s history with manufacturing waterproof watches began in 1932 with the ref 679 Omega Marine, a watch that guaranteed hermeticity to a depth of 135m by way of an outer case that could be clipped onto the inner case, creating a seal that would become tighter as external pressure increased (a technology similar to the one adopted by “supercompressor” cases found in JLC dive watches). 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. Far from the distinctly purpose-built design of the Marine, the first Seamasters of 1948 were created as durable everyday watches, hardy enough to withstand the shocks, bumps, and splashes of day-to-day wear. The “toolish” aesthetic that has now become one of the defining characteristics of dive watches remained was nowhere to be seen.
This all changed in the age of exploration, which gave birth to watches built for specific purposes and 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 for divers, the Speedmaster for racing enthusiasts, and the Railmaster for engineers. The Seamaster 300, Ref. 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.
Gorgeous example of a ghosted Seamaster 120 bezel. Note the intact original brushed finish on the lug and the “T SWISS MADE T” dial markings
This blog is dedicated to the Seamaster 300’s smaller brother, the Seamaster 120, which made its debut in 1966. The success of the Seamaster 300 led Omega to design a series of smaller 60m water resistant* and ultimately more attainable watches that retained much of the larger model’s DNA at a lower price point. The cushion-shaped 37mm tonneau case of the Seamaster 120 reflects the emblematic “space-age” styling sensibilities of that time, resulting in a surprising resemblance and design coherence with the “C-Case” Omega Constellation (see here).
* 60m water resistance as per Omega’s technical specifications
What makes the Seamaster 120 noteworthy is that it was the first Omega dive watch with a date display. One year after the introduction of the Seamaster 120 date, the date functionality made its way to Omega’s upmarket Seamaster 300. As opposed to the Seamaster 300, which was only outfitted with automatic movements, the Seamaster 120 can be found in both manual and automatic variants, both of which came in date and no-date references.
The four primary Seamaster 120 references are as follows:
Ref. 135.027: Manual, No Date, Caliber 601, 611 (17 jewels, 19,800 vph beat rate, 48-hour power reserve)
Ref. 136.027: Manual, Date, Caliber 613 (17 jewels, 19,800 vph beat rate, 48-hour power reserve)
Ref. 165.027: Automatic, No Date, Caliber 552 (24 jewels, 19,800 vph beat rate, 50-hour power reserve)
Ref. 166.027: Automatic, Date, Caliber 565 (24 jewels, 19,800 vph beat rate, 50-hour power reserve)
Ref. 136.027 Caliber 613 manual-wind movement; Ref. 166.027 Caliber 565 automatic-winding movement
In addition to the above four references, a ladies’ reference in 31mm was also available.
All four references feature a lightly-etched Hippocampus on the caseback, a result of the chemical engraving used in the manufacturing process. Casebacks with deeper engravings are more likely to be either Frankenwatches or outright fakes and should be avoided. In addition, these four references share the same case, matte bezel, hands, and 5.5mm crown. One distinguishing factor between the two automatic references 165.027 and 166.027 from the manual refences 135.027 and 136.027 lies in the shape of the case back, which is flat in the manual-wind references and domed in the automatic ones (necessitated by the winding mass).
Examples of correct caseback etching on Ref. 136.027
There are other, rarer, references, such as the Seamaster 120 “Deep Blue”, Ref. 166.073 ST. Though most Seamaster 120 models featured black aluminum rotating bezels, the Ref. 166.073ST more closely resembles the Seamaster 300, sharing sharp sword hands and a Bakelite bezel. The “120” lineage remains present, expressed in the model’s cushion case shape. Additionally, the hour markers are faceted and the ST trades the Seamaster 300’s more austere black dial and bezel combination for a more playful deep blue.
Checks for Authenticity
When shopping for these Vintage Omega Seamaster 120s, be aware of complete fakes with Omega movements inside. These movements were fitted in (and consequently taken out of) other, much cheaper Omega references, and quite often the entire watch surrounding this movement (particularly the watch case) is fake. As prices of these vintage references slowly creep upwards, such cobbled-together watches that resemble a Seamaster 120 but are actually questionable, appear more and more often on the market. That being said, replacement parts (cystal, crown, hands, bezel) and restoration work (refurbished dials, polished cases) are considered fully ok as long as all details are properly disclosed in the description of the watch, both buyer and seller are aware of them, and they are also reflected in the price of the watch. That being said, buy the seller: Whenever you are spending a significant amount of money on a watch, buying from a reputable dealer is part of making an informed decision. Mistakes can happen, but the reaction of the dealer, should something go wrong, speaks volumes to the integrity of the dealer – a reputable dealer will always accept a full money-back return if the watch was wrongly described or of questionable provenance. In the case of a first-time purchase from a unknown dealer, simply reassure yourself by enquiring about the refund policy prior to your purchase.
- Authentic Seamaster 120 references will have small notches in the case at the “3” and”9″ positions.
Examples of correct “3” and “9” cutouts in Seamaster 120 cases
- Additionally, as mentioned above, pay close attention to the depth of the Hippocampus etching on the caseback. The etching in authentic watches is shallow and should be commensurate with the wear on the rest of the case.
- Verify that the caseback engravings are spelled correctly! It might seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised to know how often simple errors like this crop up.
- Additionally, the font can be a surefire way to spot a fake: the “A”s in “SEAMASTER” and “WATERPROOF” have flat tops in authentic examples. Be especially wary if the watch (now 60-70 years old) has close to no signs of wear and tear.
As prices for vintage Seamaster 300 have started appreciating rapidly, the Seamaster 120 remains a compelling value proposition for vintage watch enthusiasts who want to experience the heritage of Omega divers without paying a considerable premium for them. The classic 37mm size, matte black dial and bezel, and applied Omega logo of these references exude class and timeless elegance, regardless of whether the watch is worn in formal or casual settings!
exclusively for Vintage Portfolio