Vintage Legends: Omega Seamaster 300
Written by Anthony Tyme on December 15, 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. 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 absent.
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, Speedmaster, and Railmaster.
Classic Ref. 2913 Seamaster 300, with lollipop seconds hand and “thin bezel”
The Seamaster 300 (SM300), CK 2913, was Omega’s first dedicated dive watch. In terms of aesthetics, it ushered in the era of modern dive watches at Omega, featuring a rotating dive bezel, an automatic movement, and in a bit of a misnomer, water resistance of up to 200 meters thanks to its double crown seals and extraordinarily thick crystal. Omega felt that measurement technology was insufficiently advanced at that time to measure the watch’s true capabilities and insisted that the watch’s true water resistance exceeded the “official” depth rating.
The SM300 gained a reputation as being a true tool watch, able to withstand the harshest environments and still remain a highly reliable piece of equipment. Frenchman Alain Julien, a commercial diver who wore his 300 on a daily basis in 1958-1959 wrote the following:
“The Seamasters are of extraordinary solidarity and precision. No other watch competing with Omega has ever resisted the hardships linked to such underwater work as seabed prospecting, pipe laying, repair of works such as piers and dams, and recovery work on wrecks. The Seamaster 300s presented no defects. Despite the shocks of often extreme brutality, the cold water, and the great depths at which we work, they remained of an astonishing robustness and precision. By way of indication, each of us has dived more than 1,500 times.”
Ref. 165.024, “thick bezel” Seamaster 300
As Rolex still had patent protection on the screw-down crown, Omega developed the Naiad (Greek for water nymph) crown, which created an ever-tightening seal as the diver swam deeper (a technology similar to the one adopted by “supercompressor” cases found in JLC dive watches). The Naiad crown proved prone to leakage in shallow depths, so Omega switched to screw-down crowns in later production. Two years later, in 1964, the bezel of the SM300 was slightly modified with a large luminous index at 12 and clearer numerals. This reference was put to the test by legendary ocean researcher Jacques-Yves Cousteau on his Precontinent II Expeditions in the Red Sea in 1963 that were designed to prove that divers could live and work in saturate gas environments for long periods of time without adverse effects.
Seamaster 300 variants: “thick” versus “thin” bezel configurations
There is a dizzying array of Seamaster 300 configurations, so here is a brief overview of the evolution of the Seamaster 300 before we break down the differences in depth by broadly classifying the references as having either “thick” or “thin” bezels, as seen in the below picture.
Evolution of Seamaster 300 variants: “thin bezel” variants in image 1 and image 2, “thick bezel” variants in image 3 and image 4
1962: The early 1960’s Seamaster 300s had straight lugs, and 1962 could be considered a transitional year for the model. As you can see from the first two pictures in the collage above, both models with baton hands (image 1) and models with the combination of a dauphine hour hand and arrow minute hand (image 2) were manufactured. Also note the subtle dial differences between these two “thin bezel” Seamaster 300 Ref. 165.014: the hour markers of the example in image 1 are rectangular, with trapezoidal markings at the quarters. The Seamaster 300 in image 2 features thin triangular indices and short triangle markers at the quarters. Finally, the font thickness of the reference in image 1 is noticeably thinner, with open 6 and 9,versus that in image 2.
Categorization of the “thin bezel” references is no easy task
There are several sub-references for the main reference numbers and complicating matters even further, Omega often continued using parts inventories from earlier references and sub-references until the stock was used up entirely. This results in genuine, “non-Frankenwatches”, that do not fit records of dial / hand combinations. Below is a detailed list of the three main “thin-bezel” references and their characteristics:
2913: (8 sub-references, ranging from 2913-1 to 2913-8), First generation
Dial: Closed 6es
Hands: Broad arrow (1-5 sub-references), small arrow/dauphine (4-8 sub-references), -4-5-7-8 sub-references have lollipop seconds hands
Serial: 15 M, 16M
14755: (4 sub-references), Second generation
Dial: Closed 6es
Hands: Small arrow/dauphine hand combinations
Second hands: Straight seconds hands on the first 2 to 3 sub-references, teardrop seconds hand on the last 2-3 sub-references (early 14755 have lollipop seconds hands)
Serial: 18M, 19M
165.014: Third and later generations
Dial: Open 6es and also closed 6es
Hands: Candlestick (baton) and also small arrow/dauphine hand combinations
Serial: 22M, 24M (and other)
1964: 1964 saw the evolution of the Seamaster 300 in three ways – first, the lugs adopted the characteristic bombé (or lyre) lugs that have come to define many of Omega’s most recognizable models. Secondly, the “thick bezel” style was adopted. Third, the case shape became slightly asymmetrical to accommodate the shouldering structure for the crown. Finally, in 1967, the sword hour hands made their first appearance (image 4). Between the two images 3 and 4, apart from the different hour hand styles (baton in image 3, sword in image 4), the primary difference (and the one that lends its name to the model in image four) is the “big triangle” index at 12, which replaces the Arabic numeral. Also note the presence of the date aperture at 3 o’clock.
Above, on the left, you can see early and incredibly valuable “thin bezel” Seamaster 300 references with closed 6 and 9 and lollipop seconds hands. The watch on the left is a 14755 third-generation reference; the watch on the right belongs to the Ref. 2913 family of Seamaster 300 variants. Despite the similarities, the two watches differ in one key feature, namely in their handset: the reference on the right is outfitted with a “broad arrow” hour hand and dauphine minutes hand versus the dauphine hour and arrow minutes hand of the other.
On the right are three “thick” bezel Seamaster 300s. Note the use of different hour hands: the two references on the right have sword hour hands and are likely later (post-1967 models) versus the earlier 1964-1967 baton-hour-hand example on the far left.
Now, you’re probably slightly overwhelmed, so to sum up:
The three pictures show a “thin bezel” reference next to a “thick bezel” reference to highlight the principle differences:
- Straight lugs versus bombé / curved lugs
- Closed 6es and 9s versus open 6es and 9s on the dial
- A combination of dauphine and broad arrow hands versus candlestick (and occassionally broad sword) hands
Next, we look at the differences between the two references 2913 and 14755:
The picture on the left shows a Ref. 14755 next to a Ref. 2913. The primary differences are:
- Handsets – only the Ref. 2913 (on the right) has broad arrow hands
- The engraved reference number on the inside of the caseback of the Ref. 14755
- The different caliber (501 vs 551) which necessitated a thicker caseback for the Ref. 2913…
… which is also evident in the above pictures. The taller, more-prononced domed caseback is a feature of the 2913, which featured the thicker cal. 501 (5.55mm height) versus the more svelte cal. 551 (4.5mm height) introduced later.
Identifying an authentic example
1966 ref. 165.024 Seamaster 300 with a Bakelite bezel and cal. 552 automatic movement.
First, a word of warning. Whenever purchasing vintage timepieces, buy the seller: buying from a reputable dealer is part of making an informed decision. Frankenwatches, in case you do not know, are watches whose parts, though all original manufacture Omega parts, are sourced from different models and time periods, resulting in a watch that looks authentic but is actually cobbled together.
- Identify the six-digit reference number found within the caseback – note that replacement casebacks have seven digits and can be identified by the extra zero after the decimal point.
- Authentic references will have open 6 and 9 numerals on the dial. The Ref. 2913 features closed 6 and 9 numerals.
Note the open 6 and 9 (circled in red) and even patina, with the bezel index color matching that of the hour indices
Additional close-up shot of open 6 and 9 on Ref. 165.014 “thin bezel” (left) and on Ref. 166.024-67 Big Triangle “thick bezel”
- Hour markers should have aged evenly. Uneven aging is likely a sign of reluming.
- The hour markers and numbers on the bezel should have luminous material, the minute markers should not.
- The hands should be either baton / candlestick style (for earlier serial numbers) and sword hands on later serial numbers. This rule, however, is not definitive, as Omega is known to have used parts as long as they were in stock.
The faint Omega logo etched in the crystal is visible just above the cannon pinion
- The bezel should be a bi-directional, 60 click bezel.
- The outside of the caseback should be engraved with the Hippocampus with the Omega logo underneath. The condition of the etching should be commensurate with that of the rest of the case.
- The A in “WATERPROOF” should have a flat top.
The caseback etching is worn but is commensurate with the age of the watch and wear to the rest of the case
The dive watch as a fashion icon and must-have part of every watch collection has come a long way from its inception in 1953 with the Blancpain Fity Fathoms, closely tailed by the Rolex Submariner of 1954 and the Omega CK 2913 of 1957. Of these three brands, it was Omega that unwaveringly and uncompromisingly pushed the limits of their technology further and further still. The SM300 was followed by the Seamaster 600 and the Seamaster 1000, released in 1970 and 1971, respectively, with the development of the “ultimate” dive watch culminating in the PloProf. The SM300 remains an icon and, at 41mm, is hardly undersized by modern sensibilities.
Whether you are in formal or casual attire, this is a watch that will certainly draw praise! Yours truly certainly enjoyed the experience of having one on his wrist!
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