Posted 24th Oct 2011
The Seamaster name covers a whole host of sporty, dressy, quirky and techy watches from nearly three quarters of a century of manufacture. Although many of these watches don’t look anything alike, they are all developments of the same thing – a water resistant watch.
It started in 1932, when Omega patented an innovative design for a diving watch to help protect it from the increasing water pressure experienced underwater. Using a sliding case within a case, the idea was to double glaze the movement to protect the seals. The theory was sound but the design was too complicated.
The idea was taken back to the drawing board, and in 1947 – a decade and a half later – the first Seamaster was launched. Rolex may have pipped Omega to the post for the first water resistant watch, but the Seamaster beat the Submariner to the shops by a clear six years.
The first Seamaster followed the simplistic design that was consistent with the rest of Omega’s range, and the slim and delicate case proved that water-resistance didn’t require the watch to be heavy and bulky. This dress style continued through to the 1960’s, when the Seamaster had a dramatic makeover. The range split into two – one part dressy, and the other sporty.
Rolex’s Submariner had proven that chunky sports watches were indeed popular, and so the Seamaster De Ville continued the original slim-cased, formal dial look, and the Seamaster 300 (300 referring to the depth rating of 300 metres) took the fight to the Submariner. The 300’s black dial had wide markers and the hands were chunky. The case too was of much more solid form than the previous Seamaster, and came with the addition of a rotating timing bezel.
A second, cheaper model was released four years later, the Seamaster 120, and a chronograph model completed the range in 1970, the first watch to incorporate an internal rotating bezel, although it was only water resistant to thirty metres.
In a battle with Rolex to create a watch with the highest depth rating, Omega developed the Seamaster Plongeur Professionnel (PloProf) 600. Where the Sea-Dweller used a helium escape valve to control internal pressure, Omega took the brute force approach of building a case strong enough to withstand it without one. This move saw the Rolex win the COMEX contract.
Not to be deterred, Omega dabbled with quartz Seamasters during the seventies quartz revolution, before producing the Seamaster Professional 300 in 1993. In 2005 the Planet Ocean joined it, modelled on the original Seamaster 300 from the sixties, and an updated reissue of the PloProf came too in 2010, this time water resistant to 1200 metres (and fitted with a helium escape valve).
The Seamaster has had a strange and winding life, but is all the more interesting for it – there are many models not mentioned here that never really caught on, that each have their own story and now make interesting and collectible pieces. One thing is certain though – you can’t go wrong with a Seamaster.