Back

The Seamaster at 70

An extract from OMEGA Lifetime - The Family Edition

photographs by PHILIPPE LACOMBE

 

Our human fascination with the sea stretches back over thousands of years. Its mysteries, hidden deep within the swells of inky blackness, have tantalised and seduced us for as long as we’ve had a natural impulse to explore. But only recently, in the past century in fact, have we finally mastered the diving technology to truly unlock its secrets.

One of the most vital technologies in that quest has been the watch we wear on our wrist. From counting the critical seconds of air, to surviving the crushing pressures, precise and robust timekeeping has always been essential for those who submit themselves to the waves.

[READ_MORE]

Today, we know the Omega Seamaster as one of the great watches of ocean adventure. And you would expect, by its name, that this was the very reason it was created. But as with many enduring designs, the journey of the Seamaster is unlike any other. Its course has changed and evolved throughout 70 years and its true origins are much different than you might imagine.

The first significant seeds of creation were planted in 1932. It was here that Omega first introduced its “Marine” timepiece, the world’s first watch specifically designed for civilian divers. Showcasing a pioneering construction, the “Marine” was trusted implicitly by explorers, such as William Beebe and Yves Le Prieur, and set the course for Omega’s advancements in water-resistance and underwater technology. The “Marine” marked a decisive turning point for Omega and ensured that the brand remained linked to tough divers’ watches for years to come.

By downloading the above image, I confirm that I have read and accept the Terms of Use for image downloads.

But as the possibilities of ocean exploration began to build, the devastation of WWII arrived, sinking the world into chaos for six long years. In the midst of the war between 1939 and 1945, Omega was able to gain incredible expertise by producing and delivering the majority of all water-resistant timepieces worn by pilots and navigators in the Royal Air Force. It was an abrupt lesson in watchmaking design, but enabled the brand to quickly master the creation of robust and reliable timepieces.

When the war ended, the Seamaster was born from that experience. Launched in 1948 to coincide with Omega’s centenary, the collection harnessed the technology used in those wartime watches and transformed it with elegant touches for active individuals who desired a watch for ‘town, sea and country’.

[READ_MORE]

The Seamasters from those early years exhibited the world’s revitalised spirit. They were sporty and seaworthy, but also sophisticated enough for the bars and nightclubs of booming cities. You can see in their variety of angles, textures and patterns, that their designs were ideal for gentlemen with a true sense of fashion. Yet at the same time, their robust cases and thick lugs showed that they also had the brawn to withstand an adventurous lifestyle.

It really wasn’t until 1957 that the Seamaster plunged into serious diving innovation. For an era that was defined by rock’n’roll, it’s equally important to remember this time for its unshakeable breakthroughs in exploration. Mount Everest had been conquered and even space was a new and inviting frontier. But for those down at sea level, a world of ocean discovery was forever opened by the rise of scuba diving. This exciting pursuit was now affordable and available to almost anybody and, as the world’s waters opened for business and play, the Omega Seamaster prepared to join the action.

The choice of explorers

The starting point for this new ocean trajectory was the Seamaster 300, part of Omega’s “professional” trilogy released in 1957 (along with the inaugural Speedmaster and Railmaster designs). The 300’s easy-to-read display, including broad arrow hands and sharp-tipped indexes on a jet-black dial, was the first visible advantage. But the true magic lay in the model’s exceptional water-resistance, which was indicated by the neat “Naiad” star that was set within the logo on the crown.

The first Seamaster 300 and its subsequent editions quickly became the choice of many of the world’s most famous explorers and divers. Even Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team relied on it during their Precontinent II experiments in the Red Sea in the summer of 1963 to prove that divers could live in a submerged saturated gas environment for long periods without adverse effects. The Seamaster 300 would also go on to be the watch of choice of military divers around the world, including the British Special Boat Service among others.

[READ_MORE]

As the years rolled on, the ‘race to the deep’ gathered pace and the importance placed on scientific discovery became more prominent than ever. John F. Kennedy was known for his bold promise to send man to the Moon. Yet at the very same time, he also said, “knowledge of the oceans is more than a matter of curiosity. Our very survival may hinge upon it.”-- In the decades that followed Kennedy’s speech, huge investments were made that forever changed our understanding of the ocean and the way it affects climate, weather and planetary chemistry. To get down there, organisations such as COMEX created entire experimentation centres to help solve the problems that occurred when diving at great depths. But could any watch handle the increasing pressures that were now being reached?

By downloading the above image, I confirm that I have read and accept the Terms of Use for image downloads.

Once again, Omega rose (or is that descended?) to the challenge. In 1970, the iconic and unconventional Seamaster Ploprof was launched. To combat the oceans’ physical forces and to maximise water-resistance, the angled monocoque case housed a system of over-compressed gaskets, which guaranteed an exceptional performance. The square crown, which was entirely sunken within the case and protected by a large locking nut, was positioned at 9 o’clock to provide easier wrist movement and prevent accidental knocks.

As well as water, the “Ploprof” also found a way to repel another troublesome intruder. During decompression, commercial divers can spend hours inside diving bells while breathing gases that contain tiny atoms of helium. Small but mighty, these atoms can infiltrate the diver’s watch and cause it to explode when the decompression stops. Unlike most watches that are fitted with helium escape valves, the ingenious design of the “Ploprof” prevented helium from entering the watch in the first place. By doing this, the precision could never be affected by gas.

[READ_MORE]

More significant Seamaster diving models followed, all with unique design attributes that would cement the collection’s reputation for ocean excellence. The Seamaster 1000, for example, was the most water-resistant model ever manufactured by Omega until 2009. The Seamaster “Big Blue”, released in 1972, was the first divers’ chronograph that was water-resistant to 120m/400ft. And the Seamaster 200 SHOM of 1979 was nicknamed by collectors for its choice within the French Marine Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service (SHOM), who selected the model for their work producing official maps and charts for divers at sea. For Omega, however, the Seamaster still had an important role to play on land. After all, the original models of the 1940s and 50s had been more about business suits and tuxedos than wetsuits. Remaining true to that traditional spirit, Omega extended its Seamaster collection in the 1960s and 70s to include an exuberant series of dress watches that were perfect for big cities and long lunches. Inspired by the fashions and tastes of the “Swinging Sixties” and beyond, these bold models introduced a bright new palette of colour, including blues, reds, oranges and browns, as well as a diverse assortment of new proportions and personalities. On the one hand, you could find the streamlined beauty of a “Pilot Line” case, while on the other hand, you might find an octagonal colossus like the “Hard Metal” chronograph of 1971, or the quirky configuration of the 1970 “Bullhead”. Looking at those Seamasters today, it’s hard to believe that they all belong to just one collection. Each piece was defined by its own unique character and certainly represented the ‘individual expression’ that was happening within society at the time.

Equally important to mention, is the introduction of new materials during this era. The Seamaster has always been a collection to welcome experimental designs and pioneering features. So, it was no surprise to see the emergence of titanium and tungsten, two metals that offered both aesthetic and functional qualities.

Rebirth of horology

When the 1980s arrived, the Seamaster, along with the entire Swiss watch industry, experienced a somewhat turbulent upheaval. Coincidentally, this decade is always remembered for its provocative eruptions within politics, music, technology and fashion. But it should be remembered that horology was also experiencing its own cataclysmic event. The past decade had witnessed a rise in quartz watches from Japan, as well as a severe economic recession. The combination was a perfect storm that blew into the 1980s and threatened to sink the Swiss watch brands into obscurity. As the popularity of mechanical watches took a significant hit, the industry needed to respond – and fast. Thankfully, as history famously tells, many of the threatened Swiss brands responded by joining forces and consolidating their watchmaking expertise as one large group. With this foresight and restructuring, the industry managed to stabilise itself and keep its head above water.

[READ_MORE]

Part of Omega’s recovery was the launch of its own quartz models, including a range of Seamasters that fulfilled customer demand for futuristic and affordable precision – rather than traditional values. As you might expect, however, these Seamaster creations did not simply follow on trend. They found their own way to remain unique and innovative. Once again, the collection introduced captivating materials such as sleek ceramic and titanium carbide, as seen in the visionary Seamaster “Black Tulip” of 1982, as well as pioneering technologies that allowed the seamless blending of different materials perfectly illustrated by the Polaris Chronograph of 1986. In many of the Seamasters of this decade, in fact, you can still find manifold prominent indications of the collection’s enthusiasm to be different.

The next 20 years can be described as something of a revolution for both Omega and its Seamaster collection. The 1990s brought about massive changes and developments that not only inspired design, but also propelled the brand into the entertainment spotlight in a dynamic new way.

Perhaps the most significant moment came in 1993, when the very first Seamaster Diver 300M models appeared on the market. The release signalled a truly triumphant return to the world of diving watches for Omega and proved that the brand’s ingenuity was just as strong as ever. The chronograph model was proclaimed *Watch of the Year 1994* in *Armbanuhren* – the first such award given by the German watch magazine – and was praised for its outward design, which included a wavy dial, an integrated bracelet of titanium, tantalum and red gold, as well as incredible underwater technology that included pushers that could function even at a pressurised depth of 300m/1,000ft.

Notably, the Seamaster Diver 300M coincided with Omega’s revitalised marketing and partnerships of the 1990s. The brand was forming new relationships in sports such as motor racing and sailing and was stamping its fashion credentials through a growing family of brand ambassadors that included supermodel Cindy Crawford. A feeling of optimism and progression was rippling throughout Omega, bringing it into the modern era with fervent vision.

By downloading the above image, I confirm that I have read and accept the Terms of Use for image downloads.

Watches that inspire

Then in 1995, the Seamaster acquired its most famous wearer of all. When James Bond returned to cinema screens in GoldenEye, his blue Seamaster Diver 300M was unmissable beneath his cuff. The spy’s choice had come from the film’s costume designer Lindy Hemming, who felt that a Seamaster was the most appropriate watch for a naval Commander to wear. Clearly, Hemming had paid close attention to Omega’s military heritage, from which the Seamaster had originally been born.

This was a moment that would cement the Seamaster’s fame forever. In every 007 film since 1995, James Bond and his Seamaster have been inseparable. More often than not, the watch has played a life-saving role, with explosive features that, understandably, have not been integrated into the designs for the general public. Yet the Bond association has given the Seamaster an additional legacy that has truly resonated with fans.

[READ_MORE]

In the years that followed the launch of the Diver 300M, the Seamaster held nothing back. In fact, the early 2000s saw the release of many models that are now considered modern classics. First came the Aqua Terra of 2002. Touching upon the Seamaster’s earliest days of sporty sophistication, the minimalist approach to this timepiece recalled the clean design of the original Seamaster 300, showing that Omega was able to take its valued history and completely update it for a modern world.

Inspiration from the past was also evident in the very first Seamaster Planet Ocean, released in 2005. It also took many of its design attributes from the Seamaster 300, but had one unique element that would stand it apart from all other Seamasters, and indeed all other watches in the world: The Co-Axial escapement. This ingenious idea was invented by the British watchmaker George Daniels and its debut appearance in the Planet Ocean’s calibre 2500 set Omega on a course to unbelievable realms of precision and performance.

Co-Axial movements weren’t the only Seamaster draw cards of the new millennium. Omega was also passionately driving the collection forward with ocean-inspired models, including regatta designs for yachtsmen as well as watches for the bravest free divers. Just like the very earliest years of the Seamaster’s birth, Omega was creating models with style and sportiness in mind.

For its first 70 years, the Omega Seamaster has continued to evolve, offering an outward style and mechanical excellence that has earned trust and admiration all over the world. One of its greatest strengths has been its ability to grow. Indeed, when you look through the windows of an Omega boutique today, you can witness the culmination of its incredible journey so far. In the latest models, Omega has retained all the experimental and aesthetic aspects that came before, but has drastically enhanced them through industry-leading materials, movements and technology. From state-of-the-art ceramic creations such as the “Deep Black”, through to Aqua Terra models with Master Chronometer certification (the industry’s highest standard of precision, performance and magnetic-resistance), the Seamaster now embodies the very best that Omega has to offer.

In essence, the collection has achieved the perfect balance between luxury and function. It is a triumph in watchmaking art and the proven choice for millions of customers, collectors, explorers, athletes and one particularly famous spy. Every fan has their favourite. Every model has its own spirit. Today, we are able to look back through the pages of the Seamaster’s impressive journey so far, and at the same time, eagerly imagine what is yet to come.