Omega Planet Ocean
Omega's Planet Ocean is something of a staple of the brand's line-up, and it feels like it's been around for ever—but that's not that case. The year before it appeared on the wrist of James Bond in 2006's Casino Royale was the year it first appeared at all, and that realisation comes of something as a surprise.
Watch our video review of the Omega Planet Ocean
So how is it that the Planet Ocean has made us feel like it belongs so well in Omega's line-up despite its relatively young age? Especially when the likes of Patek Philippe's Aquanaut still hasn't been fully accepted by enthusiasts and yet has been around since 1997, almost a decade longer? To answer that question, we need to take a little history lesson.
Early Omega watches were conservative, functional things, with slim cases and bare dials, designed simply to tell the time and tell it well. That was just the way of things; as the wrist watch emerged from the grave of its larger pocket-based cousin, the ability to have as small and discreet a profile as possible was something of a novelty.
That all changed in the 50s when Blancpain developed a thick, chunky watch to cater for a brand new type of vocation: scuba diving. The 1945 invention of the Aqua-lung had made such radical steps forward in deep sea diving, offering longer, deeper dives at a much-reduced cost, that it sparked a secondary revolution within the watch industry.
Rolex followed closely behind Blancpain with the Submariner, and so did a wealth of other brands, cracking water resistance depths a hundred metres at a time. Omega belatedly joined the fray in 1957 with the Seamaster 300, a sporty departure from the demure watches previous, and the beginnings of a vicious rivalry between Rolex and Omega to create the ultimate dive watch.
From past to present: Seamaster 300 to Planet Ocean
So, did the Seamaster 300 lead on to the Planet Ocean? Well, no. In 1970, the Seamaster 300 was discontinued. Then came the angular era of Omega, and then the slow, painful decline of the brand, following the wave of cheap quartz watches flooding the market, which ultimately ended in insolvency.
It seemed like Omega was done, but salvation came in 1985 from an unlikely source: Swatch. That's right—the very same brand that had helped to bring traditional watchmaking to its knees bought a struggling Omega. And they bought Blancpain. And Breguet. In fact, Swatch bought over a dozen watch brands that had succumbed to the onslaught of quartz.
What emerged was a new Seamaster, the Seamaster Professional, in 1993. Two years later, and an inspired partnership was formed when Pierce Brosnan wore the Professional in Goldeneye. And, as you can see, it looks nothing like either the original Seamaster 300 or the Planet Ocean.
Keen to address that in the traditionally plodding Swiss way, Omega released another watch a decade after the Professional to continue the heritage of the 300. Nope, that still wasn't the Planet Ocean—it was the Aqua Terra. The similarities between it and the Planet Ocean are striking, albeit with a smarter touch. The 300's lineage had ended up pigeonholed into the eveningwear corner of the Seamaster range.
Conceding that the Aqua Terra was not really a fair or fitting direction for a watch with so much heritage, Omega took the next two years to develop a modern version of the 300, and in 2005, the Planet Ocean was finally released. Available as either 42 or 45.5mm, a step up in size from the norm much as the original 300 had been, the Planet Ocean was simultaneously a big, bold, breath of fresh air and a comfortingly familiar sight.
The influence of the Seamaster 300 on the Planet Ocean
Against the Seamaster 300 you'll begin to see the similarities between the Planet Ocean and its forefather. Look at them together and you'll notice details carried through like the broadarrow hands, the matte dial, the bezel styling, the markings and numbers. The Planet Ocean's case even mirrors that of the 1964 Seamaster 300.
But it's not enough to rely on heritage to sell watches. Even Rolex knows that. So, four years later, Omega sat back down at the drawing board and came up with a new look for the brand. No prizes for guessing which model they chose to debut this brand facelift on.
2009's transitional 'World Premiere' limited edition Planet Ocean polished up the range both literally and figuratively, with the older matte dial making way for gloss, and the satin aluminium bezel insert being swapped out for ceramic.
The Planet Ocean gets a facelift in 2009
With ceramic already being old news thanks to Rolex's swap to bezel inserts made of the scratch-resistant stuff four years prior—beating Omega to the punch again—Omega needed something different, something special. And they got that, courtesy of CalTech researchers, in the form of Liquidmetal.
You may have heard of Liquidmetal before and been confused by it, and that's understandable. I don't think anyone has done a particularly good job of explaining what it is and why it's impressive, so I'll give it a go:
Metal is typically processed in one of two different ways—casting or machining. Casting is cheap and good for volume production, however it results in a poor finish that needs further work, has low tolerances when it comes to detail and often requires weaker alloys. Machining produces highly precise results and is very strong, but comes at a cost of both money and time.
Liquidmetal combines the positives of both while removing the negatives. The benefits come from the zirconium-based alloy itself, which offers high strength and corrosion resistance, but also the ability to be formed in a similar fashion to plastic. This is because it melts in a linear way, becoming softer as heat is applied, rather than suddenly turning from a solid into a liquid like most metals.
This means that intricate moulds can be pressure filled with Liquidmetal to very high tolerances, with the results maintaining the strength and corrosion benefits of traditionally milled metals. Omega chose to use Liquidmetal to fill the laser-etched number cutouts in its ceramic bezels—simply by squishing the stuff in. The result is a flawless combination of ceramic and metal that looks far superior to paint-filled equivalents.
The Planet Ocean gained in-house movements
In-house movements arrived next, adding a greater power reserve, a silicon escape wheel and, unfortunately, a few millimetres of extra thickness—not that the Planet Ocean has ever been a slender watch. The result is an overall marked improvement in the quality of the Planet Ocean that feels as polished as anything from Rolex—for a much cheaper price.
It seems then that, although it took thirty-five years for Omega to realise the Planet Ocean, it's belated creation was worth the wait. This is no die-hard purists' watch, that's for sure, but it captures much of the original essence of the brand's first proper divers' watch. While the original Planet Ocean sticks closer to the vintage 300, the newer one adopts high tech materials and techniques, which is of course why the 300 was created in the first place. With that in mind, it doesn't take much to understand why the Planet Ocean has become such a firm favourite in the Omega line-up. Patek Philippe, take note.
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