Feature: Omega Aqua Terra vs Rolex DateJust
If you’re making a run at the top spot, you’ve got to take on the alpha—and right now that’s Rolex’s DateJust. It’s been a long time coming, but Omega is finally ready to try and take its crown back from the young pretender, and it’s going to try with this, the Aqua Terra. It’s cheaper—but is it better?
The Rolex DateJust is credited with the scarcely believable accolade of introducing the self-changing date complication as late as 1945. It’s scarcely believable because mechanical watches were, relatively speaking, entering their twilight years at this point, before the post-1980s rebirth, and it had taken up until then, after many centuries of development, for someone to think of putting the date on one.
But that’s how it happened, and Rolex is credited with achieving it. It’s simple, yet effective, which pretty much sums up Rolex’s whole mantra. No fuss, no frills, just well-made, well-engineered watches.
Omega was a different kettle of fish back then. Originating some fifty-seven years before Rolex, it was a company that, at that point, focussed heavily on tradition, both in form and in function. The brand routinely won accuracy competitions, but not at the expense of aesthetics, taking great care in styling its watches with pride.
This pride was to be Omega’s downfall, however, stalling it in the race to bring a professional-grade dive watch to market, a problem compounded by the over-engineering of its follow-up extreme diver, and culminating in the loss of contract after contract to its rivals.
Rolex, with its no fuss, no frills approach, brought plain, effective simplicity to the market and beat out all the competition, who were held back by tradition and heritage and all the usual things that strangle innovation. Where Omega carefully fashioned cases and dials to be beautiful as well as functional, Rolex leaned on standardised parts with basic construction—and thus had an incredibly speedy turnaround on new releases.
Before Omega could react, quartz technology hit the scene, and while Rolex tried not to deviate too heavily from what its customers were already used to—a sensible cost-saving and marketing strategy—Omega went all-out, determined to prove it was still relevant, embracing change with open arms.
It did not go well. The affordability of quartz watches rendered Omega’s efforts massively uncompetitive, and while Rolex entered the realms of the luxury mechanical watch, Omega struggled to keep its head above water—and it’s been recovering ever since.
The resuscitation of Omega has been long and painstaking, not helped by Rolex’s continual growth and dominance. Even to this day, despite a very different world to the one it first made its name in, Rolex continues to keep things simple with a small selection of watches centred around a singular, recognisable aesthetic—you know where you stand with Rolex.
So, despite Omega’s history, despite its accolades, it’s been an uphill struggle to catch up. The brand suffers what so many do: a glut of models that vary wildly in design that struggle to generate a cohesive whole. It’s easy to get lost in the many variants of variants of variants until you just don’t know what you want anymore.
But, among the detritus, a few diamonds shine bright, and this Aqua Terra is one of them. At £4,000, it’s immediately £1,700 cheaper than the equivalent Rolex—enough to buy an Oris Divers Sixty-Five and change. You might think that this comes at the detriment of quality, but you’d be pleased to be wrong; Omega has given the Aqua Terra a level of fit and finish that keeps the DateJust extremely honest.
The calibre 8900 is a superb jumping off point because it offers so much specification. As well as being able to actually see it and it being very nicely finished, it’s also chronometer rated, anti-magnetic to 15,000 gauss, has a free sprung balance with silicon balance spring, twin barrels with a 60-hour power reserve and bi-directional winding.
And the watch is as well executed outside as it is inside, dressed with as many finishes as you can think of. Sunburst, grained, polished, bead blasted—you name it, it’s there. And the colour scheme, I expect you’ve noticed that, too. The rich blue, flashing from deep navy to a striking royal under light, gently contrasts against a mid-grey dial that pitches darker and lighter depending on the angle.
It's unusual to say the least, but distinctive, and by comparison the Rolex feels rather bland. Add to that a blue rubber strap with polished steel end links, stitching and a mock weave, and the Omega presents a lot of new ideas all in one watch.
But … is it too much? It’s hard to say in an instant, but could the layers upon layers of finishes, the textures and shapes and patterns, the curious contrast and colour all be fatiguing in the long run? Rolex has done so well by sticking with simplicity, while Omega has failed in the past by pushing too hard to demonstrate its capabilities. The whiff of familiarity in that respect is hard to ignore. The question is, will this time be any different?
It’s getting hard to ignore that Omega is making watches that have the potential to be class-leading; I know Rolex will certainly be taking note. This Aqua Terra is a bold attempt to give Rolex a bloody nose, a demonstration of the superiority Omega once had. Only time will tell if it can fulfil that promise.
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