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Feature: Rolex Yacht-Master vs Omega Seamaster

The king of the mid-to-high-end luxury sports watch is currently the Rolex Yacht-Master, and for good reason—its blend of tactile function and svelte form has placed it in a class of one. That is until now, because Omega has quietly done something unexpected that seems to have turned the tables completely.

It took a long while for Rolex’s Yacht-Master to earn its place as the go-to luxury sports watch. A market previously dominated by giants like the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus, the Yacht-Master surprisingly entered this niche as the budget option—not a word we’d tend to use with Rolex today.

But it was; in 1992 when the Yacht-Master first arrived on the scene, resplendent in gold with a white dial and black, gold-rimmed markers, it comfortably undercut any precious metal offering by big guns Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. The follow-up steel version did so again, easily half the cost of the Royal Oak and Nautilus in steel.

The Yacht-Master didn’t really hit the mark, however. Perhaps this kind of watch was exclusively bought by the kind of person who wanted the top-of-the-line model from the top-of-line-brand; perhaps the association of Rolex and luxury rather than functionality was just not quite strong enough at that time. It was as late as the eighties that Rolex started to be considered a true luxury brand, and the Yacht-Master, especially being such a similar-looking piece to the Submariner, was perhaps a step too far, too soon.

Rumour has it that the Yacht-Master was to be the Submariner’s replacement, an active decision to move the brand fully into luxury, but that decision was revoked at the eleventh hour and the watch released as a side-line. And there it stayed for the longest time; even in steel with a platinum dial and bezel and at prices that seemed bargainous compared to the all-steel Submariner, Yacht-Masters didn’t move. Even the introduction of the larger, more complex Yacht-Master II could do nothing to change the model line’s reputation. If anything, it made it worse.

The Rolex Yacht-Master was first introduced in 1992

The Rolex Yacht-Master was first introduced in 1992

It wasn’t until the hype for Rolex really kicked off in the 2010s that the Yacht-Master finally found its calling. A new sunburst blue dial turned attention back to the stagnated collection, but this time the feeling was different. This time the public’s perception had shifted enough that this watch was met with praise rather than derision. A rose gold model followed, equipped with a rubber strap and black ceramic bezel, and that was that. Rolex had officially been accepted into the luxury sports watch domain.

Now you’re just as likely to see a yacht-faring Monegasque wearing a Yacht-Master as you would a Royal Oak, and in 2019 Rolex went one step further, going head-to-head with Audemars Piguet’s bread and butter, the Royal Oak Offshore, with this, the Yacht-Master 42 226659 in white gold and black ceramic. Inflated to 42mm, like the Royal Oak Offshore, and decked out with a sporty rubber strap, again like the Offshore, this is Rolex telling us that it’s ready to climb a rung on the luxury watch hierarchy. Thing is, Rolex isn’t the only brand doing that. Thanks to Omega and its Seamaster in black ceramic, it needs to be sure to look backwards as much as it does forwards.

This new Omega doesn’t get a fancy name or a big fanfare—much like Rolex in 1992 with its first Yacht-Master, this new Seamaster has gone quietly under the radar. At first it seems like a conundrum, an oddball watch that doesn’t know what it wants to be; at £6,500, it’s some £2,500 more expensive than the standard Seamaster, yet it’s not dressed in the same decadent materials as the Yacht-Master either.

The Omega Seamaster range starts at £4,000

The Omega Seamaster range starts at £4,000

But there’s a clue buried in the specification of this watch that leads us to the true meaning of its existence: the diameter. At 43.5mm, a millimetre-and-a-half over the standard Seamaster, it’s not just bigger than its own brethren—it’s bigger than the Yacht-Master 42 as well.

As brazen as Omega is to be competing with Rolex in this arena, the company isn’t being overly optimistic. Instead of shaping this oversized Seamaster in gold or platinum, which would have made it expensive to the point of ridiculousness, it’s trying a different tack. Back when the Yacht-Master first came out, a luxury watch was made in gold. But material tech has come a long way in recent years, and now you’ll often find even ultra-luxury watches adopting something a bit more exotic.

Omega’s got pretty handy with ceramics over the last decade, going from your basic bezel all the way through to dials, clasps, crowns, pushers—and even cases. That’s what they’ve gone with here, combined with titanium to make the details pop. On the black strap with the laser-etched black ceramic dial, this watch makes the Yacht-Master 42 start to look rather pedestrian, more at home alongside one of Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Offshores than anything from the five-pointed crown.

The co-axial escapement was invented by British watchmaker George Daniels in 1974

The co-axial escapement was invented by British watchmaker George Daniels in 1974

The other thing that’s changed since the Yacht-Master first dared to show itself is the appreciation for what’s going on inside. The open case back is a fairly recent tradition, something that the Omega has once again trumped Rolex’s Yacht-Master on. The calibre 8806 in this Seamaster doesn’t offer Audemars Piguet levels of finishing, but it’s nicely decorated, nicely spec’d, carries the theme with the black balance wheel—and you can actually see it. If the aesthetics of your watch are important to you—and with a luxury sports watch, that’s likely to be pretty high on the list—it’s an easy win for Omega.

When you factor in the three-and-a-half times price difference, the Omega really looks like the better option. Although it’s unlikely that someone with £23,100 to spend will consider the Omega, perhaps someone stretching to reach the lower end of the Yacht-Master scale—still some £3,000 more than the Omega—will switch sides, save themselves some cash, and get this ceramic Seamaster instead. It’s a tempting proposition for a watch that sits very comfortably alongside much pricier alternatives. Maybe it’s Omega’s time to shine?

Just like Rolex’s 1992 Yacht-Master, this Omega Seamaster in titanium and ceramic is a wild speculation from Omega. Asking your core audience to pay several thousand pounds more for a very similar watch is brazen—but asking a potential Rolex customer to pay between three and sixteen thousand pounds less starts to sound more sensible. Will it work? It remains to be seen. One thing’s clear, however: Omega’s got the bit between its teeth, and it’s not going to stop anytime soon.

Looking for a Rolex watch? Click here to shop now

Looking for an Omega watch? Click here to shop now