Omega Seamaster 300M 2018
It’s no secret that Omega has been chasing Rolex’s success for near on half a century. It must be galling for the head honchos at the Swatch Group to see the five-pronged crown take all the glory with such ease, especially since, back when Rolex was just a notion in the mind of young German Hans Wilsdorf, Omega was the force to be reckoned with. But those halcyon days at the turn of the 20th century were not to last for Omega, its dominance a withered husk by the dawn of the next. But the fight’s not over, not yet, thanks to this: the 2018 Seamaster 300M.
What happened to Omega? This is a brand that used to win award after award for its supreme quality and accuracy, a brand that would have paid a young upstart like Rolex no mind whatsoever. As always, the turn of the tables was brought about by the introduction of electrification to watchmaking, with Omega, ever eager to keep its edges cut, jumping on board like a hobo on a railroad car.
Omega really went to town with its electric watches, and many of them were actually rather good, but when the general public realised it could get the same accuracy from a Japanese watch a tenth of price—well the inevitable happened, and it’s been an uphill struggle ever since.
It’s perhaps not understood just how close Omega came to disappearing completely, along with many other watchmakers of its time, but it was saved at the eleventh hour by a bit of product placement in a movie you just might have heard of: Goldeneye. This, Pierce Brosnan’s post-Mrs Doubtfire interpretation of James Bond, was an opportunity to relaunch Omega, and for that the brand needed something new: the Seamaster Professional 300M.
The name may have been historical, but the watch itself wasn’t, a new platform for a modern audience with a few details, like the lyre lugs, thrown in as a nod to the Omega of yore. And it wasn’t the first time the Seamaster had been completely reinvented, with the 1957 Seamaster 300 setting a precedent for remodelling the line—so you could say that starting over is actually true to the brand.
The Professional 300M was by all accounts a success—except for the fact that the gap to Rolex wasn’t closing. Omega still offered quartz, had outdated features like anodised aluminium bezels, and used bought-in movement for its automatic variants. Rolex, on the other hand, had in-house movements, had switched to glossy ceramic parts and generally offered a product that sat a tier higher.
Omega responded with a version of the Seamaster Professional that had both a ceramic bezel and dial, which coupled with a step up in fit-and-finish took it closer to the Rolex, but it still lacked the in-house movements that had started appearing elsewhere in its line-up. Hence this—the ceramic, in-house 2018 Seamaster Professional 300M.
This time, Omega is bringing the big guns to Rolex’s Submariner, and it starts with what’s inside, the METAS-approved Calibre 8800. What’s METAS-approved, I assume you’re wondering—well, let me tell you. You know how Rolex certifies its own movements as chronometer rated? Now Omega does too. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not—I suppose it’s more likely to demonstrate a commitment to accuracy rather than an opportunity to cheat the system.
Back to the calibre 8800—this is a new one for Omega, and is packed with features. You’ve got the free-sprung balance and balance spring in silicon for protection against magnetism, a 55-hour power reserve, an odd 25,200 vph beat—that’s seven beats per second rather than the usual eight—the Daniels-developed lubrication-free Co-Axial escapement—of course—and rather pleasantly, a sapphire case back to admire it all from.
A by-product of this new movement, however, is an extra millimetre in the diameter of the watch, taking it up to 42mm—that’s 2mm more than the Submariner—plus a little extra thickness. That might be a deal-breaker for you, or maybe a bonus—either way, it’s happened.
Something else that’s happened is the return of the dial waves, a surprisingly subtle addition that harks back to the original Professional and was omitted in the previous ceramic model. The waves are cut by laser, which is appropriate given the watch’s James Bond associations, snaking up and down like a wriggling Sean Connery trying to avoid dastardly castration.
The helium escape valve has also been tinkered with, not just so it’s now conical, but also so it can be operated underwater. These valves are used to allow helium to exit the case during decompression in a decompression chamber, so why it needs to be used underwater, I’m quite not sure. If the chamber’s filling with water, saving your watch will be the last thing on your mind. Maybe you have some thoughts on it.
But the really impressive thing here isn’t something that can be written down as a line in the spec sheet—it’s the build quality, the attention to detail. Each luminous marker is perfectly domed, every delineation between finishes crisply defined. The date window is balanced at 6 o’clock and inverted to blend with the dial. The ceramic elements, available in seven different colour combinations, are deeply polished and shift in saturation under moving light. Even the bezel text, in white enamel, is crisp and bright.
On paper, it sits side-by-side with the Submariner, trading blows with no real winner emerging. But there’s one more titbit left to ponder, and that’s the price. Rolex would kindly ask you for £6,550 to relieve them of a Submariner Date—Omega, on the other hand, want just £3,520—£3,600 if you want a bracelet instead—and you don’t need me to tell you that that’s a big difference.
If there’s one thing to be learned from an ongoing interest in mechanical watches, it’s that logic doesn’t have much of a part to play in any of it. If you want a Rolex, you want a Rolex, and that, quite frankly, is the end of it. However, if the Seamaster has always held an appeal for you, but just never quite hit the mark, then perhaps now it’s time to reassess your position. It may have taken Omega many, many decades to catch up, but it seems at last that it’s finally stopped bringing a knife to a gunfight.
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