View all articles

Review: Omega Seamaster Chronograph

If you’re wondering, “Why does this guy talk about Rolex so much?”, I’ll tell you. The presence of Rolex outweighs that of Omega, TAG Heuer and Breitling combined. It is the one brand you can be guaranteed to hear if you asked a stranger on the street to name a luxury watch. It’s not just synonymous with the luxury watch, it is the luxury watch, and all other brands seek to emulate it. Whether that’s deemed fair from a historical, technological or qualitative standpoint doesn’t really matter. Rolex is the benchmark, and this Omega Seamaster Chronograph aims to knock it off the top spot. Can it even come close?

Rolex hasn’t always been the most popular watchmaker, and it’s very likely that it won’t remain so forever. It’s also not the best watchmaker either, whichever way you slice it; there are brands providing more for less, and not by a small margin either. What you’re looking at when you study the current Daytona 116500LN is the evolution of not just technology, industry and style, but also luck.

There’s a lot Rolex did to deserve this top spot, but that doesn’t stop there being a lot of good fortune in there as well. Ultimately what this means is that the £10,500 price is, frankly, a bit of a rip-off, especially when considering how much less the previous generation cost not ten years or so ago. There’s inflation of course, but come on—people really want Daytonas and the prices have adjusted accordingly.

But it just doesn’t make sense in any rational way of thinking: the Daytona is expensive and hard-to-get because it is desirable, and is desirable because it is expensive and hard-to-get. Never mind the chicken and the egg, we need to reanimate Darwin and get him to figure out just how all this happened.

Do you remember when ordinary people wore Daytonas? When the chronograph that is now a better place to put money than actual gold was a watch you could go to your jewellers and buy? The Omega Seamaster Chronograph remembers, and it’s with wistful eyes that it remembers, sat in the jeweller’s window, hoping someone will come and claim it for their very own.

The Daytona is Rolex’s most sought-after watch

The Daytona is Rolex’s most sought-after watch

You don’t hear of Seamasters being squirrelled away in the back safe for the best customers, warranty cards held back to prevent resale—yet the Omega Seamaster Chronograph is decidedly the better watch of the two. Before we explain why that is, let’s explore why that doesn’t really matter.

Take a moment to have a think to yourself about how the average human being would picture a watch collector. The word “collector” is already painting them in a bad light—people who collect things are often stereotyped as nerdy, boring dataloggers of pointless factoids who don’t step outside for fear of the sun and other people. Stick the word “watch” at the front and now you’ve just made it ten times worse.

Stick dials, dot over ninety, metres first—there’s a group of people who enjoy disseminating the finer differences between the stock batches of various suppliers throughout the decades, who take pleasure in recounting every last change that’s ever been made to a model line, and good for them. For everyone else, however, and by that I mean the bulk of people who actually part with their hard-earned to buy a luxury watch, this is an incredibly steep and incredibly pedantic learning curve. If there’s a middle ground, it’s pretty scant. Even the headline stats such as water resistance, power reserve and bezel type over which these two trade blows are of little to no significance to the average buyer. Even the chronograph itself is, really, just for looks.

So why would any of these typical buyers care to go to the efforts to figure out if the Seamaster Chronograph is better than the Daytona? It’s not like they can just watch an episode of Top Gear about it. They either go with the flow, listen to their gut—or get sucked into a confusing world of minutiae, never to be seen again. It would be nice—and an honour, it really would—to help change that. So, with that being said, let’s see why this Omega presents a good reason not to buy the Rolex.

The Omega Seamaster line was first launched in 1948

The Omega Seamaster line was first launched in 1948

If you’re smitten with the proportions of the ceramic Daytona—and despite its sporting intentions, its 40mm case wears surprisingly thin—walk away now. The Omega is big. Not big, big. Sporting a 44mm case that pounds the ground at a whopping 17mm thick, it makes no bones about its intentions: rugged luxury. It is a watch that’s competing with a G-Shock for durability and Farrow & Ball for that, “Mmmm, that’s nice” factor, a strange combo that doesn’t really make any practical sense if you think too hard about it.

This Seamaster Chronograph is recently new because the latest Seamaster is also recently new, and so of course it inherits the traits of its older brother; namely the laser cut waves in the ceramic dial, bright white enamelled markers on the ceramic bezel and a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup for the helium escape valve. The dial especially is a marked step up in attention to detail from the old model, and a significant differentiator from the otherwise plain Daytona.

Some might call it fussy, but since the Rolex already has the market cornered for sleek and simple, Omega really did need to try something new. And when I say new, I mean old, because the Seamaster before the last also had waves on the dial, albeit on a metal canvas and not ceramic. I guess it’s taken this long to figure out how to combine the two. Whether it was worth it is down to you.

Nevertheless, the whole ensemble oozes quality in the kind of way that might actually make your average watch buyer think twice about parting ways with the ten large needed for a Daytona—assuming they even get the opportunity to buy one, which these days is about as likely as 2020 apologising for what it’s done and turning its life around. Omega has always been about the extra detail, from the complex curves twisting through the case, to the geometric scallops whittled from the bezel; where the Rolex looks like a child’s drawing of a watch, the Omega is something altogether more mature. Again, whether that’s a good is thing is down to you; there is no right or wrong.

The Omega Seamaster found fame through its association with fictitious spy James Bond

The Omega Seamaster found fame through its association with fictitious spy James Bond

But where the new Seamaster Chronograph differentiates itself most, not just from the Daytona but from the outgoing Seamaster Chronograph as well, can be seen both front and rear—and that’s with the new movement. Twin sub-dials rather than a trio indicate that this watch adopted the Planet Ocean’s calibre 9900, a movement that explains exactly why the Seamaster Chronograph got so big. Think of the calibre 9900 like a full-size gazelle and the Seamaster Chronograph like the overambitious snake that ate it.

Why the calibre is quite so big isn’t entirely clear—yes it has a date in addition to the Daytona’s hidden calibre 4130, 15,000 Gauss anti-magnetism, Co-Axial escapement, twin barrels, a titanium balance with silicon balance spring and a twin-hand chronograph sub-dial—but there’s that cliff-like learning curve again, stuff that’s too intense even for a good pub brag. Trying telling a non-watch person that your watch has a silicon balance spring and—well, I’m sure you can already picture the blankness of their expression.

So yes, the Omega is mostly better equipped, arguably better styled, has better provenance, is better finished, too, and is even better priced—over £4,000 cheaper than the fictitious RRP of the Daytona—so you might be wondering, why wouldn’t you buy one over the Rolex? Well, I suppose it doesn’t work like that. This is rugged luxury remember, it doesn’t have to make sense. For most people, they choose based on the warm fuzzies, not the crisp matter-of-factness of a stat sheet. There’s no denying the appeal of a crowd-pleaser, and this is just something that, right now, the Omega simply cannot muster.

Looking for an Omega watch? Click here to shop now

Looking for a Rolex watch? Click here to shop now