Review: Rolex DateJust vs Omega Globemaster
Two watch brands: one is founded half a century before the other, repeatedly obliterates accuracy competitions with clean sweeps and unbroken records, is selected by numerous global institutions to provide timekeeping—and the other is Rolex. With the five-pointed crown’s domination in this present era of watchmaking, it’s hard to believe that Rolex is, really, the new kid in town. Is it starting to show?
The changing fortunes of young upstart Rolex over its century of operations is truly something to behold, building a brand with such tenacity that it has managed to eclipse the giants of old at their own game. The brand with 50 years on Rolex, with six wins in the 1931 observatory trials, that holds the highest accuracy score ever achieved, was the most prolific manufacturer of chronometer-rated watches for over a decade, has been selected by the Olympic Committee and NASA as official timekeeper, is, as you’re probably aware, Omega.
Rolex has achieved some good stuff in its time, filling in niches, refining and combining existing ideas—it’s been said before that Rolex is like the Apple of watchmaking, never at the forefront of technology and innovation, but able to produce and present what’s already there to new markets in a way that unifies it with great success.
The wristwatch, for example, was one of Rolex’s earliest niche market investments, when the style was considered feminine; Rolex didn’t invent the wristwatch, but it was a key player in giving it credibility and desirability, fitting them with quality movements and hoovering up accuracy records that had never been attempted with a wristwatch before. Remember when Apple announced the iPad? The reaction was almost universally derisive, and the same was true when Rolex brought its wristwatches to market. Now, both are ubiquitous.
Or the dive watch, the halo of Rolex’s collection: all the technology to make a waterproof wristwatch already existed, but it was Rolex that pulled all the best bits together to create something complete and truly make the technology viable. Sometimes these opportunities presented themselves as a look at the bigger picture, and sometimes through straightforward, arrogant neglect.
The perpetual calendar, for example, had existed in pocket watches—and even in wristwatches—long before Rolex presented the first self-changing date in 1945. It simply hadn’t occurred to any watchmaker capable of manufacturing a perpetual calendar that perhaps people might want just the date. This is the kind of straightforward thinking that made Rolex.
So, how does Rolex, the Kickstarter equivalent everyman’s watch, beat out Omega, an industry leader, to become one of the most valuable brand commodities in the world today? It was the same youthful energy and flexibility that helped Rolex crack the market in first place that allowed it to bend with it when it changed so dramatically as quartz technology took over.
What it’s important to understand is that Omega had, from the start, been all about making precision movements. The brand was originally called La Generale Watch Co., and in developing a new, precise and easy-to-service movement—which it called the Omega calibre, as in the calibre to end all calibres—Omega itself was born. Precision was the company’s mantra, its focus, and when quartz pulled the rug out from under its feet, poor old Omega simply had nowhere to go.
So, whilst Omega tried desperately to maintain its modern, cutting-edge reputation, dabbling in an abundance of electronic technology, Rolex, which had cut its teeth looking for niches, trialling new markets, taking existing products and ideas and pitching them in a new light, began to build on a growing nostalgia for proper, analogue, mechanical watches. It was simultaneously the salvation of Rolex and the near death of Omega.
You don’t have to hold a degree in the sciences to know that death is a tricky thing to come back from, and although Omega didn’t quite keel over and breathe its last like so many brands did through that tumultuous time, it had most definitely deteriorated to a shadow of its former self. It takes a long time to come back from death’s door.
Funnily enough, it was the very thing that had struck the near-fatal blow that helped Omega rehabilitate: quartz. The 1993 Seamaster Professional in quartz was the crutch Omega learned to walk with again, only giving it up in 2011 with its last batch of electronic tickers. It’s been slow, it’s been difficult, but recovery is finally in sight with the 2015 Constellation Globemaster.
The Globemaster isn’t some new imagining—it’s a call-back to the hallowed days of the accuracy competitions when Omega was king, the ‘Constellation’ name and the engraving on the back inspired by the observatories the trials were held at. How does the name ‘Globemaster’ fit into all this? Back then, ‘Constellation’ was already trademarked in America, so the watches forfeited it for ‘Globemaster’ and instead made do with a little star on the dial.
And the Globemaster isn’t just a pretty face; the calibre 8900/01 is chronometer certified—as the Constellation was back in its heyday—but this time by no less than two independent bodies, METAS and COSC. There’s also a 60-hour power reserve from twin barrels, a silicon balance spring, magnetic resistance to 15,000 gauss, all in a sensibly proportioned case at 39 by 12.53mm. There’s even an independently adjustable hour hand for easy travel.
How does it measure up to the Rolex? This Datejust II has the chronometer-certified calibre 3135, which has been in active service since 1988, and has a 48-hour power reserve, and the Parachrom Bleu antimagnetic and shock resistant hairspring. It has since been superseded by the Datejust 41’s 3235, which boosts power reserve to 70-hours, so its nip and tuck between the two brands.
The biggest difference between the pair is the price: Rolex is asking £6,950 for the latest and largest Datejust, whilst Omega wants only £5,040 for the Globemaster—£5,120 if you want the bracelet. Seems very reasonable from Omega, but the difference is that Rolex has been cooking up this recipe non-stop since 1945; it’s a familiar sight in its steel case with fluted bezel, white dial with luminous applied markers—and self-changing date, of course.
Omega has come a long way from those first feeble steps towards recovery, rebuilding its once great reputation for quality and accuracy, and for those who want to celebrate the brand as the giant it once was, the Globemaster is a hugely fitting tribute. Omega’s hiatus is a hit on the credibility of the Globemaster, however, regardless of its authenticity, so for everyone else, there’s the Rolex DateJust—at least, for now.
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