Rolex is OMEGA’s alpha. Rolex has more money, prestige and fame than its crosstown rival. The OMEGA Aqua Terra will never receive the kudos heaped on the similarly-priced, “entry level” Rolex Explorer or Oyster Perpetual. So what? There are lots of reasons to put the Aqua Terra at the top of your luxury sports watch shopping list. But first . . .
Note: the OMEGA Seamaster Aqua Terra reviewed is not the latest gen (above). The “teak boat deck-inspired” dial stripes now run horizontally. OMEGA removed the water resistance wording from the dial, made the crown conical, added an orange second hand and moved the date window to 6 o’clock, paying tribute to Seamasters of yore. The Aqua Terra’s bracelet remains unchanged. It deserves some serious attention.
Seiko proves time and again that a good looking metal bracelet can feel like it was made for Chuck E. Cheese’s prize counter. On the other side of the spectrum, Rolex’s Oystersteel bracelets are the ne plus ultra of mass production Swiss wristwear – setting aside the fact that oysters are endangered and the OMEGA bracelet is better (than both oysters and the Rolex). The Aqua Terra’s combination of satin finish outer links and highly polished inner links is sexier than the Rollie’s.
Yes, Rolex makes bracelets with spizzarkle (e.g. the President, Jubilee and Pearlmaster). But they cater to the stunting and flossing needs of the nouveau riche. (You might say they’re tacky, but I couldn’t possibly comment.) The Aqua Terra’s two-toned stainless steel wristband is a piece of fine jewelry that lives on the border between glamor and elegance – in a modern house with an edge pool.
The bracelet’s last “link” is actually the case itself – creating the illusion that the bracelet flows under the dial. The narrow stainless steel bezel and small, shapely lugs do nothing to detract from this impression, and much to enhance it. They set the stage for the main event: the 41mm dial.
Does the barely there case and tiny minute markers make the dial seem enormous, or does the dial make the case seem small? Yes! The Aqua Terra looks all of its 41mm (38mm also available). It looks like a small pie plate. And that’s OK. Because old eyes. And because the dial balances the size of the triangle-shaped indices with the open space to create a harmonious whole. It’s bold without being brash. Badass with being bling.
The hands enhance already laudable legibility. The triangles at the end of the minutes and seconds hands are inverse to the triangles circumnavigating the dial, while the relatively stubby hour hand can’t be mistaken for anything else. Bonus! The hour hand sets independently from the minutes hand, enabling a rapid, satisfying date change.
There is a caveat. Reading the time in bright light isn’t so easy. A darker dial solves that problem, but the white dial is the one for horophiles who want their Aqua Terra to look all of a piece – the bracelet, case, dial, hands and indices harmonizing like a Welsh choir (assuming no one takes a leek).
Unlike the most recent OMEGA Bond watch, like a fabulous Ferrari, the Aqua Terra’s engine’s visible through a transparent cover. The Master Chronometer caliber 8900 automatic movement chugging away underneath is certified by both the Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute and the Federal Institute of Metrology.
Each OMEGA Aqua Terra passes more exams than a med school hopeful. The watch must get straight-A’s in eight in-house tests (majoring in magnetic resistance) – and do it at two different temperatures in six different positions (changed every 60 seconds) at 100 and 33 percent power reserve. And then it’s subjected to underwater pressure equivalent to 150m.
According to OMEGA, the Aqua Terra’s “not just for everyday use but for active sports such as golf and sailing.” (Who knew sailing was a contact sport?). So they subject random samples to a 5,000 G shock beating. An approved Aqua Terra keeps accurate time pretty much no matter what. That said, if you’re a born skeptic like me (i.e. Jewish), you can enter your watch’s serial number online to verify your timepiece’s bona fides.
The test are illuminating. The OMEGA Aqua Terra’s white Super-Luminova, not so much. As a lume loon, I find that a bit of a downer. Another cavil: the bracelet – whose praises I sang at top volume – doesn’t micro-adjust. A jeweler may have to add or subtract half links to find the perfect fit. OMEGA’s five-year warranty and endlessly helpful dealer network goes some way to easing the strain.
You can buy an Explorer or Oyster Perpetual instead of an Aqua Terra and no one will question your decision (except for the family member saving for college tuition). But the Aqua Terra is at least as good – if not better – in any technical sense. And it has just as much presence.
The symbol OMEGA stands for the last, best or final nature of something. Whether the Aqua Terra is that or not is your call. I made mine.
OMEGA Aqua Terra – $5700
[NB: model tested is the previous gen version. See para 2 for differences.]
Case: Stainless steel, transparent caseback and winding crown
Diameter: 41mm, 19 mm between the lugs
Crystal: Scratch-resistant sapphire crystal with anti‑reflective treatment on both sides
Bracelet: brushed and high-polished stainless steel
Clasp: fold-over pushbutton deployment
Movement: OMEGA C-Axial caliber 8900
Accuracy: -1/+6 per day
Functions: Center hour, minute and seconds (independent hour setting, hacking seconds)
Power reserve: 60 hours
Luminescence: White Super-LumiNova
Water resistance: 15 bar (150 meters / 500 feet)
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Design * * * * *
The 41mm is a veritable pie plate on your wrist – and none the worse for it. It’s an elegant, balanced yet thoroughly modern timepiece in the modern Seamaster style.
Legibility * * * *
Hard not to see the time, but the white dial loses legibility in direct light.
Tactility * * * * *
The bracelet matches Rolex’s Oystersteel, with the added benefit of muted bling [sic]. Setting the time and date with the independently driven hour hand is an efficient and visceral pleasure.
Comfort * * * *
The bracelet is as comfortable as the Rolex Oystersteel (and that’s saying something), but the lack of micro-adjustment could be a major PITA. It does scratch, but a bit of wabi sabi should be embraced, not reviled.
Overall * * * * *
A no-holds-barred luxury sports watch that’s both a subtle statement piece and a technically masterful, thoroughly tested, lifelong companion.