We start our review of the discontinued, widely available, preowned, OMEGA Seamaster 300M GMT (reference 2234.50.00) by turning the clock back to 1953. That’s when the first watch to offer a rotating 24-hour bezel appeared. Paired to a 24-hour hand, the rotating 24-hour bezel allowed pilots and other global travelers to track two time zones at once by glancing at the dial. That watch was . . .
the Glycine Airman. Beloved by pilots in the Korean and Vietnam wars, and sought by collectors today. In 1954, Rolex introduced a similar watch: the GMT-Master.
What Rolex lacked in originality it made up for in product placement, putting the GMT-Master on the wrists of Pan Am pilots around the world, solidifying it as a watch used by professionals. Superheroes flying hundreds of people magically around the globe in massive transcontinental planes while maintaining international harems.
What did Rolex add to the Glycine Airman? Nothing much. The GMT-Master took the 24-hour bezel paired to a 24-hour hand and added a 12-hour hand to show the civilian version of the time that the 24-hour hand displayed.
The 12-hour hand and 24-hour hand on a GMT-Master cannot be independently adjusted. While the 12-hour hand gave the GMT-Master an appearance of civility as military pilots transitioned to commercial pilots, functionally, the GMT-Master and Airman both track two-time zones, one with the dial and one with the bezel. The GMT-Master just performs that function with a more cluttered dial (four hands instead of three).
Rolex deserves credit for the one truly innovative update it made in 1983 with the introduction of the GMT-Master II: an independently adjustable 12-hour hand. That functionality – often referred to as “traveller”, “flyer”, or “true GMT” functionality – made tracking local time significantly easier. With a Glycine Airman or a Rolex GMT-Master someone traveling across time zones has two options.
One: keep the watch set to one’s home time, and adjust the 24-hour bezel to reflect the local time.
Two: completely reset the watch to the local time, and then track home time with the 24-hour bezel.
The first option requires reading the local time against a rotated 24-hour bezel. The second option requires ensuring accurate seconds and minutes against a reference time after resetting the watch.
The GMT-Master II provided a better option. With the crown in the second position, you can quickly set the 12-hour hand to local time in one-hour jumps, while the seconds and minutes continue tracking time, and the 24-hour hand remains in home time. The rotating 24-hour bezel can then be kept with “24” at the top, or rotated to quickly track another time zone.
The OMEGA Seamaster 300 GMT offers the same functionality. While Rolex introduced the capability first, watch history is all about sharing innovation. Rolex famously uses the Breguet overcoil in its hairsprings, and nobody says that only a Breguet can “authentically” use a Breguet overcoil. Here’s how traveller functionality works.
In 1998, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the OMEGA Seamaster, OMEGA introduced a version of its OMEGA Seamaster 300M, reference 2234.50.00, with the same “traveller” GMT functionality as the Rolex GMT-Master II.
Rolex significantly improved the quality of its clasps on its “six digit” reference number models, compared to its “five digit” reference number models. Many say the beautifully machined clasp on the Omega Seamaster 300M forced that improvement.
Why go into the history of the Airman and GMT-Master/GMT-Master II to talk about the OMEGA Seamaster GMT? Because “history” and “authenticity” play a critical role in the buying process. Let’s look at prices.
WatchCharts.com reports that an OMEGA Seamaster 300M GMT (reference 2234.50.00) with a 300M depth rating, a high quality machined clasp, and solid endlinks has a market average of $2,290 . The Rolex analog, the GMT-Master II 16710, has a market average of $10,443. The Rolex has a 200m lower depth rating with a stamped clasp that looks like it came off a Seiko 5, and for most of its production run folded end links.
Why the price difference? Cosplay. The OMEGA Seamaster 300M GMT makes a great travel watch, but Pan Am pilots didn’t wear it. And unlike more recent ceramic bezel insert Rolex GMT-Master II watches it does not let you play Batman.
Do you want a travel watch for travel, or do you want one to play dress-up as a Pan Am pilot or Batman? If it’s the latter then there’s no substitute for the GMT-Master II. If it’s the former then the OMEGA Seamaster 300M GMT wins against all challengers.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for Rolex. Rolex can’t help the ridiculous prices for the discontinued 16710 and later ceramic bezel insert 116710. And Rolex has boxed itself in on the current 126710.
Rolex wants to keep the Professional line limited to a certain amount of its overall production (some say not more than 30 percent). Only so many watches in the Professional line can be GMT-Master IIs. Audemars Piguet effectively became the “Royal Oak” brand. Rolex doesn’t want to suffer the same fate by letting a single model line become dominant. Heavy is the crown.
In the real world, a pre-owned OMEGA Seamaster 300M GMT crushes a pre-owned Rolex GMT-Master II.
Buying a OMEGA Seamaster 300m GMT dramatically reduces the risk posed by buying a Rolex GMT. First, one is putting significantly less of their money at risk. Second, sellers face significantly lower upside from making and selling fake watches. Fake OMEGA Seamaster 300 GMTs do exist, so caveat emptor. But when the real thing trades at ~$2,000, at a quality and fit and finish level difficult to replicate, the risk of getting fooled by a good fake significantly lowers.
There’s also a physical risk.
I’ve traveled with my 2234.50.00 to Bangalore, Bangkok, Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna and Amsterdam (where an owner was killed for his Rolex). I’ve never felt the need to hide my OMEGA or leave it in the hotel. I can’t say the same for modern $10,000 – $25,000 variations of the GMT-Master II. Nor would I trust customs thugs not to steal it. Sure insurance exists, but property coverage won’t help much if you’re injured or killed.
Enough comparisons. What of the watch itself?
The OMEGA Seamaster 300M wears well, with a 41mm diameter (the same size Rolex chose for the new Submariner). The OMEGA’s bracelet and watch head present a model for comfortable design, with smooth finishing, no hair tugging, no crown dig-in, and without causing sweat or leaving marks.
People new to watches often prefer transparent casebacks, but the solid case back on the 300M GMT features OMEGA’s elegant, iconic Hippocampus. The texture creates a measure of breathability – I don’t feel my wrist sweating against the caseback as I sometimes do with sapphire or glass casebacks.
While it’s not a thin watch at just over 13mm, the 300M GMT hides its thickness with a multi-tiered and beveled side profile. The 300M GMT does not wear lightly at 164.39 grams. It could be used as a “knuckle-duster” ( in Ian Flemming’s words).
I appreciate that weight. I want to know I am wearing a watch. If you want a light watch a plastic Sistem51 weighs only 42.48 grams. You can also pay more for a plastic watch reinforced with carbon or glass fibers, although I’ve never felt that the case on my Sistem51 requires reinforcement.
The dial serves as a model for legibility, both in lightness and darkness. The printed indices’ heavily applied lume lights up the dark, and their shape makes the time readable at a glance. A solid red 24-hour GMT hand and a 24-hour bezel insert with a black background for night and a natural aluminum background for day make the second time zone easily readable.
The modern Seamaster 300M has two main dial variations. Sword hands with trapezoidal indices in various sizes, and skeleton hands with the rectangular and round indices that historically have more association with Blancpain and Rolex.
This 300M GMT has the better dial layout. Sure some recent mid-pack James Bonds have worn the skeleton hands/rectangular and round indices version. But the sword hands aid legibility, and the real British Royal Navy used the trapezoidal indices version (above).
Along with having the better dial the 300M GMT has another benefit compared to the rest of the 300M line – no helium escape value (“HEV”) protrusion. Unless you plan to perform saturation diving, there’s no need for that aesthetic liability.
For functional and aesthetic reasons I do wish the 300M GMT had a coin edge bezel (seen on many historic Seamasters) instead of the scalloped bezel. The scalloped design makes the bezel tricky to grip, and the coin edge bezels give Seamasters more of a tough tool watch look. It its defense, the scalloped bezel does slide under a cuff easily.
The 300M GMT has an OMEGA 1128 beating inside. This movement adds a traveller GMT module to the OMEGA 1120, a higher grade version of the ETA 2892, a caliber famous for being robust despite only being 3.6 mm thick. The 1128 has a power reserve of 44 hours, and COSC certification.
The OMEGA 1128 notably lacks a co-axial escapement, the George Daniels invention that OMEGA industrialized and that defines the modern OMEGA brand. I would prefer a co-axial escapement, but the more recent co-axial equipped OMEGA GMT watches either lack a rotating 24-hour bezel, or wear too large at 43.5mm and over 17mm thick.
If you don’t mind that size and want a co-axial movement you can purchase the OMEGA Planet Ocean 600M GMT – the current version of this watch. It adds an unsightly protruding HEV, but gives you a coin edge bezel in return. Also note: the 300M GMT can be had in a white dial / all aluminum background bezel insert version known as the “Great White” (above, reference 2538.20.00).
I purchased by 300M GMT on eBay in April 2016, after doing some research and heavily comparing it to the Rolex 16710. In retrospect the 16710 would have been the better investment, but I ended up with the better watch. If I had a 16710 now I would take my profits and get the 300M GMT. Modern Rolex GMT Master-II prices will only go so high.
Shortly after receiving the watch I sent it to the SwatchGroup/OMEGA factory owned service center in New Jersey. They did a great job servicing it, returning it in about four weeks with constant communication. Unlike Rolex, OMEGA sends back the old parts after a service.
Eighteen months after service the 12-hour hand on my 300M GMT became loose. I do not believe that issue came from the servicing, and instead it appears to be related to a now resolved parts design. OMEGA quickly repaired my watch under the two year warranty that came with the service, and extended the service warranty another two years.
Because of the hell known as COVID-19 many of us have delayed travel, especially the travel that requires airports and airplanes. But at some point, either through a vaccine, widely available testing and treatments, and/or herd immunity, this too will end. If you look forward to traveling the world when it does end, then I recommend looking for a clean 2234.50.00.
Model: OMEGA Seamaster 300M GMT (reference 2234.50.00)
Price: $2,100 (eBay April, 2016)
Diameter: 41mm manufacturer claimed – 41.2mm as tested
Height: 13.1mm as tested including domed crystal
Lug-to-lug: 47.4mm as tested
Lug width: 20mm
Case: 316L stainless steel
Bezel Insert: Anodized aluminum
Crystal: Front sapphire with dial side anti-reflection coating
Dial: Sword hour/minute hands with printed and lumed indices
Lume: Super-LumiNova C3
Movement: Self-winding OMEGA 1128 COSC-certified chronometer
Functions: Hacking seconds, minutes, 12-hour quick-set hand, date, 24-hour GMT hand, bi-directional rotating 24-hour bezel
Power reserve: 44-hours (manufacturer claimed)
Weight: 164.39g (5.79 ounces) as tested
Water resistance: 30 bar (300m) (manufacturer claimed)
Accuracy: 0 seconds per day
Amplitude: 306 degrees
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Design * * * *
Overall strong design that recalls historic Seamaster models. The best looking of the modern Seamaster 300M series.
Legibility * * * * *
Very clear indices arranged in a pattern that makes it easy to tell time at a glance. Large, legible sword hands and a clear, color defined GMT hand. A well designed bezel with large print and day/night indication. Bright and large lume.
Comfort * * * *
The watch wears incredibly. No crown digging into the wrist, no bracelet hair pulling, no sharp edges. A point withheld for the crown guards making the crown a bit tricky to unscrew, and the scalloped bezel design that makes twisting the bezel slightly tricky.
Overall * * * * *
The best traveler GMT watch on the market, new or used.
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No considerations were provided for this review.