I started in the watch trade in the early 90’s. Back then, the OMEGA Seamaster Diver 300m was still very much the new kid on the block. With its striking blue bezel, blue wave dial and helium escape valve, the OMEGA felt serious on the wrist. Thanks to its rock solid bracelet and clasp – a far cry from the Rolex Submariner’s rattly bracelet and tin foil-feeling clasp – the OMEGA Seamaster Diver had genuine wrist presence. The slimline collection offered something for everyone . . .
OMEGA sold the Diver in ladies, mid and gents sizes, with a choice of a quartz or COSC automatic movement. (There was a chronograph version for those who didn’t want to take their Speedmaster swimming.)
The OMEGA Seamaster Diver 300m was reasonably affordable. In the UK, the mid-size quartz model set buyers back around £700. The gents auto was around £1,000. The pricing parked the range squarely within reach of anyone considering TAG Heuer’s collections, and several hundred pounds below a Rolex Submariner.
The OMEGA Seamaster Diver 300m was a genuine alternative: a no-nonsense watch with style and substance that didn’t require selling your firstborn to buy. It was my first “proper” watch.
Since those heady days, the Seamaster Diver 300m lost its way. Like a prized boxer whose best fights are behind him, the passage of time has not been kind to the 300m. The OMEGA Seamaster is no longer a practical, purposeful watch for a fair price. Gone is that lean collection of six watches that blazed a trail through the industry.
In its place: an obscenely bloated collection of fifty-three different versions of the 300m. You could wear a different OMEGA Seamaster Diver 300m every day for nearly two months. The collection includes six different “special edition” versions.
Even James Bond hasn’t been able to avoid the bloating.
In 2002, OMEGA released its first 007 limited edition Seamaster 300m, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the Bond films. By moderns standards, its 10,007 unit production run sounds extreme – but only in isolation. OMEGA has been churning out James
Bond special editions with alarming regularity.
OMEGA produced two different limited edition 007 watches to “celebrate” the last film. There are now no fewer than eight different James Bond 007 OMEGA Seamaster Diver 300m’s: three limited editions, one numbered edition and four standard production models.
There’s also a platinum version for the princely sum of £44,480. You’ve got to have a lot of spare cash and a strong penchant for watches and James Bond to drop £45K on an OMEGA. Regardless, the watch shows just how far from affordability the Seamaster Diver 300m has strayed.
It’s not just the 300m range that suffers from bloating; the Planet Ocean comes in 49 varieties. But wait! There’s more! The OMEGA Seamaster and Planet Ocean collections are dwarfed by the farrago that is the Aqua Terra collection. You have the choice of 99 different models. Why on earth do you need nearly one hundred different varieties of the same watch?
What annoys me the most isn’t the ridiculously large watch collections. It’s how lazy and
gimmicky OMEGA is these days. Take the America’s Cup model as an example. A sailing watch with a clip-on and off bracelet? What could possibly go wrong? It’s fitted with the helium escape valve – a rather odd choice considering the watch is designed to be on the water, not under it.
It’s the same watch as the standard chronograph, with the same 9900 calibre, with a few gimmicky additions, such as locking the Chrono function, a regatta counter and the clip-on bracelet. These little additions will set you back an eye-watering £2,410 extra. You could buy the standard chronograph and a Tudor Black Bay for the same money as the America’s Cup.
The gimmicks don’t end there. This week, OMEGA revealed the Seamaster Diver 300M Co-Axial Master Chronometer Black Black – a watch that barely looks legible in the promotional shots. So now the owners of the Dark Side of the Moon Speedmaster Black Black can sport the same look in the swimming pool. Has one-upmanship become reached the point where a collector’s happy to drop £7,410 and £9,990 on illegible watches?
I digress. And I understand the need for a unique selling point to make a watch stand out from the competition. But OMEGA seems oblivious to the concept of overchoice. And unable to stop messing with the fundamentals that made its fortune in the first place. We can see this problem in the evolution of the Seamaster’s movement.
Why wasn’t the OMEGA Co-Axial movement enough? Now that OMEGA has worked the bugs out, it’s a first-class movement. Why did the watchmaker feel the need to upgrade from COSC to Master Chronometer (from -4/+6 seconds to 0/+5 seconds per accuracy)? Is it because many competitors are now offering COSC rated watches for half as much as an OMEGA?
Whatever happened to making a decent practical watch for a realistic price? Speaking of the past . . .
The OMEGA Seamaster Heritage range now contains sixty different models. I love the reincarnation of the Seamaster 300, but at £5,560? Do we really need a Titanium Ploprof for £10K? While we’re at it, who on earth is paying £9,920 for the new 300 Bronze gold? Nearly £10K for a 9 carat gold watch? If that’s not the definition of insanity, I don’t know what is.
The watch market is more competitive than ever. New up and coming watch brands – who put quality, purpose and functionality above gross retail prices – are eating into OMEGA’s market share – as are all of the watches Omega’s sold over the years. If you want OMEGA alternatives, the market is full of them.
Want a quality COSC certified diver’s watch but don’t want to spend £4,450 on a OMEGA Seamaster Diver 300m? Buy a DOXA SUB 300 for £2,390 or a Tudor Pelagos for £3,440. Fancy a quality chronograph but don’t want to spend between £4,260 to £5,370 on a Speedmaster? Buy a Bell & Ross BR V2-94 for £3,800. Looking for a quality watch with vintage appeal but you don’t want to drop £5,560 on a Seamaster 300? Buy an Oris divers sixty-five for £1,650.
There are numerous more affordable and comparable quality watches, both new and old, for everything OMEGA makes. The cachet of the OMEGA brand will only go so far. There are only so many wrists globally; more and more watches are competing for space.
If OMEGA isn’t careful they’ll look like overpriced gimmicky watches. They’ll sound like that crazy old uncle who tells everyone how he used to be somebody important. For me, old OMEGA’s will always have a special place in my watch collection. Modern OMEGA watches no longer put simplicity and value at their core.