How do you keep a watch relevant and desirable when it's been around for seven decades? That's the challenge that faced the Omega folk with their Seamaster, the brand's oldest range, one launched back in 1948 to coincide with Omega's 100th anniversary.
Not that back then it was the Seamaster we know today. Rather it was a water-resistant but elegant timer based on robust World War II military models. In other words hardly a tool watch, and there wasn't a diver's bezel in sight.
By the mid-1950s, however, the Seamaster was also anticipating the needs of scuba divers, its first record achieved when a diver, Gordon McLean, descended to 62.5 metres in 1955, right here in Australia. Credit was given to the watch's innovative use of rubber O-rings to keep the brine at bay, a feature derived from submarine construction. Two years later the first "professional" series of Seamaster 300s arrived, a watch that soon found favour with serious divers, and later also found the wrist of one James Bond.
All well and good, but if creating truly water-proof watches was the early challenge, finding favour with the fickle forearms of today must rank as equally difficult. That said, Omega's youthful team, led by head of product Gregory Kissling, seems to have succeeded admirably, the latest iteration being an unusually good looking, unusually capable machine, its dual attributes apparent the moment you pick it up. It's elegantly done and the engineering is impeccable.
On a quick stop in Sydney recently to introduce the watches in the Seamaster Professional Diver 300M range, Kissling explained this was a result of painstaking work finessing not only the Seamaster's aesthetics, but also its performance. Both are deemed crucial if it is to retain its class-leading profile. He wouldn't elaborate on the investment required, but right away the newcomer feels different to the previous model it most closely resembles, the blue-wave-dialled professional diver that appeared 25 years back in 1993.
"Performance has not only to do with water resistance but also magnetic resistance," says Kissling. "The range has the anti-magnetic master chronometer movement we developed. Our aim was to create the best manufacture calibre made on an industrial scale, quality absolutely at the top level, quite a challenge."
The movement carries chronometer certification from METAS, the Swiss Institute of Metrology, while meticulous re-working extended to every part of the watch. "With the case we wanted to introduce something completely new, a diving scale in white enamel for long-lasting legibility. This alone, on the ceramic bezel, took two years of work," says Kissling.
Even the dial is ceramic, now laser-etched with the afore-mentioned wave-pattern which returns after a period in the ether. Other touches include a re-designed helium escape valve, re-designed hands and a general level of finishing that ups the bar for crisp presentation. It means, as Kissling puts it, the watch "can be worn with a tuxedo or a dive suit."
It helps that at 42mm it's no chunky lump doing double-duty as a dive weight. Emphasising the versatility, he points out "importantly there are 14 versions (in the range), in stainless steel, steel and gold and a limited edition in tantalum, titanium and rose-gold, with different faces (black, blue and pvd chrome) to choose from, some more sporty, some more elegant."
We wonder if the Seamaster is not too elegant for the knock-about diver, or the very concept irrelevant given the role now played by dive computers, but Kissling has an ready – and neat – response to our query. "Today the mechanical watch is considered a back-up – you never rely on an electronic device. And after your dive you have a cool product related to your hobby ... what could be better than that?"
Hard to disagree, although we noticed on his other wrist this year's Seamaster option, a recreation of the 1948 original (see breakout) that looks the bees knees. You wouldn't want to dive in it, but it does have looks to die for.
Bani McSpedden is watch editor of The Australian Financial Review.