Diving Watches: From Sports Watches to Certified Icons
When Rolex brought their Submariner (in three different versions) to the market in 1954 (launched in 1953!), Omega had already had their Seamaster collection for about six years. However, the Submariner was a real divers watch, whereas the Seamaster was a waterproof and dust-free watch that showed a lot of similarities to the more expensive Constellation dress watch. It would take until 1957 for Omega to introduce their “answer” to the Rolex Submariner.
The Seamaster 300 was introduced together with the Railmaster and Speedmaster. All three were marketed as watches for professionals. Just like the Rolex Submariner, the water resistance of the Omega Seamaster 300 was rated to 200 meters. Omega used “300” in their model name because the 200-meter rating was merely a limitation of the test equipment they were using. In reality, the watch could withstand more pressure than the 20 bars indicated by the test equipment.
From that moment, it was ON. Rolex and Omega battled for the best diving watch on the market. Although there was other competition out there, there was no one that could match the high production numbers of Rolex and Omega. It remains so to this day, as Rolex produces approximately 800,000 watches and Omega approximately 600,000 watches. These numbers are accepted industry estimates, as the two companies themselves are the only ones who know exactly how many watches they produce (and sell).
The Seamaster family consists of multiple collections, like the Aqua Terra, Planet Ocean, 300M, PloProf, and the recently introduced 300 (a remake of the first 1957 models). For Rolex, it is less complicated. There is only the Submariner, though there is some variation in materials used. Of course, there is also the Sea-Dweller and DeepSea Sea-Dweller that have even more professional specifications than the Submariner.
In order to make a sensible comparison, this article compares the Rolex Submariner Date 116610LN to the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M in stainless steel with a stainless steel bracelet (reference 220.127.116.11.01.001). The list price of the Rolex Submariner is a tad bit higher at 7,800 euros, when compared to the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean at 5,800 euros.
The Rolex Submariner Date measures 40 mm in diameter and is still clearly a family member of those very first Submariner models from the 1950s. Its predecessor was even more familiar with its aluminum bezel and rattling bracelet. This reference, however, is a very modern watch and a step-up in quality compared to the previous reference (16610). It is made of 904L grade stainless steel, as are all steel Rolex watches these days. This doesn’t mean it can’t be scratched or dinged, but it is more resistant to oxidation than the 316L grade steel that is regularly used.
Omega’s Seamaster Planet Ocean case is based on the original Seamaster 300, but is much bigger at 43.5 mm in diameter. Together with its ceramic bezel, large dial, and manual helium release valve, there is little in common with the original CK2913 Seamaster 300.
Both watches do have a screw-down crown to ensure water resistance, however. The Seamaster has a transparent case back, where the Submariner’s case back is solid steel. Rolex holds on to the tool watch concept, where Omega aims a bit more at the lifestyle consumer. This isn’t the entire truth, however, as the Omega has the right credentials and specifications to be a diver’s watch, and the Rolex is probably mainly used as a luxury watch.
It is all a matter of how you perceive the brand and your own ideas about tool watches and luxury timepieces. Both pieces are able to get the job done, of course. The Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean is equipped with a helium valve. The Submariner is not; the DeepSea Sea-Dweller models are the only ones with an (automatic) helium valve. This feature is only required for saturation diving and used during the decompression period.
Both models now have a ceramic bezel, where in the past both used aluminum inlays. These would tend to fade a bit when exposed to sunlight for long periods and were easy to scratch or damage. The use of ceramic took care of those issues.
The case of the Seamaster Planet Ocean is a bit thicker, so the watch wears larger than the 40-mm Submariner Date. Size is a matter of preference. Some feel 40 mm is a bit small for a modern sports watch, others find it to be the perfect size. If size makes a difference for you, keep in mind that Omega also offers a 39.5-mm version of this Seamaster Planet Ocean.
Be sure to note that the bezel of the Rolex is ceramic and the numerals and graduations are made of platinum. They refer to this as Cerachrom. Omega refers to their blending of ceramic and (precious) metals for numerals as LiquidMetal. This results in a very smooth surface, which is basically impossible to scratch. For their latest variations, Omega has even managed to mix ceramic with rubber.
The Rolex dial comes in green and black for the stainless steel version; the bi-color and full gold versions have some other options as well. The Seamaster Planet Ocean comes in black, blue, and grey (titanium only). Both dials have large hour markers and large hands, which are applied with luminous material. Omega uses Super-LumiNova, where the Rolex uses its own patented Chromalight. Both are long lasting and will give great readability in low-light conditions.
The Seamaster Planet Ocean uses the famous broad arrow shaped hands, where Rolex relies on wide ‘Mercedes’ hands. Again, hand design is a matter of taste, really. Both watches also have a date feature, though Rolex has the best readability due to the cyclops lens that enhances it 2.5 times. Compared to the Seamaster Planet Ocean, it looks quite big.
The Seamaster Planet Ocean features a date disc in black with white printed dates. Aesthetically, this looks a bit more balanced. However, for usability, nothing beats good contrast. Have you ever tried reading white printed words on a black background? It is tiring. The dial of the Rolex indicates that this watch is a “Superlative Officially Certified Chronometer,” where the Omega indicates it is a “Co-Axial Master Chronometer.” Although Rolex has used these printed words for a long time now, their meaning changed a few years ago. The text refers to the movements that these watches are using, but there is more to come on that later.
Both brands have quite a bit of information regarding brand and model name on their dials, as well as the movement-specific information described above. Despite that, they both manage to keep it rather clean and uncluttered.
The dial of the Omega is made of ceramic, where the Rolex dial is (probably) made of brass coated in black lacquer or paint.
Although not everyone agrees (mainly the non-Rolex owners), Rolex bracelets have always been regarded as the most comfortable out there. This was even the case when the clasps looked like they were made of soda cans. They never fail, are easy to adjust, and therefore fit perfectly. Improvement came slowly with the transition to solid-end-links instead of hollow ones and the use of 904L grade stainless steel (first on the Sea-Dweller).
The bracelets were also upgraded to a modern version on the new “ceramic bezel” models. These use the same trusted Oyster style, but feature a modern easy-to-adjust clasp that doesn’t require a toothpick (which worked fine by the way). The new Oyster bracelet for the Submariner has the Glidelock system, which allows you to perform micro-adjustments to the clasp sans toothpick. This way, if you dive, you can also extend the bracelet enough to wear it over your neoprene diving suit. Of course, Rolex still uses the flip-lock, an extra safety precaution to keep the bracelet closed at all times.
The Omega bracelet is less outspoken when compared to the Rolex Oyster, but it is definitely a comfortable bracelet as well. Omega had a long way to come, as the famous Seamaster 300M bracelets were a very typical 1990s design, and the later Speedmaster-style bracelets were also not very up to date. For the Seamaster Planet Ocean collection (introduced in 2005), Omega had to go back to the drawing board for a new bracelet. The resulting Planet Ocean bracelet has a solid look and feel and comes with a patented extendable fold-over clasp. As with the Rolex, if you are a diver, you can wear this watch over a neoprene diving suit. With the clasp adjustment, you can extend the bracelet 9.6 mm in five steps. This is only the case for the newer Planet Ocean bracelets (those on the Master Chronometer version).
In the end, bracelet preference is a matter of taste and comfort, so it is best to try both versions before you decide. The comfort of a watch can make it or break it, and you don’t want to find yourself re-selling a watch right after you bought it.
As was mentioned when discussing the dials of the Submariner and Seamaster Planet Ocean, both watches feature movements that follow (or set) the highest standards in the industry. They both have officially certified chronometer movements, but each goes a bit further by testing (and adjusting) the movement after it has been cased. If you haven’t looked at an Omega for a long time, forget the past. Few models still use Lemania and ETA-powered movements; most of their watches are now powered by their own in-house developed and manufactured movements. There are only a few cases of Rolex using non-in-house movements; the Daytona powered by Valjoux, and later by Zenith, being one of them. So, both diving watches use in-house movements, let’s get that fact straight right now.
Normally, the chronometer certification is done for the movement only. Movements are delivered to the COSC (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres) with only a dial and hands attached to them, as well as a plastic winding and setting crown. Once they are tested and certified, they are sent back to the manufacturer, in this case Rolex and Omega. For many other brands that use the chronometer rating, this is where the testing stops; they rely solely on the chronometer specification and testing. Omega and Rolex, however, perform more tests and tweaks after the chronometer-rated movements have been cased.
Rolex movements perform within -2/+2 seconds a day, which is more strict than the official chronometer requirements of -4/+6 seconds a day on average. Also, Rolex offers a 5-year warranty on the performance of their movements. If the movement has a greater deviation, you can go back to a Rolex dealer and have it regulated within specifications again – for free.
Omega has used the “Master Chronometer” definition since late 2015. This means a watch has an accuracy of 0/+5 seconds a day on average and is anti-magnetic up to 15,000 gauss. Their movements undergo eight tests in total, each set by METAS (The Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology), which is an independent organization with their own lab in the testing department of Omega. These eight tests have to do with keeping accuracy in various conditions, such as strong magnetic fields, but also test the power reserve and the deviation between 100% and 33% power reserve. These watches come with a 4-year warranty and credentials for you to log-in to Omega’s network to see the actual test results of your own watch.
The Rolex Submariner uses the calibre 3135 movement, which has been in production for quite a few years, but has luckily been subject to innovations ever since. Omega uses their calibre 8900 movement, which is a “Master Chronometer” variation of the calibre 8500 (since 2007). Of course, the Omega movement has the famous Co-Axial escapement, an invention by master watchmaker George Daniels that resulted in an escapement producing less friction, and thus less wear and tear on the lubrication. The benefit to you? Longer service intervals and more stable precision. Rolex has also done some work regarding anti-magnetism with their movements, and now use the Paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring to ensure optimal performance.
You could say that both brands put substantial effort into their in-house movements and they want to make sure buyers can rely on them (hence the extended warranty and higher specs).
A quality of these two diving watches from power houses Rolex and Omega that is less easy to quantify is their image. In the darkest hours of the Swiss watch industry, many brands, including Omega, unfortunately had to give in and produce a lot of cheap(er) and weird models with quartz movements. Rolex, however, always stayed true to their game by mainly producing mechanical watches and barely changing their designs. Omega was affected by this dark period of the late 1970s and 1980s, and didn’t start to recover until the 1990s. You can find Omega watches in all sorts of shops these days, whereas Rolex has always had stricter requirements (and loyalty) for their retailers.
Omega is changing; they are decreasing their number of retailers and opening more brand boutiques. However, the damage has been done and if you are in your 40s or perhaps 50s, it may be hard to convince you that Omega has become a different brand in the past years. You could also say that Rolex is one of the few brands around that never gave in. That is perhaps one of the reasons that Rolex is so strong and has the highest demand from consumers around the world.
If you are new to Omega, know that you can rely on a brand that has a long history in watchmaking, with just a few dark moments in their past. Both brands put a lot of effort into innovation, however, and work to produce the best product possible. Likewise, they both spend a lot of time and money on marketing efforts. Rolex is famous for their association with F1 these days, and have been a sponsor of various sports figures and talented artists. Omega focuses on sports like golf and sailing, but also have a strong relationship with space exploration due to their famous Moonwatch. Both the Submariner and Seamaster Planet Ocean, are high-quality tool watches for everyday wear, but also luxurious lifestyle accessories.
You could even say that Rolex is still seen (and bought) thanks to its position as status symbol in many cultures. If someone already has in mind to save up for a Rolex (or simply buy one), it could be difficult to move him or her towards other brands. Omega does seem to push a little bit harder on the innovative side of things, and thus you will find that people who aren’t that brand sensitive and want the most bang for their buck lean towards the Seamaster Planet Ocean. The Rolex possibly retains its value a bit better, but the Omega offers a few more technical highlights. In the end, both watches are an excellent choice and give you a lot of value for your money.
Omega has been the watch of choice for James Bond for many years now (since 1995), and actor Daniel Craig wore the Seamaster Planet Ocean in a couple of 007 movies. In previous years, James Bond wore a Rolex Submariner (in the books of Ian Fleming, he wore an Explorer, as that was the writer’s personal preference). The difference is, perhaps, that Omega sponsors the 007 movies with their watches, while it seems that Bond wore a Rolex in the past without any interference from the manufacturer’s Geneva headquarters. In any case, you will be able to see your favorite secret agent (with a license to kill) wearing both watches in different movies.
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