What I love about a good reissue, aside from the charming vintage aesthetics, is that it reveals an enthralling story. It explains the original model itself, the brand and, if it’s a particularly important watch, an entire category of timepieces. In the case of the Omega Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial, it’s a key that unlocks the history of Omega as a maker of professional timekeeping instruments. An answer to the Rolex Submariner, the original Seamaster 300 was a preferred choice for divers, explorers and the military, as well as the beginning of Omega’s dive watch legacy.
The original Seamaster 300 was introduced in 1957 under the reference CK2913, featuring Caliber 501 and arrow hands. The Seamaster 300, along with the Railmaster and the Speedmaster that were also introduced in the same year, formed what is regarded by collectors as Omega’s Trilogy or Holy Trinity of tool watches. Diehard Omega fans search the world over to own impeccable examples of all three. They’re important wristwatches technically, and from the arrow hands and dial markings to the cases and bracelets they also share a similar design ethos that makes them great stable mates.
Less than 10 years later, Omega significantly changed the Seamaster 300 with the launch of reference ST 165.024 (Caliber 552) in 1964. It’s this latter design that arguably made the Seamaster 300 a classic. We see vintage examples of these most often, and it’s descendants of this reference that were utilized by the British Royal Navy. Today, Omega manufactures quite a crowded lineup of professional divers, but until Omega released the new Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial at this year’s Basel show, there were none that reflected any of its 1950s heritage.
Jacques Cousteau’s team spent some quality time with a Seamaster 300. They found it suitable for the Precontinent II mission in 1963, where he and his team lived for a week submerged in the Red Sea to prove that people could live underwater. I, too, spent a week with the Omega Seamaster 300, albeit the new Master Co-Axial. Exposing it to much less extreme circumstances, I found it beyond suitable for just about everything else most collectors would endure above sea level. Read on for my full impression.
A vintage case with a bezel from the future
The case on the new Seamaster 300 takes its design cues straight from its ancestor, but at the same time Omega didn’t hesitate to introduce new technology that makes the watch more durable. The reissue’s mid-century shape and angular beveling of the lugs is spot-on. Mirror-polished surfaces adorn the top of the lugs and the outside of the Omega-signed crown, but shallow brushing covers the sides of the case. Perfectly sized for today’s wrist but slightly larger than the original, the case measures 41mm wide and 48mm lug-to-lug with a thickness of 15mm, which puts this case slimmer than that of a Plant Ocean 8500.
One of the most distinct aspects of this diver (both now and then) is its relatively thin rotating bezel. Divers often boast thick bezels that can crowd out the dial and make it feel small. With this watch, it’s quite the opposite, as its bezel is thinner than what you’d find on any contemporary diver on the market. If you’ve been turned off to dive watches because of their typically gaudy bezels, then the Seamaster 300 is a classy, modest alternative to pique your interest.
Original bezels on the Seamaster 300 were made of bakelite, a fairly brittle early form of plastic commonly used by brands like Omega and Rolex at the time, and Omega even made some early models with countdown markings (as you move clockwise around the bezel, the scale decreases from “50” to “10”). The new ceramic bezel houses a more contemporary typeface found on the 300m and Planet Ocean divers, is flatter and thicker than the original, and houses a more modest lume pip. The diving scale is Liquidmetal, Omega’s proprietary alloy that bonds seamlessly with ceramic. The end result is a bezel that looks like it’s straight off the vintage model, but it’s effectively scratch and corrosion resistant.
This diver’s case is one that keeps on giving. It’s simple and elegant at first look, but further inspection highlights some beautiful details, like the polished surface between the bezel and the case and how the bezel, with its vintage-inspired teeth, protrudes past the boundaries of the case for easy grip and operation. Together with the ceramic bezel, the domed and anti-reflective sapphire crystal adds a glossy and modern aesthetic to otherwise heavily vintage-inspired piece.
Turn the watch over and you’ll find that, instead of looking back to 1957, Omega is offering a glimpse into the future. Instead of Omega’s hippocampus, there’s a sapphire crystal exhibition case back offering an unobstructed view into Omega’s new manufacture caliber 8400. Likely collectors will have mixed feelings about the see-through case back since the original ’57 Seamaster 300 had a solid case back with the hippocampus. Personally, I’m all for the exhibition case back. Those who would rather have reissues over vintage originals are inherently expressing their preference for modern features and robust performance (e.g. sapphire crystals, new movements, more comfortable bracelets, etc) over purity, and a clear case back is one of those luxuries that the modern consumer tends to appreciate.
The dial is modernly constructed but aged
Beneath the crystal, a similar story unfolds where Omega has faithfully preserved a classic with minimal modern interventions. As far as the layout is concerned, it rings true to the CK2913 with elongated triangular hour markers and Arabic numerals at the poles. The broad arrow hour hand is just like it was in the 1957 original before Omega switched the arrow to the minutes hand shortly after the launch with the reference CK14755. The arrow-tipped seconds hand leaves a bit to be desired. First, it’s less like the straight stick seconds hand of the CK2913 and more like the CK14755, as well as later models of the 300 (and what you’d find on the Speedmaster). It’s a small gripe, but I would have preferred a more typically faithful seconds hand or, alternatively and more rarely, a lollipop seconds hand as was found on some early Seamaster 300 models.
As with the case and bezel, Omega introduced an upgrade to the dial’s construction. The Master Co-Axial version is equipped with a ceramic dial that has been sand-blasted to give off a vintage appearance. Best of all, the dial is undisturbed by any obligatory date apertures, a critical design choice that’s going to earn this watch a spot on wish lists of hardcore collectors.
There isn’t a lot of depth to the dial, as Omega thankfully didn’t introduce applied indices or glue on a shiny new logo. Elements on the dial are printed instead of applied, although the hour markers are cut into the dial and filled with SuperLumiNova. Although Omega hasn’t played a whole lot with the aesthetics, there is one design choice in particular that’s hotly contested, and it’s the lume on the hands and markers that looks falsely aged. Collectors who adore the look of vintage luminous compounds like radium and tritium relate the decorative patina to spray tans. Similar criticism occurred around the release of Longines Legend Diver, another successful Swatch Group remake that used “aged” markers. I like it. Why does SuperLumiNova have to be white?
Introducing Omega’s Caliber 8400
The new Seamaster 300 is really where Omega floors the pedal in terms of innovation. Behind the dial is Omega’s caliber 8400, an automatic movement that, once you get familiar with it, explains why there’s a clear case back on the watch.
When the Seamaster 300 CK2913 appeared in 1957, it housed Omega’s caliber 501, a twenty-jewel automatic movement with 40 hours of power reserve. The new 8400 is a nicely finished, thirty-eight-jewel COSC-certified chronometer. It features the usual Omega goodness, like the Si14 balance spring and the co-axial escapement, but now Omega has combined these features with extended power reserve (up to 60 hours, achieved by two winding barrels), timezone adjustment (pull out the crown to the first position to adjust the hour hand only), and extreme magnetic resistance. Last year at Baselworld, Omega introduced the new Aqua Terra with the movement resistant to magnetic forces of up to 15,000 Gauss, and this same technology is behind the 8400. The end result? The 8400 is an accurate, indestructible and beautiful in-house caliber. Now that this is one of eight calibers Omega will be using in its watches going forward, I can’t wait to see how this one performs over the coming years.
On the Wrist
Omega’s Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial is fitted with a high-quality bracelet executed in a similar style as that on the CK2913. It has polished center links and a push-button deployant clasp featuring Omega’s rack-and-pusher extension system, which allows the wearer to adjust the size of the bracelet on the fly without tools. I wrote more about this in my review of the Speedmaster Mark II reissue. It’s a great system and certainly better in its current form than not at all, but Rolex’s GlideLock set the bar awfully high for on-the-fly adjustment technologies.
Overall, the Seamaster 300 wears like a sleeker Plant Ocean. It’s comfortable to wear with a satisfying heft, and like the Planet Ocean it can go effortlessly from the boardroom to the beach.
Despite its technical upgrades and durability that would prove otherwise, its aesthetics don’t necessarily give the impression that it’s a watch you can bang around or take into the ocean. The polished center links will attract scratches and finger prints, and in combination with the ceramic bezel these two surfaces make for a shiny diver that betrays its original rough-and-tumble character. I would say you could fit this on an aftermarket strap, but that’s slightly more challenging than expected given its 21mm lug width. Honestly, though, I think it’s most at home on the bracelet, which is of extraordinary quality.
Saluting its lineage while simultaneously pushing watchmaking forward, the new Seamaster 300 succeeds as both an homage and a solid contemporary watch. For $6,600, you’re getting a classic look in a comfortable and rugged watch backed by the latest and greatest Omega engineering. If you’re used to Seamaster Professional pricing, then this watch might seem pricey, but you can tell it’s a good value by examining your similarly priced alternatives.
What other conservatively sized and vintage-inspired divers with fully-loaded in-house movements can you buy in the $6,500 range? Not as much as one would hope. When you run a full inventory on everything you’re getting here, on paper you’re getting what you’d expect from a modern Submariner like the 114060, which retails for only slightly more at $7,500. Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms Bathyscape (or much larger 5015 Automatique) are significant steps up in terms of price with expected commensurate value-add. This might seem wild, but you could dip lower and consider a Seiko SBDX001, a continuation/homage to the 6159-7001 produced in 1968, with an in-house Grand Seiko caliber. Somewhat of an acquired taste, it lacks some of the niceties like a sapphire crystal and the look skews less mid-century. For what is, the Seamaster is a great buy.
The Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial might be my favorite release from this year. A spectacular modern diver and one of the best executed reissues I’ve seen lately, I’m not surprised it’s from Omega. Hardly any other brand in its price range is this good at satisfying both today’s casual watch buyer and the educated collector. This watch uses its visual design to speak its legacy and its innovative engineering to begin where the original left off. If, like I said earlier, a good reissue tells a story, then a great one like the Master Co-Axial keeps writing it.
Omega will offer six versions of this watch, with various dial and metal options. The steel version of the Omega Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial reviewed here will retail for $6,600 and will be available in February 2015.