SKJ Watches- The Omega Seamaster, 70 years old.
By Michael Delage-Pandeli.
The original Seamaster was launched during the London Olympic Games in 1948, it was designed as a watch for all conditions or as the advertising said “built to resist any sport”. To do this the watch had a sturdy 34mm steel case with a toughened plastic glass which was held in with an inner steel ring.
The design for the Seamaster came about from a model made for the British Air Force during the Second World War, the watch specified by the RAF had to be strong, water proof and reliable. Over 26,000 were supplied during the war with no reported major faults. This watch was the basis for the civilian version. It was originally fitted with what is called a bumper automatic movement, this movement had a rotor that rotated through 180 degrees with spring bump stops at either end of the rotation. The rotor only wound in one direction but proved to be both reliable and accurate. By 1952 a date was added this was in a window at 6’ o clock on the dial and was called the Seamaster Calendar. In 1954 Omega made 50 examples fitted with an ‘O’ ring on the case back to make the watch more water proof, these watches were tested independently and passed the water resistance test to 60 meters, they also did not suffer from any humidity during tests between -50 and +50 degrees centigrade.
In 1955 the bumper movement gave way to a full rotor automatic called the 501, this wound in both directions, this was followed in in 1956 by the 503 movement with date at 3 ‘o clock.
The Seamaster during these early years was the official watch for both the 1952 Helsinki and 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. Models with the Olympic symbol made for these games are much sought after these days.
Omega made many variations of the Seamaster, including Chronometer rated versions, Chronographs, mid-size, manually wound, and in 1957 the watch most of us know today the Seamaster 300 Divers watch. The Seamaster is still with us today as the Seamaster 300 (as used by James Bond in a number of films), the Planet Ocean (the watch of choice by U.K. Special Forces) and the Aquaterra. All these current watches stick to the original concept of being robust, reliable and waterproof.
For most collectors the best period for Seamaster style was the early models between 1948 and about 1962. They have the most interesting dials, and cases. When you get into the 1960s the watches become a little more conservative in style, having straight markers for the hours, plain hands and cases, the movements were still great though. By the 1970s and 1980s most Omegas had lost their style (as did most things in that period). But in the 1990s Omega re-discovered their Omega-ness! They re-launched the Seamaster 120 in 1993 followed by the Seamaster 300 using modern versions of the original case. They also started to lead in new innovations like the Chrono Diver the first water proof divers chronograph rated to 300 meters, and today we have the Daniels Co-axial movement in the current range of Seamasters, this being a chronometer rated movement that needs very little maintenance.
If you are inspired to find a Seamaster for your collection you can still find early Seamaster’s at sensible prices. In this case I am giving prices for 34mm steel cased 50s and early 60s Seamaster automatic. Early models can be found at auction or at antique fairs from about £300 but they will need work. A good example from a specialist dealer is going to start at about £800. Later 60s and 70s examples can be bought for much less, in these eras stick to unusual dials and cases, you can pick up nice models from antique fairs or car boots for as little as £200 for a gold plated model.
Back to the early Seamaster’s you will have to be careful as many models were sold in India and the far east, generally they have not been well looked after, plus the humidity in those countries mixed with human sweat cased a lot of damage to the cases. Many have also had badly restored dials in non-original styles so do your research before buying.
I will give my usual advice buy the best example you can afford. SKJ Watches website- www.skjwatches.co.uk