More than 25 years ago, Omega’s Seamaster 300 marked an important milestone in the brand’s underwater history. In this feature from the WatchTime archives, we check if the 2018 model is as professional as the one that once saved a British spy’s life.
In 1993, the watch world was undoubtedly marching to the beat of a different drummer. The same year, Intel started to ship the first Pentium chips and Swatch launched the Trésor Magique, the first Swatch with a platinum case, at the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) for a price of $1,618. At the height of the Swatch craze, the volume of exports of “non-metal watches” from Switzerland had risen to a high of CHF 798.7 million (which, in theory, would have represented more than 20 percent of the Swatch Group’s gross sales in 1993), before falling sharply until 2000, according to the annual reports of the Group and the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH). In other words, in 1993, the world was more in love with the Swatch than ever, but people were also starting to get ready for the triumphant return of the mechanical wristwatch.
The Swatch Group’s Omega was determined to be prepared for this trend reversal. In spring 1993, the Bienne-based brand released the Seamaster Professional 300, both as a three-hand watch and as a chronograph model, which became the first dive watch from Omega featuring a (manual) helium-release valve. During the previous two decades, Omega was convinced that a watch made for saturation dives wouldn’t need one, if built well enough. As stated in an Omega Seamaster 600 ad from the ’70s: “We also put the 600 through our helium test. Helium, having much smaller molecules, can penetrate where water can’t. So if a watch is proof against helium, it’s proof against just about everything else.” And speaking of the Seamaster 600, the 1993 Seamaster 300 also brought back the typical “Plongeur”-style hands (albeit skeletonized) that were used in the ’70s for the 600 and 1000, for example, after having been replaced briefly by the much more generic Mercedes hands found in the Seamaster Professional 200 from 1988.
The Seamaster 300 not only marked the brand’s return to the world of dive watches, it also ignited the brand’s longstanding involvement with the James Bond franchise. Since 1995 (Goldeneye), the British spy and his Seamaster have been inseparable, and the partnership became one of Omega’s most widely recognized and successful sponsorship activities around the world. As Marco Richon, author of the Omega Saga (published in 1998), noted, “After selling around 4,500 watches in three years, it literally jumped to some 50,000 pieces.” The Seamaster was, among others, also used by Roland Specker (who achieved a world-record freshwater free dive to a depth of 80 meters in Lake Neuchâtel in 1993 wearing the watch) and witnessed sailing history at the America’s Cup with the late Sir Peter Blake’s Team New Zealand in 1995.
Twenty-five years after its launch in 1993, Omega introduced a revamped collection of more than a dozen new Seamaster Diver 300M models, including six watches in stainless steel and eight in a mix of stainless steel and gold, during Baselworld 2018. The current 007, Daniel Craig, stars in the latest campaign for the collection (wearing the blue and gray model shown here, the Ref. 126.96.36.199.06.001), which could be a hint that we’ll see the watch in next year’s Bond movie as well.
All dials are now made from ceramic and are available in black, blue or PVD-chrome color. The characteristic wave pattern has also been reintroduced (now laser engraved), and the indexes have been raised and filled with Super-LumiNova. Even the skeleton hands have been subtly reshaped. Most importantly, the watches now include the new METAS-certified (Swiss National Metrology Institute) Master Chronometer Caliber 8800, visible through the sapphire caseback. The in-house movement is resistant to magnetic fields reaching 15,000 gauss, features a free sprung balance with silicon balance spring and the brand’s Co-Axial escapement, and winds in both directions. It is decorated with a rhodium-plated finish with Geneva waves in arabesque and offers a power reserve of 55 hours. The date window has been moved to 6 o’clock, now with a color-matched date wheel and a quick-set date function.
Last but not least, the fourth generation of the Seamaster 300 offers a slightly thicker and larger case size of 42 mm, a conical helium-release valve at 10 o’clock and a redesigned bracelet or rubber strap. Whereas the models in the main collection use ceramic for their rotating dive bezels (filled with white enamel), the Seamaster Diver 300M Titanium Tantalum Limited Edition (Ref. 188.8.131.52.99.001) uses a tantalum base holding a Sedna gold bezel ring and is powered by the Caliber 8806 (the no-date version of the 8800). The 8806 can also be found in the recently introduced, 43.5-mm, large version with black ceramic case and a diving bezel made of grade 5 titanium (with a black ceramic ring). Besides the bezel, the caseback, crown and helium-release valve of this watch are also made of titanium.
But back to the “Seamaster Diver 300M Co-Axial Master Chronometer 42 mm,” as it is officially named, with gray dial and blue ceramic bezel insert that we got from Omega for this review: compared to the first generation from 1993, the new version sits taller on the wrist. This means that the crown is less likely to come in contact with the back of the wearer’s hand and that the watch has even more wrist presence. The ceramic dial and bezel with a white enamel diving scale reflect the increased build-quality the watch now has to offer. But, compared to the ETA-powered Seamaster from 1993 with aluminum bezel inlay, the latest iteration costs $5,200, more than twice its predecessor. Nevertheless, it is one of the most affordable ways to own a new Omega, and also an impressive best of what the brand currently has to offer: an in-house movement that performs well within chronometer specification on the wrist, magnetic resistance, excellent build-quality and finish, and perhaps one of the most recognizable watch designs, thanks to being prominently featured in one of the most popular movie franchises.
The only negative thing we noticed is that since the gray date disk is placed substantially lower than the date window, legibility is not as strong as we’ve seen on the blue and the black dial versions. Also, we would have preferred a folding clasp on the rubber strap, but the buckle works just as well. Occasionally, people have expressed regret that Omega is no longer offering an applied logo on this version, but in our opinion, the dial would have been too busy. The bezel’s edges are still a bit too smooth (especially when operated in water), and the helium-release valve is still not really necessary, unless you are regularly working as a diver in a saturated environment. But since it’s been part of the watch since 1993, we feel it has become Omega’s way to underline that it is indeed a Seamaster meant for “professional” use. Also worth mentioning: Omega offers a five-year warranty “that covers the repair of any material or manufacturing defects.”
In short, the Seamaster 300 from 2018 is perhaps more than ever a watch for everyday wear and an ideal (and comparatively affordable) way to get to own a new Omega. And since most of its competitors now have a much more vintage-inspired look, it is also one of the few watches in this category with a design that looks more contemporary than ever. In this regard, Omega has done an amazing job of bringing a watch design from the ’90s into the present. But in the last 25 years, Omega has also done an amazing job of reviving the Seamaster 300 (both the 39-mm re-edition and the 41-mm version) and the Planet Ocean, which could make choosing the right model a bit more challenging, especially with at least 14 new Seamaster models to choose from — not even counting the new models just introduced at 2019’s “Time to Move” event. But, whatever version you might end up buying, we recommend you opt for the metal bracelet – for $300 more, you get even more watch for your money (and a patented folding clasp with a divers’ extension).
Manufacturer: Omega S.A., Stämpflistrasse 96, 2504 Bienne, Switzerland
Reference number: 184.108.40.206.06.001
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date
Movement: Omega Caliber 8800 self-winding movement with Co-Axial escapement, certified Master Chrono-meter (METAS), resistant to magnetic fields up to 15,000 gauss, free sprung balance with silicon balance spring, automatic winding in both directions, rhodium-plated finish with Geneva waves in arabesque, 25,200 vph, 35 jewels, 55-hour power reserve
Case: Stainless steel, screw-in crown, helium-release valve, sapphire case-back, water resistant to 300 m
Strap and clasp: Blue rubber strap, pin buckle
Dimensions: Diameter = 42 mm, lug width = 20 mm
Variations: Blue dial and bezel (strap or bracelet); black dial and bezel (strap or bracelet); two-tone (bezel, valve and crown in yellow or Sedna gold)