I was pondering tool watches the other day, specifically divers watches and it occurred to me that there are two very comparable watches, or at least very comparable on paper. I am talking specifically about the Omega Seamaster Professional and the Rolex Submariner. These are tool watches, diver’s watches to be more specific.
Both watches are of the same vintage being 2004 models and are similar in many areas:
They are roughly the same size:
- Submariner 40mm diameter
- Seamaster 41mm diameter
- Automatic COSC Certified movements
- Waterproof Rating of 300m
- Screw down crowns
- 120 click unidirectional bezels
- Sapphire crystals
- Date function
- Omega has Helium escape valve where Rolex does not
- Rolex constructed from 904L stainless steel, Omega from 316L stainless steel
- Rolex has ~40hr power reserve, Omega ~48hr
- Rolex has antireflective coating on inside of crystal where the Rolex has none
- Beats/Hour – Rolex 28.8k vs Omega 25.2k
So overall apart from a marginally lower frequency movement (but still COSC certified) than the Rolex, the Omega seems to have a higher specification with a longer power reserve, the addition of antireflective coating on the crystal and a helium escape valve. So how does the Rolex justify a price pretty much double that of the Omega, both when new in 2004 and as prices as used pieces now? Well lets take a quick look at them both.
We all know that specification on paper is not the be all and end all of what makes something good or desirable. Nobody would buy a car based on paper specification and nobody should do the same with a watch either. There are aspects of a watch that cannot be quantified, but I shall try to explore the different qualities of both watches.
Lets start with the bracelets. The Rolex comes with the oyster style bracelet which is a time honoured Rolex classic and looks great. When I first handled one I was surprised by how light the bracelet actually is, which I think helps with comfort but perhaps does no favours when it comes to giving the feel of quality. I’ll be totally frank about it and the bracelet feels a bit cheap and a little rattley. Not really what you expect from a watch with such a price tag. The Omega on the other hand has the single most solid feeling and comfortable bracelet that I have ever had the pleasure of wearing. The style is perhaps a little more dressy with the polished lines in the links, but that is no bad thing. The Omega bracelet oozes quality and gives a real feel of confidence in the durability of the watch. It does, however, use pins which can be a pain to resize where the Rolex used screws making resizing much easier. If the Omega bracelet had screw links that would be perfect.
Now, on to the clasps. This is where Omega win hands down. The Omega clasp is solid, positive locking and includes the divers extension which is discreet, comfortable and very solid feeling. It is evident that an enormous amount of effort was put into the development of this clasp. The Rolex clasp, on the other hand, is a totally different animal. It feels archaic, a bit flimsy and lacks that feeling of quality engineering. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t know of any stories of the Rolex clasp failing, but it is to the Omega clasp what the Rover Sterling was to the Daimler Double Six.
The bezels on both watches are unidirectional (as should all bezels on divers watches) and both have 120 clicks per revolution, 2 per minute marker, unlike some cheaper bezels which only have 60 clicks per revolution. Both feel solid but silky smooth as you would expect. Replacement of the Rolex bezel insert is easy and the insert will cost around £100 from Rolex, however, Omega won’t sell just the insert and so if you damage yours you will have to replace the entire bezel which will obviously be more costly. Big thumbs up to Rolex on this front. The scalloped edge of the Rolex bezel is very easy to grip with wet hands or when wearing gloves, but the Omega fluted type edge is much harder to get a grip of in such situations which can make things a bit trickier. Both great bezels but the Rolex gets my vote hands down.
Now to movements – well as far as I see it there is opportunity for watch geeks to have hours of debate here about in-house movements and the finer points of the mechanics. However, I think that the debate can be very simple. As a watch user the important things are performance and durability. All else is fairly irrelevant. As far as performance goes both movements were manufactured to perform within COSC standards and after a decade of use are still keeping great time so I really cannot say that one performs better than the other. Both have very quiet (if not silent) winding rotors and the second hand sweep on both is smooth. In terms of durability, again both watches are going strong a decade after their manufacture so again it would be wrong for me to rate one higher than the other. Watch snobbery aside the two different movements seem to perform equally to the user.
Next up are the dials. Under close inspection under a jewelers loupe both dials have very crisp and clear printing as you would expect from both brands. The luminous hour markers on the Omega are just printed on to the dial where the Rolex has applied luminous hour markers with 18k white gold surrounds which gives a more premium look to the dial and makes the hour markers really stand out. The dial itself on the Rolex is plain, gloss black where as the Omega has the famous wave pattern which when it catches the light is a real thing of beauty but under ordinary conditions is not overly obvious. I really like the Omega dial for that reason.
In terms of wearability the Rolex wears perhaps marginally smaller but still easily fits under a french cuff when being worn with a shirt. The Omega wears perhaps slightly larger and I think that it is due to the slightly more pronounced crown and the He escape valve, however, it does wear flatter as I think that the case thickness feels less than that of the Rolex. The Omega may also feel slightly more substantial as the bracelet is a constant 20mm at both lug end and clasp end where the Rolex is 20mm at the lug end tapering down to 18mm at the clasp which gives at quite an elegant feel. There can be no argument that both watches wear well and feel very well engineered.
So, you are probably waiting for me to tell you which I prefer. Well, it is not that easy. I love both watches and in terms of specification they are both pretty similar with one edging forward in some areas and the other doing better in others. One thing that I will say though is that the Omega obviously being around half the price of the Rolex when new posed fantastic value for money compared to the Rolex. However, it has to be said also that both watches are now worth more than their price when new (so have appreciated in value rather than depreciated) and so purchase price is perhaps irrelevant as overall ownership costs are very small for both.
I will say, however, that if you are looking for a divers watch you would not go far wrong with either options. Both the Seamaster and Submariner are great choices.