When it comes to legends of the watch world, the Omega Seamaster has one of the most storied histories. And when I say this, I mean for better or for worse—but that’s what makes a good tale. Unlike the Rolex with their Submariner, Omega wasn’t above survivalist experimentation in the aftermath of the quartz crisis. The rich history of the Omega Seamaster is a journey of innovation, sometimes losing one’s way, and triumphant returns.
This is also why there’s basically a Seamaster out there for everyone. Yes, there are flagship variations that we most associate with the line. Still, Omega’s unique and sometimes controversial approach to the Seamaster is the reason it boasts a host of icons, not just one or two. After all, how did an electric blue wave pattern make it into the classics club, next to tried-and-true traditional designs? And while many know the Seamaster’s contribution to horology and culture, it also helped change the sport of diving to an extent most don’t even realize.
Origins in war and peace
One of the Seamaster’s notable ancestors is Omega’s 1932 Marine watch. It was used by Yves Le Prieur, the French Navy officer who invented the scuba mask and scuba tank. In 1936, explorer William Beebeew wore it on the Bathyscaphe.
Then, on the first of September, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. France and Great Britain responded by declaring war on the fatherland. Omega responded, as a main watch supplier to the UK’s Ministry of War, with innovation.
From waterproofing to anti-magnetism, Omega kept up with the growing and changing needs of World War II. The fact that Omega watches were worn by Navy men will play an important role in pop culture, when Bond makes The Great Seamaster Switch of 1995 (trademark: me).
Three years after the Allies won, the war-tested watches developed as a result of the struggle were introduced to the public. As the director of the Omega Museum, Petros Protopapas, put it, the commercialization of these high-level timepieces was, “a child of peace.” The Omega Seamaster, a collection of horology’s best practices thus far, debuted in 1948 in celebration of the Swiss brand’s 100th anniversary.
The 1957 Trilogy and the Seamaster 300
The original Seamaster wasn’t actually intended for diving. It was simply the peacetime answer to the high-functioning watches of soldiers, meant for everyday use. It wasn’t until the Omega’s Professional trifecta came out that the world was introduced to the Seamaster 300, reference CK 2913. The 39mm diver, with its distinct broad arrow hands, debuted alongside the spacebound Speedmaster and the antimagnetic Railmaster.
The Seamaster notably features an O-ring gasket, which ups its water resistance from its forebears. Prior gaskets were made of shellac or lead, both easily affected by changing depths and temperatures. The CK 2913 was the first Seamaster to sport a rotating bezel with a reverse minute countdown. While the name “Seamaster 300” is misleading since it had a depth resistance of 200m, it still had everything you needed while under water.
One underrated Seamaster contribution is that it wasn’t just a pressure-proof watch, but a vacuum-proof one. At the time, hesalite crystals were attached to the watch dial from the top. With the Seamaster CK 2913, the crystal is placed from the inside of the caseback, inserted before it pops out, then screwed in via a flat inner ring. Even without a helium valve, the watch wouldn’t pop during compression. Truly, this was a major step, and one we don’t often talk about.
So what happened to the original 1948 Seamaster? Its professional aesthetic still popular, it broke off into its own subline, the Seamaster De Ville. By 1967, it became its own dedicated line, the Omega De Ville. So yes, the Seamaster fathered the De Ville.
The Seamaster changes the game—for all watches
With the development of deep sea saturation diving, Omega embarked on a huge research project in 1968. They partnered with Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises, COMEX, a French diving company. Two prototypes were created, Ploprof 0 and Ploprof 1. The names come from the term “Plongeur Professionel” which is French for “professional diver.”
One of the focuses of the research project was to avoid holes on the watch whenever possible. The school of thought behind this was that if you don’t let helium in at all, you won’t need an escape route. Ploprof 1 would become the Seamaster 600, which came out in 1972. A generously-sized 55mm, the 600 boasted an impervious monobloc case and an unmistakable asymmetric design. Ploprof 0 would become the Seamaster 1000, remembered for its iconic oval case.
Another consequential way this research program changed the watch game was in its approach to materials. Divers needed watches that were highly-resistant and non-corrosive. So, Omega crafted the ahead-of-their-time Proprofs with every kind of metal imaginable, including titanium. They hit the jackpot with Uranus steel, a metal alloy used to build COMEX diver belts.
Several Omega watches that came out in 1971 and 1972 were built from this non-corrosive and durable metal. Using modern-day prose, we’d call Uranus “904L stainless steel.” Otherwise known as the go-to steel for sport watches, quietly pioneered by the Seamaster.
The Omega Seamaster after the quartz crisis
You’ll notice that few Omega-backed histories of the Seamaster cover the ‘80s, which is a shame because everyone loves a comeback story. Like many watch brands, Omega was reeling after the quartz revolution, which caused the plummeting sales of mechanicals in the ‘70s. By the time President Reagan came into office, Swiss heritage brands were thoroughly spooked.
Additionally, the go-go ‘80s was a veritable playground for watch designers thanks to Wall Streeters competing with each other on who can find the flashiest, loudest, and most distinct timepieces. While Rolex held its ground on mechanicals and traditional designs, Omega tried to contend on every front of the new world, not always to great success.
Some consider this era the Seamaster’s experimental phase, while others called it a downright identity crisis. When it came to the Seamaster, Omega dabbled with far more fashion-focused trends than they did with the Speedy. The downside here is that it was often to the point of unrecognizability.
There are, however, several bright sides. First, this era seemed to give Omega the boldness to try new things with the Seamaster. Second, since cheap, mass-produced quartz watches became the norm, it gave mechanical watch brands the springboard they needed to rebrand as luxury pieces. In turn, this gave the Seamaster the springboard it needed for not only a comeback, but for permanent legend status.
The Seamaster Pro 300
In 1993, the iconic Seamaster Professional 300 came out. This was a turning point for Omega, who spent the ‘80s questioning if they’d make it as a brand. It was also a turning point for mechanical watches, makers of which questioned if they’d make it as an industry. The Seamaster was the answer, and the answer was yes. Admittedly, it helped that Omega released both an automatic and a quartz version. I’d say that that’s less of a cheat, and more of a practical approach.
It was robust and high-functioning, with a hint of experimentation, this time maturely implemented with restraint. The scalloped bezel, half-skeleton hands, and of course, the blue wave pattern dial, are emblematic of the line.
It definitely caught the eye of James Bond producers, who decided that since the fictional spy served in the British Navy, to which the Seamaster is affiliated, that 007 should sport this Omega. In 1995’s GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan’s Bond would add pop culture cache to the Seamaster’s already impressive CV.
From Bond to the Duke of Cambridge
In a self-aware scene in the now-legendary 2006 flick Casino Royale, top-five Bond woman, Vesper Lynd, asks Daniel Craig’s Bond if he’s wearing a Rolex. He corrects her, ensuring the audience knows it’s an Omega. Product placement? Naturally. But, this exchange also cinches the Seamaster’s status as “the other Bond watch” (sitting on a throne next to the Submariner).
Today, the Seamaster is worn by several great men. Olympics champion Michael Phelps is a fan, and who but a swimmer would know divers best? The Duke of Cambridge was gifted a Seamaster Professional 300 by his mother, the late Princess Diana, and he’s rarely seen without it. By the way, His Royal Highness wears the quartz variation.
Seamaster variations today
The Seamaster Planet Ocean is highly function-forward, a sort of sum-of-all-Seamasters. As a major flex, Omega even served up three Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra-Deeps, simu-tested at 15,000m, which is wild because Google tells me the ocean doesn’t even go that deep.
Meanwhile, the Seamaster Aqua Terra comes in different sizes and colorways for ladies and gents. While the Seamaster Pro 300 has waves on its dial to remind us of deep-sea adventures, the Aqua Terra is adorned with panels that look like the decks of a luxury yacht. So truly, there is a Seamaster, with a specific design and story, to match all types.