Two of my favorite Omegas, a 60th anniversary Seamaster 1957 and Speedmaster FOIS
My first watch was a Timex with Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh picture on the dial, paired with a grey leather band. It cost about $20 (non-inflation adjusted with current exchange rate) back when I was around ten years old in 2004, which was not a insignificant sum for me and my parents, to whom I nagged for a while before they caved in and bought me one. I forgot what happened to that watch, but I have been wearing a quartz-powered Timex ever since until my sophomore year in high school, when one day my mother took me to a exhibition in the city and bought me a Tag Heuer Aquaracer 300m with a blue dial. It was certainly a slippery slope, as in 2012, after my father purchased a Rolex GMT-Master II, I began to be fascinated by complications and higher-end brands, with Omega as the logical choice.
First, Omega is reasonably priced relative to the more well-known and flashier counterpart, Rolex. Back in 2013, a Seamaster GMT cost as much as $4000 while GMT Master II was more than double of that for the Stainless-Steel version. Second, the company seem to be more innovative in its product launch and core technology. Although the basic Seamaster GMT was still using a modified ETA movement in 2013, it has a co-axial escapement, which allow for improved precision and less frequent maintenance. The company had also been developing in-house movement for all its line and has since replaced most of its movement, except for the Speedmaster line that retains calibre 1861. Lastly, they have been doing great on marketing, from featuring Seamaster in Bond movies since 1995 to supporting the Olympic games, which resonates well with the youngster.
Over the years, I have added few more diver (Seamaster), chronograph (Speedmaster, Zenith), and dress (Reverso, Datejust) watches from different brands, but the Seamaster and Speedmaster have somehow managed to be on my wrist 75% of the time. It is versatile and rugged enough for me not to worry on getting it scratched, a feeling I do not have when wearing the Reverso, for example. Some readers have been asking me to compare these two watches together for some time, as they are unique in their 39mm size compared to the original Seamaster (41mm) and Speedmaster (42mm). In this post, I am going to share some of my thoughts on these two watches and highlight what differentiate them from the regular Seamaster and Speedmaster series. This is not a full review, so do not expect it to be thorough.
39mm Version of Omega Seamaster and Speedmaster Line
The Case and Dial
The Seamaster pictured is a 60th anniversary edition of the 1957 Seamaster 300 and limited to 3.557 pieces in production (3000 is being sold separately and 557 pieces sold as a “trilogy” bundle with a Speedmaster and Railmaster). The case and links are both brushed and polished, with the hand and dial featuring faux patina emitting bright, green luminova in the dark. Contrary to the traditional uni-directional bezel, Seamaster 1957 bezel could be rotated in both directions, allowing it to be used as a time marker or even a second time zone.
Meanwhile, the Speedmaster pictured is the “First Omega in Space” or Wally Schira edition of the Speedmaster line. It is a numbered edition, which is different from limited edition, as there is no cap on how many watches could be produced by Omega. I think the company originally thought this edition to be a nice complement to the original 42mm Speedmaster and decided to take a “wait and see” mode to gauge the demand for the watch, before deciding on their marketing strategy. As with regular chronographs, it featured small seconds dial, 30-minute recorder and 12-hour recorder, aside from the main chronograph hand. The bezel features regular tachymeter denoting the speed in Km/hour.
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The Seamaster 1957 is originally paired with a brushed and polished bracelet, while the Speedmaster FOIS comes with a brown leather strap. Although both watches have 19mm lug, the bracelet in Seamaster 1957 is not compatible for use in the FOIS, causing headache among fans who must scour at old Omega bracelet and end-piece. However, recently Uncle Seiko has manufactured a beautiful flat link bracelet that fit Speedmaster FOIS perfectly and at a reasonable price, which I have used for a month prior to this post.
Having used both watches for an extended time, 3 years for the Speedmaster FOIS and 2 years for the Seamaster 1957, I noticed that the Seamaster is noticeably heavier and has a more solid feeling in it. It is also noteworthy to mention that the former is rated for only 50 meters water-resistance, while the later is designed to survive up to 300 meters. Although many people have swam with a Speedmaster with no problem, I personally hesitate to do so and would advised against it after reading cases of fogging after submerging from the water. However, I have been more than once caught in a heavy rain with my Speedmaster and notice no issue whatsoever afterwards.
The case back of both watches are also unique in the sense that Omega could have use a transparent one to show the movement, as in the original Speedmaster and Seamaster 300m GMT, but decided to go against it. Instead, both watches feature a seahorse logo (embossed in the Speedmaster case) that ties them back to their respective history.
Finding a watch that 1) I like, 2) I could afford, and 3) fit me well is difficult. I have a relatively small wrist, measured about 6.3”, meaning that a 41mm watch often looks too big and unbalanced on my wrist. Prior to the 1957 Seamaster, I had a 41mm Seamaster 300 that looks very similar but is noticeably bigger. Even after removing all the bracelet links to a minimum, it is still about 0.5” larger for my wrist. That is the reason I am very excited when Omega announced a 39mm Seamaster, albeit at a higher MRSP. Arguably, the smaller size of 1957 Seamaster and Speedmaster FOIS fit my wrist much better than another diver or chronograph.
Movement and Accuracy
Inside the Seamaster 1957 is a new Master Chronometer 8806 movement. Currently, this is the most advanced automatic movement Omega has installed in their watches, featuring 1.5 tesla anti-magnetic movement, +/- 2 seconds precision per day, and 55 hours power reserve on an automatic movement. The real-world precision is impressive, at less than +/- 10 seconds per month.
The Speedmaster FOIS housed 1861 calibre movement, which Omega has been using for decades after retiring its famous 321 calibre. The movement is not COSC certified and accuracy is much lower than more modern calibre. My copy runs +/- 10 seconds per day and sometimes deviate up to 2 minutes in a month. Being a manual-winding movement, the Speedmaster has up to 48 hours power reserve and requires 40 to 50 full winding every day.
The bottom line is that both watches housed an impressive movement, although the Seamaster wins hands down in this scenario. But acknowledging that the Speedmaster FOIS is a manual winding watch, the accuracy is probably not an issue for majority of collectors, as most of us probably rotate between 2-3 watches in a month anyway.
Price and Value
At the time of the writing, Omega MSRP for Seamaster 1957 and Speedmaster FOIS are US$ 7.000 and US$ 5.300, respectively. For comparison, Rolex Submariner MSRP is at US$7.500 and Daytona is at US$13.150. Meanwhile, Breitling Navitimer Chronograph is being advertised at US$ 8.680.
The Seamaster 1957 is on the higher price range of the Seamaster line, but considering the new and upgraded movement, and limited-edition series, the price point is not outrageous. However, I would not consider the watch as a success for Omega either. Currently there are many new and second hand Seamaster 1957 being advertised online at $6.500-7.500 range, meaning that despite being available for only 3.557 pieces, the demand is not very high. I am guessing that for a $500 difference, many first-time buyers are tilted to Rolex Submariner instead, which has a higher brand recognition.
The Speedmaster FOIS, however, is a steal relative to chronographs from other brands, which could be bought at as low as US$4.350 from watch dealers. There are few watches with 1) history, 2) brand recognition, 3) quality/finish could be purchased in the $4.000 price range, making it a perfect entry for beginners.
In 2020, Omega launched another flagship Speedmaster in 39mm with the famous 321 calibre, priced at sky-high US$14.100. I understand the lure and mythical presence of the 321 calibre, but personally I think that Omega has overplayed their hands on this one. At such a high price point, I believe they are not maximizing their profit potential (price x volume) and driving away collectors who would have bought them at US$8.000-9.000 range. Many said that this is Omega’s answer to Rolex Daytona. However, the problem is that there is no cheaper version of Daytona, but there is plenty of options for Speedmaster. Unless Omega start rising their MRSP for the regular 42mm Speedmaster and the FOIS, I think it would be hard for them to sell the 321 calibre as the price differences are just too high for such a similar model. For a budget of US$14.100, I would rather pick up Seamaster 1957 (US 7.000), Speedmaster FOIS (US$ 4.350) and took a week-long vacation in Cancun.