Aficionados of vintage Omega chronographs already know the Omega Speedmaster. The history, the lore, the fact that it went to the moon. Its reputation is such that Omega's chronograph offerings in its other lines are often overlooked--undeservedly, because while these other chronographs might not have the reputation of the Speedmaster, they are just as thoughtfully-crafted and deserving of attention as their more famous cousin.
The Seamaster line debuted in 1948, and has its roots in watches Omega supplied to the RAF during the Second World War. These watches, of course, had to meet rigorous standards that the British Ministry of Defense required of all wristwatches they received for use by the troops. Much like the "Dirty Dozen" and IWC/JLC Mark XIs issued to the British armed forces, the watches Omega supplied to the RAF had to be water-resistant, contain interchangeable parts, and be extremely durable. To ensure water-resistance, each watch was submerged for a period of 72 hours at varying temperatures and pressures. Of all the twenty thousand watches the RAF received from Omega, each one met those rigorous standards; in turn, after the war, Omega was inspired to release a line intended for civilian use.
These first civilian Seamasters (ref. CK 2518) lost nothing in terms of water-resistance or robustness. In fact, they were perhaps even more robust than their military predecessors, thanks to their reinforced crystals and the fact that they were equipped with Omega's very first automatic movements, the caliber 28.10 and caliber 30.10. Additionally, in 1954 the Seamaster ref. KO 2657 saw another innovation, unprecedented in horology, that guaranteed improved water-resistance: the rubber O-ring gasket. Before then, only submarines or aircrafts used O-ring gaskets, but Omega applied that technology to seal the cases of their Seamaster line, replacing the lead gaskets used by Omega and many other brands. Once more Omega subjected these watches to pressure tests at 60 meters and temperatures ranging from -40 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit.
Omega produced their first chronographs as pocket watches as early as 1885, and by 1913 were putting them on straps. In the 1930s, the quality of Omega's chronograph movements was improved by the acquisition of famed manufacturer of chronograph ébauches, Lemania. The association with Lemania and Omega was a long-lived one, spanning nearly four decades, and is marked by the masterful hand of Albert Piguet, Lemania's head movement designer, who conceived such venerable calibers as the caliber .321.
Albert Piguet designed what would enter the annals of horological history as the caliber 321 in 1946. Most famously, Omega used the caliber 321 in the Speedmaster from 1957 to 1968. It was these watches that were strapped to the wrists of astronauts from Wally Schirra, to Ed White, and to Buzz Aldrin when he took his first steps on the lunar surface.
But Omega also used the caliber 321--and its successor, the caliber 821, which had a higher rate than the 321--in chronographs in the Seamaster line as early as 1958. At first glance these Seamaster chronographs lack the rugged appearance of their Speedmaster cousins. With elegant lines and cases that were sometimes made of gold, they call to mind the same diligence Omega showed in designing and producing their Speedmaster cousins which were introduced only one year prior. And yet, due to their being part of the Seamaster line, they have the screwed-down (and later, pressed-on and held with an O-ring) case backs and rugged constitution that distinguished the Seamaster line. These Seamaster chronographs are perhaps less common, but no less durable or well-made than the Speedmaster chronographs, and are definitely worthy of wrist time.
It's also worth noting that Roger Smith, renowned watchmaker and apprentice to the legendary George Daniels, wears a steel Omega Seamaster; if that doesn't speak to its quality and class, nothing does.
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