A Week On The Wrist: The Omega Seamaster Diver 300M
White is the new blue.
The Omega Seamaster Diver 300M, in one form or another, has been around since 1993. But of all the various iterations over the decades, the most recent example with a polished ceramic dial, ceramic bezel, and Co-Axial caliber 8800 may be the one that’s finally found its footing.
It’s a watch that feels like it took 26 years to get right. Past designs teetered back and forth between a luxury watch and a tool watch over the years, and it was an absolute commercial success, but it never had a unanimous vote from the enthusiast community. If it weren’t for the on-screen endorsement by Pierce Brosnan – the suavest Bond of them all – would the watch have hung around in Omega’s lineup for as long as it did? Since its inception, the design has had an equal number of fans and detractors. The skeleton hands, helium escape valve at 10 o’clock, and scalloped bezel have forced a “love-it-or-hate-it” approach.
It’s a good thing the design did stick around as long as it has. The advent of modern material science in conjunction with the advancements in co-axial escapement and anti-magnetism technology have made this model – released in 2019 – the best it’s ever been. The fundamental design elements that make the watch polarizing are still there, but even the folks who bemoan them would be hard-pressed to disagree that there’s a ton of value in this execution. We’re used to seeing it in the iconic blue hue, but I think it’s the high-contrast white-dialed version that’s re-igniting the excitement over the Seamaster Diver 300M.
I’ve owned a “Bond Seamaster” for 14 years now, so I’ve had plenty of time to get acquainted with the idiosyncrasies of the overall design. But when I spent a week with the new white-dialed 2019 release, it actually didn’t feel familiar at all. It felt like I had to start back at square one with the watch. The changes Omega’s made have truly transformed the watch and forced me to see it in an entirely new light. It was like coming home to the house you grew up in after years away and discovering that you no longer know where everything is. I kept glancing at three o’clock for date. Nope. It’s at six o’clock now, just like the spatula that’s no longer in the kitchen drawer you thought it was in. The fonts have changed, like the layout of your childhood bedroom. It’s a guest room now. It’s all vaguely familiar, but it takes some serious getting used to. There’s a natural tendency to immediately reject change, but when it comes to this iteration of the Seamaster Diver 300M, I think the old adage “change is a good thing,” certainly holds true.
In The Shadow Of A Modern Classic
In the beginning, there was indeed a variant of the Seamaster Professional 300M with a white dial, but it wasn’t nearly as pretty as its smooth blue sibling, ref. 2541.80. The white-dialed Seamaster, ref. 2542.20.00, couldn’t be the darling of the collection even if it wanted to be. Like most things in life, it’s hard to get it right on the first try. So how did the Seamaster Professional 300M become an icon?
The moment in the spotlight came two years after its release, when it appeared in the 1995 hit James Bond film, Goldeneye. According to Jason Heaton’s 2014 look at the Omega Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial (it’s an entirely different watch, and the nomenclature is confusing, but decoding the myriad of executions and references and special editions is part of Omega’s charm), “costume designer Lindy Hemming chose an Omega Seamaster, then the blue-dialed version with the skeletonized sword hands. Hemming chose the Seamaster over other options largely based on the brand’s history with the British Navy, to which Bond had belonged. According to Hemming, ‘I had known contemporaries when I was in my twenties who were military and naval […] who all swore by their Omegas.'”
It matched Pierce Brosnan’s Bond perfectly, in the sense that it was pretty enough to consistently charm us, and only tough when it needed to be. The case came polished and brushed in a way that made it less tool-like and more flashy to match Bond’s businessman-like looks and diplomatic demeanor. The bracelet on both references that Bond wore – a quartz (2541.80.00) and an automatic (2531.80.00) – featured two rows of links that were also highly polished and incredibly comfortable. As the watch became part of the Bond identity, sales soared.
The blue Seamaster Professional 300M became an instant classic because of Bond. And in true Omega fashion, its popularity spawned dozens of iterations in different metals, dial colors, and complications. The 1990s and 2000s saw more than a handful of models emerge from the simple design that Bond popularized: There was a chronograph in titanium, a GMT with sword hands on a Speedmaster bracelet, a Japan-only midsize model with a red dial, a solid-gold version with a dark navy dial, a version in solid white gold produced for America’s Cup, a version designed for freediving dubbed the “Apnea,” a handful of 007 editions, a version in stainless and gold, another in titanium and rose gold. There are many more.
We could go further down the hole of Seamaster Professional 300M Divers, but I think we have to narrow the scope to the sub-set of white dials in the Seamaster Professional 300M and Seamaster Diver 300M family to compare apples to apples. What I found is that not only is this version the most attractive white-dialed model Omega has ever produced in the range, but to me, it even eclipses the iconic blue-dialed models in terms of beauty. There’s something about the monochromatic theme that comes to life in this iteration in a way that no other model has captured.
To fully appreciate the balance of this current design, let’s take a look at earlier white dial executions in the Seamaster Diver and Professional 300M family.
The original Bond Seamaster, wave dial and all, just in white. There’s an obvious lack of contrast with the white dial muting the waves, and the polished bezel insert slightly clashing with the white dial to amount to a design that didn’t quite have the mass appeal that its blue sibling had. Additionally, this generation used printed markers as opposed to the applied markers of the later generations.
Visually, the addition of the GMT complication was an opportunity to introduce more color. The red-tipped seconds hand and the GMT hand appeared in red, with a stainless steel bezel insert wearing a bold 24-hour scale. While the case and overall aesthetic are shared with the Diver, the GMT doesn’t have a helium escape valve (which at least in some folks’ view might make it a more pure tool watch, actually) and features sword hands instead of skeleton hands. The general design is shared with the reference ref. 2254.50.00 and 2255.80, albeit with the GMT complication.
A 36mm and 41mm version were produced in quantities of 2,010 examples each, featuring the Co-Axial caliber 2500. During this era, the wave pattern was absent from the dial. It was delivered to retailers in 2009 and featured the Olympic ring symbol on the seconds hand, along with the Vancouver 2010 insignia on the caseback in lieu of the hippocampus.
Instead of red, this execution featuring a chronograph complication utilized orange as an accent color against a white wave dial. The inclusion of the caliber 1164 (Valjoux/ETA 7750 base) forced the steel case thickness to swell to 16mm. High-visibility orange was also used in the blue titanium version.
This “Commander’s Watch” is a limited edition of 7,007 pieces that paid tribute to Bond’s naval heritage. The skeleton hands are blued, and the entirely red seconds hand features the “007” gun logo. The ceramic bezel is produced in navy blue with a 15-minute countdown section in red. This watch is from the era when the wave pattern was absent, and instead, the dial is polished enamel.
A Seamaster Diver 300 For Today
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Seamaster, Omega released no less than 14 brand new Seamasters in 2019. That caught our collective attention, but it was the white dial variant that stole the show. It’s important to note that the 2019 releases are not a limited edition of any sort. They’re standard production models. This means that theoretically, it’s possible to walk into any Omega boutique or AD, plop down $4,900, and walk out with the pictured watch.
There are three decades of experimentation in the current design, and at least one design detail from every iteration of white Seamaster 300M has made it into the newest version in one way or another. There is an argument to be made that the basic design has generally remained unchanged, however. And even though the watch feels much different, visually speaking, it’s true. There’s a certain continuity that’s present throughout the line, except that design changes are a bit more distinct, as opposed to the small permutations of the Rolex Submariner that are only visible to the highly trained eye.
On The Wrist
The original Bond Seamaster was easy to wear. With such a “skinny” case at 11.5mm, it just wore like a charm. The curious bit about the case was that Omega managed to get 300 meters of water resistance out of a case that was as thin as many dress watches. Usually, the tool watch apologist will claim that the case needs to be as tall as a 10 story building in order to achieve a considerable amount of water resistance. The reference 2531.80, which I’ve been wearing for well over a decade, achieves this with a reasonably thin case.
The reference in question has grown taller by 2mm. It’s now 13.5mm thick. But it’s grown roughly in scale with the diameter of the watch as well. The newest version is now 42mm, up from 41mm. The weight and size are noticeable on the wrist. To anyone who has had experience with Seamaster 300M Divers of yore, the upsized case will be immediately noticeable. But at the same time, that instills a sort of toughness in the watch. There’s a strange sense of confidence that comes from feeling the watch on your wrist. It pushes it closer to the tool end of the spectrum. Never before would I have described the Seamaster Diver 300M as “beefy,” but now might be the time.
The helium escape valve is now a conical shape, almost like a volcano with a large caldera, as opposed to a duplicate of the standard crown. This HEV is manually operated, meaning the user must unscrew it in order for it to be activated, unlike the more popular design of an HEV that operates automatically. If the HEV is left unscrewed, the watch is still water resistant to 50m. It’s important to note, however, that the HEV has nothing to do with water resistance. It’s intended to be used only in helium-rich decompression chamber environments in which commercial divers spend long amounts of time. Without the valve, the risk of a crystal popping out due to positive internal pressure exists. The valve is meant to relieve that pressure. In short, the HEV is only useful to commercial divers and therefore is often bemoaned as an extra feature that’s completely superfluous to anyone whose job description does not include time in a hyperbaric chamber.
But without the HEV, how would Bond have used so much of the wonderful spy technology in his Seamaster?
The HEV has been part of the design since the beginning, and one of the hallmarks of a good aesthetic design is consistency. From a utility perspective, it introduces a whole host of potential problems. What if someone forgets to screw down the HEV? They’ve just lost 250M of water resistance. It’s another hole in the case that needs a gasket, another hole in the case for water to get in. Additionally, it could potentially snag on diving equipment, and it also doesn’t have any sort of crown guards protecting it.
But alas, it’s not going anywhere. It’s become a part of the design that must be considered “quirky” to be appreciated. The more visual elements that distinguish a watch, the more solidified its identity becomes. And in that sense, the HEV adds character. Most folks that are part of the target market for this watch will never see the inside of a decompression chamber anyway.
The rubber strap is comfortable. Along with the beefed-up case, it feels like a proper dive watch on rubber. It uses a buckle as opposed to a clasp, which has historically been paired with the rubber strap on the Seamaster range. The strap features two parallel protrusions that mimic the row of links that characterize the bracelet. The ends of the strap are curved and meet the case to form a perfect seal. No strap gap here.
This is where the watch shines. Omega has never managed to quite find the best way to present a white dial in the Seamaster 300M range until this watch, in my opinion. Instead of enamel, it’s highly polished ceramic that serves as a perfect canvas for a laser-etched wave pattern. The wave has returned, and in a most glorious fashion. Like the dimensions of the watch, the lines are thicker and bolder. They give the appearance that they’re deep grooves in the case, making it not so subtle anymore. The “wave” on the early dials could be described as a texture, where this is more of a bold pattern. Subtle it is not, but by leaning into the design, they’ve managed to make it cool and modern again. It no longer screams ’90s.
Luckily, the designers at Omega didn’t etch the “ZRO2” logo as deep as the waves, and even though it’s present on the dial just south of the center, it isn’t noticeable in most conditions. Before buying a watch, during the research phase, I’ll identify what material it is. And I’ll remember what it is. Chances are I don’t need a reminder. I have a feeling labeling the materials on a watch will age in the same way the badges displaying “fuel injected” on early cars that used this technology have. If we want to discuss superfluous design inclusions, let’s take a look at labeling materials on the watch instead of the instruction manual. There’s an argument to be made about labeling the case, as certain materials can create irritation for some wearers. I can’t think of a good case for labeling the dial.
But that’s overlooked when we look at just how well it presents. It’s handsome and equally legible. The sheen from the polishing is hard to decode. On one hand, polished surfaces tend to dress up a watch and add a little more pizazz to the design, but there’s also the idea that the polished ceramic really comes across as a material-forward design choice. It almost feels space-age and excites the sort of wonder that I felt the first time I saw the heat resistant black tiles on the space shuttle. You sort of wonder, “what exactly is it made of?” I guess this is the only case where the ZRO2 comes in handy. It’s the symbol for zirconium oxide. The Space Shuttle tiles are made from silica.
The markers are raised and have much more dimensionality than earlier designs. This also increases legibility, which can be questionable on white dials when the lume plots are so close in color to white. Luckily, the legibility on this watch is fantastic due to the height of the applied markers and the contrast created by the surrounds. Red is again employed as the accent color, and it appears on the tip of the seconds hand as well as the “Seamaster” text.
The killer new looks are just the icing on the cake, but the soul of the watch comes from the caliber 8800 inside. The platform has utilized a number of movements over the years, and every time a new movement is introduced, it’s significantly technically superior to the last. It started with the ETA-base 1120, then moved to the Co-Axial caliber 2500, and now the caliber 8800. While the watch has retained a constant visual language, inside it’s been getting better and better over time. Even within the current range of Omega calibers, the 8800 is near the top of the range. To start with, it features a co-axial escapement, but that technology has been in the watch for some time now. The 8800 brings some improvements over former co-axial movements, like a free-sprung balance with silicon balance spring. It’s also anti-magnetic to at least 15,000 gauss.
On top of the technical prowess, the movement is a looker, and it’s framed through a display caseback. Again the display back pushes the watch towards the dressy side of the spectrum, but given the movement’s good looks, even purists might reconsider the notion that a display back on a diver is a cardinal sin.
Ceramic, a proprietary movement, and an HEV. This is a serious contender, especially coming in at $4,575. In this case, it all comes down to looks and your preference for titanium vs. steel. The polished ceramic dial of the Seamaster Diver 300M makes the watch, but it comes at a premium of just less than $500. The Pelagos can’t pull dressed-up duties in the same way the Seamaster can, either. One could argue that the Black Bay might be an apt comparison in this regard, but the absence of ceramic makes it a tough comparison.
This modern interpretation of a ’60s Omega favorite was introduced in 2014. At $6,800, it slots in above the Seamaster 300M, but feature-wise, it plays in the same field. The Diver 300M has something the 300 does not, however – a modern, original identity. It isn’t an old design that was jump-started to cater to vintage trends; instead, it’s been iterated on over the past 25 years.
1200 meters of water resistance, time and date, an ETA 2824 that comes from Omega’s parent company, The Swatch Group. Spec-wise, the Doxa stacks right up and comes in at well under the price of the Omega. It’s $1,890 on a bracelet. But where the Doxa departs from the Seamaster is in the ability to dress it up. The Doxa has always been a die-hard tool watch, but it just doesn’t have the ability to dress up like the Seamaster does. And we love it for that very reason.
The new generation of Seamasters have been nicknamed “The Sub Killer” by the internet and social media hive mind. But I think it undermines the legacy and character of each of these watches to take current market circumstances into consideration. It is a Sub Killer in the sense that this watch steals sales due to the substitution effect. But that also implies that buyers are indeed substituting this watch to satiate the desire for a Submariner, when that isn’t entirely the case. Of course, this will happen to an extent, but we have to be careful not to pigeonhole. We often see it with Tudor – in this case, a Pelagos – another watch to which we’re comparing the Seamaster. “You settled for a Tudor because you couldn’t find a Sub” is what you might read in comments. However, it just simply isn’t the case most of the time. There are plenty of people who want a Submariner, and there are plenty of people who appreciate the legacy of the Seamaster as well.
Both models have a Bond tie-in. They’re similar in terms of specs, and they generally have the same overall tool watch design (although the Sea-Dweller might be a better comparison on account of the HEV). In almost every aspect on paper, they’re easy to compare: a ceramic bezel, 300 meters of water resistance, stainless steel case and bracelet, a stellar movement. But I think we should make a point of not assigning any sort of attribute to the Seamaster based on the scarcity of the Submariner. That being said, the Seamaster on a bracelet is $5,200 at retail and the comparable Submariner is $8,950.
If you’ve been a longtime fan of the Seamaster Diver/Professional 300M line, then this is most likely the watch you’ve been waiting for. It has everything that makes the Seamaster 300M retain such a strong identity, but it just feels different on the wrist. It feels new. Part of the reason why the Seamaster has earned such a following is that it’s a popular one-watch solution. It’s the kind of watch that you buy and then wear the hell out of, because that’s what it’s so good at. This one is even better equipped for the same sort of duty as an everyday watch that splits the difference between dressy and tool. It has a sense of duality that’s finally come into its own, 25 years later.
As for me, I won’t be upgrading. But that’s not because it’s a watch that I wouldn’t own, it’s simply that my own Seamaster was a graduation gift. But after wearing the spiffy new Seamaster for a week, I realized the watch did something which I hadn’t even considered. It got me excited in the same sort of way my own Seamaster did many years ago. Familiar, but just better. Wearing the new Seamaster reminded me of the early days of wearing my old Seamaster. Back then, I had visions of Bond when strapping it on, but putting on the new white Seamaster called to mind visions of all the things I’d done in life with my old one. That got me excited for all the folks who are just starting their own story with the most modern reference. Except for them, the bezel won’t pick up as many scratches, the accuracy is much improved, and they won’t suffer from the effects of magnetism on the watch. If experience is an accurate indicator, I can’t say the same of the wearer, however.
The Omega Seamaster 300M, Ref. 184.108.40.206.04.001: case, 42mm x 13.7mm, stainless steel, 300-meter water resistant. Ceramic dial with applied markers coated with Super-LumiNova; skeletonized hands with lume as well. Movement, Omega Co-Axial caliber 8800, 55-hour power reserve; co-axial escapement, METAS-certified Master Chronometer caliber, antimagnetic to at least 15,000 gauss. Rubber strap, stainless steel buckle. Price, $4,900 on the strap. See the entire collection at Omegawatches.com.