Omega Dark Side & Grey Side of the Moon Review
Today we look at two of Omega's most exciting chronographs, the Dark Side of the Moon and the Grey Side of the Moon. The Speedmaster collection has long been closely associated with lunar travel, having been worn by astronauts on moon missions, so a collection inspired by that great satellite makes perfect sense. Both of these watches encompass almost all of Omega's best technology, from their in-house 9300 co-axial chronograph to their all ceramic construction, but they differ in important stylistic ways. Read on to learn more.
The Omega Speedmaster is something of a phenomenon in the watch collecting world. It's one of the community's staples. In fact, it's somewhat difficult to find long time collectors who haven't owned at least one of them at some point. The pedigree of the watch is virtually unrivaled with a great story behind it and an extreme focus on heritage and preserving the purity of its design. The two watches we're looking at today are revitalized and updated versions of that classic. Their resemblance is obvious, but the materials used in the case and the movement are huge upgrades.
The Dark Side of the Moon has received, by far, the most coverage of the two watches and has been quite well received. The name is certainly accurate--it's very, very dark, with an all-black ceramic case, black ceramic dial and black strap. What is perhaps more impressive, however, is that its surfaces are not matte black--they have an extreme polish. The ceramic case appears as if it's made from some hitherto unknown dark metal and the dial is polished nearly to a mirror finish. It's all topped off by extremely high-contrast luminous accents. It is, more or less, the stealth bomber of Omegas.
The Grey Side of the Moon, by contrast, is not precisely the opposite of Dark Side--it's on something of a gradient between it and the new White Side of the Moon. The case, like the Dark Side, is fully ceramic, but here with a finish that more closely resembles steel. Yet, it is very difficult to precisely describe it—it’s still darker than steel, yet with more luster than titanium. The dial is no doubt the centerpiece. It is platinum plated in the German style, giving it a slightly matte finish. Up close, however, you can see that it has a very fine texture to it that glistens. In addition to the lume on the hands and indices you'd find on the Dark Side, the tachymetre and even crown are luminous.
They are both powered by the 9300 movement, Omega's current generation in-house chronograph. While many describe the 9300 as the chronograph version of the 8500, that's not strictly true. I consider its revisions too significant, even excluding the chronograph complication, to think it merely an expansion of the 8500, but we'll get into the substance of that argument in the movement section. The salient points are that it's an integrated chronograph with Omega's (and Daniels') co-axial escapement and silicon hairspring, as well as dual mainsprings for a 60 hour power reserve. Suffice it to say that it is among the most sophisticated chronographs in the world.
When the original Planet Ocean Liquidmetal came out, I was fascinated by its extremely polished, yet dark, dial. Looking at the Dark Side of the Moon today, the resemblance is entirely clear. That’s probably because they both used ceramic dials and bear the Zr02 chemical nomenclature on the dial. As a result, the Dark Side has a certain reflectivity to it--you won't see your reflection in it, per se, but it's nonetheless highly reflective and flawlessly smooth.
I'd like to note, up front, a particular complexity when shooting photos of chronographs. Generally speaking, the chronograph seconds hand is very high off the dial, so slight changes in camera angle will produce what appears to be an off-centered hand, so as you see the seconds hand move to the left or right of the marker, depending on the angle I'm shooting, remember that both are centered in real life.
Perhaps because the dial and case are so richly dark, the luminous accents really jump out at you, even in full daylight. Generally speaking you don't use polished hands on really dark dials, instead opting for brushed, but be because of the lume, which appears matte white in normal lighting, it is actually incredibly legible--more legible than the average watch for sure.
These two watches feature a "hidden" (or perhaps just very subtle) molecular signature on their dial, generally obscured by the chronograph seconds hand. It's a neat little touch, a bit of an Easter egg.
In some lighting it can be slightly difficult to see the sub seconds and chronograph minutes/hours, but the important hands all have substantial amounts of lume on them. I especially like the bold red accents on the dial and the seconds hand which really pop against this positive canvas.
The hour markers are applied and are themselves steel, but for similar reasons, they tend to fade away against the black dial, leaving only the intense lume visible.
The chronograph is laid out in a bi-compax design. This usually means that there is a relatively small amount of time that can be recorded (for lack of a chronograph hours hand), limiting its functionality, but in the case of these Omegas, the hour hand was not removed. Instead, chronograph hours and minutes are on the same subdial, as if it were a second watch. The result is a very clean and symmetrical dial.
The date marks a fairly interesting distinction between the two watches. In this case, the date is a simple cutout. If you read our other reviews, you'll now this is a design area I'm somewhat picky on, and I nearly always favor having a date frame. However, this watch, like the Aqua Terra GMT, does it right. A vestigial marker remains below and because the date is centered, you don't notice it nearly as much. Given how dark the dial is, and the date ring inside, Omega probably would have been able to get away without even these design tricks but I'm glad they went this way.
The lume on the DSotM is extremely impressive. It's not just that it's powerful, although it is--it's the precision of the application. The only other mass produced watch that I can recall seeing this sort of finesse in lume application is the Nomos Club Dunkel's numerals. The watch is certainly no diver, but this definitely a practical amount of lume that you can read easily in the theater.
The Dark Side of the Moon's dial is not that of a tool watch--it's a bit too classy, too polished, for that. Yet it is, somehow, nonetheless tactical. The use of ceramics is once again visually fascinating. If you've seen the PO 2500 Liquidmetal, this is fairly similar to that, or perhaps otherwise the Grand Seiko SBGR083. If you choose the Dark Side over the Grey Side, it would not surprise me if it was primarily because of this dial.
The Grey Side's dial is not merely a different color, it's an entirely different texture--even an entirely different element. As the tiny marker on the dial will tell you, this one is made of platinum.
This close-up of the bi-compax layout reveals the gorgeous platinum texture. It really reminds me of some of Germany's finest silver plated dials, but the texture here is more obvious. In the case of a silver plated dial, from a few inches or more away the dial simply appears white. In this Grey Side, the fine texture of grey and white spots is much more obvious.
The hands, although identical in shape to the Dark Side's, are actually of a material that is either the same as or very similar to the dark gray ceramic of the case. In photos, the hands look black, and typically I would tell you that this is just an effect of my blacked-out studio, but not in this case. The hands do look black in most lighting, with a dark silver/gray if the light reflects directly off of them. This, intentionally or not, somewhat replicates the extremely contrast of the Dark Side, meaning that this is extremely legible. In the case of the subdials, it's even more legible, as the Dark Side relies on lume for contrast and these hands lack them. Here, the dark gray/black hands really stand out on this silver/white dial.
Both watches feature similar red accents, and while they do look really good on this Grey Side, they pop more on the black ceramic dial.
The dial color and unusual case material do make the Grey Side somewhat more versatile than the Dark Side. It's never going to be confused for a dress watch, especially at a hair over 44 millimeters, but the fact that it's less shiny and less murdered out is going to put it into a lot more environments comfortably.
The date actually has a subtle difference from the Dark Side. While the Dark Side uses a simple cutout, the Grey Side employs a slightly more refined stepped edge, not unlike what you'd find on a De Ville. Again, not a dress watch, but somewhat dressier than you might expect.
The hour markers continue the use of that dark gray material that the hands do. Omega officially just lists it as "black" so I don't want to speculate as to whether or not it’s the same ceramic, but it matches the case perfectly. Like the hands, they appear black in most lighting.
The lume is far more extensive on the Grey Side than the Black Side, and this is easily one of my favorite things about it. Here we can see that the tachymetre is lumed, but the case harbors an additional secret we'll get to later. How does it compare to the Dark Side? I'm glad you asked.
Interestingly, the Dark Side's lume is substantially brighter. This effect is further enhanced, especially at low light (as opposed to pitch black), because the dial tends to completely fall away on the Dark Side leaving only the luminous accents where the platinum dial of the Grey Side lingers on.
So the Grey Side of the Moon is a bit more daily wear friendly, as opposed to the dedicated sports watch that is the Dark Side of the Moon.
Yet the Dark Side is, almost undeniably, the cooler of the two. Choosing between these two watches is certainly one of the harder decisions out there.
The defining characteristic of the Dark Side and Grey Side is actually not the dial or movement, but the case. These are but a handful of models in the world that feature all ceramic construction.
Seen here is the Dark Side in profile. What's fascinating about these ceramic cases is that they look remarkably metallic. I think we have an idea of what a ceramic watch is supposed to look like, but it's not this (perhaps the recent White Side of the Moon features that look).
Here's the Grey Side's case. The Grey Side is also very metallic in appearance, with brushed and polished surfaces that wouldn't look out of place on any other Omega. Yet the actual material, perhaps even more so than the Dark Side, is mysterious to me. It looks like a hitherto-unknown metallic alloy with a very difficult to describe polished grey steel. In photos, it looks just like any given steel case, but in real life, it has a very obvious gray appearance.
They appear to me as some sort of metalloid. The Grey Side looks something akin to antimony or germanium. The Dark Side looks a bit more like silicon.
But why do care about ceramics anyway? Well, as you have probably seen in many diving watches, there's an emerging trend to make bezels out of the material, and they do this because ceramics are much harder than steel. Thus they are extremely resistant to scratching--your watches will stay looking new for far longer. And, particularly with the Dark Side, you get that black PVD finish sans the PVD--there is no coating to scratch off. The color is the composition of the material--it's that way all the way through.
Of course, both of these watches still feature a ceramic bezel, although it's not a diver and doesn't rotate. Here we can see a close-up on the luminous paint inside.
The Dark Side still has the white paint in its ceramic tachymetre, but in this instance it's non-luminous.
In a very nice touch, the crown and pushers on these watches are matching ceramic as well. The crown, as you might have guessed, does not screw down, but what you might not have guessed is that the water resistance rating was reduced from 100 meters to 50 meters in these ceramic versions. That's something we've been seeing elsewhere in the industry, like in the ceramic Girard-Perregaux Sea Hawk, for instance. Still, this was never a watch that was intended to see much water, and a 50 meter water resistance does little to change that fact.
The real surprise is that on the Grey Side of the Moon the crown actually has lume. Useless, you may point out, and you'd be correct to do so. And yet, you are likely to agree that it's still awesome and you want it. I know I do.
The colors of the ceramics are really difficult to discern in photos without context. Here, with the Grey Side and Dark Side adjacent, it's a bit more obvious, but it's not until you see them in person that you really appreciate that these look like metallic watches. They feel like them as well, with a very conventional weight on the wrist.
In terms of dimensions, they're both rather large at 44.25mm. I'm not especially concerned about that particular metric, as a larger case is somewhat fitting of the overall design, but they are a hair on the thick side, thanks, no doubt, to the beautiful box crystal on the back. It doesn't feel too thick to me, particularly given the overall size of the watch and its sporty character, but it is something to consider. In keeping with Speedmaster tradition, I think it'd be wonderful if Omega one day decides to use a hand wound version of the 9300 in this watch, which should shave off a millimeter or so.
Both watches feature matching in-house 9300 Co-Axial chronographs. The movement is really a work of art and is also highly sophisticated. Let's break it down and see how it differs from your average chronograph movement.
Before we delve into the technology and design of the 9300, let's just take a moment to appreciate its beauty. It's decorated in an Arabesque pattern with an exceedingly deep texture to it. Arabesque design is not something that is particularly familiar to the watch world so it might deserve a word of exposition. It essentially describes a style of interwoven, flowing lines. Whatever it is, the radial flow of the Geneva lines looks terrific and is extremely eye catching.
The movement is rhodium plated, which is not unusual in this segment, yet for whatever reason the rotor and bridges have a much whiter appearance than similar movements.
Moving to the technical side, we can say that the 9300 is an "integrated" chronograph. An integrated chronograph is, basically speaking, a movement where the chronograph complication and the rest of the movement exist together, mostly on the same plane. This is as opposed to the more common modular chronograph. Modular chronographs take an existing, non-chronograph movement and place a "module" on top of it that contains the chronograph. There are pros and cons of each design. With regard to integrated chronographs like this one, they are inherently thinner (all things being equal), simpler and, for most collectors, prettier as you can see the components of the chronograph from the back. The downside of an integrated chronograph is the cost to the manufacturer, namely in R&D because it means a new movement has to be designed, largely from the ground up. Modular chronographs are much cheaper to add to either an in-house or outsourced movement. Omega took the high road in using an integrated design, and the difference between the 9300 and 8500 is much larger than a simple addition of a chronograph.
The beautiful rotor, like the 8500, is a very dense tungsten weight and it powers the watch via a bidirectional automatic winding mechanism. That means exactly what it sounds like--if the rotor rotates a sufficient distance either clockwise or counterclockwise, this motion will be translated into a winding of the mainspring. Unidirectional winding has become the trend with new movements, but Omega has largely ignored this, to its betterment in my opinion. While there's nothing wrong with unidirectional winding systems, they are associated with a couple of interesting side effects. Unidirectional mechanisms tend to spin at much higher RPMs than bidirectional ones because if energy is imparted in the non-winding direction, it faces almost no resistance. As a consequence, many owners feel "rotor wobble" on the wrist, where you can actually feel the rotor spinning as it's an inherently unbalanced motion (as opposed to something like a fan). They are also associated with rotor noise, where you can actually hear the rotor freewheeling. Neither of these are serious problems, but if you can achieve at least similar winding efficiency (I'd speculate better efficiency) with bidirectional winding, I think that's a worthwhile endeavor.
The efficiency of the winding system is enhanced, over time, by the use of highly wear resistant zirconium oxide ball bearings. Zirconium oxide, by another name, is a ceramic, and while these are used throughout 8500 and 9300 movements, it's interesting to see how seriously Omega has taken ceramic material science throughout these two watches.
This is the key element to any movement, but particularly an Omega. The 9300 features the Si-14 hairspring which, although we're not looking at a Master Co-Axial here, is still immune to magnetism. We can also see that this is a free sprung mechanism, lacking a regulator of any kind. Were I to hack the movement, you would be able to see four gold screws on the inner rim of the balance. These are used to adjust both the poise and rate. While something of a pain to adjust, relative to a regulator (which requires the turning of only a single screw in most instances), it is widely considered to be the more stable of the two dominant designs today, both in terms of any given moment, and over an extended period of time. Of course, that is a matter of some debate, with various highly respected movement makers like Grand Seiko and Vacheron Constantin using predominantly regulated designs, and others, like Jaeger LeCoultre and A. Lange & Sohne, using either depending on the model. While I think the issue is a bit blown out of proportion, since you can find incredibly accurate movements of either design, I personally prefer the free sprung approach we see here, if only because it's a more elegant solution. Also note the Nivachoc shock absorber, a feature unique to the 8500 and 9300 movements (not to be confused with some rather similar looking shock absorbers found elsewhere in Swatch Group). What advantage does this design have over others? I have no idea, but it does look nice.
Also note that Omega has utilized a full balance bridge, as opposed to the partial balance cock, on all of their new movements. This should be a little sturdier and it's the design embraced by companies like Rolex and Audemars Piguet. More important, however, and unfortunately I can't show you this, is the co-axial escapement that runs almost entirely underneath the top plate. The co-axial escapement was designed by the late legendary watchmaker George Daniels. The goal of this radical redesign was to reduce the amount of wear that the escapement endures, as the escapement is probably the single mechanism of a watch movement that receives the most abuse. Consequently, not only should service intervals be enhanced, but the degradation of accuracy associated with mechanical movements over an extended period of time should be reduced. Of course, there are other components than the escapement that need service, so even with the co-axial escapement, it will still need to be serviced on occasion.
I had said near the beginning of this review that the 9300 was not merely the chronograph version of the 8500 that it's commonly perceived to be. The 9300 is, in fact, a new movement from the same designers and with the same design goals as the 8500. I think the differences are too radical to suggest that these are the same base with different complications. For instance, the 9300 beats at the much more standardized 28,800 BPH as opposed to the 8500's slightly slower than normal 25,200. This may simply come down to the idea that a chronograph seconds hand needs to have more precision than a non-chronograph, because there are 8 possible stops between and including any two second markers as opposed to 7 on the 8500, but that is only my speculation. Furthermore, the actual layout of the movement has been altered a bit, as you can see the balance wheel is no longer in the 6:00 position, and of course, it's rare to see a non-chronograph base be converted to an integrated chronograph, although it does sometimes go in the opposite direction (like some modifications of the 7750).
Interestingly, despite the frequency increase, which usually precipitates a shorter power reserve, the 9300 and 8500 share identically impressive 60 hour figures, or about 50% longer than the industry average. A double barrel design has been utilized, which can be seen here, which has several potential advantages over a single large mainspring. One advantage is that it's easier to design around two smaller barrels than one giant barrel in many cases (in some instances, like with Panerai, you can even have three small barrels). Another advantage, however, is a little more complex. In Omega's design, the barrels are not simultaneously wound, but are sequentially wound. The first of the two barrels is known as the hand-winding barrel and it is fully wound before the movement begins to wind the second mainspring in the "automatic" barrel. This is a rather elegant approach because it only requires the use of a single over wind protection mechanism that is found on all modern automatic watches as opposed to the two you would suspect. That mechanism allows the energy of the rotor to be harmlessly dissipated by slipping if the power reserve is already full. More importantly, however, each mainspring can release its energy either simultaneously or independently depending on the overall state of wind. This can contribute to a more stable delivery of energy to the escapement, resulting in reduced isochronism.
Of course, like all 8500s and 9300s, these watches are both COSC certified chronometers. This look at the dial is not merely to display the chronometer writing, however, but the movement of the hands. The 9300, like most 8500s, has an independent hour hand. This means that frequent travelers, or those who live in a place with daylight savings time, can easily adjust the hour hand without affecting the time keeping anywhere else, which is much more convenient. Typically, independent hour hands are only featured on GMTs, but Omega has been a big fan of the design so it's featured in almost all 8500/9300 Omegas (sans annual calendars).
Like most high-end chronograph movements, the 9300 has gone with the reliable column wheel design. I appreciate how they've removed away some of the top plate so you can see the column wheel in action--you can actually watch the fingers of the mechanism rotate the column wheel.
Suffice it to say that these are two of the most advanced chronographs, or perhaps even movements generally, in the world. Omega has seen to every last detail of the 9300, from the escapement, to the hairspring, to the automatic winding system, to the power reserve, to the chronograph mechanism itself, to make sure that this is one of the most stable and reliable movements ever made.
I don't typically bother discussing straps in these sorts of comparisons unless there is a particular reason for attention. But in this case, not only are the straps very different from one another, they are also so good that I thought it was worth a word or two.
Both straps are of similar dimensions, but the material is completely different. The Grey Side uses, as you might expect, a great looking grey leather with exposed white stitching while the Dark Side uses a black nylon strap with no contrast stitching (on the outside, anyway). These choices really compliment the two watches very well, with the ultra-sporty Dark Side getting something befitting its tactical demeanor and the Grey Side classing it up. I also really like the rubberized notches in the strap, which are easy to find with the buckle.
That would have been enough and no one would have thought twice if Omega had just used an ordinary steel buckle or deployant. But Omega went the extra mile and has included what appears to be matching ceramic buckles. That's a really nice touch because buckles tend to be one of the most easily scratched parts of a watch.
Check out both of these watches in our HD videos. See the Dark Side of the Moon here and the Grey Side of the Moon here.
I love reviewing watches like the Dark Side of the Moon & Grey Side of the Moon--not just because I like them personally, but because there are no boring elements. Watch collectors could pick any individual element of either watch and have a conversation about it.
The dial of the Grey Side, just for instance--that really cool platinum finish and the greyish, nearly black metallic hands.
The dial on the Dark Side is even more provocative, with its full ceramic, nearly mirror finish.
But as amazing as that ceramic dial is, you've got the super cool lume on the tachymetre and crown of the Grey Side.
The case is perhaps the most interesting part of these watches--after all, there are plenty of great Speedmasters with 9300s, but only a handful (albeit an increasingly large handful) have full ceramic cases.
But as practical a material as ceramic is for a watch case, it's really the beauty of it in these two Omegas that blows me away--it's that mystery metal look. It's utterly clear it's metallic (visually), not some PVD coating, yet you just can't place its precise origin.
Then there's the movement--the gorgeous 9300.
You could write a whole book on just the 9300. In fact, I practically did here, so if you made it this far, pat yourself on the back.
It's hard to think of any functional element of a mechanical watch movement that Omega hasn't either improved upon or used the best current approach to make the 9300. The silicon hairspring, the co-axial escapement, the column wheel chronograph, the ceramic slide bearings, the double barrel 60 hour power reserve, the independent hour hand, the free sprung balance, the balance bridge, the Arabesque finishing--I'm sure I forgot something somewhere, but the 9300 reads like a who's who of high-tech and high-end movement design.
I love these watches. They're certainly my favorite Speedmasters (although that might change when I see the new Speedmaster Pitch Black). They may even by my favorite Omegas available today, up there with the DeVille Annual Calendar and Aqua Terra GMT. But which one would I buy if I could only have one?
That's an incredibly tough decision. The Dark Side of the Moon is definitely the cooler of the two. It's the watch I'd wear if someone was stupid enough to let me fly a B2 Spirit. The lume is intense and precise, substantially brighter (for some reason) than the Grey Side's. The dial is at once both subtle and fascinating. And, more generally speaking, I've always liked black case watches but I've tended to avoid them as scratches drive me insane--a problem I wouldn't have with the Dark Side of the Moon.
I did find myself a little more entranced by the Grey Side's unusually grey case, however--oddly enough, it's the one that stands out a bit more. I'm also fond of light dials just as a general rule, but this dial does impress with its subtly sparkly nature. I also really liked that the hands carried that odd grey coloration with them as opposed to the Dark Side's more conventional hands. The part that really sells me, however, is the tachymetre and crown lume. Silly? Sure. Useless? Definitely. But I'm long past thoughts of functionality at this point in my watch collecting life, and I love these little touches.
So, for me, it's the Grey Side of the Moon. I could be just as happy with the Dark Side, but I think this one just fits my personality a little bit better.
But that's just my opinion. Which would you pick, the Grey Side of the Moon or the Dark Side of the Moon?