The Diver's Tool Watch
Chronswiss Tora (dress) -> Mühle S.A.R. (tool) -> Panerai (dive) watch - the evolution of my collection from the elegant "dinner piece" to 100M+ below sea-level. That's not to say that I don't collect other types of watches, but my core interest is currently divers. From Doxa to Rolex and everything in between... . I actually have PADI Open-Water Diver certification but unfortunately it has been way too long since I had the pleasure and in recent times, I've been relegated to being the proverbial desk diver.
click-the-pics for hi-res goodness
The Fantastic Four
While certainly not the only companies to have inaugurated the wristwatch as an integral diver's tool, the Rolex Submariner (1954), the Omega Seamaster 300 (CK2913, 1957*), the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms (1953, "Nageuers de combat") and (yes, even the) Jaeger- LeCoultre Memovox Deep Sea E 859 (1959) were some for the more famous representatives. Soon after aquiring my Rolex Sea-Dweller, I came across Amanico's photograph of these four.
*Omega first introduced the Seamaster name in 1948 however it was hardly a tool watch, and certainly not a diving watch.
photograph c/o Amanico - JLC sub-forum mod, WPS
How amazing it would be to have all four! Finding good originals would be a daunting task, not to mention financially prohibitive... . Fortunately for us, the Manufactures (Rolex aside) have taken note of our interest in the vintage sector and wisely chose to realize tributes to these. Omega's 2014 Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial was one of the latecomers to the recent tributes trend but certainly better late than never, not to mention one of the more faithful tributes out there!
Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial
The "SM300MC" is Omega's tribute to the venerable Seamaster, one of their three original tool-watch product lines. The diver's Seamaster, along with the [auto-] racer's Speedmaster (aka Moonwatch) and engineer's Railmaster were simultaneously launched in 1957. While the Seamaster 300 has always been in Omega's lineup since 1957, it has witnessed major changes so that (unlike their Speedmaster) the models are not so easily (visually) connected to the 1957 model. The SM300MC model is in addition to the contemporary "Seamaster Diver 300M" which is offered as a three-hand, a chronograph and GMT. Along with the very first 300 (1st & 2nd generations), there was the successor "Seamaster Professional" (1994, HE 300M, ETA->In-house), "Seamaster 120" (1994, 120M & 2003 Aqua Terra, 150M), "Planet Ocean" (2004, HE, 600M, in-house) and of course, the amazing "Ploprof" (1970, HE, 1200M*). These represent most, if not all of Omega's diver product lines over the years.
*To put the "Plongeur Professionnel" into perspective, the very first Rolex Sea Dweller (1665) prototyped in 1967 was certified for 600M... ! The 1220M "triple six" was only released in 1978.
Late to the Party
Yes, Omega was late to the diver-tribute party, but so was I! I was very excited when Omega introduced the SM300MC at Basel 2014 and later on that year, raced to my local Omega Boutique to see them firsthand. I'll be honest; before owning the SM300MC, I'd never been able to really warm up to this faux patina trend that has dominated recent "tributes" from most manufactures (JLC and Officine Panerai to name a few others). While we're being up front, PCLs are also not my first choice. So while contemplating these minor gripes, I got side-tracked with a few other watches, including the amazing "Marina Militare" [PAM 217] that had only been on my wrist for a month. Then I got involved with Speedmasters...! I love that Speedmaster but it also made me realize I was veering away from my Fantastic Four project. So I reviewed BP's, JLC's and Omega's entries once again. Somehow this time not even my fear of faux patina or PCLs could stop me as I raised the SM300MC in one hand and my credit card with the other... !
Vintage Exterior, Modern Interior
I find myself attracted to both the nostalgic allure of vintage pieces and the excitement of today's amazing advancements in movements. Most of the time we have to settle for one, but thanks to such tributes, we can have both! While the 2014 SM300MC is almost identical to the 1957 SM300 on the outside, it is a completely different animal within. I'm referring of course to Omega's excellent 8400 Co-Axial movement that powers the SM300MC. There are enough articles on the 'net written by more proficient people so I will summarize the highlights. First off, the movement has been designed to withstand magnetic fields of up to 15K gauss, thanks in part to the "Si14" silicon balance spring as well as using a non-magnetic alloy throughout. The Si also helps to minimize changes in the shape of the balance spring in terms of resistance to temperature changes which can affect precision. The term "Co-Axial"* in the name represents a unique design intended to improve upon the standard escapement by, for example, reducing friction to the point of making lubrication unnecessary. *Designed by George Daniels and acquired by Omega.
Having skimmed over the technically intricate aspects we can discuss the real-world advantages of the 8400. For starters, the impressive 60hr power-reserve of this automatic movement. The fact that you can pull out the screw-down crown one notch to change only the hours (travelers, rejoice!) The "in-house" certification (similar to Officine Panerai's approach) goes beyond C.O.S.C. specification in that the movement is certified in the case (vs. standalone movement). This is done with the support of METAS, which, like C.O.S.C., is a formal Swiss institution in the industry. If I'm not mistaken the in-house requirements are 0/5+ (vs. C.O.S.C. standards of -4/6+). This certification is on top of the already C.O.S.C. -certified movement! Speaking of which, mine averaged +3s/daily over a period of three weeks - not the best I've read of, but certainly well within specs and more than satisfactory for my needs. Only my PAM 233 (in-house mvmt) is more accurate.
Design and Feel
I like my tool watches on the slightly larger side and with some heft. My Sea Dweller @40mm is currently the smallest, my PAM 217 @47 the largest. I would say the sweet spot is ~42mm and the SM300MC is just shy of that at 41mm (40.5?) the lugs provide a comfortable extension (~50mm) yet are not overbearing. At roughly 15mm in height, average for an automatic tool watch, it sits nicely on the wrist. At 165g with the bracelet, it provides the heft I expect from a proper tool watch. Speaking of the bracelet, having worn the SM300MC for many weeks now, I have grown accustomed to the PCLs and will even say it really fits to the watch. It's also faithful to the original '57's. While I wear my SD mainly on NATO to give it more of a milsub feel, I actually find the SM300MC looks better on the OEM bracelet. It looks elegant and that's okay; simply put, It works! This is an "elegant tool watch". Capable of 300M, but very much at home peering out of a business shirt. Once you look past the PCL, you begin to really appreciate Omega's bracelet, with the stepless adjustment feature. Bloody genius. Summer to Winter to Summer, not a topic. Ready and willing to accommodate a standard wetsuit as well.
Someone mentioned the domed (sapphire) crystal and at first glance I thought they were mistaken (my 1950 Luminors - now those are domes) but as a matter of fact, it does have a slight dome adding flare to the watch when viewed at certain angles. The unidirectional ceramic and "Liquid-Metal" bezel... wow. Ceramic bezels don't belong on all (tool-) watches, but is the only option on this watch imho. The next impressive move from Omega was to apply a bi-color lume scheme. Everything is in blue except for the bezel-pip and the minute hand - the two components on the watch critical to the diver for timing their dive. Awesome. The matte-textured ceramic dial is thick with recessed 5-min markers and very high-quality print. Someone suggested that applied markers would be more appropriate for this model but (my photos and) I assure you that the print on this dial is sublime... (not to mention another trait of the original)!
No one and nothing is perfect in this world, although the SM300MC comes very close. PCL = fingerprint magnet. The Bezel's thin grooves can and on occasion will attack your shirt-cuffs. Ditto for your thumb (when manually winding). The Bezel's inner SS ring (matching the original design) will collect everything from dust to polishing-cloth threads, messing up even a modest cellphone wristshot... . The lume strength is impressive given the faux-patina color mix, but still not quite as intense as the purer Super-Luminova colors (as observed, not measured). All minor issues to be sure, but necessary for a complete picture.
A whole lot of watch
Form and function sums up the SM300MC rather nicely. We have a very faithful tribute to the original CK2913 improved upon by Omega's best technology - not only in terms of movement, but in all aspects of the watch from the bezel to the bracelet. Omega gives us all this in one amazing watch and pretty much does so at half the price of what the other Manufactures are asking for their tribute pieces. I almost never bring cost into the conversation but in this case it cannot be overlooked. The SM300MC is a highly-prized and welcomed member of my humble collection!
This ain't your father's (red) Omega box...
Thank goodness for the display back - just look at that movement...
The twin barrels that provide the generous 60hrs of PR...
40mm SD 16600 vs. 41mm SM300MC...
functional lume... Mühle S.A.R. Flieger tracking the seconds and the SM300MC tracking the minutes...