Taking a luxury dive watch underwater for review purposes seems both logical and quixotic. On the one hand, very few people who scuba dive actually wear an analog mechanical wristwatch anymore, and the great majority of luxury watch buyers have no intention of ever getting their watches wet. So what’s the point of proving a product in an environment where it will seldom find itself? Well, as long as a watch company brands a watch suitable for diving, I think it’s important to reality check its functionality. Case in point, Omega’s latest iteration of the Seamaster Professional 300M, a watch that debuted at Baselworld this past spring, which I took for a week of diving in the Caribbean.
Among Omega’s lineup of divers, the Seamaster Professional seems the least likely to see time on a dive boat. The Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial is a throwback, classic diver recalling the great divers Omega built in the 1960s, the Planet Ocean is the sporty modern luxury tool, and the strange but mighty Ploprof belongs nowhere else but strapped over a wetsuit sleeve. The Seamaster Professional, on the other hand, started life as a shiny accessory made to slide under Pierce Brosnan’s cuff in the mid-90s, when James Bond was a well-coiffed dandy. It’s the archetypal “dress diver” – the exact opposite of a tool watch, with a glittery multi-link bracelet, scalloped bezel, skeleton hands, and stylized wave dial. Sure, if 007 needed to do a submarine lockout in full dinner attire, the watch could take it, but I never had the impression that this was a watch made primarily for slinging scuba tanks in the hot sun.
I’ll admit, I have long turned up my nose at the “Bond” Seamaster and when choosing a quiver of new watches to take along to the Caribbean this past April to review, I initially left the new Seamaster off the list. But Hodinkee’s Editor-in-Chief, Jack Forster, made a compelling case for testing it, and I reluctantly gave in. I’m glad I did. This is a watch that got a lot of buzz at Baselworld as a showcase for Omega’s technical know-how, and was well-liked by most who saw it. And while it’s by no means a perfect dive watch for diving, it might be the watch best suited for today’s dive watch buyer: handsome, incredibly well made and not pretending to be something it’s not, while remaining capable should the necessity arise.
The Seamaster Professional traces its roots back to the very first Omega dive watch, the Seamaster 300 of 1957. Throughout the 1960s, you were almost as apt to see Seamasters on the wrists of divers as you were Rolex Submariners, and they were chosen by Britain’s Royal Navy for issue to its divers. The watch had a blend of utility, with its fully hashed bezel and sword hands, with a bit of panache via its twisted “lyre” lugs. I’ve often thought that, had Omega continued a slow evolution of the Seamaster 300 from its 1960s form (the ref. 166.024, for example), it would have been as much of a modern popular icon as the Submariner. But Omega abandoned the classic shape in favor of a slew of angular, bulbous, colorful Seamasters in the 1970s. These ambitious watches were classics in their own right, but lacked the pure through-line of the Sub. By the time the 1990s came along, dive watches had been replaced by wrist computers, and design could be freed from pure functionality. The introduction of the Seamaster Professional perfectly coincided with the reboot of the James Bond franchise with 1995’s Goldeneye, and it became 007’s watch of choice, creating a marketing bonanza for Omega that’s still effective today.
The latest version of the “Bond” Seamaster is a showcase for Omega’s technical watchmaking know-how. For all the details on the new watches, you can check out James Stacey’s introductory story from Basel, and Jack’s hands-on impressions, but, in a nutshell, the big news with the new watches (of which there are 14 variants!) is the use of the METAS and Master Chronometer certified calibre 8800, with its immunity to magnetism and superb timekeeping. The addition of this movement to what has been Omega’s most accessible diver makes it a compelling choice with real firepower and a serious bang for buck at $4,400. But that’s not all (read in late night infomercial voice)! If materials are your thing, Omega has endowed the Seamaster Pro with not only a scratchproof ceramic bezel, but also a dial made of ZrO2 as well, and this is the real visual centerpiece of the watch.
Since the first Bond Seamaster, the wave pattern dial has been a trademark feature, adding texture to the midnight blue and black dials. But while the earlier examples were subtle, with tightly packed, short frequency waves, the waves on the ceramic dial are prominent, widely spaced and deeply cut. The play of light off of the shiny dial with the waves is something to behold. It’s particularly beautiful to see with sunlight filtered through water, though it’s not overall the most legible for dive use.
The wave dial is but one polarizing component of what is a fairly polarizing watch. The second “love it or hate it” feature is the skeleton hand set, also a holdover from Seamaster Pros past. The Seamasters of the 1960s were known for their sword hands, a style adopted by the British Royal Navy for its dive watch specification, for their legibility. Making these swords skeletonized diminishes this legibility for the sake of aesthetics. The hands are complicated, with strips and dots of lume to give them one of the most unique and recognizable “lume shot” signatures out there. Some people love the hands, others don’t. Personally, I’d love this watch with proper Ministry of Defence swords, like the cult favorite reference 2254 Seamaster of the early 2000s.
And then there’s the helium release valve. I’ve gone on the record numerous times stating my dislike for this “feature” on most dive watches. HRVs are useful to only the tiniest fraction of divers, they add an extra hole to the case, and are generally a gimmick that confuses many dive watch buyers into thinking it somehow makes their watches better. Omega puts an HRV on all its dive watches other than the vintage-inspired Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial and the 60th Anniversary Seamaster 300. Even the Ploprof has one, which is ironic since that watch’s historical forebear was developed to not need one at all. On the Seamaster Professional, as with the Planet Ocean, the HRV is not an automatically actuated one, but one that must be manually unscrewed via the crown at 10:00. Omega claims this crown is an improvement to the previous version since it’s now constructed so that even if the valve is accidentally left open and you dive with it, the watch remains water resistant. To me, if that much engineering is going into improving an HRV, why not make it automatic, eliminating the need for the decompressing saturation diver to have to remember to open it?
Diving in Bonaire requires no decompression, in a pressurized chamber or otherwise, so that helium release valve stayed tightly screwed down. The island, in the Dutch Antilles, is a great place to review dive watches, with clear, warm water, shallow, bright reefs and one fantastic shipwreck, and most sites are accessible from shore, allowing for as many dives a day as your nitrogen-soaked body can stand. I wore the Seamaster Professional for three days of diving, swapping it out with two other watches I took along.
One thing I’ve come to realize about my taste in dive watches is that I have grown to prize wearability above most things, and this Seamaster is an incredibly wearable watch. At 42 millimeters across, with a flat profile and lovely curled lugs, it has that familiar Omega look and feel we’re familiar with from the Speedmasters and Seamasters of the past. My loaner came fitted with a new rubber strap; it’s one of the finest OEM straps I’ve used. While the double ridge aesthetic isn’t my favorite, the length, suppleness and buckle are superb, and Omega has even engineered the keepers to make threading the strap tail easy and secure. The tight fit to the case, combined with the watch’s winning proportions, make it one of the most comfortable watches I’ve worn in recent memory. A giant dive watch looks the business over a wetsuit, but when it comes time to hang up the fins and go for a beer, it suddenly can feel like a burden. Not the case here, where I found that even after taking off the other watches I was reviewing underwater, I reached for the Seamaster to wear during surface intervals.
One complaint often registered over the years about the Seamaster Pro centers on the scalloped bezel. The relatively flat timing ring, now all shiny ceramic and engraved with bold, luminescent numerals and hashes, eschews the more conventional coin edge for broad flat surfaces. I’d never dived with one of these before and had heard that the bezel was not easy to grip. I can assure you, I had no such problems, in or out of the water, with this watch. The counter-clockwise resistance is just right and the slight corners where the “scallops” meet provide ample purchase. The low profile of the bezel also makes sliding a wetsuit over it, or shimmying into dive gear, snag-free.
Less satisfactory underwater was the dial and hand legibility, where the skeleton hands against a shiny pattered dial didn’t provide the contrast that is so important for at-a-glance viewing. On the other hand, the oversized dots and hashes of the dial markers do stand out from the shiny dial, three dimensional and matte against the reflectivity of all that ceramic.
Should you decide to venture a bit further than Bonaire’s shore-accessible reef, there’s Klein Bonaire (“small Bonaire”), an uninhabited spit of sand offshore that is only accessible by boat. One day, I hooked up with VIP Diving, a local dive operation, for a boat ride out to Klein for a morning of diving. Accompanying me was VIP’s owner, a Dutch watch enthusiast named Bas Noij. We back-rolled into the blue Caribbean and marveled at giant fans, some deep black coral and schools of fish cruising the steep, lush reef. I lent the Seamaster to Bas for our dives and he liked it so much, he threatened to not give it back. Decompressing with a beer later that day, Bas and I discussed the merits of a dive watch in an age where they are largely obsolete.
“To me a dive watch is about history and passion,” he mused, “and there’s still something novel about wearing a luxury product deep underwater.”
So true. After all, aren’t we attracted to our dive watches for their combination of refinement with capability and raw potential? What other multi-thousand dollar accessory would you dare to expose to sand, saltwater and water pressure? There’s something thrilling when I glance at my wrist 85 feet underwater, knowing that inside the sculpted steel case on my wrist, ticks a tiny train of gears and springs, fine tuned to keep time within a few seconds per day. And even if you never take your dive watch deep, it’s that mix of glittering polish and immunity to the elements that excites us more than a delicate dress watch. And the Seamaster Professional embodies this combination perfectly.
Does a dive watch like the Seamaster Professional 300M really need to be tested underwater? Probably not. A more fitting review would probably be a week on the wrist by an active, well-heeled guy whose SUV shares garage space with a carbon fiber racing bike. Let’s face it, most who buy the Seamaster Pro aren’t buying a dive timer. This isn’t the 1960s anymore. And that’s OK. It’s why a shiny ceramic dial, skeleton hands and scalloped bezel are perfectly fine for a 2018 dive watch. This is a modern interpretation of a dive watch, a nod to elements of history while acknowledging that it doesn’t need to be something it’s not. This is a dress diver that’s proud to be one. And I’m fine with that. But Omega calls it a dive watch and therefore someone needs to take it deep.
Photography by Gishani Ratnayake