When the topic of luxury Omega watches UK brands comes to mind, Omega is likely one of this first you think of. Even if you aren’t into watches, chances are you are aware of the brand. Whether it’s because of their long and rich history, a relative who wears one, ubiquitous media, event sponsorship or James Bond uttering the word “Omeeega” on a train, they are a household name. Then, should you fall into the trap of becoming a watch enthusiast, it won’t be long until you find yourself with one on your wrist. They are one of those brands that are so core to the mythology of the modern watch, that it’s impossible to not be intrigued by their story and the watches they’ve created over the years.
For most people, the first Omega they will think of is the Speedmaster, and for good reason. The first watch worn on the Moon, it’s as iconic as a watch can be, still a mainstay for the brand, and has the unique feature of being largely unchanged for the last 50 years (the Speedmaster Professional, that is). It’s one of the few watches that is as much a cult classic as a popular success. But, it’s not the only watch the brand is known for, and this year at Basel 2017, Omega celebrated not only the Speedmaster, but two other significant watches that were released alongside it in 1957, the Seamaster 300 and the Railmaster with near visually identical, limited edition rereleases.
While not the Speedmaster in caché, the Seamaster 300 is certainly a well-known and regarded timepiece. Highly collectible and visually intriguing, it’s a big part of Omega’s history. The Railmaster, however, is a bit of an underdog. Alongside the Rolex Milgauss and IWC Ingenieur, it was one of a few watches released in the mid-twentieth century that dealt with the ever-growing concern of magnetism, specifically for railroad engineers and other professionals exposed to magnetic fields. By surrounding the watch’s movement in soft iron, they effectively created a Faraday cage, protecting against up to 1,000 Gauss or 80,000 A/m. (Interesting aside, Tissot is credited with making the first anti-magnetic wristwatch in 1929.)
While conceptually cool, the Railmaster wasn’t a big hit (neither was the early Milgauss) and the watch was discontinued in 1963. While its short lifespan denied the Railmaster the same prestige as its other “master” siblings, it does equate to high collectibility on the vintage market. Regardless, there it stayed in the archives until 2003, when it made a bit of an odd resurgence. Now under the Seamaster Aqua Terra line, the 2003 models were available in 36, 39, 42 and a monstrous 50mm (with a manual Unitas movement). The smaller versions were available with Omega’s new co-axial chronometer calibers. I’ll get to co-axial movements later, but these were among the first watches by the brand to sport this revolutionary technology created by George Daniels.
These Railmasters appear to have remained in the line for a longer time, eventually disappearing in 2012. While visually appealing and sticking to the design motif of the original, this era of the Railmaster had a significant conceptual flaw (though I doubt it played into their eventual retirement)–they had no consideration for magnetism. There was no soft iron cage shielding the co-axial escapement. Quite the opposite, in fact–they featured display case backs. It seems they were Railmasters because of their chronometer status–playing off of the idea of the railway watch–and dial design only.