How X-Ray Scanning Revived A Piece of Omega's Horological History
Thanks to modern technology, we get to enjoy Omega's legendary Speedmaster, Railmaster, and Seamaster in their original 1957 forms.
According to a study done by the University of Warwick, 1957 was the United Kingdom's happiest year in the entire 20th century. Unemployment was low, wages skyrocketed, WWII was over, and the baby boom was well under way.
As Malaysia gained its independence, 1957 was also a momentous year for one Swiss watch brand in particular—Omega. This was the year in which they created the Seamaster, Railmaster, and Speedmaster, watches that have each gone down in horological history.
Omega created the trilogy of watches with three different professionals in mind; the Seamaster served the sailor, the Railmaster assisted the train conductor, and the Speedmaster waited on the race car driver. (The Speedmaster would, of course, go on to forge a completely different destiny as the "Moonwatch", but that's a story for another time.)
To those ends, each of the three watches was given a different defining feature.
The Seamaster 300 CK2913 (as the model was named) was equiped with an external rotating bezel and a triple-protection water resistance system that included the first ever use of Omega's proprietary "Naïad" crown.
The system was considered incredibly novel and effective at the time, but it operated using an exceedingly simple principle—water pressure. The deeper a diver plunges, the greater the water pressure on every part of his or her body, including the watch.The increasing pressure would ensure the tightening of the gaskets within the Naïad system, and thereby assure that the crown remained watertight.
Because the crown is the most likely site of water ingress (since it is regularly pulled out for winding or setting the watch), it is the most important place to protect when engineering a waterproofing system, even today.
The Naïad system was incredible successful in this respect, and the Seamaster 300 CK2913 was tested and guaranteed to be water resistant to 200 metres, well beyond the depths of most divers (who, recreationally speaking, should dive to a maximum of 40 metres).
The Railmaster, on the other hand, was built to resist a different force of nature—magnetic fields. As technology advanced in the 1950s, it brought with it the proliferation of magnetic fields, which could disrupt the delicate timekeeping mechanics of watches.
In a time before atomic clocks and quartz watches, ensuring accuracy was of utmost importance. And so, therefore, was a watch that was resistant to magnetic fields. The Railmaster CK2914 wasn't the first anti-magnetic watch that Omega ever created (that moniker would belong to a pilot's watch Omega delivered to the British Ministry of Defense in 1953), but it was the first that was commercially available.
The Railmaster used an anti-magnetic system similar to a faraday cage, with a double-case construction that consisted of a protective inner case, caseback, and dial made of a nickel-iron alloy. This would help deflect any magnetic fields that a train conductor (or urban dweller) would come into contact with.
The final watch is perhaps the most legendary of the three—the Omega Speedmaster. The brief was to make a watch that was sturdy, high-precision, and legible at a glance. Legibility of the tachymeter scale was especially important, as it allowed race car drivers to compute speed based on travel time and distance based on speed (all in their heads, of course, this was before the time of dashboard speedometers), all the while charging down a racecourse at breakneck pace.
Omega's Speedmaster CK2915 was the first ever watch in the world to place the tachymeter scale on the bezel as opposed to the dial, a move which secured its position as the most iconic chronograph watch ever created. And that was before the Speedmaster made it to the moon in 1969.
Tomography of Omega Seamaster CK2914 from 1957
Omega Seamaster Trilogy
Tomography of Omega Railmaster CK2914 from 1957
Omega Railmaster Trilogy
Tomography of Omega Speedmaster CK2915 from 1957
Omega Speedmaster Trilogy
In 2017, on the 60th anniversary of this legendary trilogy, it seems only fitting that Omega pay tribute to the original watches that began it all. But, as always, watchmaking involves a complex balance of aesthetics and innovation.
The watches have each changed drastically since 1957, especially in terms of their internal mechanics. But to preserve the brand's design heritage, it was still important to stay true to the aesthetics of the originals, down to the nearest milimetre.
To that end, Omega employed a distinctly 21st century technology called tomography, which is somewhat related to the X-rays that we're so familiar with. Over 3000 images are taken of the original, and a virtual 3D model is reconstructed using computer software so that each watch can be examined from every single angle, both inside and outside.
Each watch was faithfully constructed in appearance to the 1957 originals, but with internal workings from the modern day. The Seamaster Trilogy, for instance, retains the original's bidirectional black aluminium bezel, Naïad sign on the crown, and recessed hour markers coloured to look like vintage "tropical" dials.
However, those hour markers are actually painted using modern SuperLuminova, and the watch is powered by the modern calibre Master Chronometer 8806, which is certified water resistant to 300 metres, deeper than its predecessor.
The Master Chronometer 8806 also powers the Railmaster Trilogy, which has maintained the simple, unpretentious style of the original. This watch can withstand magnetic fields of up to 15,000 Gauss, which is very impressive considering most other anti-magnetic watches can withstand around 1000 Gauss.
How did Omega do it?
Well, we don't know exactly, as the brand has remained understandably tight-lipped about its secrets, but we have gathered that the movement itself is made entirely of non-magnetic materials. No mean feat, we assure you.
As for the Speedmaster, well, we saved the best for last. The Speedmaster Trilogy of 2017 retains all of the characteristics of the 1957 original, including the distinctive "Broad Arrow" hands (today's Speedmasters use baton hands), straight lugs, and steel tachymetre bezel (modern ones are made of black aluminium).
Under the hood, however, purrs the 1861 Calibre, which also powers the modern Speedmaster Professional "Moonwatch" (and is flight-qualified by NASA for all manned space missions) . So in some ways, this is the most collectible watch of all, combining the best of the Speedmaster's beginnings with the best of its modern-day Moonwatch technology.
We admire how well Omega has integrated its heritage pieces with the best of its modern technology. The boxed set containing this new legendary trilogy is limited to only 557 pieces worldwide and may all be snapped up but you could collect all three separately—they have slightly more generous limitations, with 3,557 pieces of each made.
This story originally appeared on SingaporeTatler.com.
Did you know that in 2015, James Bond and Omega celebrate 20 years of watches together?