Only a few weeks after Omega brought the world the deepest ever diving watch – it sent an experimental Seamaster Planet Ocean model to the deepest part of the Mariana Trench – the firm has this week revealed another timepiece intended to illustrate its commitment to the technological cutting edge.
This time it’s all about lightness: designed as the perfect watch for sportspeople, the Seamaster Aqua Terra “Ultra Light” weighs only 55 grams. That’s a little bit less than a tennis ball, and is mainly achieved by using a compound called ‘gamma titanium’ for key parts.
Launched with the help of golfers including Rory McIlroy, it’s pitched as just the thing to sit comfortably on the wrist without encumbering your swing, your stroke, your shot, or whatever high-intensity activity you’re engaged in.
That may be the headline, but the other stand-out factor, whether Omega intended it to be or not, is the stratospheric price: it comes in at a nosebleed-inducing £37,240. That’s nine times the price of your common-or-garden (and really quite sporty anyway) Seamaster Aqua Terra automatic, and, in fact, identically priced to the brand’s platinum Speemaster Moonphase.
So how does a hand-wound titanium watch cost the same as a platinum moonphase chronograph?
Problematically, Omega has been somewhat scant on the details, but R&D and the development of a new material for Omega watchmaking is the reported reason. Gamma titanium, a lightweight, intermetallic compound of titanium and aluminium known more normally as titanium aluminide (TiAI), is used among other areas for jet-turbine parts in the aerospace industry. For the Seamaster Aqua Terra, the case, case-back and crown are all made from the material.
The properties of titanium aluminide include its low density, stability at high temperatures (obviously irrelevant for a watch, even amid Rory McIlroy’s booming golf swing) and strong resistance to oxidation; however, it’s also somewhat brittle at normal temperatures and highly demanding to forge or machine – in the aerospace industry, various sintering and hot-pressing manufacturing techniques are used. Unfortunately, Omega hasn’t said how it’s making the gamma titanium parts, but it seems fair to assume it has some serious costs attached, both in the R&D process and the production itself.
For added lightness, normal Grade 5 titanium has also been used to make the dial and, for the first time, the movement itself.
According to Omega, the dial has been made thinner than normal for weight-saving purposes, while the movement bridges and main plate are in ceramised titanium – in other words, titanium with a ceramic coating. And here, Omega makes a particularly bizarre claim: according to its press release, this means “there’s less friction between the components” – however, plates and bridges are static components, and any moving parts are anchored against low-friction jewels.
It’s hard to see how a ceramic coating can have any effect therefore, besides the grey aesthetic, which brings a handsomely industrial look to a hand-wound, Master Chronometer movement that, in its steel form elsewhere, has a traditional, highly polished and striped finish.
Possibly the most appealing novel factor in the watch, in fact, is the humble winding crown – itself made from gamma titanium. It recesses into the contours of the case, and pops out telescopically when pressed, ready for winding and setting.
This clearly improves the streamlined ergonomics of the watch and is a strong design feature that one might hope to see more of in the future – note, for instance, that 2020 is an Olympic year, and Omega is the Olympic timekeeping sponsor. However, once again Omega is staying tightlipped, reportedly claiming that the innovations in this watch will remain in this watch only. We’ll see.
As things stand, in a year when Omega’s activities have understandably been centred around its involvement in the moon landings 50 years ago, the Seamaster Aqua Terra Ultra-Light is perhaps a reminder that the brand is generally more interested in the future than the past. Just don’t expect to see it being worn down the local driving range any time soon.
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