By TLex Whilst at the Basel watch fair this year I was lucky enough to get a preview of OMEGA’s new and improved PLANET OCEAN collection. However I didn’t get nearly as much time with the new watches as I would have liked, so I can’t tell you how thrilled I was, when my friends at OMEGA invited me to meet with them for a 2nd closer and more in-depth look at this stunning new line of divers models, which included their new flagship diver, the PLANET OCEAN Titanium Liquidmetal® Chrono Cal.9300 . . .
OMEGA The OMEGA brand was first established in 1848. In 1969 the Speedmaster Professional Chronograph was worn by NASA astronauts and was subsequently the first watch worn on the moon. The late 60s and 70s saw OMEGA produce a number of divers models, which were worn by some of the greatest underwater pioneers of that time. Jacques Yves Cousteau wore a Seamaster 600 'Ploprof' among other OMEGA models and worked closely with them on the watch's development. The legendary Ploprof saw a reissue in 2009.
Recently the OMEGA brand have been re-positioning themselves in the luxury watch market especially over the last couple of years, but for me 2011 has to be their most significant move to date with the introduction of their new in-house Co-Axial calibres, the 8500/8501, the 8520/8521 and the new 9300 chronograph, which have been used to drive the updated PLANET OCEAN collection.
SEAMASTER OMEGA's first water-resistant watches date back to the early 1930s. However it wasn't until 1947 that the 'Seamaster' name was first introduced and given to an OMEGA timepiece, and it wasn't until 1958 that the Seamaster name was bestowed upon OMEGA's first true divers model. The Seamaster 300 [Ref. CK 2913] had a water-resistance of 200m, featured a rotational divers bezel and sported OMEGA's now iconic broad arrow hour hand, which to this day is still used on all Planet Ocean watches.
PLANET OCEAN In 2005 OMEGA launched the PLANET OCEAN line of professional divers watches, which housed movements using their then new Co-Axial technology. All 1st generation and 2nd generation PO [Planet Ocean] watches are equipped with unidirectional rotatable divers bezels, manual release helium escape valves and have a water-resistance of 60 bar or 600 meters. They are fitted with double anti-reflective coated sapphire crystals and use bright long lasting lume on their hands and markers.
CHANGES Apart from the obvious mechanical changes, which I will talk about later; OMEGA have revamped a number of the PLANET OCEAN's components and have improved the watches' functionality in a number of key areas. They have also made use of the very latest in cutting edge materials such as titanium and ceramic, which are prized for their toughness and durability.
TITANIUM The use of Titanium isn't new for OMEGA. They used it for the construction of Seamaster Professional Titanium, but in a lower Grade 2 alloy. The two new 45.5mm PLANET OCEAN Titanium Liquidmetal® models both boost all-new Grade 5 Ti construction. The G5 alloy is most commonly used today in the aerospace industry, but has also been adopted by a number of upper echelon watchmakers for use on their divers models. It is not only extremely lightweight, but a resolutely tough material that is also extremely comfortable to wear owing to its lightweight and the fact that is hypoallergenic. This means it won't react with your skin in the same way that stainless steel can do.
LIQUIDMETAL In 2009 a special limited edition of the PO 42mm was released with a Liquidmetal® Ceramic bezel. The Liquidmetal® technology takes an amorphous metal material, which is zirconium-based and fuses it with the ceramic of the PO's external bezel, bonding seamlessly to create a surface that has a hardness that is 3 times as great as that of stainless steel and several times greater still than that of the aluminum inserts used on other Planet Ocean models. OMEGA now owns the complete rights to Liquidmetal® and plan to make a gradual shift to it in the future. At the moment the new PO is only available with blue ceramic, but black, white and possibly orange are a strong likelihood for future PO models.
PLONGEUR One of the coolest aesthetic features of the new PO Chronograph models has to be the inclusion of the Plongeur [French for diver] handset for the sub-dial at 3 o'clock. Apart from its obvious charms, this mini plongeur handset recalls the handsets of two of OMEGA's most iconic divers of the past, the Seamaster 600 'Ploprof' and the Seamaster 1000. For me it’s a fitting tribute to the Plongeur handset and a salute to OMEGA's rich dive watch heritage.
LACQUER The new blue ceramic bezel of PO Titanium Liquidmetal® Chrono has been complimented with a rich glossy gray-blue lacquered dial. I did wonder if this surface would reflect much light or affect the legibility of the dial in anyway, but I have to say the dial is every bit as legible as the matt black dial of the current PO. It looks way more sophisticated and luxurious, too, which I believe is an important role in distinguishing between this (the top of the range PO) and other PO’s that aren’t equipped with the new in-house movements.
LUME The Planet Ocean watches have always had pretty exceptional lume. However this has now been given increased functionality through the use of two colors. The hands and markers of all new PO’s now glow blue except that is for the minute hand, which should be easily distinguished from that of the hour hand, and the 12 o’clock bezel pip which is integral for calculating dive time, these are now further distinguished by their green lume. The lume is lovely and bright, but I think I didn’t quite capture how different the two colors are from each other with my photography.
CROWNS OMEGA have both increased the size and appearance of the new PO's crowns and pushers. The crown grip is now made from a simplified ten sided shape for both main operating crown and that of the Helium release valve. They are now also easier to grip and manipulate. Because of the increased size of the main crown, OMEGA have cleverly incorporated a 'v' shaped opening into the right lateral lower side of the case to accommodate its extra girth.
CALIBRE 9300 The OMEGA Co-Axial calibre 9300 is an exclusive in-house calibre. It is OMEGA’s first chronograph movement born from their revolutionary new family of in-house Co-Axial movements. Of its many innovative features is a new Si 14 silicon balance spring, which has allowed OMEGA to offer the new PLANET OCEAN watches with a full four-year warranty.
The 9300’s column-wheel chronograph has a 12-hour and 60-minute counter handset placed on the same sub-dial at the 3 o'clock position. This arrangement of the hands, which echoes the hour and minute hands of the main dial, enables ‘intuitive reading’ of the chronograph. There is also a central chronograph seconds hand and a sub-seconds hand on the sub-dial at 9 o'clock.
CHRONO The chrono movement is controlled by two chrono-pushers, which can operate independently of each other; so OMEGA say there is no risk to the chronograph mechanism as a result of accidental triggering of the mechanism. Another added bonus of the movement's time zone function is that the hour hand can be set without stopping the watch; a pretty useful feature for those in need of a 2nd time zone display.
CASEBACK The new PO’s have retained their 600m water-resistance even with the addition of exhibition casebacks. The sapphire crystal caseback offers a gorgeous uninterrupted view on to the 9300’s workings. The movement features a decorative pattern known as ‘Côtes de Genève in Arabesque’.
ON THE WRIST One of the first things that struck me when I first handled the new PO Ti Chrono 9300 was that it was noticeably thicker and more substantial than my 45.5mm 1st Gen PO. It should have felt heftier, but because of its Titanium construction and rubber strap it felt incredibly light and comfortable. The watch has short and ever so slightly downward curving lugs so it was easy to find a comfortable position on the wrist. The watch also sat up a little higher on the wrist than mine, but this was to be expected with the extra couple millimeters of height that came from the chronograph movement.
The new PO has incredible wrist-presence, I really felt as though ‘this was it’ and that it couldn’t get much better. The particular shade of grayish-blue that was chosen for the dial, the ceramic bezel and the rubber strap is ever so subtle; I’m not personally that big on colorful watches, but have to say that the blue perfectly complimented the dusky hues of the titanium, and for mind is extremely tasteful.
FINAL THOUGHTS The overall appearance of the new Planet Ocean watches is not really a huge departure from what we know and love. They are still the great dive watches that have experienced such a following over the last 5 or 6 years, but have now been taken to the next level with the use of Titanium and Liquidmetal® ceramic, and without compromising their classic looks either. The enhancements, which are both aesthetic and functional more than do justice to the in-house calibers and cutting-edge technologies that have been incorporated into them. The watches look and feel technically more advanced.
For me the PLANET OCEAN Titanium Liquidmetal® Chrono Cal.9300 epitomizes the evolution of the PLANET OCEAN. It leads the way for future PO models to follow. And I believe that ultimately this the direction in which the whole PO line will eventually head. And the use of in-house calibers is a clear elevation of not only the PLANET OCEAN collection, but the OMEGA brand as a whole. I can’t wait to see what the future brings . . .