Omega Constellation Models 368.0855 and 368.0858

In a recent national survey on consumer behaviour it wasfound that nearly eighty percent of respondents admitted acquiring certainmaterial goods, whether they could afford them or not, so as to avoid losingface with their friends and peers.  Correspondingly,many of those surveyed reported avoiding goods and brand names considered bytheir peers and friends to be “uncool”. Poor buggers, caught on a consumerist hamster wheel and clearly afraidto jump off, they suppressed expressions of their own tastes and preferences forfear of displeasing the mob.

A similar phenomenon can be seen in some, but not all, watchcollecting fraternities, where acolytes and newcomers fall into line withreceived wisdom and take on the prejudices and collecting tastes of those who arebelieved to be more knowledgeable, more savvy, or more experienced. Chances aremany of the doyens of today’s horological circles acquired their tastes andprejudices in a similar fashion.  Fortunately,in vintage watch collecting circles there are enough contrarians around to makethe hobby interesting, and this post is directed at them. 

As the old decade has clicked over, it is timely thatConstellations hitherto attracting bad press or little interest should be reappraised,particularly when much of the odium surrounding the calibre 10xx series ofmovements has lifted in the light of a more balanced analysis of their pro andcons.  And so, we arrive at the last twoin-house Omega Constellation chronometer collections to be produced before thesky fell in on the Swiss watch manufacturing industry.  

I believe both collections have very strong and appealingdesign elements, and have written a short piece here extolling their merits. Theessay should be read in conjunction with this survey of the calibre 10xxmovements.

Omega Constellation Vintage Database

Every now and then I update the database I developed someyears ago to register all known examples of the Omega Constellationcollection.  The database covers 47 yearsfrom 1952 and has roughly 20 percent more entries than you will find on theOmega Vintage Database.

This year has been a fruitful year with new, hitherto unknownmodels having been unearthed.

The database is organised by movement calibre and lists allknown case/model numbers for specific calibres, also detailing production yearsand case metals. This allows you to confirm that a prospective or existingpurchase has the correct case for the movement. 

The database can be accessed here

Merry Christmas!

Omega Tresor Database

With thereintroduction of the Omega Deville Tresor line in 2014 and the latest seriesof 125th Anniversary offerings like the example shown above, therehas been renewed interest in the original series produced from 1949.  Originally manufactured for markets thatdidn’t have the purchasing power of the First World, such as much of SouthAmerica, the Tresor was an elegant and somewhat minimalist showcase for thefamous 30mm series of Omega movements.

Many of theTresor models were encased in 18 karat pink (or rose) gold slim-line cases, afavoured hue amongst many South Americans and their Middle-Easterncounterparts, and another reason for their resurgence amongst Westerncollectors today, pink gold currently enjoying a comeback in the West.  Some models were also comparatively large at37.5mm diameter, a real attraction amongst the “big-is-better” contingent of present-daycollectors and hipsters who need to make a statement about recycling. 

I’ve readseveral internet pieces on Tresors authored by collectors over the years, butnone as comprehensive as the work completed by Edmundo Klophaus, a long-termTresor devotee.  We were recentlycommunicating on other matters horological and he happened to mention that hehad produced an essay and database on these delightfully understated pieces.  We agreed that it was a timely resource tomake available to Omega devotees.

Edmundo has invested a significant amountof labour and research in creating this survey of Tresors, and is deserving ofour gratitude for adding to the Omega body of knowledge. You can access thedocument here.

In addition to his work on Tresors, Edmundo has laboured away on a comprehensive survey of Omega Seamaster models, an extremely useful document when appraising Seamasters for originality.  The Seamaster document can be found here

A Rare Omega Constellation 14396 ‘Jumbo’ Surfaces

I’ve long been interested in Omega’s practice ofremaindering their superseded 1950s calibres in Japan with larger, so-called ‘Jumbo’cases and have spent many hours trawling the internet in an attempt to discoverthe extent of the practice. Over the years I’ve discovered several modelsproduced exclusively for the Far East:  the calibre 504 models 14395, 14397 and 14747.

Omega also exported other Jumbo models to Japan andthe Far East in the early 1960s, namely the 168.001 and the rarer 14777, but itwas the earlier models than began the tradition of larger cases being designatedexclusively to the Asian market.

In all my years of collecting and researching OmegaConstellations, I have never encountered a calibre 505 screw-in Jumbo…..…until recently,that is.   The model 14396 (pictured above and below)presents in almost pristine condition. Featuring a beautiful silky guillochedial and simple gold baton hour markers, original crown and spotless movement, Itsurfaced in Japan, and if there is one there have to be others. The serialnumber of the movement is in the mid 16 millions, dating production to thesecond half of 1958, but I believe these Japanese versions were released inconjunction with the earliest of the calibre 561 models.

Another feature of these Far East models was the availability of a range of deluxe dials available in different luxury finishes as well as the more standard dial finishes on stainless steel versions.

These watches are a joy to wear because of thenear-contemporary 37.5mm case size, and if you have the patience and tenacityto embark on a quest to discover another, you’ll be amply rewarded by the envy of your peers!

Rare Omega Constellation Manhattan Skeleton

ConstellationSkeleton BC 166.1204.060. Elegantly skeletonised with blackened gold hands

Chancesare - no matter how long you have collected Omega vintage watches - you haven’tstumbled across this neo-vintage masterpiece.  Produced in 1995, the straight lugged OmegaConstellation Skeleton above was one of only twenty pieces produced in whitegold.

Twoother editions with this modified Manhattan case style were released in batchesof twenty pieces in yellow gold and pink gold. A further fifty pieces in the up-datedManhattan integrated bracelet case were produced in eighteen karat solidgold.  In all, only one hundred and tenskeleton Constellations were produced.

TheSkeleton collection accompanied another limited-edition series, the Manhattan ObservatoryCollection of fifty numbered pieces featuring a solid gold dial with a cloisonnéobservatory centre disc.  Bothcollections were created for the launch of the Constellation Manhattanface-lift, and first appeared at the prestigious Watches and Jewelleryexhibition in New York in 1995.  

TheConstellation Skeleton movement is a variation of the Omega automaticchronometer 2120, which was based on the Horological Hall-of-Fame ETA calibre 2892-A2. Designated as a calibre 2125 because ofits superb craftmanship, the movement was skeletonised entirely by hand toachieve lightness and elegance without compromising its robustness andprecision. Each piece was cut out, filed, bevelled and engraved by anindividual master watchmaker at Omega’s revitalised in-house Atelier created tocontinue the tradition of decorative arts in watchmaking.

Thelimited-edition skeleton and cloisonné Constellations were offered to high-endcollectors and prestige watch boutiques and were snapped up quickly.  Several have changed hands privately, but Icannot recall having seen one surface at a public auction.  They belong in the rarefied sphere of seriouscollecting because of their exquisite rendering and their very limited numbers.

This Watch is History

In the Nineteen-Fifties and Sixties, most OmegaConstellations were marketed through jewellery and specialty outlets, and sowhen one encounters a bespoke, solid white gold Constellation that was madeespecially for the first ever dedicated Omega boutique, one’s pulse can beexpected to quicken a tad.  Seen below isone of the rarest Omega Constellations ever made, so rare that I have only everclasped my eyes on one similar, but not exact, example.

At 35 millimetres in diameter, this almost-pristine ‘montrebijoux’ piece was delivered in 1969 to Omega’s official Swiss distributor,Gameo, at a time when there was a growing interest in dress watches. While thestyle of lugs has rarely been connected to cases that housed 56x calibres, thedesign is very similar to the dress model 163.0001 powered by the ultra-thincalibre 712.

The Omega Museum identifies this model with the referencenumber 368.4098 -  the 3 prefix indicatingwatch head and bracelet were together from conception – and it has a calibre564 under the dial.  It took the museum’sCharles Bernhard some time to pour through its Swiss distribution recordsoriginally maintained by Gameo to connect the number 7190 appearing on theinner case back with the reference number and indeed the history behind thewatch. Four digit case numbers were exclusive jewellerydesigns normally reserved for high-end outlets that had enough clout to procureexamples that were outside Omega’s normal range.

Gameo was the national Omega distributor in Switzerland. It's owner, Charles Bauty, is credited with opening the firstsingle brand boutique in the world in 1964, selling only Omega watches.  His first Omega boutique was established inGeneva under the brand "Les Ambassadeurs", named after the Café LesAmbassadeurs on the Rue du Rhone that he purchased and converted. It's stillthere. He later established an exceptional boutique in Zurich in 1971. So,given it’s delivery date, I believe this watch was retailed through LesAmbassadeurs in Geneva.

It’s not certain if this piece was a one-off order for aspecific client or was created as an Omega showpiece for Les Ambassadeurs,  but it certainly fits the criteria for what Iterm a ‘gloves off’ watch, where it’s perfectly acceptable to temporarily parkone’s scruples and go into battle for it, Geneva Convention be damned!   It’s atrue collectors piece

Rare French First Issue Omega Centenary

Any first issue 30.10 JUB Centenary model 2500 is uncommonbecause only 4000 pieces were produced. Factor in natural attrition throughloss, wear, scrapping for gold value and the occasional ingestion by animalsand you have a supply and demand equation that has seen the value of JUBCentenary watches increase substantially over the last decade.

For those who are not familiar with the “JUB” Centenary asopposed to Centenary calibre 333 models, the key difference is the jubileecalibre 30.10 RA PC JUB, an exposed spring bumper movement also known ascalibre 331. The JUB calibre was the original offering to celebrate Omega’scentenary in 1948. The watch proved so popular that Omega continued producingthe Centenary powered by the RG regulator version of the movement until therelease of the first Constellations in 1952. (For a full review of theCentenary click here)

A fully French-cased 30.10 Centenary JUB, however, merits adescription beyond that of “uncommon” and demands we venture into “R” wordterritory. The word “rare” as it applies to watches is flung around with suchintemperance that even Donald Trump’s verbal ejaculations appear as models ofsemantic rectitude in comparison. This is why seasoned collectors, or evenlightly seasoned collectors, immediately become sceptical when the word “rare”leaps from someone’s lips or keyboard. But “rare’ is the only descriptionpossible when applied to this French cased version.

Many thousands of the calibre 333 Centenary were produced,but, as mentioned, only four thousand of the Jubilee version left the Omegafactory in 1948.  More than a third wereexported to the USA, whereas in war-torn Europe - where economies had beendevastated by the Nazi onslaught and subsequent allied invasion - money forluxury goods was not plentiful. Formerly large watch markets such as Italy,Britain, Germany and France had shrunk significanty. These markets didn’tcollapse altogether, because of the willingness of occupation forces to spreadaround their discretionary income as well as much of their genetic material.

The case was manufactured in France owing to post-war goldrestrictions, and, given the state of the French economy in 1948, I doubtwhether more than 100 pieces of this model were produced. This is only thethird example I have seen in thirty years of collecting.  Omega, France delivered this model to Hermesin Paris who may well have been the sole distributor for the model inFrance.  The stamp of the luxury goodshouse appears on the external case back.    

                                          Pictures courtesy of Andrew H and Triad Vintage Watch Company

Ten Years of Constellation Trivia

I launched this blog on June 28th, 2006. At thetime, eBay and other on-line markets were, largely, an unregulated frontier moreclosely resembling a mercantile variant of Dodge City, circa 1870, than a fairand dependable marketplace. Cowboys, bushwhackers and outlaws roamed thefertile plains of on-line auction sites; Oriental crime gangs offloaded wagonloads of fakes with impunity; Frankenmeisters saw many opportunities to make aquick buck with their despicable horological confections, and buyer, and indeedseller, protection were pretty well non-existent.  

Ten years ago all of the major Omega-related chat fora wererun by horological petrol-heads for the most part funding set-ups and ongoingoperations themselves, or through member contributions and a trickle ofadvertising revenue. It was on these fora where we learned from each other andcontributed our knowledge.    

By 2006, the “Buyer Beware” mantra had almost reachedhysterical proportions on some watch fora. I felt that a certain hubris and heartlessnesshad entered collecting cultures, placing, in my opinion, a bit too much of theblame on those who had been duped and too little of the blame on the parasitesand cockroaches who did the duping. And so I was motivated to set up a resourcethat in the case of Omega Constellations would perhaps help redress theimbalance a little.

Another strong motive was to share with others my enthusiasmfor Omega Constellations of the Fifties and Sixties, a collection of superbtimepieces that time and the ill fortune of the brand in the Seventies had leftundervalued and underappreciated.    

Quite a few of my earliest posts involved naming and shamingsome of the more outrageous attempts to separate unsuspecting watch buyers fromtheir money, however I tired of that soon enough. I decided that the best wayto achieve both of the above ends was to present well-researched and detailedessays about various aspects of vintage Constellation and other Omegacollections so as to help people value and appreciate the brand and acquire theknowledge required to make a judicious acquisition.

Until 2013, I travelled extensively on business, spending upto twenty weeks a year in hotel rooms in various cities in Australia and aroundthe world. In the evenings, instead of watching hours of brain-numbing trash on cable TV orviewing breathless reports about nothing important on CNN and BBC News, I decided to use mytime productively and write about various aspects of my favourite vintagebrand, the fruits of which grew over time into the most comprehensive resourceabout Omega Constellation on the Web.

At the time of writing, this blog has attracted a total of2,175,905 visitors who have downloaded essays on Omega Constellation and othertopics hundreds of thousands of times.  Hopefully this resource has increasedawareness and helped re-establish the reputation of Omega Constellation watchesof the 1950s and 60s to where it was during the halcyon decades,  that of the premier production watch brand ofits time. 

Omega Norman Morris Catalogue 1955

Original watch catalogues are very useful in identifying anddiscovering information about particular lines of vintage watches, especially whenaccompanied with price lists of the time. They are a collectible in their ownright and add to the richness and enjoyment of serious collecting.

So when Jim Wilson acquired a 1955 Norman Morris Omega catalogueshowing the entire men’s and women’s collections for the year, I quietlysalivated over the prospect of having a peek.  

There are a number of interesting inclusions in thecatalogue: an example of the hooded lugged Ultima with a beautifully woven andheavy Milanese bracelet; the appearance of black dialled Omegas confirming thatthey were part of the available inventory or not just special order; aConstellation being marketed as a Globemaster; a MK Two version of theCentenary 2499 available seven years after the original models to mark Omega’s100th birthday, amongst others.

The catalogue was originally held by Coffman Jewellers inGettysburg Pennsylvania, an Omega stockist of the time. Our thanks to Jim forconverting the catalogue into a digital format and for his generosity in allowing me to share it here.

Men’s Collection: click here

Women’s collection: click here

The 14395: Daddy of the Jumbo Omega Constellations

For some particularly strange and inexplicable reason, giventhat Oriental wrists are noticeably smaller than their European counterparts,Omega released a series of “Jumbo” Constellation watches in the Far East in thelate nineteen-fifties and early nineteen-sixties (see post below and here).  These 37mm diameter cases contained a spacerin which to embrace the 28mm automatic chronometer movements powering variousmodels.

We know that at least three Jumbo collections were produced,mainly for the Japanese market which was a significant supporter of the Omegabrand.  Case 168.001 was preceded by case14777 and recently a Constellation collector jolted my memory that I had seenthe Grandfather of them all, the 14395, some years back on eBay.  Washing around in the recesses of my memorywas the thought that the 14395 was powered by a calibre 561 movement, but notso!  

The screw-in case 14395 shown above and below, courtesy of Omega collector Tony who wasmotivated to trawl Japanese locations in search of a 14777, was recentlyunearthed.  Tony initially thought thewatch was indeed a 14777, until he opened the case back and received a verypleasant surprise: an almost pristine calibre 504 movement bearing a seventeenmillion serial number.  So not only wasOmega remaindering its inventory of calibre 504s in cases 14747 and 14397, butit's clear the company decided to experiment with larger cases in the Far Eastwith a calibre 504 powered 14395.

The dial, with what could only be described as having a veryrare finish for a Constellation, contains the standard calibre 504 chronometerscript. The case itself looks very much like a 14747 gold capped version, witha narrower tapering of the lugs at the case body. 

The model featured here is only the second example I recallhaving encountered.  Given the circumstancesof the acquittal of calibre 504 movements across various model numbers priorand during the launch of the calibre 561, it’s reasonable to conclude thatcalibre 504 powered Jumbos are quite rare.

The Omega Constellation Jumbo 14777

For those who enjoy the heady rush of the chase, the ‘Jumbo’model 14777 Omega Constellation has the potential to have your adrenal glands a-gushing.Be prepared to endure the infusion of brain chemicals that feed and reflectfrustration though, because finding one will not be easy.

The calibre 561 model 14777, at 37mm diameter with 19mm lugs is the forerunnerto the Jumbo 168.001, and like its successor was produced for mainly theJapanese market. The case shape is very similar to both the 168.001 and the14393.

In the Omega Far Eastern collection for two years, theearliest of these models was produced in 1961 and will have late 18 million andearly 19 million serial numbers. The 1962 production models will bear serialnumbers in the later 19 million range. The case back stamps will show 14777 61 SCand 14777 62 SC and carry the Central Boites tombstone maker’s stamp.

Dials were domed and offered plain and cross-hair versions. They were produced during Omega's short-lived experiment with the elimination of "Officially Certified" from the upper case script.

While I wouldn’t rule out the cases having been produced in solid gold, the sixexamples I have seen over the span of my collecting experience have been eitherstainless steel or 200 micron gold capped. I have spotted a couple of examples over time with Beads of Ricebracelets attached to 19mm end pieces.

While Japan and surrounds is perhaps not as tropical andhumid as some South-East Asian countries, do expect to see more examplesshowing signs of dial degradation than in pristine condition.  The two 14777s shown were both located inJapan, which is the best source for inventory, although they have migrated andbeen offered for sale in Korea and the U.S.

Are these models rare? I’d start with uncommon, and moveonwards from there.  Few surface, andexamples in immaculate condition are very hard to find.   

The Omega Seamaster 200 SHOM, a Factoid of Exemplary Construction

                                                                                  Omega Seamaster 200 Model 166.177 Courtesy Robert Maron

If you didn’t realise its origins, a word coined by writerNorman Mailer in his 1973 autobiography of Marilyn Monroe could be mistaken aspurpose-designed for the internet. He defined a ‘factoid’ as a “fact which hasno existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper”. Through repetition,these so-called ‘facts’ enter into public consciousness to become part of urbanmythology and are very difficult to dislodge.

There are countless factoids pertaining to vintage Omegawatches circulating on the worldwide web, devoured and regurgitated many times bypeople who, conceivably, are not gormless or naive, but never-the-less havetaken the speculations and falsehoods of others on the Internet as theRock of Truth.

The statement below about the Omega Seamaster 200 model 166.0177appearing on a respected Watch blog illustrates the point:

The SHOM Seamaster was so named because Omega created this model for France's ServiceHydrographique et Océanographique de la Marine (SHOM), a public agency that ischarged with documenting and studying the oceans as well as supporting marinersthrough the publication of charts, maps, guides and almanacs. Apparently,SHOM's workers needed a sturdy, waterproof timepiece to reference as theycharted, mapped and almanacked".

The ‘SHOM factoid’, that of SHOM seeking a bespoke watch tofulfil its needs and commissioning Omega to design and manufacture it, is nowpart of horological folklore. Like many urban myths it contains a grain oftruth, albeit a microscopic one as we will discover.

What the many SHOM whisperers either don’t know or have chosento ignore is that SHOM also acts as a technological pimp for the French Navy,testing and supplying hydrographical and other measuring instruments for use inits fleet.  Many countries use governmentprocurement agencies for the acquisition of hardware, if not ordinance, and theFrench were, and are, no different

Omega designed the 166.177 as part of a range of cal 10xxSeamasters that superceded the earlier family of mid-500 caliber divewatches.The collection included the 166.250 and the 166.137 and catered forvarious levels of water resistance. The 166.177 made its début at Baselworld in1973, and it was nearly six years later that SHOM entered the life and times ofthe Omega Seamaster 166.177

A number of Swiss Watch companies touted their dive and toolwatch collections to military procurement establishments around the world andoften offered substantial discounts in their tenders to sweeten a choice intheir favour. The marketing potential and resulting kudos of having a productselected by the military more than compensated for such discounts.  Omega was an old hand at tendering formilitary contracts and was well-known for its collaborations with marineagencies since the early days of the Seamaster 300. 

When the French Navy signalled that it was looking for an‘official’ dive watch for its frogmen (pardon the pun), Omega was probably wellup in the queue to have the Seamaster 200 evaluated by SHOM as part of itstender. It won the tender, and in 1979 began supplying the 166.177 to France’s "MarineNationale" (meaning Navy) well in to the life span of the model, asmentioned.

Normally the 166.177 case back will show the stamp ‘Testedto 200 metres’, however some pieces will have the engraving ‘MN 79’ on the caseback, indicating their production after the appointment by the French Navy.This does not signify that such watches were ever in the service of the FrenchNavy, but simply commemorates their adoption. Other official markings wouldneed to be present before a 166.177 could be authenticated as a genuinemilitary watch. Furthermore, it would be rare indeed to encounter anauthenticated French Navy example because these watches were in service andpart of the Navy’s inventory. They wouldn’t have had an easy life, and if anysurvived one would assume they would look far from the many pristine orwell-kept examples we see on the worldwide web.

To repeat, there is no such animal as a Seamaster 200 SHOM. It is the product of the fuddled imagination of someone who attempted to make a loaf of truth out of a grain of fact.