by Owen Davies
Watch blogger Owen puts aside brand reputations and compares two prominent divers from Swiss titans Omega and TAG Heuer.
Have you ever dreamed of owning your first “real” diving watch, and immediately thought of an Omega or TAG Heuer? Let’s take a look at two basic mechanical diving watches from these two top Swiss luxury watch manufacturers. The Omega Seamaster Professional and the TAG Heuer Aquaracer are tempting acquisitions for both the budding watch collector and the diving watch enthusiast alike. The standard models – by which I mean the no-frills Seamaster Co-Axial ref. 220.127.116.11.01.002 and TAG Heuer Aquaracer Calibre 5 ref. WAK2111.BA0830 – have similar specs, and also happen to look like siblings. But which one is better?
Is TAG Heuer on a level with Omega?
While the Omega brand is often perceived as being of an ever-so-slightly higher quality than TAG Heuer and benefits in terms of popularity from the James Bond connection, the watches we’re looking at today are remarkably similar. So, let’s set brand reputations and fictional spies aside and make a detailed comparison of these two casual sports watches.
1. Design: Omega Seamaster vs. TAG Heuer Aquaracer
The Omega Seamaster Professional has been a mainstay of the Omega catalog for 30 years. Looking at this model, it’s easy to see why. The dial is clean in terms of design and features the embossed wave pattern for which the watch is famous. The hollow silver sword hands lend the dial a certain edge, and the bold hour markers are well-balanced and provide maximum legibility.
The Seamaster’s unidirectional steel bezel features a black aluminum insert and beveled edges that not only give the watch a unique flair, but also provide a good grip for turning. The bracelet design is another great feature: with its combination of brushed and polished links, the timepiece suits both casual and formal occasions.
The TAG Heuer Aquaracer is visually similar to the Seamaster, but for one rather obvious difference: the color. The Aquaracer ref. WAK2111.BA0830 is finished in a brilliant royal blue, and its dial features shutter-like embossing reminiscent of the Patek Philippe Nautilus – which is never a bad thing! The watch also uses bar indices to mark the hours, rather than round markers, and the sword hands are notably narrower than those of the Seamaster.
The Aquaracer’s bezel is closer in style to a Rolex Submariner than a Seamaster, but has raised steel segments that make the insert look as though it’s clamped in. The bezel insert is made from a ceramic compound, as opposed to the aluminum insert of the Seamaster. This gives the Aquaracer a tougher look, and as we all know, color doesn’t fade on ceramic like it does on aluminum. The bracelet has H-shaped links reminiscent of Rolex’s Oyster design. They’re finished in brushed steel and fit the functional look of the watch as a whole.
Winner Design: Omega Seamaster
The diving watch “look” as we know it today was introduced with the launch of Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms 70 years ago and further developed by Rolex for the creation of the Submariner. These legendary watches have been the blueprint for divers ever since. There’s no escaping the fact that both the Seamaster and the Aquaracer heavily borrow from these classic timepieces in terms of design, and at times it can feel as though you’re looking at “just another diving watch.” But both watches have their own unique nuances, like the Seamaster’s wave dial or the Aquaracer’s chunky bezel. Such refinements bring originality to each piece and do a good job of setting these models apart from the hundreds of Submariner clones flooding the market.
As for choosing a winner, I found it quite tricky to distinguish between these two watches. I prefer the Aquaracer’s shutter-style dial to the Seamaster’s wave pattern, but I think the Omega bezel and bracelet are a little more refined than those on the TAG. I’d be happy to wear either timepiece, of course, but the Seamaster Professional seems to me to be the more versatile of the two, since it can be worn on both casual and formal occasions.
2. Movement: Omega’s Co-Axial Movement vs. TAG Heuer’s ETA and Sellita Movement
The TAG Heuer Aquaracer is powered by a TAG Heuer Calibre 5 movement. Interestingly, this movement can be based on either of two different base calibers, the ETA 2824-2 or the Sellita SW200. This makes the Calibre 5 fairly unusual and means that two watches of the exact same make and model may be fitted with different base calibers. The Calibre 5 is a 25-jewel (or 26-jewel in case of Sellita) automatic movement with 38-hour power reserve, which makes it an ideal choice for an everyday wearer.
The Seamaster Professional is powered by the Omega 2500 self-winding co-axial movement. I’ve reviewed three generations of the brand’s co-axial calibers elsewhere, and in detail, and it’s a very impressive movement. The 2500 is chronometer-certified, and the co-axial escapement allows for much longer intervals between servicing. It has a 48-hour power reserve, which, much like the Aquaracer, makes this watch great for everyday wear.
Winner Movement: Omega Seamaster
For me, there is one clear winner in this category. The Omega co-axial caliber 2500 is head and shoulders above the Calibre 5 in terms of accuracy, durability, and reliability.
3. Wearability: Two Prestigious Watch Brands, Two Iconic Watches
Both watches are incredibly easy to wear, which is something I would expect of an everyday tool watch. Both models have relatively low profiles, which means I didn’t have to worry about catching the cases on door frames, or getting them caught on my shirtsleeves. The two watches are easy to operate, since their screw-down crowns are easy to loosen and adjust. The bezels are equally legible in low light.
Winner Wearability: Draw
While the bezel on the Aquaracer has a slightly better design in terms of grip, the Omega feels as though it has a slightly better build quality – but this feeling might come from my perception of the brand, and the finishing on the Omega. I think it’s fair to call this one a draw.
Victory for the Omega Seamaster
Considering the price of a pre-owned Seamaster is around $4,000, and a pre-owned Aquaracer changes hands for about half that amount, it’s safe to say that the Omega Seamaster is probably the better choice if you’re looking for a watch that will retain its value over time. A few years ago, the prices for these two diving watches were nearly neck-and-neck.
With two wins under its belt, the Omega Seamaster Professional finishes first – at least in my book. It’s a beautifully designed diving watch with a modern caliber, and it’s easy and comfortable to wear. That’s not to say the Aquaracer is a loser – far from it. I really love some of its design features, especially the dial and ceramic bezel. I would certainly recommend it to someone who isn’t a fan of the Seamaster, or someone who wants to buy a great diving watch for less.