IN-DEPTH: A top-of-the line Seiko diver, SLA037 Vs. the lesser-seen Omega Seamaster 300, same price, different experience?Thor Svaboe
Editor’s note: Here we continue a new style of review that pits two similarly specced watches against each other, in an arena that is less touched up, and more true to the naked eye than our usual images. Last week we had a super-popular Seiko and the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight. While both alike in specs, they were at very different price points. So, this time we thought we’d pit two dive watches with similar specs and aesthetics – from the golden mid-century era – and almost an identical price, against each other. There is extra sass here, because one is proof of the bullish new Seiko price positioning and the other is proof that Omega has dive watches of great quality hiding somewhat “in the shadows” as Thor says. Who will prevail? That is, as always, largely up to you and your tastes. Enjoy!
There are some sharp vintage-inspired divers for $5000-10,000AUD ($3500-7000USD) out there. But what if you want to quench your thirst for vintage tool watches with something less common that signifies a studied personal style? And dare we make the criteria include that magic word: availability?
Here are two sharp examples not seen on many wrists – both with the envious combination of style, obsessive detailing and technical prowess. The only challenge here is that you might end up wanting to marry one and keeping the other one as your mistress.
In a year marked by their strongest release catalogue in years, Seiko presented their 55th anniversary diver trio, of which the discrete blue hued SLA037 is the most versatile in terms of size and style. Have a look at our video of the trio here. This is a watch, with a price of AUD $9750, that has the bold intention of elevating where Seiko is positioned in the market. Even from a distance, the SLA037 is a Seiko by name, and a hand-finished Grand Seiko by nature, with a right-for-2020 size of sub-40mm by a hair.
In the opposing corner, we have what we have always considered to be perhaps the most underrated Omega diver, the Seamaster 300. For a flashback, here’s our ecstatic review from 2014. This watch is slightly larger at 41mm, and slightly lower in price. The Omega on a bracelet is AUD $9425.
The Omega 300 case
Yes, there are iconic Omegas that have not been to the moon, instead exploring the murky depths of the oceans since the 1950s, the decade the first Seamaster 300 was born. I sincerely feel that this pitch-perfect vintage piece has slipped into the shadows the last couple of years, though still exhibiting staying power since its release in 2014. The case is slightly larger than the original, at 41mm, though with the wide bezel and chunky skindiver hands, it wears closer to 40. The gently angled lugs are classic ’50s diver, with subtle reflections being created by a perfectionist’s bevel running the length of the case, slightly flaring out at the lug ends.
The way the bezel and dial shrinks the 41mm is negated by rather long lugs, though the finishing work ups the comfort. My only quibble with the 300 as a diver’s tool is the fact that the tops of the lugs are polished – which, together with the highly polished centre link bracelet, blings it up to the more formal end of the scale, and makes it more susceptible to a few scrapes and hairlines. The crown is massive for the size of the case, which to me is nothing but a wonder to behold – and grips well, even with a pair of gloves.
The Seiko SLA037 case
The case of the Seiko SLA037 is where you start understanding how this Japanese diver can possibly be more expensive than the Omega Seamaster 300. It might make a good impersonation of a 1965 tool watch, but the case is made from Seiko’s new Ever-Brilliant steel alloy, which has a whiter colour and harder surface, making for difficult polishing work – but the results speak for themselves. The case is classic Seiko 62MAS, but the finishing work is obsessive brushing and Zaratsu polishing from Grand Seiko, with intricate detailing to match. Circular brushing on the lug tops faithfully follows the curve of the bezel, while the case sides have that unreal mirror-like quality that can only have been finished in one place, and it ain’t Switzerland, Charlie Brown.
If you’re slightly Instagram-obsessed (like I am) you’ll be surprised by the photogenic nature of the case with its lighter shade of steel, and the fact that the Zaratsu sides are flat to the point of coming out as black voids in shots – such is the nature of their smoothness. The diameter of slightly under 40mm, with short downward curving lugs, makes this the most comfortable of the two in the wrist-hugging stakes, and the tolerances are measured in microns. A big chunk of a crown at 3 reminds us that this is a pure rendition of the very first Seiko with its just-so proportions, yet in smoothness feeling more like 100 years has passed since 1965. I have a suspicion the movement might have something to do with it, we will see about that…
The dial of the Seiko SLA037
Glamour in a perfect rendition of a tool? Well, this is where even the dial has been visibly touched by the Grand Seiko artisans, and is on a par with a Fifty Fathoms for applied sharpness. With the distraction of the superb finishing, the shape of the case is still textbook tool watch, and creates a contrasting backdrop to the reflections of the dial details, sharp enough to make you question the word tool. A semi-sunray finished dial in a — brand new for the trilogy — fetching shade of greyish blue. Man, does it set off the applied indices and work as a superb base colour for the silver print. With the matched blue tropic strap, it’s a contemporary colour, yet still with a mid 19th century inspiration. Thick polished indices bring the action with a white LumiBrite, which we know to be one of the best in the business, applied here with the finesse the price tag demands. The hands are classic straight baton shape, making legibility a non question, and the lume application will light up the night.
The square end lollipop seconds hand is just another detail where first impressions deceive, and how. The handset might seem a simple rendition of the 1965 basic dive tool the 62MAS was until you peer nosily through a loupe, or like me with my macro lens. The simple handset is anything but when it comes to the close-ups, if only for the simple facts presented by the hour and minute hands: a flat centre section with defined framing of the applied LumiBrite, then an incredibly slim outer bevel running the length of the hands and finishing off with a 45-degree cut at each corner. They don’t make it easy for themselves. The bezel has a perfectly cut coin-edge, a simple black insert with all the necessary minutes marked as a diver’s tool should have, with a decisive click to each twist of the fingers. Not overly glossy – and tough enough for the task ahead.
The dial of the Omega 300
The Omega is a more demure but picture-perfect version of a vintage dive tool, resisting the temptation of polished applied details. Instead, the ’50s classic printed dial of the oft-copied Seamaster 300 is textured matt black and with Swiss clean perfection in every detail of the classic triangular indices and minute track, with the old-style Omega logo and script keeping the dial a crisp and calm affair.
Adding depth to the dial real estate are the cream indices, recessed into the dial, leaving it clean and uncluttered with stumpy triangles at 12, 3, 6 and 9. The remaining indices are of a slim pointy design, making low-light reading easy with the vintage Super-LumiNova. Text is sharp and textbook ’50s Omega, with the classic Seamaster script in cream balancing out the silver Omega logo. The two main factors, besides impeccable detailing denoting this century, are the perfect central crease of the classic skindiver arrow and sword hands, bringing a welcome twinkle in the sun, and the crisp white seconds hand.
Two small lines of text above 6 mark this out as being a notch (well, about 13 rather tall steps) above the original as a Master Co-Axial Chronometer, its high-tech heart beating with a precision not found in the previous century. I still can’t help feeling the rather dressy case finish wants a more made-up face, period correct as the print might be. Will the bracelet underline this impression? The bezel is nigh-on perfect, with Omega’s Liquidmetal numerals in a ceramic insert, the minutes omitted, save for 5-second marks and numerals for every 10. There is an inner polished metal frame perfectly flush with the insert, a superbly framed pip at 12 and smooth clicks making me love the feel and glossy aesthetics – but less as a precise diver’s tool.
Battle of the bracelets – well draped steel or comfortable strap?
Well, this is where a big difference is jotted down in my notes, but maybe not the way you think. The Seiko might seem the lesser of the two on a simple tropic-style silicone rubber strap, but wait … Depending on your frame of mind or obsession with originality, I’ll state the fact that the bracelet on the Seamaster 300 is absolutely superb in every sense, if a tad heavy. The classic flat link design is superbly finished, bereft of play, but for me – especially with the glamorous polished centre links, puts the Omega on the cusp on being a dress watch.
41mm x lug to lug is a discreet size, even accounting for the ever-shrinking European diameter taste, and slides easily under my dress shirt. This is all wonderful, but I was looking for a tool. I love the finishing, but I would be more worried in the speedboat, diving gear at my feet with the 300 strapped on, than the Seiko. The silicone strap on the Seiko SLA037 has the perfect balance between supple and confidence-inspiring feel, with classic tropic patterns adorning it. It’s a perfect fit between the lugs, great colour to match the dial, and yes, with the brilliant detailing on the case and dial, this matt comfortable rubber is the perfect contrast. Making the dial and case shine even brighter than the Ever-Brilliant Steel would have you imagine, and yet for marking it out as a proper diver’s tool – a fighter with a very pretty face. The simple buckle is perfectly made, and the brushed and polished keeper finishes the job beautifully
Calling the METAS certified Co-Axial 8400 movement in the Seamaster 300 a superb machine is not overstating it, this being one of the best Omega movements of the last 20 years, and different from the more prolific 8500, as this is a specific no-date movement. The Co-Axial 8400 is a technological tour de force, featuring antimagnetic properties and with the main benefit of the Co-Axial movement being the drastic reduction in friction on the escapement. The silicon Si14 hairspring is yet another marker of this being a vintage diver in looks alone, with the devil in the detail, and obsessively so. You can read more on the Omega Co-Axial movement in our article on the first production co-axial caliber, as our attention turns to the Japanese SLA037 with its Grand Seiko Hi-Beat movement.
The 8L55 Hi-Beat is another drastic improvement from 2017’s SLA017, starting with the protection the new iron dial provides; it’s not just looks you see here. It increases the antimagnetic resistance to 40,000 a/m, underlining the serious nature of the bright visage with its intense details. The Hi-Beat movement has a 5Hz (36,000 vph, or 10 beats per second) frequency, making the seconds hand the closest you’ll get to the gliding Spring Drive sensation in a fully mechanical Seiko, with a solid 55-hour power reserve. As a tool it has the right solid caseback, though bribing your local Seiko servicing agent to peer over their shoulder for a look at the workmanlike but peerless finishing is highly recommended.
The closing remarks
So how do we conclude this tête-à-tête with two seemingly similar premium vintage-inspired divers? We can begin by confronting the elephant in the room, which is the simple fact that a Seiko on a rubber strap is daring to be priced above a legendary Omega with one of the best movements in the business. For me, there is nothing scandalous to be seen here – the Seiko SLA037 offers a beguiling mix of strictly adhering to its roots while simultaneously squeezing every last drop of brightness from their new steel alloy, every smooth sweep from its high-beat 36,000VPH movement, and creating some of the best dial details in the business. A Grand Seiko in a Seiko frock indeed. The Omega I loved an equal amount, but the story took a different turn as that high-polished and heavy bracelet placed it more as a classic and dressy piece than a tough and sea-ready tool. If I were to have both watches in my collection, the 300 would be under a dress shirt and a suit (even the solid Sedna Gold version), and the Seiko would be with me at sea, tanned arm, wearing a slightly frazzled sun-bleached T-shirt.
Seiko SLA037 and Omega Seamaster 300 pricing and availability:
The Seiko SLA037 is AUD $9750 and is available at Seiko boutiques and authorised dealers, as well as online here. The Omega Seamaster 300 is AUD $9425 and is available at Omega boutiques and authorised dealers, with more information available online here.