I have been fortunate to have had two significant and unusually spontaneous watch-purchase occasions in recent years and this is my account of the second one.
You may have seen a blog I wrote a few years ago highlighting my acquisition of a grail watch which was an Omega Seamaster James Bond Edition. The subsequent purchase has one significant commonality: Omega!
OK, yes I’m an Omega fan and this blog will include some bias, for sure. My interest in the brand was spawned via some handed-down influence from my father who purchased a 1959 Seamaster whilst on shore-leave in Hong Kong during his merchant navy years – as highlighted in the grail blog. This will (hopefully) be heading my way one day, but in the meantime I purchased my own first Omega in 2017: a 007-Seamaster Professional (2008) which had been sitting in a jeweller’s window calling out to me to buy it.
Enter the Railmaster
Omega Railmaster - Credit WatchGecko
Fast forward to February 2020: there was talk of an imminent, national lockdown so, along with much of the nation, I headed out into my local area to stock up on ‘essentials’ by means of preparation for what may lie ahead and ended up being distracted by staring through the window at the shiny items of loveliness in my local authorised Omega dealer. There, in pride of place, was a new and heavily reduced De Ville Prestige. I duly asked to take a look and after some deliberation and pangs of 'I don't really need this' expenditure guilt I reluctantly handed it back and left the shop. Before heading off to join the queue for tea bags and toilet rolls elsewhere, I had another obligatory glance in the window again, watching the shop assistant replacing the De Ville on its perch, to then notice this other thing of beauty trying to catch my attention. How did I not notice this, an Omega Railmaster, the first time?!
Also ‘reduced to clear’ I gestured to the sales assistant for me to have a look at that one also. To cut a long story short, after a couple of coffees, lots of watch-chat and a courtesy and privileged look around their service department (and my witnessing a significant dent in my credit-card balance), the watch was now in my possession. Toilet rolls and tea bags would simply have to wait another day!
A bit of history
I’ll explain my observations and thoughts about this little known, often overlooked gem, but firstly a bit of history behind the origins of this model: in 1957 Omega launched the first Railmaster model which was developed specifically with anti-magnetic properties, totalling an incredible (then) 1000 gauss; this allowed the watch to act like a miniature Faraday cage for those in situations that regularly encountered significant magnetic interference in their working surroundings, eg. rail workers. Omega’s primary competitor, Rolex, had released their own anti-magnetic model, the Milgauss, the previous year so these two models battled against one another to garner votes amongst those in their respective customer/fan base.
The Mk1 Railmaster lasted 6 years and it wasn’t until almost four decades later that its successor was born in 2003. This model utilised the new co-axial movement and catered for a wide range of wrists, in three case dimensions: 36mm, 39mm and 42mm. Ironically though, despite having Railmaster on the dial, the Mk2 had little in the way of anti-magnetic properties and would later cease production in 2012.
Omega Railmaster - Credit WatchGecko
Fast forward 5 years to Geneva, Switzerland and the internationally acclaimed Baselworld luxury watch showcase event. Here, Omega launched a special, limited edition homage trilogy to commemorate 60 years of their three most iconic models: Seamaster, Speedmaster and Railmaster – all bore striking resemblances to their original 1957 pieces, with the Railmaster returning in its 38mm guise. Slightly confusingly, Omega also released another new (Mk 3), 40mm Railmaster in 2017, highlighting their latest COSC, METAS Co-axial movement: the 8806 (ie. no date variant of the very popular 8800 that is used in the Aqua Terra range). Added to that, this latest movement allowed for an incredible gauss rating of 15,000! Omega was back in the anti-magnetism lead, and by a considerably long way.
Let’s take a look at the 2017 watch itself. I’ll focus on my own watch, the very catchy model reference: 220.127.116.11.01.001. Whereas this reference relates to the black dial variant on a bracelet, there are two other dial colours available: the brushed grey/silver and brushed blue/denim.
So, first of all is the unboxing experience, and if anyone has bought an Omega in recent years they'll know immediately that the packaging is an experience in itself and at the next level. The overly-large, polished, wooden box opens to a cream leather interior - and the watch within is almost dwarfed by its luxurious surroundings. To many, a presentation box is irrelevant (something that gets quickly discarded to the attic) but for me it is part of the whole ownership thing and although I may not even look at the box again, or at least for a while, it's a good and very memorable first impression. Added to this is the Omega embossed, leather-look card wallet housing the standard, three certification cards - and then, of course, there's the watch itself.
First impressions out of the box are that it's heavy, solid and has clear purpose - it's the epitome of a tool watch - and it's all brushed; there's not a sliver of polished stainless steel on any of it, but cleverly, Omega has created a satin-effect finish which plays cleverly with the light and oozes luxury - and the brushing varies in direction across the casing, lugs, shoulders, bezel and so on that cleverly mimics some almost polished-effect finishing. The stick hands are also brushed, almost bead-blasted, the hour hand of which is marginally wider.
The crown resembles a cup-cake design and when opening it from the casing it leaves with a nice click, and when screwing back down it's seamless and easy. And for the eagled-eyed, underneath the crown there is, on the case-side, a small, unusual dull marking that almost resembles the shape of a railway tunnel - was this intentional from Omega or just an apt coincidence? Following subsequent research, many other owners don't seem to have this, so I don't know - and when I enquired of Omega themselves, even they didn't know, other than their theory being that it was probably for protection of the case side and/or for decoration - but why not on all models? (If anyone reading this owns the latest Railmaster, please comment if yours also has this unusual marking under the crown)
Omega Railmaster Macro - Credit WatchGecko
Now on to the watch's most notable visual highlight: the dial. It's pretty unique, special and stunning; first there is a white 'railway track' along the chapter ring - and then to the dial colour - black, or is it? Angle the watch slightly and it's like slate, with vertical brushing, turning the colour from black to a grey, then brown and even purple and back to an almost black gloss again. It's mesmerising. The Superluminova faux (blue-green) patina lume fills the hands, the lollipop blob on the seconds hand, and the deeply infilled triangular hour markers around the dial's edge; such 'old style' lume will divide opinion, but, again, to me it looks great - and, along with the dial, is just different. The printing on the dial is simple; nothing is applied, and the text, in off-white, is clear, symmetrical and there's no date wheel to clutter the symmetry on the dial. The italicised old-style, orange Railmaster text font is coloured to match the lume and that too looks perfect and a nod to its past heritage, along with the cross-hairs in the centre. And talking of heritage, this model is part of Omega's limited number of such 'Heritage' models - so it's likely to be a special, limited run and it's quite rare, at least in the wild. More on such rarity a bit later. Covering the dial is a slightly domed, silky smooth sapphire crystal with anti-glare coating on both sides.
Omega Railmaster - Credit WatchGecko
And then there is the bracelet; it's also heavily brushed and even the edges are sharp and, again, tool-like. It tapers gently towards the signed (Omega logo'd) butterfly clasp, and it is this that is just one little niggle - it's a bit fiddly as the clasp takes thought to open and close, but again even that foible is cool, and a bit different. There's even a minute ceramic bearing to help the clasp click shut and securely; a small yet clever addition to aid longevity of a much used part of the watch. The links are screw-fastened, which is handy for those who need easier adjustment more quickly.
But if you're not a fan of bracelets, the Railmaster is a real strap-monster. It will look great paired with a nylon military strap, a variety of leather options with maybe a vintage, weathered look or even a tropic, or sailcloth - pretty much anything.
Yet, unlike the ever popular Aqua Terra cousin that this model is more or less based on, it doesn't have a transparent caseback to allow for this amazing movement to be seen - and that's a shame, but as a compromise, Omega have heavily etched on a stunning hippocampus work of art on to the solid caseback - this also bears the Omega logo and some basic text regarding the clever 'NAIAD', scalloped screw-down function, that ensures the text and logo stays perfectly aligned, always. That's a really clever feature too.
The heart of the machine
So, what's inside the watch that makes this beauty tick? Well, as previously referenced, it's the 8806 Master Chronometer that is METAS and COSC certified, so it's highly accurate and reliable - even my own runs at +1 sec per day, often balanced-out by lying the watch with crown-up overnight - that's simply amazing! The 8806 is the same, date-less workhorse that also powers the latest James Bond SMP ( Seamaster Professional, from 'No Time To Die', that too has the orangey 'faux lume') which oozes an all-round vintage look - so maybe it's quite possibly the Railmaster that is the Bond watch that never was? In fact, Bond wore an Aqua Terra in the opening scenes of the same film, so the Railmaster is the perfect merger of both the Aqua Terra and the SMP, in essence.
But what I also find amazing about this watch is its relative rarity and being so little known about, even amongst those in the watch-fan world. Searching #railmaster on social media unearths wrist shots from other owners for sure, but heading in to an Omega boutique, even they don't seem to know much about it. Is it really that rare or have they just not been made aware of this model amongst their own stock? There have been hints that the model has now sold out, has ceased production and been discontinued, again - but even though it's a rare sight in most authorised dealers, or on wrists, it's still, at least for now, available to buy on Omega's website.
Omega Railmaster on a WatchGecko Vintage Highley strap - teaser for a strap showcase later in May - Credit WatchGecko
An owner's perspective
So there's stacks of good things going for it, at least from my own (biased) perspective, but what would I personally change about it? - well, not a lot, really! I'd maybe lengthen the lugs by a millimetre or so to make it a little less chunky, and possibly scale it down to a more dressy 39mm (the Aqua Terra is available in 38mm and 41mm, so even at 40mm it does hit the sweet spot in between, it could be argued). I'd consider having the Omega name/logo applied and in an all-brushed finish on the dial to give it that extra bit of depth, perhaps. And maybe the bracelet could do with a bit of micro-adjustment, but no butterfly clasp offers this, and the butterfly variant does suit the style, it must be said. It really is hard to fault. Maybe having anti-glare treatment on the exterior of the dial is generally a no-no, as it will pick up minor yet noticeable scratches over time - but again, that's probably just an insignificant niggle. Is this watch therefore faultless? Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it is early days yet - but as things stand, it's pretty much near perfect - for me at least.
So - the Omega Railmaster - an unsung hero that is understated and underrated? - quite probably. But why? Why are the likes of the Seamaster Professional, the Speedmaster or the Aqua Terra the usual go-to alternatives?
Is it the Railmaster’s divisive faux lume, the lack of applied markings, or perhaps Omega's marketing department failing to share their own love for it? I'm really not sure and I don't know - but what I do know, is that I love it.
Exciting News! Explore the winter wonderland with our latest additions to the best-selling Ocean-Scout collection, now available on WatchGecko. True adventurers embrace all seasons, and we're thrilled to present two new frost-inspired designs for...
'Tis the season to be timely, and what better way to get yourself prepared for Christmas than with some helpful Christmas gift guides. If you have a watch collector or horology enthusiast in your life,...