Omega Constellation Master Chronometer 41January 11, 2022
The Omega Globemaster was one of the most talked-about watches at Baselworld, for a somewhat peculiar reason: its fluted bezel, which prompted not a few enthusiasts to grumble that Omega was copying Rolex. The objection holds up poorly under even cursory scrutiny; Omega has used fluted bezels extensively in the past, including on a number of Constellation models from the 1960s, so to lambaste the company for a design element it’s used on and off for at least fifty years seems a little unfair. Nonetheless, the fact that a few feathers were ruffled –as well as the watch’s technical chops; it has one of the most advanced mechanical movements in production anywhere –gave us some considerable curiosity about what it might be like to wear one, and we recently obtained a Globemaster for review.
The Globemaster in steel, at 39mm in diameter, is a rather austere affair. Overall the design reflects features of some of the most popular Constellation models of the past, including the little star on the dial, the fonts, the design of the hands (straight out of the design of several models from the 1960s) and of course, that fluted bezel. The name is a part of Constellation history as well –in the United States especially. The name “Constellation” was owned by another company in the USA, so Omega Constellation Master Chronometer 41 called some of the first Constellation models retailed here –going back to the very beginning of the family, in 1953 –“Globemaster” rather than “Constellation.” The Globemaster of today merits the name for another reason as well –it has an hour hand that can be set forwards or backwards in one-hour increments, making it a great traveler’s watch (though it sacrifices a quick-set date; a reasonable tradeoff for frequent flyers, though.)
The bezel, incidentally, is tungsten, which helps to guarantee that it will retain its slightly frosty glow very well. The case is cleanly finished, with brushed and polished surfaces alternating nicely, and in the model we wore the case finishing is consistently clean right through the space between the lugs. The Globemaster actually wears slightly larger than you might think from the numbers, thanks to the relatively uncluttered dial –the pie-pan dial configuration is of course, another nod to the vintage Omega Constellation Master Chronometer 41 fans remember so well.
That pie-pan dial is a lovely feature, although on the Globemaster it has a bit less oomph than in Omega’s vintage Constellations, and a quick look at some vintage models shows why. The pie-pan dial was usually paired either with rather elaborate and very charming triangular dial markers, or in some cases, with baton markers. In the former case, the apexes of the triangles were aligned perfectly with the facet edges of the dial, and in the latter the seconds track was actually on the inner edge of the pie-pan; both tended to emphasize the pie-pan shape and make it seem a bit more distinct. Here the combination of baton markers, and the location of the seconds track on the outer edge of the dial, tends to give a more spacious, and slightly flatter, visual impression.
This, however, is a significant watch for Omega Constellation Master Chronometer 41 and for horology in general for other reasons than just its design shout-outs to an illustrious past. This is the first watch from Omega –and indeed from anyone –to be certified as a chronometer by the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology (METAS.) METAS certification is both different from, and more demanding, than chronometric certification from the COSC (the watch is, however, COSC-certified as well.) The watch is controlled for rate in six positions and at two temperatures; it is also controlled for isochronism at both full wind, and at 2/3 of its power reserve. The cased-up watch is also tested for water resistance –and, perhaps most significantly, both the movement and the cased-up watch must continue to function within chronometer specifications during and after exposure to a magnetic field with a strength of 15,000 gauss. For comparison, a refrigerator magnet is about 50 gauss and MRI machines can generate fields of even greater strength –up to 70,000 gauss. Now, obviously it would be highly inadvisable to actually wear the watch inside an MRI machine –especially this steel model, at least, if you like having your wrist attached to your arm –but if you’re like us here at Hodinkee, you’re excited to know that even if you were silly enough to do so, your watch would still be running just fine even after a violent traumatic amputation.
Omega points out that METAS certification is not an Omega-only game, anybody who wants to can play –however, the ability to resist a magnetic field of 15,000 gauss is a requirement and that will shut the door for pretty much any other company’s timepieces. Omega manages it by using its co-axial caliber 8900/8901 (the last digit reflects the metal; 8901 is used in the gold-cased model.) The caliber 8900 uses a silicon balance spring –silicon is amagnetic, one of its most attractive attributes from a horological perspective –and also uses amagnetic alloys for other critical components such as the lever, escape wheel, balance, and balance screws; this is technology that Omega first introduced in its Aqua Terra 15,000 Gauss wristwatch back in 2013. According to CEO Stephen Urquhart, whom I spoke to at the Aqua Terra 15K Gauss launch, the plan is to eventually use this technology in all Omega watches (with the exception of certain models like the Speedmaster Moonwatch, which would have to be recertified by NASA if the movement were changed.)
Omega of course has its own history of making antimagnetic watches, including most memorably the Railmaster; until the Aqua Terra 15K Gauss launch, the most highly antimagnetic watch ever made was IWC’s Ingenieur 500,000 A/m. A/m stands for amperes per meter, another way of measuring magnetic field strength –the Omega watches, however, have a stated resistance almost triple that (15,000 gauss is equal to about 1.2 million A/m.)
Is this technology really relevant to modern horology? Well, magnetism is actually more of a potential hazard than ever, thanks to the ubiquity of small, powerful magnets in such things as purse clasps and cell phone cases, to say nothing of the fields produced by everything from speakers to computers and other appliances (not to mention those pesky refrigerator magnets.)
To put things a bit more in perspective the Ingenieur 500K A/m was extremely difficult for IWC to manufacture and was not commercially a great success; it relied on a niobium alloy balance spring and the technology of the time was not up to producing them to reliable specs in anything like the necessary numbers (though Rolex now uses a similar alloy for its Parachrom balance springs.) The Ingenieur 500K A/m was capable of tolerating much stronger fields than its name stated –in 1989, IWC’s then-managing director, Günter Blümlein, famously stuck one in an MRI machine and zapped it with a 3.7 million A/m field, and the watch was unaffected. But it has been left to Omega to be the first to make a watch capable of such high magnetic resistance in real numbers.
Why am I going into such detail about these technical features in what’s meant to be an experiential review? Well, it’s because a lot of the pleasure of wearing the Globemaster (at least in steel) is really an intellectual pleasure. Knowing that you have such an advanced movement on your wrist (let’s not forget, by the way, that industrializing the co-axial escapement was a pretty neat trick even without the antimagnetic features) is, if you’re of a certain disposition, pretty hugely satisfying. The Globemaster in steel is not a terribly romantic or sentimental watch and it doesn’t wear its heart on its sleeve (or tug at yours) as a way of making itself appealing. Instead, it offers a soberly clean look, grounded in history, that delivers information legibly and unobtrusively –and what closes the deal is really what’s under the hood. In that sense –eschewing overt design pyrotechnics in favor of maximum technical bang for the buck –it’s actually classic Omega.