Friday, March 29, 2013

Buying a Vintage Omega Seamaster 300

In this article I will share my experiences searching for and buying a vintage Omega Seamaster 300 (SM300). Most of this is a result of thrawling the Internet and this can be looked upon as a collection of these findings. Among collectors buying a SM300 is regarded as a relatively risky endeavor. There are many frankenwatches out there, or even worse: outright fakes. 

Frankenwatches are watches where all parts are produced by Omega, but from different models and different time periods. As always, it is all about knowing the model, decide what condition you'll find acceptable, and finally; what you would like to pay for a piece that meets your standards.

There's a lot of useful information about the SM300 on the Internet. You will find dedicated sites and threads in various watch related discussion forums going into details about the various models of vintage SM300s. Some of this information is easy to google, some is not. And some information get pulled from the net after some time. This article is an attempt to gather some of this information in one place and maybe preserve it for some time.

Some Preliminary Remarks

This is guide buying a vintage Omega Seamaster 300 and much of it is about finding a piece with parts that can be ascribed to the same time period. Note that I'm not saying the same year.

This is because it is assumed that Omega in the sixties produced parts for these watches independent of planned assembly and shipment. Cases dated 1966 can be found housing movements from 1964 (if in 1966 the movements produced in 1964 where still in stock). 

Omega did not follow a tight regime with regard to parts and production year. Of course you will find exact matches, but it should not be a deal breaker if it isn't so. So how to decide if it is a franken? Well, if parts on a particular piece transgresses reference boundaries, typically parts that are specific for one reference found in another reference, you are probably looking at a frankenwatch. Reference in this case is the model number.

An example could be a date window on a 165.024 which again tells you that the dial or case is wrong. Or, if the case is from 1963 and the movement is from 1969 or 1970. Personally I set a maximum of 2-4 years difference when it comes to the production year of the different parts of the watch. So, in these cases you could assume it is a franken.

Model Variations and Scope

What models are we considering? The SM300 has been produced since 1958 and is still a part of the Omega collection. This guide looks at the so-called second generation of SM300's, reference 165.024 (no date) or the 166.024 (with date).

For many collectors considered THE Omega Seamaster 300, ref. 165.024 (no date). A classic and a rival to Rolex Submariner 5513.

Same model, this one with date (ref. 166.024) and an aftermarket mesh bracelet. Big triangle at 12 o'clock, introduced ca. 1967.
These second generation references were produced from ca. 1962 up until 1969. It came in both civilian and military versions, the latter given to service-men in the British Royal Navy. The military one had the ubiquitous "T" on the dial and a military serial number engraved on the outside of the caseback. These watches are very rare and subsequently very expensive. Since they are both expensive and desireable, there are many fakes out there. They are probably even harder to judge when it comes to originality, and as such I have chosen not to include them in this guide. For those of you thinking of investing in such a piece, there are many resource sites on the net dedicated to these military variants.

A fully restored SM300 from WatchCo, Australia. These restored ones are not covered in this article. They are usually easy to purchase as long as proper paperwork accompanies the watch.
Back in the sixties many of the SM300s were used for its intended purposes; diving. 40-50 years later, many of these watches bear marks consistent with this, typically dented cases, cracked bezels and water-damaged dials, hands and movements. But in many instances the watch is salvagable, and many of the pieces available in the market place today are restored ones, usually done by independent watchmakers (like Australian WatchCo) or Omega in Bienne, Switzerland. This article does not cover such restored pieces. Aquiring such a watch is fairly easy and do not require much due dilligence besides getting the proper paper work for the restoration work that has been done.

As of 2012 Omega has condoned independent watchmakers restoring vintage SM300s. But it seems there is a policy change in the making and Omega (along with other major manufacturers) is limiting the possibilities for such watchmakers to restore these watches. There is this story of a buyer of a restored WatchCo SM300 who got his watch confiscated by his country's custom authorities as a franken/fake by order of Omega. Fortunately he got a refund from WatchCo. It will be interesting to see how both restoration and service of vintage Omegas will be performed in the future. If Omega, Switzerland is the only option, it is reasonable to assume there will be a price hike.

To sum up: We will be considering the references 165/6.024, production period 1962-1969. The different parts of the watch will be discussed in detail and checked against model and reference numbers.

Using the Reference Number to Identify the Model

But first things first: identifying the model with the help of the reference number. If this is not a part of the sales description it should be asked for and accompanied with relevant pictures. The reference number can be found on the inside of the caseback. These reference number is indicated somewhat differently, below are the known variants.

Example 1: Six digits, no period after third digit

Example 2: Six digits, period after third digit

Example 3: Six digits and production year

The reference number should be six digits (please note: a modern replacement caseback would have 7 digits, usually and additional zero after the period, e.g. 165.0024).Some casebacks also have the letters SC stamped into it. SC stands for "seconde centre", and means the movement has a centralized second hand.

All casebacks above are legit and constitutes an original caseback from the period in question. Please note that a modern replacement mentioned above is genuine Omega, but not consistent with the time period. Technically a watch with such a caseback is a franken. I will leave it up to the buyer to decide if this is ok or not. Some collectors would turn such a piece down.

Movement and Production Year

The serial number on the movement gives us the production year. The caliber number should also be found on the movement.

Serial number 23797539 indicates production year 1964/1965. This is caliber 552 (w/o date). The reference number and the production year is subsequently used to establish if the rest of the watch is consistent with the time period.

The movement should be a caliber 552 for the 165.024 and a 565 for the 166.024. The last one with date and introduced ca. 1967.  Please note that there are examples with caliber 550. These are SM300s sold in the American market and Omega chose this caliber for duty and taxation reasons. It was cheaper to import caliber 550 instead of the usual caliber 552. The same goes for the date version it seems, although this is not confirmed by Omega. For taxation reasons there are SM300s sold in the US with caliber 563.

Any other movements, and the watch is a franken. Also, be aware that there are examples of watches were the dial is w/o date and the caliber is 565 and vice versa. These watches are frankenwatches.

We have the following SM300 serial numbers for the time period:
  • 1963 - 20'000'000 
  • 1964 - 21'000'000 
  • 1965 - 22'000'000 
  • 1966 - 23'000'000, 24'000'000
  • 1967 - 25'000'000 
  • 1968 - 26'000'000, 27'000'000 
  • 1969 - 28'000'000, 29'000'000, 30'000'000, 31'000'000 
  • 1970 - 32'000'000 
Please note that there are fluctuations with regard to serial numbers, reference numbers and production dates. There are legit non-frankens with a movement produced in 1967 in a case marked 165.024-65. The general consensus is that this is due to the batch production of the different parts of the watch where the assembly was done at a later stage with the parts available at that particular moment. But the fluctuations should not span more than 2-3 years. If so, I would suspect a franken although there is a chance the piece is legit.

The Dial

Next: The dial. It is important to make sure that the dial is original and to establish the level of restoration (if any) of the dial. Given that we are looking at an original Omega dial, the latter will affect the valuation of the piece. There are several aspects with regard to the dial that need to be checked out. One thing is the hour markers, minute markers and the 6, and 9 digits. One tell-tale of a fake dial is stubbies. Stubbies are minute markers underneath the hour markers, see illustration below.

FAKE! An example of so-called "stubbies", i.e. thin minute markers underneath the fat hour markers. Notice the lumina color difference on the dial compared to the second hand. I'll get back to that.

It is also important to check the font of the 6 and 9 numbers. They serifs should be open and not closed, closed signifying a fake dial.

FAKE! Closed serifs at 6. Original dial to the right. Also notice the small hole in the lumina on the original one. This is a sign that the watch has not been re-lumed and has its original lumina

FAKE! Closed serifs at 9. Original dial to the right. Notice the stubbies on the fake one as well.  Sometime the fakers manage to double their mistakes.
It is also important to check the date window on the date versions (166.024). The window should have a white frame surrounding it. If it doesn't have a frame it is either a fake or a regular non-diver Seamaster dial that has been repainted as a SM300 dial. the date window cut-out should also be angled, see illustration below.

FAKE! No white frame surrounding the date window. Original to the right. Also notice the way the date window has been cut out on the original one. The cut should be angled inwards. 

Also check the font of "Seamaster 300" and compare it to a known original. When doing this it is quite easy to spot a bad redial. The luminated markers should also be checked. A dial could be re-lumed (some collectors would turn such a piece down) and this should be reflected in the price. If it has a pin-point hole at the bottom of the marker at 12 and 6, it is probably not a re-dial. When re-dialed this hole get covered up.

In 1967 Omega introduced the "Big Triangle" dial. This was a dial where the 12 was removed and replaced with a big triangular marker.

Seamaster 300 "Big Triangle" released ca. 1967. The Big Triangle was originally intended for military versions of the SM300 but came on civilian versions as well.
If the case and/or the movement is from the early sixties I would be a litte bit suspicious. But I think versions with the big triangle dating from 1965 and 1966 are ok, given the way the watches at the Omega factory were assembled.

Last but not least, check obvious things like misspellings (!), variations in font sizes and the placement of the Omega logo, 300 and "T Swiss Made T". "T" stands for tritium and this replaced radium lumination in the late 50s early 60s for obvious reasons. As I understand it, you will find dials from the early production period with tritium lumination, but without the "T". But then again, it could be a replacement dial from a first generation SM300 and as such a frankenwatch.


There are two legit hand variations; sword and baton (or "candlestick"). The baton hands were used on early models, usually dating from 1962-1964. The second hand is the same used on the pre-moon Omega Speedmasters, luminated triangle at the top and a droplet below the base of the hand.

SM300 with baton (or "candlestick") minute and hour hand. Notice the re-.lume of hands and dial. Nicely done, but not to everyone's liking.
SM300 with sword hands. Or hand, as it is the hour hand that is shaped like a sword. The minute hand has the baton shape.
There is a belief that Omega had a transition from baton to sword hands around 1965. But as discussed previously, Omega used parts as long as they were in stock. It is highly likely that Omega used baton hands after 1965, but I would be suspicious of pieces with baton hands dating from 1968 and 1969. The same goes for watches from 1963 and 1964 with sword hands. One way to alleviate that suspicion is to check the patina on the hands and the dial. Differences in color might be an indication of hands (or dial) replaced sometime between the assembly date and now.

As a curiousity there are SM300s with dauphine hands as well. These were considered frankens, but fortunately this configuration showed up in an Italian catalog from 1964, and as such proved the fact that there were a transition from the early first generation sM300s with regards to minute and hour hands.

Correct, but very rare early second generation SM300 with dauphine hands. These hands are usually found on first generation SM300s (CK-2913)
The dauphine hands were typical for reference CK-2913 and this proves that the hands were used on 165/6.024 references as well.


The bezels came in five different versions during the production period. The changes are mostly font variations and the thickness of the font and minute markers. There are discussions on various watch forums whether certain bezels would be misplaced on some models, i.e. a franken. The conclusion at the time being seems to be that all the bezel variations are legit and used throughout the period. 

SM300 bezels 1963-1969. It is assumed that all of them were released 1963/1964 and as such legit bezels for the whole production period. But bezel D was released in 1969 and should be regarded with suspicion on the earliest models.
But there are certain bezel versions that seem to be more used on earlier models than others, especially the thin fonts on variants A and B in the picture above. But since this is not conclusive, I would recommend not to make this a deal-breaker.

The lume on the bezel should be on the numbers and the hour markers. The minute markers should not be lumed. Also, the patina of the lume should be consistent with the patina on the dial and hands. Fake bezels often doesn't have lumed numbers and hour markers. Instead of lume they are painted in a yellowish tint, see example below.

FAKE! Bezel with yellow, non-luminated number and hour markers. This also has a fake dial with stubbies and closed serifs at 6 and 9. A proper fake!
The bezel should be bi-directional and with one click pr. minute, i.e. 60 clicks. Fake bezels sometimes have more clicks than this, typically 120 clicks. One thing is to count, another way is to actually see the reverse side of the bezel ring illustrated below.

FAKE! The bezel should have 60 bi-directional clicks. Fake bezel below (120 clicks), original on top.


The crown came in two variants; Naiad crown and the screw down crown. The first one had a self-sealing system and got tighter the farther below you went, the other one is a classic diver crown tightened once and for all by screwing it into the case.

The Naiad was fitted to SM300s up until 1967. The screw-down after was fitted after that. As always, earlier versions with screw-down should raise suspicion. The same goes with later models with a Naiad crown. Although this, according to my experience is rarely seen.

Correct examples of the SM300 crown. Naiad below and to the right. Notice how the Naiad crown fluctuates more with the case than the screw-down crown.

Case and Caseback

The outside of the caseback should have an engraved sea monster with an Omega logo underneath.
Circling the logo: "Certified High Pressure Waterproof" and "Seamaster" also engraved.

Original caseback, where the following should be checked: "Certified" not "Certifed", A with a flat top, same height "Sea" and "Master"
The following should be checked:
  • Fake casebacks sometimes have "Certified" spelled wrong (yes, really)
  • The A in "Waterproof" should have a flat top, not a pointy one
  • Some fakes have problems with "Seamaster": The height of the lettering should be the same, with the M a fraction higher
FAKE! A caseback with all the hallmarks of a fake. It is enough with one of these, but sometimes the fakers manage to make a collection of them on one caseback
It is also important to evaluate font-type and the depth and looks of the engravings to sure. If it looks like the engraving was made yesterday, it is probably true.

The early casebacks had rounded edges, later ones had an angled edeges, as illustrated below.

Correct caseback profiles.  Early caseback on top (rounded) and later version below. Both are correct but be suspicious of early ones with angled edges and vice versa

Bracelets and Leather Straps

Back in the sixties when buying a SM300 the customer had the choice of leather strap og steel bracelet. There is reason to believe that sometimes this was an option offered at an authorized dealer (AD) and the choice was fitted the watch accordingly. Leather straps were easily worn out and as of yet I haven't seen a NOS SM300 with the original leather strap and buckle attached to it. Steel bracelets on the other hand can be found on SM300s, but usually these are later original Omega ones or generic after market ones. The original bracelets that came with the SM300 are as follows:

  • Bracelet 1506 (end piece no. 16), produced 1964-1966
  • Bracelet 1035 (end piece no. 516), produced 1966-1972
  • Bracelet 1039 (end piece no. 516), produced 1968-1971
The 1039 was fitted to the Omega Speedmaster Professional during the same period. These bracelets were not of high quality and were easily worn out and damaged. They are rare in today's second hand market, and when they surface they usually are more expensive than new ones.

Correct bracelets for the SM300: 1039 top, 1506 below. Notice how the Omega logo is placed all the way on the edge of the buckle on the 1506
On the inside of the buckle is the bracelet number, production year and the quarter of that year it was produced. Please note that on some bracelets the production year is missing.

Inside of a 1039 bracelet, produced in third quarter of 1971. Some bracelets do not have the production year. As I understand it, this is also viable bracelets.

Re-luming and Patina

A lot of the SM300s on the market have been re-lumed sometime in their lifetime. Many collectors shun these pieces and look upon this as a modification of the dial which should be original. Others find this ok, I guess it comes down to how damaged the dial is in the first place. If the damage to the lume is to such an extent that the value of the watch will increase with a re-lume I personally think it is ok. But be careful, usually a re-lume will devaluate the watch.

A re-lume is usually done with a modern lumination called "luminova". This shines quite differently from the the "tritium" lumination used in the sixties. Usually the old lume can be re-vitalized in direct sunlight or bright indoor lightning, and the difference is obvious, as illustrated below.

The difference between a re-lumed SM300 and one with the original lume. Both brightness and the greenish color are different.
Another thing we collectors look for is patina. Patina is a very attractive feature on a vintage watch, but there is a thin line between patina and wear/damage. A lot of sellers try to sell damaged dials as patinated dials. Patina should be evenly distributed, consistent in color and perceived as attractive. This goes for both the dial, hands and the bezel.

The patina should be light brown or beige in color. Be aware that some modern luminova can be that color and it is easy to be fooled from a nicely done re-lume. The only way to detect this is to see the brightness and the color of the lume in the dark as illustrated above. 

Correct SM300 with new hands. This illustrates the difference in lume and patina when replacing old hands.

Old Catalogs and Final Confirmation

As mentioned earlier, due dilligence and final purchase is something that is done with a certain amount of uncertainty given the way these watches were assembled by Omega. The final confirmation is usually old catalogs from the period where the actual watches from the different collections are pictured. These catalogs can also give confirmation to models thought to be frankenwatches, e.g. the SM300 with dauphine hands, illustrated below.

Omega catalog from 1964 with the rare SM300 with dauphine hands. A confirmation of the legitimacy of a previously thought frankenwatch.
A good catalog source is

This is more or less a summation of my findings and the most important things to heed when considering buying a vintage SM300. I think the watch is easier to buy than, say Omega Pie Pan Constellations. The rumor it has as one of the trickiest vintage purchases is somewhat undeserving. 

Happy hunting!