When mentioning Omega and its collections, the immediate and easy answers will be “Speedmaster” and “Seamaster”. Certainly, those two lines of watches are some of the most iconic in the entire industry. Still, Omega has (much) more to offer, including a slightly overlooked but rich collection named “Constellation”. Born in the 1950s, it would become the experimental collection for the brand, with fascinating designs and a constant focus on precision. Now established with its classic claws and integrated bracelet configuration, it was about time for Omega to inject a bit of modernity into this collection… Because integrated bracelets, shaped cases and sporty looks are hot these days (to say the least!).
The Omega Constellation, a Complex collection
While the Speedmaster is a collection that can be easily understood, and the Seamaster is seen as the definitive Omega dive watch, the history of the Constellation by Omega is a bit more complex, if not fragmented. Its birth goes back even before the name was adopted by Omega, when the brand released its first limited edition watch to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 1948, a chronometer-certified wristwatch with an automatic movement. Given its success, the brand decided to make a full collection based on this unrivalled combination of precision and practicality.
In 1952, Omega unveiled the series-produced Constellation, a family of watches originally destined for men, fitted with calibre 354. Two salient features distinguished the first members of the Constellation family: a star and the name of the watch above the 6 o’clock marker and a sealed caseback with a medallion featuring the Observatory of Geneva crowned by a constellation of eight stars. The first models were fitted with calibres 351, 352, and 354 with bumper rotors and replaced four years later by calibres 500, 501, 505 and subsequently, in 1966 with calibre 561 for the date model, and eventually calibre 564. But this early Constellation collection always paid great attention to chronometry, as well as being Omega’s concept of luxury.
By the late 1960s, when design changed drastically in watchmaking, Omega used its Constellation collection to introduce bold, bracelet-like watches. The first integrated bracelet/case made its debut in 1969. While the current design of the Constellation hadn’t materialised just yet, this was the first step into sports luxury for the brand. Below, an Omega Constellation BA 368.0847, as the perfect example of this transition into integrated bracelets and shaped cases (even before AP did so with the RO), touted as the “first watches in the world to be equipped with bracelets truly integrated with the case… a system invented in 1964 by Pierre Moinat”.
During the 1970s, quartz movements appeared in this collection – which, in a way, makes sense, as quartz was not only seen as the future of watchmaking back then but also as the best solution in terms of precision. The real turning point in the history of the Constellation, and the step that explains the current design, occurred in 1982, with the Constellation Manhattan family. Still powered by quartz movements (the first models were equipped with ultra-thin calibre 1422 developed jointly with ETA), the distinctive feature of this collection was the four screwed ‘Griffes’ or claws extending from the case over the dial. Positioned at 3 and 9 o’clock, the highly polished claws would become the hallmark feature of the Manhattan. Aesthetically arresting, the claws also performed a practical function holding the sapphire crystal and gasket firmly against the case to ensure water-resistance.
Designed by Carol Didisheim and patented in 1985, the Manhattan featured a barrel-shaped case and was offered to both men and women in gold and steel and combinations of both metals. The rounded case top was scalloped at both ends and, as Omega Constellation expert and blogger Desmond Guilfoyle points out in his essay, there was not “one sharp line on the entire case and bracelet – even the case back edges are rounded off“. By 1995, the design evolved again, as the Roman numerals on the dial migrated to the bezel.
In 1984 an automatic version of the Manhattan was introduced alongside the regular offering of quartz. The Calibre 1111 was a certified chronometer movement based on the famous ETA workhorse 2892-2. In 2003, the Constellation Double Eagle – launched at the Omega European Masters Golf Tournament – was upgraded with Omega’s first Co-Axial calibre 2500.
A major step into the Constellation’s history occurred in 2015, with the introduction of both Omega’s Master Chronometer certification and the new Globemaster watch, which paid tribute to the early “Pie-Pan” watches. Still, the original 1980s design wasn’t forgotten and, taking into account the current success of watches with integrated bracelets, Omega has decided to update its men’s Constellation Manhattan with new models for 2020.
So, we have a new Constellation Co-Axial Master Chronometer 39mm. Let’s immediately get to the point: it is a soft transition, not a brand new design. Omega has decided to do a subtle facelift instead of entirely reshaping its integrated watch. One of the main reasons is that, even though the Constellation Manhattan isn’t appreciated by European and US markets, it is a huge success in Asia. Omega didn’t want to change the recipe too much. Is this a reason for Western enthusiasts not to consider this watch? Certainly not, especially since the new models have solid arguments to compete in the market.
Even though the watch looks familiar, not one element of the new 2020 Omega Constellation 39mm is like its 38mm, non-Master-Chronometer predecessor. Case, bracelet, dial, hands and movement, everything has been subtly redesigned.
First of all, the watch has gained 1mm in diameter, to give it a bit more presence on the wrist and to be in line with the current demand for slightly larger watches. Nothing dramatic though, as the watch remains compact on the wrist, thanks to its barrel-shaped case and its integrated bracelet. We haven’t measured the thickness but expect around 12mm. The case, while staying true to the original design which plays on concave and convex lines, has been entirely facelifted and now offers better finishes and more subtlety.
First, the bezel is slightly thinner and the Roman numerals, still engraved on its periphery, are smaller than before. Second, the claws, a signature element of the collection, are now more spaced but still polished to contrast over the almost entirely brushed case. Finally, the entire periphery of the case now features a polished bevel that adds some dynamism to the watch and enhances the perceived quality. In line with other products of Omega, the crown now has a conical profile. Surprisingly, however, the Constellation Master Chronometer 39mm is “only” water-resistant to 50 metres, while the previous 38mm model was rated at 100m.
An important part of the Omega Constellation design was its integrated bracelet, and gauging the current trend for this type of watches, Omega has paid great attention to this part of the watch. Again, while it feels familiar at first, the entire bracelet is new, with redesigned links, polished bevels on the edges and polished mid-bar links, contrasting with the brushed links. As you can see, these mid-bars are not full length anymore and used as a contrasting element on the two-tone versions of this watch. The overall profile of the bracelet and buckle has been slimmed down, and the triple folding clasp now features a comfort-release function with a 2mm fine adjustment – practical in summer to give some extra length to the bracelet. The overall quality of the bracelet is excellent and feels very pleasant on the wrist.
However, if a metallic bracelet isn’t your thing, Omega also offers multiple variations of its new Constellation Master Chronometer 39mm on alligator straps giving this watch a dressier attire. These leather options are combined with a deployant buckle.
Finally, the dials have been redesigned, with new textures, new colours, new indexes and new hands – but the signature star logo is still visible at 6 o’clock. As with the rest of the watch, the dials are more refined and cleaner. The hands emulate the shape of the Freedom Tower in New York and the indexes have been slimmed down. The main update, however, concerns the date window that is now trapezoidal and positioned at 6 o’clock. Multiple textures and colours are offered, with matte opaline silver, criss-cross pattern (as seen above, and very pleasant in real life) and sunray brushed.
Master Chronometer mechanics
Regarding mechanics, Omega continues the integration of its superior Master Chronometer movements across all its collections, and the new Constellation is no exception. Replacing the Calibre 8500 found in the previous 38mm versions, the new Omega Constellation 39mm becomes “Co-Axial Master Chronometer” and integrates the well-known calibre 8800 (or 8801 on gold versions). This movement is the same as the one used, for instance, in the recently-revamped Seamaster Diver 300M and has proven to be both extremely precise and reliable.
Beating at 25,200vph (3.5Hz) and with a 55h power reserve on one barrel, this automatic movement features all the classic Omega innovations, such as Co-Axial escapement and a silicon balance spring. The METAS-approved chronometer movement also offers robust anti-magnetic properties capable of dealing with fields of up to 15,000 gauss.
Visible through the sapphire crystal caseback, you can see the rhodium-plated finishes, the arabesque Geneva waves and blackened screws. The main difference between calibre 8800 and 8801 is the presence of solid gold elements – rotor and balance bridge. Other than that, the specifications are identical. The watch comes with a 5-year warranty.
A Luxury Sports Watch Alternative?
Before we try to answer this question, it is clear that Omega has pursued a more conservative line with these new editions of the Constellation. The evolution of the design is subtle and only visible in the details. Still, the overall feeling is that Omega has upgraded its watch on all levels. The quality of the case, with its polished bevel finishes, is undeniable. The increase in size is minimal. The bracelets are more modernly shaped and have interesting features, such as the comfort extension. The dials are nicely executed and the movement that ticks inside this watch is a benchmark for the rest of the industry. And with a starting price below EUR 6,000, the new Omega Constellation 39mm offers a lot for the money.
Now comes the important question… Is this new Omega Constellation Co-Axial Master Chronometer 39mm capable of competing in the ever-growing luxury sports watch category? It certainly can’t be compared to the heavyweights of the industry – Royal Oak, Nautilus and Overseas – simply because they play in different leagues (and very different price categories too). Same goes for the Bvlgari Octo Finissimo or the Chopard Alpine Eagle, as both watches are priced around EUR 12,000.
The interesting point with the Omega Constellation is that it is almost the only watch of this type in the mid-end range, with the exception of the Bell & Ross BR05, a watch that feels much more modern, sportier and bolder in design. And as mentioned, with an entry-level price of EUR 5,500 on leather and EUR 5,700 on a steel bracelet, the Omega is very competitive.
Is it really a luxury sports watch, though? Let’s say that it is a conservative, slightly more elegant and not too sporty vision of the shaped watch with an integrated bracelet. But clearly, it has some great arguments, as long as you like its relatively unique design.
Collection, Price & Availability
The new Omega Constellation Co-Axial Master Chronometer 39mm is launched as an entire collection of 26 references, available in steel (leather strap or steel bracelet), two-tone (with contrasting elements in Sedna or yellow gold, again with leather strap or bracelet) or in full Sedna or yellow gold (on leather strap or bracelet). Multiple dials are also available, in silver, blue, grey, black, brown or champagne.
Below the full price list:
- steel on leather – EUR 5,500
- steel on steel bracelet – EUR 5,700
- steel-and-gold on leather – EUR 7,000
- steel-and-gold on bracelet – EUR 8,400
- Sedna gold on leather – EUR 17,500
- Sedna gold on bracelet – EUR 29,800
- yellow gold on leather – EUR 17,500
- yellow gold on bracelet – EUR 29,800
The collection is now available at retailers and official boutiques. More information about the collection here, at omegawatches.com.