This in-depth guide will tell you the differences between two iconic dive watches: the Omega Seamaster and the Rolex Submariner.
For most in the watch community, the best diver in the world comes down to two choices: Omega’s Seamaster and Rolex’s Submariner. In fact, few rivals come out so close at the end of the race than these do.
Arguably, a majority might say that the Sub comes out on top, though just barely. Does it, though? Sure, the Submariner is the Bond watch, while the Seamaster is the other Bond watch, but is it better simply because it was the first? We’re going to dive into this and more.
From their histories and functions to their looks, we’ll provide the details so you know which one is right for you.
Seamaster vs. Submariner: Quick Overview
The reason it’s so difficult to choose between these two timepieces is that they’re more or less equally matched.
The Submariner is a classic diver, though a standard bearer built with incomparable proprietary materials. It’s also more recognizable and an excellent investment.
The Seamaster, especially the Pro 300 with the blue wave dial, is more fashion-forward. Though, at this point, it’s very much considered a cannon design. It also comes in way more variants and sizes than the Sub.
And while it’s an important quality, it doesn’t just come down to personal style — not for everyone, at least. So, let’s compare the two starting with the Submariner:
The Sub is the most famous watch in the world. Here’s why it’s the dive that launched a thousand homages.
The Submariner is the quintessential dive watch, with its iconic Mercedes-lollipop combo hands, the triangular and circular indices, and that simple, classic bezel.
Few diver models can look back at their design history without finding a point in which they were inspired by the Sub. It’s sort of like the Beatles’ influence on modern songwriting in the pop genre.
One thing the Sub can lay claim to over the Seamaster is how calm and cool it stayed during the quartz crisis. Today’s Sub basically features the same design language as the original Reference 6204.
Sales for mechanical watches plummeted in the ‘70s in favor of cheaper quartz pieces. In the ‘80s, while other heritage brands were retooling their models in desperate attempts to get people’s attention, the Sub stayed true to itself and weathered the storm.
So, in a way, today’s Sub design is a true survivor, which gives it a touch more street cred than the Seamaster.
Today, the Submariner comes in two forms: The Submariner Date and the regular Sub. Ironically, the Date is so much more common that many people mistake it as the standard while labeling the regular as the “Submariner No-Date.”
Sure, the Submariner is a basic design, but why change something that’s stood the test of time? So, while Rolex has kept this flagship-of-sorts visually the same, they never shied away from practical, sensible upgrades. That means the Sub is and has always been the gold standard for form and function.
By the mid-2000s, Rolex started outfitting all of their models with COSC-certified Chronometer movements. This is important since it’s one of the brand’s selling points.
Consequently, the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute (or the Contrôle officiel suisse des Chronomètres, which is what COSC stands for) tests the Sub’s movements for topnotch accuracy, even in different extreme conditions, including temperature and pressure.
Beyond that, Rolex has its own “Superlative Chronometer” standard. Modern Submariners are accurate within -2/+2 seconds per day, which makes them just a tad more accurate than modern Seamasters.
A lot of vintage Subs aren’t Chronometers. Still, the Reference 5513, as an example, is often perfectly reliable and accurate, just a bit difficult to regulate — something to think about if you love tropical hands and indices.
Additionally, Rolex started using sapphire crystals on their Subs in 1990 and fade-proof ceramic bezels in 2008.
Today, along with the sole use of COSC movements, the brand is famous for their over 500 patents.
The Submariner is made of Oystersteel, a 904L stainless steel that’s extra corrosion-resistant and is extra shiny when polished.
Its bezel is made from Rolex Cerachrom, an extremely hard and virtually scratch-proof ceramic that isn’t affected by UV rays allowing it to stay vibrant forever.
It’s also equipped with Chromalight, the brand’s in-house lume with a signature blue tint that lasts up to eight hours, double the time for most other photoluminescence types.
History and Pop Culture
If it were totally up to history, Rolex is the dive watch brand. They released the Rolex Oyster in 1926, the world’s first waterproof watch. In fact, the brand ushered in several dive-focused innovations leading up to the Submariner.
This heritage wins the Sub a bunch of extra points for historical importance. When the first Submariner debuted at Basel in 1954, it was the first watch to be waterproof up to 100 meters.
French scuba diver and friend of Jacques Cousteau, René-Paul Jeanneret, was a Rolex board member in the ‘50s and convinced the other members to back the Submariner’s development.
When it comes to its relationship with actual diving, the Sub boasts an incomparable legitimacy factor.
There’s also certainly something clubby about Submariner wearers. “The great men who wore Submariners” is a storied topic in and of itself. Of course, the most famous man to wear one wasn’t even a real person.
The Submariner is the original Bond watch. Ever since Sean Connery paired one with his dinner jacket in 1963’s Dr. No, the dive watch became a style essential.
On top of all that, Submariners are mainstays in the high-end auction world because of their performance as investment pieces. They’re known to consistently hold their value at the very least and ideally increase in value many times over.
Now, how does the Seamaster stack up compared to all of this?
There are many sublines to the Seamaster, plenty of which have almost no visible connection to the core model. We’re going to stick to the main branch here, so basically, most of the lines with a second appellate don’t count.
Some examples that we aren’t considering include the Seamaster-De Ville and the Seamaster-Aqua Terra. The exception here is the Seamaster-Planet Ocean, which does count since it maintains its status as an advanced professional diver.
One thing the Seamaster has over the Submariner is that even within its core line, it has a lot more visual variations serving far more personal styles and far more wrist sizes.
The two tent-pole designs are ones based on the Reference CK 9213, aka the first Seamaster 300 from 1957, and the wave dial design from the ‘90s.
A lot of the heritage Seamaster models are based on the CK 9213’s triangle-forward design, with triangular indices flush against the dial edges, the broad arrow hour, and even tapered triangular lugs for a more aerodynamic aesthetic than the Submariner.
Even the Planet Ocean is based on this look, though it’s a far more beefed-up version.
The wave dial design came out in 1993 and features skeletal hands, a scalloped bezel, and the face’s wave pattern.
Its standard stainless steel bracelet, with five alternating links, including accented inner links, is as iconic as the dial and arguably more exciting looking than the Sub’s Oyster. The blue and black versions are the most emblematic of the line, but it’s offered in several colorways.
The Seamaster, in general, has a lot more color options than the Sub, for better or worse. I’d say those with smaller wrists, like myself, often appreciate the Seamaster over the Sub, as I do, because of their range of sizes.
For the most part, you’ll have to go vintage to find a Sub smaller than 40mm. The wave-pattern Seamaster Pro 300 is famously available as a mid-size 36.5mm, a full-size 41mm, and even as a quartz 28mm, among others.
You can even get a contemporary reference of the 1957 trilogy version at 39mm.
This is where comparing the two gets complicated because it really depends on which Seamaster you’re looking at.
In general, Rolex offers slightly more accuracy in automatics, but contemporary Seamasters still run on COSC-certified movements, with more than enough precision for everyday timekeeping.
Plus, the Co-Axial Master Chronometer offers extra stability and requires less lubrication. This means they’ll stay more accurate with less servicing.
So is a Rolex actually functionally better? Technically yes, since timekeeping is the point of a watch movement. But is timekeeping the point of a watch? I’d argue no. Moreover, even for the horologically inclined, you can get Seamasters with an exhibition caseback, something Rolex never does.
And if you prefer a quartz movement, Rolex is completely out of running. I’m a big fan of wearing the 28mm quartz Seamaster 300m as a dress watch.
Seamasters are also more antimagnetic than Submariners and have a helium escape valve, a true-blue dive quality that allows you to manually discharge helium build-up during resurfacing. Meanwhile, the Planet Ocean boasts 600 meters of water resistance.
History and Pop Culture
The first Seamaster was just a peacetime version of the watches soldiers wore during WWII. The CK 2913, the first true Seamaster with water resistance, came out in 1957, and the original became the De Ville.
The CK 2913, or the Seamaster 300, misleadingly had 200 meters of water resistance — though this carried on the tradition of Omega one-upping Rolex, as the first Sub had 100 meters of water resistance.
In The Great Seamaster Switch of 1995 (trademark: me), Pierce Brosnan wore the wave-dial Seamaster in GoldenEye. Bond would wear a Seamaster from now on, including in Casino Royale, when Vesper Lynd mistakes 007’s watch for a Rolex, before Craig’s Bond corrects her and namedrops Omega.
This self-aware moment would fully cinch the Seamaster as the undisputed current Bond watch.
The reason behind the switch, however, is because producers decided that 007 should wear a watch that’s affiliated, in real life, with the British Navy. This gives the Seamaster cache in pop culture and real-world service. It’s an actual, literal Navy watch.
This leads me to the next point: Omega, as a brand, has always contributed to diving and to tool watches in general, albeit more quietly than Rolex.
They embarked on an intense research project with Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises, COMEX, a French diving company, to build the Seamaster 600, and spearheaded the use of 904L stainless steel.
As mentioned, the Seamaster didn’t keep its cool the way the Sub did during the post-quartz ‘80s. Omega had a downright identity crisis, several Seamasters falling prey to fashion watch trends, several others becoming unrecognizable.
I like to bring this up (most Seamster histories skip this chapter) because I think everyone likes a good comeback story.
Moreover, the outrageous experimentation opened the door to the Seamaster we know now: A wide range of more restrained variants that include reasonably sized options and quartz versions — neither of which the Sub can claim.
FAQs About the Seamaster and Submariner
Still have questions? Below are answers to some common ones:
Is the Seamaster better than the Submariner?
The Submariner is slightly more accurate and is built with premium Rolex-specific materials you can’t get anywhere else. However, the Seamaster comes in more styles and variations, including different sizes and those with more water resistance.
Are Omega movements better than Rolex?
Automatic Omega movements are slightly less accurate than automatic Rolex movements, though both are durable, reliable, and COSC-certified. Unlike Rolex, though, Omega offers quartz movements.
Is the Omega Seamaster worth it?
Yes, if you love any of the Omega Seamaster variants and can afford it, it’s an objectively good watch from a prestigious brand that will last you decades or more.
Is Omega Seamaster Diver A Good investment?
Yes, historically, the Seamaster and the Speedmaster are the two safest investments in Omega’s range. Keep in mind that watch investment is more like art investment and less like stocks. How often you wear it and how much enjoyment you get while you have it are arguably just as important as its value over time.
The Omega Seamaster vs. the Rolex Submariner: Which One Is for You?
At the end of the day, automatic Submariners just barely come out on top compared to automatic Seamasters when it comes to accurate timekeeping — which might matter to you!
However, the Seamaster allows you to view their movements since several models offer exhibition casebacks, which many would argue better satisfies the horologically curious.
Also, there’s a Seamaster out there for every personal style and wrist size. You can find Seamasters in much more exciting colors and louder styles, if that’s your thing.
Though as unconventional as the wave pattern dial was when it came out, it’s definitely considered a classic today, so you get the best of both worlds — a distinct, eye-catching timepiece that’s still considered standard.
When it comes to history and legend status, the Submariner speaks for itself as the quintessential dive, also backed by more brand recognition. But, the Seamaster is a better conversation piece.
Similarly, having a Submariner also comes with a bit of a part-of-a-club feeling since so many icons have worn it in the past. This isn’t necessarily worth any dollar amount, but it’s definitely a classic pillar of Rolex marketing.
And finally, while the Seamaster is a fine investment, the Sub is one of the best watches you can choose when considering investment value.
Questions? Comments? Leave them below!