In 1979, Omega Seamaster entered into service with the SHOM: the French Navy’s oceanographic and hydrographic division. However, this angular and remarkable watch’s history remains shrouded with mystery and misinformation. This is a story of exploration and military diving. Today, I will tell the story of the Omega Seamaster 200 ‘SHOM’.
Over the last two weeks, I have been wearing the Spinnaker Dumas Cartographe which, to my surprise for such a wild looking thing, hasn’t left my wrist. I’ve enjoyed it so much that I have bought one for my permanent collection. That isn’t, however, the reason why I have mentioned it. The reason for the mention of this watch is that, buried in its details is a watch which has never enjoyed much fame except amongst the most passionate collectors.
It is a variant of the Omega Seamaster so embedded in the 1970s that you would expect it to come fitted with flares. Even so, it was both historically important as a replacement for the iconic Seamaster 300, but also saw its history blurred by a lack of documentation and the creation of non-original examples. The Omega Seamaster 200 SHOM’s story, after extensive research, reveals itself to be both fascinating and important to the Omega which we know and admire.
A Legend to Live Up To: Omega Seamaster 300
From 1957 to 1969, Omega had only one dive watch: the Seamaster 300. Water resistant to 200 metres (although believed to be capable of withstanding 300), this watch was Omega’s ‘bread and butter’. Refined with twisted, asymmetrical lugs to protect the crown, larger hands and a high-contrast dial, the 300 was a fair match for Rolex’s Submariner.
It was used by the British Royal Navy from 1967 to 1971 and, in that time, featured in risky and daring exploits where the Seamaster was the only reference of time for these soldiers. Ironically, it also pioneered the fully-graduated bezel and large sword hands which were used by Rolex for its highly collectable Submariner ‘MilSub’.
More importantly, this watch was widely used for exploration and featured in Jacques Cousteau’s Conshelf missions. Partly funded by the French petrochemical industry, these missions experimented with keeping divers at depth for extended periods of time. Conshelf II saw 10 divers living at a depth of 10 metres in the Red Sea for 30 days including a week at 30 metres.
All became more serious for Conshelf III in 1965 when divers descended to 102.4 metres for three weeks. Despite the replacement of the original ‘Naiad crown’ with a screwed crown on later models, these watches suffered violent explosions when decompressing after such time in a helium-enriched environment.
Into the Depths: Omega Seamaster 600 ‘PloProf’& 1000 ‘The Grand’
As we know, Rolex and Doxa remedied this issue with a valve imbedded in their cases whilst Omega and Seiko chose to make watches impervious to helium ingress in the first place. Omega’s answer at the Basel Show in 1969 was the Seamaster 600: the PloProf. This watch and the subsequent Seamaster 1000 were 100 times more airtight than the Apollo space capsule and were instrumental to exploration in the 1970s.
As much as I would love to wax lyrical about this watch, its monobloc case and water resistance tested to 1370 metres, this should be reserved for an upcoming article. However, what this watch did for the Seamaster was introduce a new and highly functional aesthetic. Gone was the monochromatic, curved Seamaster 300 and in its place stood a beacon of colour, sharp angles and experimental shapes.
For all their brilliance as technical tours de force, the aforementioned extreme dive watches did not provide a replacement for the all-purpose Seamaster 300.
A New Format: Enter the Seamaster 200
Introduced around 1969 came the Seamaster 200 ref. 166.068. This watch introduced bright colour on the dial surface with yellow and red. These also sported 41mm cases with 1960s bevels and sharper lines in keeping with the times.
Nevertheless, these watches were very much transitional. Their dials, hands and cases remained products of the ‘60s style and their movement, the calibre 565, was directly taken from the Seamaster 300. Consequently, it was not a of the technical generation as its bigger brothers. This brings us to the matter of the now-legendary SHOM.
The Omega Seamaster 200 ‘SHOM’
Despite the presence of the first Seamaster 200, Omega nonetheless saw a need to introduce a second version in a more ‘70s style. This came in the form of the ref. 166.091 or ‘Pilot’ for its unique case form for a dive watch. Mating the tested, sword hands of previous models to a wildly conical case, the result was unique and spectacular.
Released in 1971, this watch used the new Omega calibre 1002. Produced by Omega as a replacement to the 5xx and 7xx series automatic movements, the 1000 was a line plagued with issues in its earlier years. This may well be the reason for the lack of enthusiasm around Omega in this period.
Normally, this is where the story would take a hiatus until 1969. The conventional story is that the Seamaster 200’s angular cousin, the ‘SHOM’ was released in 1969 at the request of the Service Hydrographique et Océanographique de la Marine: the French Navy’s Hydrographic and Oceanographic division.
Nicknamed the ‘SHOM’ after the naval division which used it, the Seamaster ref. 166.177 presented a remarkable example of the ultimate Seamaster. It featured a choice of the sword hands of the Seamaster 300 (now painted black) or the stunning orange ones of the ‘PloProf’. Its case remained manageable at 41mm in Swedish steel but incorporated the most remarkable and unique 1970s angles and edges without the expense of the ‘Uranus steel’ (later 904L) used on the PloProf. This case was manufactured by Piquerez with the quintessential diving helmet embossed into the caseback. Most importantly, its history presented a unique role in the history of oceanography.
The True Story of the Seamaster 200 ‘SHOM’
However, the commonly known story does not appear to be entirely true. Until now, the existence of examples dated to the years between 1973 and 1979 was put down to Watch Co. pieces. These watches, reconstituted from service parts and salvaged movements, have flooded the market by offering ‘New Old Stock’ examples of the Omega Seamaster 200 ‘SHOM’ from this period. Whilst these have gone a long way to popularising this model, they have also blurred the lines between watches truly produced during this time and ones for which the serial numbers simply fit with this period.
In spite of Watch Co. examples, Omega confirms that this model was released at Baselworld in 1973 and was available throughout the decade. It was offered during the 1970s as an angular alternative to the other variants on sale yet seems to have been an altogether much rarer piece. During the subsequent six years, the Omega Seamaster 200 ‘SHOM’ also became known to divers working for the eponymous institution and, in 1979, Omega started to work with the Marine Nationale. Whilst Omega state that the SHOM approached them, it remains likely that they would have jumped upon the opportunity to supply them thus making the true origin of this collaboration rather mysterious.
In any case, as a dive watch but without the extreme needs of the divers using the Seamaster ‘PloProf’ at many hundreds of metres below sea level, the ref. 166.177 fit the bill for naval use. It was produced in a run specifically for the SHOM and was marked with its name on the caseback thus giving rise to the legend of this watch.
A Tool for French Combat Divers
This is where the story takes another turn due to the very nature of the SHOM. This division not only produced charts and other oceanographic documentation for the use of the Marine Nationale, but was equally responsible for testing equipment. In these tests, the Omega Seamaster 200 ‘SHOM’ was instrumental and was consequently itself qualified for military diving.
For this reason, it is known that certain examples of this Omega Seamaster 200 were marked ‘M.N. 79’ and were used my Omega’s frogmen. From this information, we can place this watch in use alongside the famous Tudor ‘Snowflake’ Submariner. Whether these watches were used or not remains unknown but, for a watch intended as a lesser example of the Seamaster family, the Omega Seamaster 200 ‘SHOM’ had quite some life.