The buzz about Omega’s new Ultra Light is everywhere this week, but has it gone too far? Lines like “Omega reimagines the sports watch…” and other hyperbole are abound over this new Aqua Terra, touting its new alloy as a groundbreaking shift, but is it really? Sure, it weighs a very modest 55 grams, but there’s little to be learned from the brand about the manufacturing process or other factors to justify these bold statements. By comparison, the large but lightweight Panerai Submersible Carbotech (PAM1616) weighs just a hair over double this (112 grams), but it also only costs $17,900. I’ve been taking a few days to digest rather than rushing a press release feature, and the more I ponder, the less I can wrap my head around this $48,600 3-hander.
It has been developed with sports and high intensity activity in mind, with their brand ambassador Rory McIlroy involved in the design process. Details of his involvement are vague, and we don’t expect it to have been much more in-depth than a “I need a watch that’s lightweight and unobtrusive when golfing.”
What Is Gamma Titanium?
OK, let’s start from the beginning. There are two big selling points that Omega is pushing with this release, the first of which being its lightweight gamma titanium casing. Gamma titanium is an alloy of titanium aluminide that is used in aerospace for a number of reasons. Yes, it is more lightweight than grade 5 titanium (more commonly seen in watchmaking), but the key reason for its use in aerospace is one that is completely irrelevant in watchmaking—high temperature stability. The material is brittle at room temperature, but much more ductile when heated north of 600 degrees Celsius, and into the operating range of jet engine turbines where the material is used.
The reason for gamma titanium being more lightweight is purely a matter of its composition, as it is an alloy of titanium and aluminium. The specific ratio of the two materials in Omega’s application is unknown, but based on some materials research, it can be somewhere in the ballpark of 64% titanium and 36% aluminum. Given its composition, we know one thing for sure; the casing of the Aqua Terra Ultra Light is no more difficult to machine than its titanium counterparts, so there’s at least one plot hole in Omega’s big ask in terms of retail pricing strategy.
A New Caliber
Though its weight is the big (and somewhat overblown) talking point in relation to the Aqua Terra Ultra Light, there’s also the matter of its inner workings. Yes, technically the piece is fitted with a new caliber. You’re looking at the 8928 Ti, a movement based on the 8900 co-axial series of movements, resistant to 15,000 gauss, and Master Chronometer certified running accuracy of 0/+5 seconds per day. The new movement is hand-winding instead of automatic, and its power reserve bumps up from 60 to 72 hours.
What’s more interesting here is the fact that the brand used ceramised titanium for its mainplates and bridges, further assisting in their efforts to shed pounds from the watch. That said I was also amused by one specific line that came across in its press release.
“All the bridges and the mainplate are in ceramised titanium, which means there’s less friction between the components and it gives the movement this special dark grey colour.”
As many of you might be aware, a movement’s mainplate and bridges are the static components of the caliber, and thus friction plays no role in their existence. I will agree, however, that the material choice does add some visual appeal to the caliber itself even though it will remain hidden behind a solid caseback. It is also corrosion resistant, should the Aqua Terra’s 150m water resistance ever be breached.
Closing out the package, Omega did have a couple other tricks up their sleeve for the new release, one of which has an actual legitimate practicality. The biggest issue with any watch during sporting activities is how the watch digs into your hand/wrist during movement. As a solution, albeit not an original one, the Ultra Light is fitted with a pop-out crown mechanism that allows the crown to recess basically flush into the case when not in use. Of the design details featured throughout, this is effectively the one that I’m most looking forward to seeing trickle down into other models. I know the design has been used in the past, though at the time of writing this, the specifics escape me.
The Hard Facts
I’m not here to rag on Omega, and criticize for the sake of criticizing but in the case of the Aqua Terra Ultra Light I can’t help but feel that the brand is trying to sell an idea of innovation that simply isn’t up to snuff given its exorbitant asking price. We see other brands—Richard Mille, Hublot, and even Panerai—playing with new alloys and materials on the regular, but at least when those brands stretch for a price premium over a conventional model, the math makes at least some kind of sense (OK, let’s omit RM from that last statement). This watch would have been cool as a one-off prototype for McIlroy, sure, but I’m dead curious to see who in their right mind is walking into Omega waving their credit card right now. No thanks, I’ll take a standard Aqua Terra, a GMT, a world timer, and a chronograph, and pocket the remaining $13k.
Am I happy to see some semblance of innovation and change out of Omega? Absolutely. Do I hope that this work will find its way into more conventional models? Without a doubt. That said, if you’re going to step up to the plate and claim some grand innovation, you best be able to either back it up, or be more conscious with your pricing calculation.