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Omega bumper automatic pre-Constellation 1946
This is an absolutely beautiful example of one of the very earliest self-winding gentleman’s wristwatches by Omega and is a textbook specimen of what should be purchased for serious investment. Manufactured only a year after the end of World War II in 1946, it remains totally original and in a condition that could only be described as almost perfect. It isn’t an inexpensive item, but in a market when good vintage Omega watches seem to rise in value virtually every month, it is almost impossible to think of a piece that would be a safer bet when buying with a view to appreciation.
This watch is historically significant within the context of the Omega company. Perhaps oddly given its proven track record for technical innovation, Omega had arrived quite late with its first automatic model. This made its debut in 1943 and contained a movement built around the “bumper” principle. Rather than having a centrally pivoted rotor than spun in either direction, the bumper used an oscillating weight that rocked backwards and forwards through a captive arc, bouncing back in the direction from whence it came after reaching its extreme of travel, hence its universally used nickname. Omega continued to manufacture its bumper mechanisms until 1955, which actually made it among the last to abandon this technology. As the 1950s wore on, all the top tier Swiss makers gradually introduced rotor winding movements and certainly by 1960, bumper movements had all but disappeared from the industry as a whole.
These were expensive watches when new and consequently were typically looked after well, but even so, it is unusual to find one that is as immaculate as the piece here. Its condition is such that we would have to question whether it has been worn on more than a few dozen special occasions in the past. The large case has only the very tiniest of imperfections to its surface that can only really be seen with the aid of a jeweller’s eyeglass.
This is a gold capped case, which means that the case body and back are in stainless steel, but the lugs and bezel have been covered with a thick layer of sheet gold. It must be appreciated that gold capping is not gold plating, and the two processes must not be confused. The latter is an electro-plating technique, requiring a case to be submerged in a plating bath. A thin layer of gold is applied and this will soon show signs of wear with regular use. Gold capping is a completely mechanical process and has nothing whatsoever to do with gold plating. A thick sheet of gold is bonded to a steel base and the gold content of a case produced in this way is high. Gold capping very rarely wears through and if treated sensibly, will last a lifetime with ease. An easy way for the novice to differentiate between gold capped and gold plated cases is to study them from the rear. The back of the lugs on a plated case will be gold in colour whereas on a capped item, the cladding only having been applied to the front, they will be in stainless steel. In terms of desirability, gold capping is to be regarded as better than stainless steel or gold plating, but obviously less valuable than solid gold.
Externally, the stainless steel case back is completely smooth. Having only ever been opened with the correct Omega factory tool, there is no damage anywhere.
Internally, the entire case back is covered with an engine turned pearled pattern. There is the signature “Acier Inoxydable ( stainless steel), Omega Watch Co, Fab. Suisse, Swiss Made” and the model reference 2478-1.
It is no exaggeration to say that in the vintage wristwatch world, dials are everything. More than any other single aspect, a dial will be responsible for defining the value of a watch when it comes up for sale. An original dial in poor condition or a so-called restored dial will both dramatically reduce both the commercial worth and the saleability of a watch as it would have been with a near mint original dial. So often online, the paramount importance of original, near perfect dials is overlooked and we regularly see novice buyers paying very high prices for watches that look very attractive to the untrained eye, but are in fact with freshly restored, non-original dials that render them totally undesirable to anyone with experience in the field. Good original dials are expensive simply because relatively few of them exist. In order to survive in a near virgin state, a dial must have been kept away from dust, damp and bright sunlight throughout its life. Most watches were not cosseted in this way, with the result that their dials have noticeably suffered.
Finding fault with this particular dial wouldn’t be easy. It is totally original and unrestored, yet its French white surface is almost perfect. Again, as with any watch that isn’t literally brand new, there are probably the tiniest marks here and there that can be seen with high magnification, but in practice, only the most pedantic individual imaginable would ever find anything to criticise here. There is no spotting, fading or dust staining at all, and both the minute markers and the “Omega Automatic, Swiss Made” wording are crisp and clear. We wouldn’t hesitate for a second to describe this dial as being in a state that was ideal for purchase as an investment.
The layout of the dial is eye catching, with printed Arabic numerals alternating with very large spearhead batons. All this detail ,and the original hands, is in chrome, which matches the steel case body and contrasts superbly with the gold lugs and bezel. Dial format has quite a bearing on value and certainly this is one of the most attractive 1940s variants used by Omega for its bumper models.
When the case back is unscrewed, the calibre 330 movement can be inspected. Introduced in 1943, this was the first self-winding mechanism to be offered by Omega and as such, is an important landmark item to the collector. Designed by Charles Perregaux, the 330 was superbly engineered and unquestionably would be regarded in retrospect as one of the most reliable and inherently accurate automatic movements that Omega ever manufactured. There is a lovely anecdote about the 330 that recounts the events that took place after Georges Berner acquired an Omega fitted with this movement in August 1944. Berner was the director of the School of Horology in Bienne and also the senior man at the chronometer testing station in the same town. Interested to know the stability of this movement calibre over a prolonged period, he submitted his watch for testing when it was new and then, after a continual period of daily wear, in both March 1945 and May 1946. Despite having not been regulated or serviced during this intervening gap, each time the watch passed its chronometer testing with flying colours. As far as we are aware, this is the only time that a wristwatch has been re-certified in this way and the experiment says an awful lot about the sheer excellence of Omega movements at this time.
The condition of this particular movement is superb throughout. The distinctive pink gold finish of the pivoting weight and the bridges is still shiny, with only the most minimal dulling in places. “Omega Watch Co, Swiss, Seventeen Jewels” is signed on the rotor, with the individual serial number for this movement, 10905216, on the automatic bridge. Falling between the two extremes of production for that year of and, this clearly informs us that this unit was manufactured in 1946.
The eagle eyed will have spotted that there is no calibre number stamped anywhere on this movement. This is quite correct. In 1949, Omega completely revised its system of movement identification and from August that year, stamped a calibre number into every movement it produced. Omega mechanisms from pre-August 1949 are immediately recognisable on account of them having no, as here, calibre number signed anywhere on them.
Having been serviced regularly with no regard to expense, this movement works perfectly. It runs extremely smoothly and auto winds with the slightest motion of its wearer’s wrist.
We have fitted this piece with a high quality crocodile skin type strap. This is not a genuine Omega strap, but the original vintage Omega buckle that was supplied with the watch when new has been transferred over to its replacement, where it fits perfectly. Vintage buckles by all the major Swiss houses are very sought after and invariably pretty pricey. Not huge numbers of these have survived, yet there is an army of modern day collectors who would all love to return their watches to factory standard specification by locating the correct period buckles for them. In such immaculate condition, we wouldn’t hesitate to suggest that if sold alone, this buckle would change hands for in excess of £70 GB pounds, and this added worth must be considered when considering the purchase of this watch.
It is impossible to resist finishing without giving the reader a little food for thought. Especially over the last two years, the profile of elderly Omega watches has risen dramatically. Good examples have always been desirable and scarce, but particularly since Antiquorum’s Omegamania sale in April 2007, values have escalated to three or four times what they were only a few years ago. One of the must-have models for the collector is the first Constellation, introduced in 1952 and in production in its original bumper form until 1958. Good, all original examples are becoming very tough to find and when they do appear, realise prices of around £2500 in steel and obviously more in gold. It is understandable that many collectors want to own the first incarnation of what has been Omega’s flagship model, but if we remove the emotive aspect and actually take the trouble to think about what the first generation Constellation is and compare it to the watch offered here, truth be told there isn’t a great deal of difference between the two. The case style of both is virtually identical and though not exactly the same, only the obsessed purist would spot the tiny differences between the two. The Constellation has a dial that is no more attractive than the one here, and has the same oversized applied batons. Winding crown and hands are the same, which leaves us with the movement. In both watches, this is the identical bumper unit, but for those destined for the Constellation, Omega sent each movement for independent chronometer certification. It is a matter of recorded fact that the movements used in the Constellation were not specially tuned in any way, but picked on a completely random basis from standard Omega production prior to testing. The mechanism for the Constellation was assigned the calibre number 354, but if both its physical appearance and technical specification is compared with the 330 in this watch, it will be found that there is, literally, no difference whatsoever between the two. Given these direct similarities, it could be said perfectly reasonably, that this model, reference 2478-1, had an enormous influence on the Constellation of 1952 that was its successor. In fact, this exact point is made in the notes that accompanied Lots 55 and 56 in the Omegamania sale catalogue. These two watches were model reference 2500 and the same as the piece here other than the fact that they had 18 karat gold rather than capped cases. The catalogue states that this model “is considered by many collectors to be the forerunner of the Constellation”.
The price of this watch is £875 GB pounds. Online, we could probably find cosmetically similar examples for slightly less if we looked long and hard enough, but would struggle to locate another from the 1940s that was with an original near mint dial and virtually perfect case. This piece is certainly of a grade that would merit inclusion in a themed vintage Omega watch sale by one of the major physical auction houses and as such, is well worth paying a slight price premium to obtain over a merely average example. As a near mint, museum standard sample of the first self-winding watch offered by Omega, it will have a high level of desirability for as long as vintage wristwatches are collected and would make an ideal choice for the buyer who likes the idea of having a very solid investment as well as a piece that he can enjoy wearing on a regular basis.