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Omega bumper steel early automatic Newark dial 1946
For the serious collector looking for a really unusual vintage Omega watch, something with a lot of aesthetic charm that is also historically significant, this 1946 “bumper” automatic in stainless steel with a beautiful art deco dial and very stylised case lugs would be a difficult item to better. One of the great difficulties now facing new converts to the vintage wristwatch collecting hobby is that completely original examples in these important models are so hard to find, the vast majority of such items having long ago disappeared into private hands from where they are unlikely to reappear in the foreseeable future. The concept of the elderly wristwatch as a collectible item first emerged from Italy in the early 1980s, and it must be appreciated that ever since this time, as prices have continued to rise relentlessly, every imaginable drawer has been opened in the hunt for languishing treasures contained within. Particularly in the last ten or twelve years, fuelled by the new influx of enthusiasts via the Internet, the market for immaculate pieces like this one has exploded exponentially, and as a result, there are very few really well preserved vintage watches for sale by Omega and Rolex at any point in time.
This item is highly desirable on a variety of levels, all of which will be detailed below, but will be particularly difficult for the vintage Omega watch aficionado to resist on account of it containing a nearly mint example of the firm’s calibre 330 movement, the very first automatic mechanism ever offered by this famous house. This is an important point that should be noted particularly by any potential buyer wishing to assemble a portfolio of vintage wristwatches for investment. Over the years, we have often advised that a strategic approach be taken when buying watches, and if possible, only those pieces that represent significant landmarks in the evolution of the wristwatch be purchased. This watch is in a wonderful art deco style, but fashions do change, and a piece that is in keeping with today’s taste may not fit in with that of next year’s. By acquiring those significant watches with a lot of history connected to them, which is obviously the case with this item, one is building up a collection that will always be of importance to the marque enthusiast, whatever happens within the fashion world. Omega watches are among the most collectible of all vintage timepieces, quite deservedly so given their remarkable quality, and it follows that for however long in the future the Omega brand attracts interest, there will always be a strong demand for the watches that contained its very first automatic movement. In summary, to encapsulate this concept in a nutshell, these technically important watches are a very safe investment, representing, if you like, the blue chip models in the horological world. They are expensive to buy initially, but continue to rise in value, year after year, with seemingly no end in sight.
The stainless steel case ( the watch has an eye catching width of a hair under 36mm) present here is in the most gorgeous art deco style, with flowing lugs that are so evocative of the immediate post-war period. This is one of the most beautiful vintage Omega case styles from that era and a much sought after variation. The condition of this item, indeed of the entire watch, is almost mint, and completely original. If one wishes to be obsessively critical, the smallest number of almost invisible imperfections are perhaps to be spotted by careful scrutiny under a jeweller’s eyeglass, but these must be expected on any carefully worn vintage timepiece and in real terms, this case is virtually “as new” throughout. Looking at it now under magnification, it would be reasonable to ask if the watch had even been worn more than on a few dozen occasions in the past.
Internally, inside the case back, it is fully signed “ Acier Inoxydable ( the French term for stainless steel), Omega Watch Co, Fab. Suisse, Swiss Made”, together with the model reference number 2398-1.
One of the key points that we deliberately reinforce ad infinitum in our descriptions is the paramount importance, above all else, of buying only those pieces on which totally original, unrestored dials are present in almost mint condition. Any experienced collector will always base his decision to purchase a watch on the state of its dial, and scrutinise this in the greatest detail. The dial is unquestionably the most vulnerable aspect of a wristwatch, potentially being adversely affected by prolonged exposure to sunlight and discolouration by dirt and moisture. It is universally agreed that at least 40% of any high level vintage watch’s value can be attributed to its dial, the main reason for this being that the dial is the only part of a watch which cannot be satisfactorily restored, but only replaced completely. A scratched case can be carefully re-polished, even a worn movement be rebuilt at enormous cost, but the owner of a discoloured dial is left with the stark choice of leaving the watch as it is, or having the dial stripped of its surface and completely re-finished. Hence the view held by collectors, that if a dial has been “restored”, this being a common euphemism for having its surface replaced, an intrinsic aspect of a watch has been lost forever. The dial on this item is absolutely original and in almost perfect condition, with just the very slightest touch of creaminess to its originally white surface.
The actual dial layout on this piece is extremely unusual, and very attractive. The appearance of the watch in general has strong art deco overtones, but in particular, the dial, with squared off Arabic numerals, adds to this effect. Particularly as the dial here is so large, and these numbers therefore quite exaggerated, in the flesh, it looks absolutely charming, and very evocative of 1940s luxury watch design.
Many of you will be well aware that one of our specialities has always been the sourcing of extremely rare double signed dials. Without doubt, the presence of a retailer’s name here along side that of Omega adds considerable value to this piece. Double signed dials are a specific sub-genre of vintage wristwatch collecting in themselves, and are highly prized by enthusiasts. For those perhaps new to the antique watch hobby, we should clarify that these were actually produced here in the UK by the respective distributors for the major Swiss houses, rather than this second signature being added by the retailers themselves, or by the factories in Switzerland. Only a relatively small number of jewellers would merit having the dies made with their company name and one usually tends to find that the retailer stated on the dial was a prestigious outlet that was capable of ordering significant quantities of watches. The retailer named on this dial is “P.L Whitehouse, Newark”, a Nottinghamshire company that were an official Omega agent from 1921 through to the late 1970s.
The dial, or better said, its condition, is the deciding feature that will influence the experienced collector as to whether a particular example of a watch offered will be purchased, but his interest in this specific model will almost certainly have been aroused on account of its movement. When one buys a vintage Omega watch it is the sheer quality of the mechanism housed within it that makes its high purchase price seem justified. We have already mentioned that this movement, calibre 330, is very important to the Omega enthusiast on account of it being the very first self-winding unit offered by this famous house. Any collection that claims to be representative of Omega’s progress over the last century would be glaringly incomplete without an example of this calibre type, and indeed, one of these units is on permanent display in Omega’s own factory museum.
This mechanism was first released in 1943 as the fruit of a research project started by Omega in January 1942. Nobody would ever argue that it was not was one of the most successful movements to have ever being designed by this famous company. Omega’s technical director, Charles Perregaux, drew the blue prints for this unit and certainly should take the credit for its engineering excellence, but it might never have been created had it not been for the determination of Henri Gerber, the individual in overall charge of movement development, who insisted that Omega’s first automatic movement should be a “bumper”, rather than rotor driven, type. Many of you will already be well aware of these differences between these two self winding concepts, but for those who are not, it should be briefly explained that the bumper term is the one used to describe a movement in which spring tension is obtained by way of an oscillating weight, centrally pivoted to the movement, which bounces forward and backward, winding in one direction and at each extreme of travel being arrested by buffer springs. When in use, this action results in a noticeable “bumping” inside the watch as the weight rocks backward and forward, something that is very characteristic of these early hammer automatics and very much a talking point when showing one’s watch to others. By contrast, the rotor system, the one that is typically used in mechanical automatic watches today, has again a centrally pivoted weight, but this is allowed to spin through a full 360 degrees in both directions and is considerably smoother, though arguably no more efficient. There is no great technical advantage or disadvantage to either system, and it is generally suggested that the economic factor of a rotor mechanism being simpler and less expensive to produce than a bumper probably had as much to do with the eventual decline of the latter as any purely horological consideration. Whatever, any collector would agree that both types must be included in any selection of historically important wristwatches.
This particular movement is in superb, gleaming condition throughout and, perhaps most importantly of all, is completely original in every respect down to the very last detail. Unlike those in so many collectible older watches today, this mechanism contains no changed or incorrect parts whatsoever, and is standard and unmolested in every way. It is a fully signed item, with “Omega Watch Co., Swiss, Seventeen Jewels” stated on the oscillating hammer and the serial number 10676037 stamped into the pink gold finished bridge, this clearly indicating that the movement left Omega in 1946. Omega connoisseurs will no doubt have already shaken their heads at our referring to this calibre as being the 330, rather than using its earlier title, the 30,10 RA. Omega introduced its system of continuous calibre numbers in 1949 and renamed all its earlier units to fit in with this new structure. We always find it much easier and less confusing for our readers to consistently use the post 1949 system of reference, though we do acknowledge, to be absolutely accurate, it being from 1946, that we should refer to the mechanism here by its official earlier reference. Notice that there is no calibre number stated anywhere on the movement itself, these having been only stamped from 1949 onwards when the new numbering system was introduced, pre 1949 Omega movement always being without this identifying reference.
For the technically minded, we should add that this is actually a relatively slow paced movement, running at an under stressed 18000 half beats per hour. It has a very useful running reserve of 36 hours, this being the length of time for which the watch will continue to run from fully wound to stopped if left untouched. Every luxury was present on this flagship model, including Incabloc shock resistance and anti-magnetic protection, something that Omega had added to its civilian movements after fully developing this as a result of research carried out on behalf of the Allied governments during World War II. The watch offered here is in perfect working order and has been regularly serviced throughout its life. Interestingly, servicing of this movement type is very easy, not least because, unlike a rotor driven automatic, all the components on a bumper unit are on the same single level, rather than being stacked up in layers that have to be removed before the parts below can be accessed. This was a very important marketing point at the time for Omega, vital in convincing their distributors around the globe to order these “new” self winding watches when they may well have initially had concerns about the ability of their workshops to service automatic movements which they had not previously been exposed to.
A final point that illustrates just how superb this 330 movement really is, and the precision with which it was built, is the interesting account of how Georges Berner submitted one of these mechanisms, taken entirely at random from Omega’s production line in August 1944, and submitted it for chronometer testing at the independent Bienne Observatory, where he was a director. Perhaps not surprisingly for a movement of this quality, it passed this testing, and was duly awarded the appropriate certification. What is absolutely remarkable though, was that Berner submitted the same movement again to the same testing station, in March 1945 and May 1946, after using the watch on a daily basis, but not after having it serviced or regulated during this time. And on these additional two occasions, it achieved the same chronometer standard accuracy rating. This incredible feat, resulting in three separate chronometer certificates for the same watch, spread over a period of two years, has never been equalled and is unique in the history of the wristwatch. Just to end this tale, we can add that the whole experiment was carried out as part of research at Bienne’s venerable School of Horology, at which Berner was also the principal. Omega enthusiasts still talk about this achievement today, and use it, quite justifiably, as evidence that these vintage bumper calibres are among the very finest automatic movements to have been produced at any time, by any maker.
We have fitted this exceptional watch with a very high grade crocodile skin type strap that is in mint condition, having never been worn. This is not a genuine Omega strap, but is almost identical in both quality and appearance to that which would have been supplied with the piece when new. The correct Omega stainless steel buckle, with its vintage raised emblem, has been transplanted over to this strap where it fits perfectly. In itself, a well preserved vintage Omega buckle is a collectible, and its value of approximately £70 GB pounds must be factored into the equation when considering this watch as a potential purchase.
In summary, this is one of the most spectacular first generation vintage Omega automatics for sale on our website at present. It is in almost unused condition, has a rare case with the most wonderful deco lugs and this stylistic theme is mirrored by the exotically decorated dial. If we add to this the final icing on the cake, the presence of a double dial signature, very much a rarity on an Omega of this age, we certainly can consider this watch to be a very desirable collector’s piece. Valuing the watch is very difficult, not least because there are so few really well preserved early Omega bumpers for sale in the current market climate. The enormous increase in the price levels of vintage watches over the last decade has meant that, for the most part, those collectors lucky enough to own immaculate pieces like this one are obviously very reluctant to part with them. We were delighted to buy this item for our stock, largely attracted to the historical importance of its early movement and its rare art deco dial variant. In keeping with our established policy of keeping our prices down to a much lower level than those charged by the vintage watch shops in central London, we are asking £975 for this item, which is not excessive. We simply don’t find 1940s Omega automatics in this condition with any predictable regularity any more and as the pool of worthwhile watches becomes ever smaller, replacing items like this one is noticeably more challenging with every year that passes.