The Rolex Oyster Perpetual and Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra are both well respected, excellent everyday watches.
Designed with simple aesthetics that lend themselves both to adventurous settings and dressier applications, each timepiece is endowed with ample water and shock resistance as well as the good looks that consumers have come to expect from top-tier manufactures.
As we discovered in our previous Speedmaster vs. Daytona “Head to Head”, the divide between Rolex and Omega fosters an especially opinionated debate. Today, we will continue in our comparison of Rolex and Omega models by analyzing two of the greatest everyday offerings from these premier brands. These models represent the simpler end of the Rolex and Omega collections while maintaining the design language of their respective marques.
The Rolex Oyster PerpetualHistory and Modern Identity
Today the Oyster Perpetual is often viewed amongst collectors as the younger sibling of the Datejust — however this isn’t the case, historically speaking: The Oyster Perpetual was introduced in 1926 as the first “waterproof” watch, first merely as an “Oyster” watch, with the word “Perpetual” added in the 1930's to signify the addition of an automatic-winding movement. By 1959, all Rolex no-date Oyster Perpetual models featured automatic movements, doing away with the manually wound options that were commonplace prior to this point. Alongside the standardized movement type, the ‘OP’ universally offered a screw-down crown and a screw-down case back, adding to the water resistance and dust protection of the original design.
Thus, throughout history, the Oyster line has been used as the foundation upon which many key Rolex innovations were tested and first featured. Even the Datejust is the “Oyster Perpetual Datejust,” as “Oyster” refers to the case, “Perpetual” to the self-winding component, and “Datejust” to the instantaneously updating date mechanism.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual 'White Grape'
Both “Oyster” and “Perpetual” nomenclature are key components of the Rolex story: The Oyster for its part honors Rolex’s positioning as the first brand to produce a “waterproof” watch, while the “Perpetual” moniker represents Rolex’s role in the development of the modern self-winding timepiece. Thus, the Oyster Perpetual is perhaps the purest representation of the Rolex design philosophy, taking the foundational attributes of Rolex’s watchmaking history and removing any and all complication or superfluous appointments.
In 1964, Rolex extended the OP lineup to women, offering a 24.6mm case within the Oyster Perpetual collection for the first time. This ladies version of the OP remains one of Rolex’s most-sold watches, full stop. (The same can be said about the ladies’ Datejust. Many speculate that the Lady ‘DJ’ is the most popular Rolex model by sales, although exact numbers aren’t published, and this can’t be determined conclusively). In 1986, the next major shift occurred within the OP lineup, with the replacement of a plastic crystal with sapphire for increased protection from scratches.
Today, the Oyster Perpetual provides not only a great access point to the design and beauty of Rolex, but also allows customers seeking a slightly more reserved Rolex model the opportunity to explore the ‘Crown’ without buying a flashy piece. The collection is currently offered in 5 sizes ranging from 28mm to 41mm, ensuring a good fit for any wrist size. It’s available in myriad dial colors, from classic blue and black hues to the most recent edition, the so-called ‘bubbles’ dial — officially called the ‘Celebration’ dial — which is perfect for a certain type of collector, and heretical to another, equally vocal group.
The Omega Aqua Terra
History and Modern Identity
Omega Seamaster Master Co-Axial - (Image by Omega)
Whereas the Oyster Perpetual got its start in the early 1900s, the Seamaster Aqua Terra line was introduced in 2002. It has since become a strong contender within the ‘everyday’ watch segment, and further gained attention on the public stage when it was featured in several recent James Bond films. One of the significant draws of the Aqua Terra is its capable water resistance of 150 meters, which, while not as impressive as that of its dive watch alternatives, is more than well suited for the day-to-day demands of an adventurous person.
Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra - (Image by Omega)
Between 2002 and 2008, the changes made to the Aqua Terra line were primarily just updates and refinements to the movement, which is a big component of the watch’s allure — more on this later. Given the model’s success, the underlying design language has seen the addition of several complications, including a Chronograph, GMT, Day-Date, Annual Calendar, World Timer, and more.
Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra - IN THE SHOP
In addition to its substantial water resistance for an everyday piece, the Aqua Terra has an incredible movement that utilizes Omega’s famed Co-Axial escapement designed by George Daniels — plus impressive anti-magnetic technology that is rarely found at its price point. Omega has arguably gone further than most large watch brands in pushing the limits of movement technology within mechanical watchmaking; this sophisticated technology makes the Aqua Terra an even more compelling option for everyday wear around computers and other devices that may damage watches without anti-magnetic properties.
Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra Shades - (Image by Omega)
The Aqua Terra is also offered in an unfathomable number of variations, from steel models to gold, and in multiple sizes and dial colors. While Omega has certainly drawn criticism for producing too many iterations of a particular model — which makes shopping confusing — for the collector who is looking for something ultra-specific, the Aqua Terra may be just the ticket: Chances are, that collector will be able to find one to suit their needs in the vast array of offerings available.
The Better Everyday Piece
From an everyday perspective, the Oyster Perpetual probably wins on grounds of appearance: A simpler dial, more reserved proportions, and classic aesthetics are conducive to a perfect do-it-all design. (This isn’t to say the Aqua Terra isn’t a handsome option — it’s simply to suggest that its grooved dial and more sophisticated case geometry are a bit more casual than those of the OP.) On the other end of the spectrum, the Omega is arguably superior on the movement side, affording much more technology than the Rolex.
It’s quite incredible to think about the value the Omega provides with such a brilliant movement at its price point. For Rolex’s part, it is equally enticing to have access to the charisma and sexiness a Rolex brings without shelling out for a Day-Date or another higher-end model line.
Many Omega owners choose Omegas precisely for the fact that they aren’t Rolexes. Part of the thrill of owning (or not owning) a Rolex is taking a stand on your endorsement of the brand — indeed, no maison within the industry inspires such controversy. The entry-level, everyday Rolex carries the same branding as a ‘rainbow’ Daytona, so while it may not scream at onlookers in the same way, those who notice said branding will assign the positive and negative baggage of any Rolex to the owner.
For Omega’s part, the same polarization isn’t really present; the relative abundance of its pieces has removed much of the ‘waitlist frustration’ of Rolex, but with this availability comes a slightly less romantic pursuit of the piece in question. These psychological trade-offs are part and parcel of the purchase decision.
Ultimately, as with every Head to Head, we are presenting two stellar watches — leaders of the market segment — that exceed expectations and serve thousands of collectors daily, and our feeling is that one can’t really go wrong with each.