Editor’s Note: For all the shiny new watches we come across every week, nothing gets our hearts racing like a great vintage timepiece. These are watches with stories, some known, some lost to history. Watches from the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s come from an era when a man’s timepiece was his everyday carry, a tool for the job that wasn’t put away when things got down and dirty. Many vintage watches bear the marks of use that we endearingly call “patina”, and remain that much more lovely in spite of (or because of) it.
The other appealing aspect of vintage watches is their rarity. Even the most common old timepieces are becoming harder to find in good shape. So while you can walk into a retailer and buy a brand new watch anytime, finding a good vintage piece requires patience, persistence, research and legwork. This leads us to the eighth installment of our ongoing series, Timekeeping Selects, a partnership with Analog/Shift, the New York-based purveyor of vintage watches. We’ve done the legwork for you, handpicking the coolest, most unique old watches, all of which have impeccable authenticity and are serviced and ready to wear.
Government- and military-commissioned timepieces are a coveted lot, from the legendary British Navy’s “MilSub” to the German Army’s Heuer “Bund” chronograph. From the 1950s to the ’70s soldiers, divers, pilots, and scientists used mechanical timepieces as legitimate tools — and those timepieces were innovative, robust, and just damn cool.
While on our side of the pond, government-commissioned watches tended to err on the side of, shall we say, fiscal responsibility, the French government had a tendency to adorn its civil servants with a little more panache. Are you surprised? Many of those timepieces are highly desirable today: see the Tudor Submariner, the Zenith Rainbow Flyback and the Breguet Type XX. Today we’re featuring one of those great tool watches, this one from the Pompidou era: the OMEGA Seamaster Professional “SHOM”.
The name “Seamaster Professional” has been attached to many legendary OMEGA dive watches since 1970, including the so-called “Ploprof” (or Plongeur Professionel), “the Grand” (1,000-meter water resistance) and the “Big Blue” chronograph. Another great from that lineage — one with yet another catchy nickname — is the “SHOM”. The SHOM Seamaster was so named because Omega designed and built it for France’s Service Hydrographique et Océanographique de la Marine, a government institution that documents and studies the oceans and publishes charts, maps and guides for mariners. The watch itself was modest in its specifications compared to some other Seamasters of the day, but 200 meters of water resistance was presumably been plenty for the purpose of charting the coasts of France. What made the SHOM so cool was its angular case, which looks like it was chiseled out of a solid block of stainless steel: pure ‘70s design. The dial, on the other hand, is a sober remnant of ‘60s Seamasters: sword hands, rectangular markers and old-fashioned script text. These design cues comes together in a watch that is prized by collectors who like its no-nonsense aesthetic, its “built-to-spec” back story and its rarity.
The SHOM Seamaster Professional we’re featuring today with Analog/Shift is from 1973, and looks like it came right out of the mailroom at the Service Hydrographique et Océanographique de la Marine. Case bevels are crisp and brushed, finishing unmarred. The dial and hands are bright white and the automatic calibre 1012 is serviced and running strong. But one of the best things about this example is that it comes on its original steel mesh, or “Milanese” bracelet, with a signed OMEGA clasp. Strap it on and you’ll immediately look like a civil servant. A French one, that is.