Rolex and Omega are two of the largest and most well-known brands in the world of watches. For many, Rolex is synonymous with the term luxury watch, while Omega is considered a bit more plain. Why is that and is it justified? Is Rolex really better than Omega? Let’s find out.
Omega vs. Rolex: Battle of the Watch Giants
Let’s take a closer look at these two industry greats. Both Omega and Rolex have more than a century of history to look back on. However, Omega predates Rolex by a good 50 years. It was already an established watch manufacturer by the time Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf launched his company in 1905.
Another thing these two have in common is that they are both industrial-scale manufacturers. They each have thousands of employees, use state-of-the-art manufacturing techniques, and produce more than half a million watches per year. That being said, Rolex remains an independent company, while Omega has been part of what is now the Swatch Group since the early 1980s.
Rolex and Omega: Drivers of the Watch Industry
Both companies have made lasting impressions on the industry as a whole. Omega, for example, was one of the first manufacturers to turn to standardized series production. The Biel-based watchmaker was also responsible for perfecting the co-axial escapement originally developed by George Daniels. This escapement is considered one of the last real innovations in the watchmaking world. The design has significantly less frictional resistance than conventional anchor escapements, meaning it requires less maintenance and is more accurate.
Rolex, in turn, has filed countless patents for components throughout its history. These include the screw-down crown and the central winding rotor – two technologies that are now indispensable in the industry.
Both Rolex and Omega are pioneers when it comes to water resistance. In the 1920s, Rolex unveiled their Oyster case, the first ever waterproof watch case. The brand continues to use the same case design for almost all of its watches to this day.
Omega, on the other hand, is credited with bringing the first commercially available diving watch to the market. The Omega Marine was unveiled in 1932 and boasted water resistance to 135 m (13.5 bar, 443 ft) and a folding clasp with a diving extension.
A battle continues to rage between the two giants when it comes to water resistance. In 2012, the experimental Rolex Deepsea Challenge survived on the hull of James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenger submersible at depths of 10,908 m (35,787 ft) – deeper than any watch had dived before. Seven years later, Omega broke that record when they sent their Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional down to 10,928 m (35,853 ft) on Victor Vescovo’s vessel. Omega also holds the title in their series production watches: The Planet Ocean 6000M Ultra Deep is water-resistant to 6,000 m (600 bar, 19,685 ft), outperforming the Rolex Sea-Dweller Deepsea, which is “only” water-resistant to 3,900 m (390 bar, 12,795 ft).
Rolex vs. Omega: Elite Sports and 007
Both manufacturers also have close ties to the world of sports. Omega has been the official timekeeper of the Olympic Games, the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF), and the America’s Cup for years. Rolex, in turn, has long-standing links to tennis, Formula 1, and golf.
Of course, we can’t fail to mention that both brands have supplied watches to famous secret agent James Bond.
Rolex vs. Omega: Icons and Classics
Both brands have an expansive collection of design icons and cult classics in their lineups. However, one of the biggest differences between Rolex and Omega is how they manage their respective catalogs. If you look at the Rolex lineup, you’ll quickly realize that almost every model is at least 50 years old, and each has changed only minimally in that timeframe. Even newer models like the Yacht-Master II or the Sky-Dweller are largely based on well-known Rolex classics. You might think that’s a bit boring, but the fact is that Rolex watches are absolute classics – often imitated, never duplicated.
Omega has a slightly different approach. Here, each individual model series typically branches out into several sub-models. As of June 2022, for example, there were 16 different versions available of what is probably Omega’s best-known model: the Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch. The Moonwatch series is just one of six Speedmaster collections, each of which offer a large number of different variants. It’s a similar story with the Seamaster, Constellation, and De Ville collections.
Omega’s standard models are often joined by many special and limited editions marking events like the Olympic Games, anniversaries of the Moon landing, or the latest James Bond film, to name a few.
The sheer volume of models and model variants makes the Omega range a bit confusing and hard to grasp. That being said, Omega doesn’t rely solely on the past, they frequently break new ground. While classics from the company’s history are still present in today’s range, Omega is continuously updating their collection with new designs, technologies, and materials. One such example is the Seamaster Aqua Terra 150M Ultra Light. This watch not only features a titanium case, but Omega also uses the material for most of the movement, meaning the watch together with its textile strap weighs just 55 g (1.9 oz).
Rolex vs. Omega: Superlative Chronometer vs. Master Chronometer
This brings us to yet another difference: the calibers. Since the turn of the millennium, Rolex has exclusively offered timepieces with mechanical movements. At Omega, you’ll still find quartz-powered watches in the current collection. Take the Speedmaster Skywalker X-33, for example; this quartz watch is part of astronauts’ official gear at the European Space Agency.
When it comes to mechanical calibers, both manufacturers are considered extremely reliable. Rolex has all of its movements certified by the Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC) and then subjects the calibers to further internal tests. If a movement successfully makes it through both, it earns the title “Superlative Chronometer.” This means the watch will deviate from the reference time by no more than +2/-2 seconds per day and has proven its specified water resistance and power reserve.
For a number of years now, Omega has had its watches certified by the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology (METAS) as Master Chronometers. This quality seal is only awarded to watches that deviate by no more than +0/-5 seconds per day, prove their specified water resistance, and can withstand magnetic fields up to 15,000 gauss.
The Biel-based manufacturer also dips its toes into “Haute Horlogerie,” i.e., the high art of watchmaking. Omega offers timepieces with annual calendars, world time displays, tourbillons, and skeletonized movements. Rolex tends to focus more on the bread-and-butter functions like chronographs, GMTs, or day-date displays. The only exception in the current Rolex lineup is the Sky-Dweller, which boasts a special GMT mechanism and an annual calendar.
Rolex vs. Omega: The Prestige Factor
As we’ve seen thus far, on the surface, there isn’t much that distinguishes timepieces from Rolex and Omega – each has its strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the day, personal taste should really be the deciding factor for whether you choose a watch from the Biel-based or Genevan watchmaker.
However, there is no denying that the reality is quite different. Factors such as prestige or financial performance often play quite a decisive role when it comes to buying a luxury watch. In both of these areas, Rolex is the clear winner. Clever marketing and strict product policies have made the brand with the crown a sort of standard for luxury watches. There are few in the watch world who don’t associate the term luxury watch with Rolex. This reputation creates enormous demand, which Rolex never quite satisfies. As a result of the high demand and low supply, prices on the secondary market are sky-high. This only reinforces the impression for many that Rolex watches must be something really special.
If you have your eyes on an Omega model, on the other hand, you can likely go to the retailer of your choice and take the watch home with you then and there. Many Omega watches sell for below their official list prices on the open market. Generally speaking, this suggests that these watches are perceived as being less valuable.
Rolex vs. Omega: Summary
So, is Rolex better than Omega? If you see a watch primarily as an investment, then the answer is yes. But if you simply want a good watch that runs accurately, has first-class workmanship, and a unique design, Omega is at least on par with Rolex. In fact, in many cases, Omega comes out on top. Ultimately, you need to choose the watch that you like the most. And remember, there is nothing stopping you from having models from both brands in the same collection.