Head-to-Head Challenge: Omega Planet Ocean Versus Hamilton Khaki Scuba, set against a tour of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
At Baselworld 2017 Hamilton announced several new models, one of which was a completely redesigned Khaki Scuba. I liked the looks of the new Hammy and later on in the year when the watch was available for purchase I picked up an orange bezeled unit to give as an important birthday gift. Between Hamilton's announcement of the new product line and them making the watch available for purchase, I chanced upon a good deal on a caliber 2500 Planet Ocean, my first such Omega. I was very quickly impressed by it, and experienced that late-to-the-party feeling familiar to folks who have discovered a watch years after its introduction. The Omega was fresh back from a comprehensive factory service, so was literally like new in every regard. When the Hamilton arrived shortly afterward, I was amazed at how similar the two watches were. Not just physically, but in personality and approach as well. I quickly took to calling the Hammy the Poor Man's PO (except when I was wearing the PO, when I referred to it as the Rich Man's Scuba), so a head-to-head comparison was only a matter of time. To give some fun background to the discussion, I took both watches with us on a week-long camping, canoeing, and sightseeing tour of Michigan's beautiful Upper Peninsula. My son wore the Hamilton and I wore the Omega.
The One Watch Life
Here at Rover Haven we love evaluating watches against a hypothetical, subjective, and dynamic One Watch Life standard. To live a One Watch Life appeals to some folks more than others, and for me it's really an amusing thought experiment since I'm a hopeless accumulator. Let's review what it takes for a watch to be considered eligible for membership in the One Watch Club. To consider a watch a strong contender for One Watch status, it must have at least these characteristics:
- Reasonable size. For me this is about 40-42 mm, although I'm flexible since one number never tells a watch's whole story.
- Good water resistance. A One Watch watch needs to have at least 100 m of water resistance since my life involves a lot of water-based opportunities.
- Strap flexibility. I'm not a bracelet guy, and found out recently that I'm not really a rubber strap guy either, so for me a watch has to wear well on nylon straps and leather straps. If a watch isn't strap-friendly, this is a deal killer for consideration as a One Watch watch.
- Better than average lume. The ability to read my watch upon waking up in confusion in the middle of the night is a key characteristic for me.
- Strong legibility. I've had some really cool watches, but if a watch isn't easily read at a glance, it doesn't stick around long. (Buh-bye, Sinn 903 and SM300 Master Co-Ax).
- Rotating bezel. A good One Watch watch will have some means of quickly and easily measuring short intervals of time. For me, this is a count-up or count-down bezel.
- Date. A good watch must have a date indicator to be considered for admission into the One Watch Club. I don't really care where it is, as long as it isn't Sore Thumb Ugly.
- Drilled lugs. Since this has become so rare on new watches these days, it's bonus point territory only.
The Head-to-Head Challenge
In no particular order, and in a completely arbitrary and unscientific way, let's examine the two watches side by side and make some comparisons. Here's a table comparing some physical attributes and movement characteristics of the PO and the Scuba. Length is spring bar to spring bar as measured by me, not the lug to lug length usually cited. Power reserve figures are the manufacturer's values. Movement frequency and timekeeping were confirmed using the Watch Tuner app on my smart phone. As any reader can see, either of these watches is eligible for nomination to the One Watch Club.
Planet Ocean Khaki Scuba
Diameter, mm 42 40
Length, mm 42 46
Thickness, mm 13.8 12.8
Lug Width, mm 20 20
Water Resist, m 600 100
Power Reserve, hrs 44 80
Frequency, vph 25,200 21,600
Timekeeping, sec/day +5 +2
Full Reference No. 2901.50.91 H82305931
Price $2500 (approx, used) $700 (MSRP, new)
As even a cursory review of the objective characteristics shows, these watches are very similar. The single biggest difference is obviously the water resistance rating of the cases. At 600 m, the PO is meant for professional divers (and it also has a helium release valve, too, which would only be useful for the pros out there). I don't know about you, but I don't really venture much deeper than about 12 feet these days. Some day I'd like to pursue scuba training, but even then I can't imagine going beyond recreational depths. Show me a diver who needs 600 meters of water resistance and I'll show you a diver who doesn't depend on his wristwatch for anything critical during a dive. So although you'd win beers in a bet at the bar if you were wearing the Omega, it's difficult to take points away from the Hamilton for having only 100 m of water resistance.
Conclusion: WR advantage to Omega, but only for hypothetical bragging rights and beer bets.
The other noticeable difference is in power reserve. Here we have a practical characteristic with real-life implications and usefulness, and the Hamilton has the edge in our head-to-head comparison. Set the Hammy down Friday afternoon when you get home from work and it's still happily ticking away on Monday morning. Not so the Omega.
Conclusion: PR advantage to Hamilton, especially because power reserve is a real-world feature.
The two watches use different flavors of Superluminova, the Hamilton utilizing a cool blue and the Omega using the more familiar yellowy green. Some folks will see both and say that the Omega is easier to read because the yellowy green seems brighter, but the important thing in my tests was that they both glow all night long, making time-telling very easy when you wake up at 5 to 5:30 AM after 6-8 hours of sleep. Omega is famous for this, but Hamilton? My thought is that they have finally listened to criticism and stepped up their game here, because other Hamiltons that I have are frankly quite sucky in the lume department. The one place where the Omega scores over the Hamilton lume-wise would be the bezel pip, because the Hamilton's is not lumed at all.
Conclusion: 60/40 Omega/Hamilton lume advantage split because of the bezel pip.
Comparing the cases of the two watches, we can see that the Omega looks thinner. It has a certain grace that the chunkier-looking Hamilton lacks. In fact, the PO is 1 mm taller than the Scuba, but you wouldn't guess it from the pictures. What's going on here is that the Omega has a thinner mid-case, out of which the caseback bumps out and down. The Hamilton appears overall thicker/taller because its caseback is flush with the bottom plane of its mid-case. And in turn, its spring bars are almost in the same plane, meaning the Hamilton rides a little higher and sits a little flatter on the wrist (this has strap implications, discussed below). So here we have to split points and give half to each watch for different reasons. The Omega looks a little more streamlined, a little more graceful. But the Hamilton is a happier strap-wearer, which is where we'll go next.
Conclusion: 50/50 Omega/Hamilton case height advantage split. The Omega is more gracefully handsome, the Hamilton is a simpler more straight-forward design.
As mentioned, I never wear bracelets, and rubber straps just don't seem to work out for me. That leaves nylon (one-piecers and NATOs) and leather straps. Nylon pull-through straps is where the Hamilton has the distinct edge over the Omega. Because the Hamilton's spring bars are down lower, and virtually in the same plane as the caseback, a one-piece pull-through strap has fewer bends to make than it does in the Omega, where the spring bars are up high relative to the caseback. This makes wearing the Hamilton on a nylon pull-through of some sort a much more comfortable affair than wearing the Omega on the same strap. Plus, the Hamilton is 1 mm thinner than the Omega, another advantage when wearing a one-piece pull-through strap of any sort.
I'll often put a watch on a nylon NATO if I know I'm going to be swimming with it. No sense in trashing a nice shell cordovan strap if we can help it, right? Well, after wearing my NATO-mounted Omega all week on our camping and backcountry tour of Michigan's beautiful Upper Peninsula, I felt like the PO was this precarious object, tippily placed atop my wrist just waiting to get snagged on something. At the end of the week I gave up and changed over to a two-piece shell cordovan strap and it was instant relief. The watch both looked and felt better. On this kind of a strap, the watch's graceful construction comes into its own and it sits much better and is much better behaved on your wrist as it travels with you through your day.
The Hamilton on the other hand is equally happy on either style of strap setup. One-piece straps pass straight through, but the watch never feels top heavy or floppy on a one-piece nylon NATO. Likewise, a two-piece strap locks it right down and the watch is very stable and happy on your wrist. The Hamilton looks a little less graceful, a little chunkier, but it feels great. Finally, the Hamilton has better spring bar clearance, so if you want to wear a thicker leather strap on it, no problem.
Conclusion: 40/60 Omega/Hamilton strapability advantage split since the Omega is NATO-unfriendly and has medium-tight spring bar clearance compared to the Hamilton.
I think the Planet Ocean is the closest descendant, both in spirit and design, to the original Seamaster 300 from 1957 (ignoring for the moment the SM300 re-issue released in 2015). As though that weren't enough, Daniel Craig wears one in Casino Royale. And the Hamilton is... well, the Hamilton is just a really nice and quite affordable watch.
Conclusion: Provenance advantage to Omega.
For some readers, none of the preceding considerations will matter because of the price difference between the two watches. You could probably do a little better than $2500 on a second hand Plant Ocean, but you might be buying a 6-8 year old watch in need of an expensive service. On the other hand, if you order your Hamilton Scuba directly from Hamilton's web shop, you'll pay $700. You could probably negotiate up to 20% off this price at your local Authorized dealer, and I've already seen them on the gray market for under $500. If you were to pursue the latter option, you'd have $2k left in the bank to use on your next vacation.
Conclusion: Price advantage to Hamilton.
If graceful design, cool provenance, and winning water resistance bets at the bar are your thing, and you have the budget to afford a Rich Man's Scuba, buy a Planet Ocean. You won't regret it, and the watch just really has a classic One Watch feel to it. It is a solid tool that could easily get away as a "dress diver" the next time you have to don a tuxedo and outsmart evil villains. If you aren't philosophically opposed to swimming with a leather strap on your watch, it wears very well on a Rover Haven Arts & Crafts strap. Daniel Craig wore his on the factory rubber strap in Casino Royale. (And yes, I'm still waiting for the product placement call from the James Bond people.)
If budget and practicality (in the form of that 80 hour power reserve) are more your priorities, or maybe you're just starting out and not even sure a mechanical watch is for you, then you cannot go wrong with the Khaki Scuba. If a little less sophisticated, it's also a little more sporty, youthful, and real-world-practical than the Omega. This is the watch that you might receive as a gift as a young person and use throughout your 20's and 30's as a constant companion to adventure in your One Watch Life. A solid watch offered by Hamilton at a solid value, it is indeed the Poor Man's PO.
Thank you for reading my blog. I welcome your comments and would love to hear from anyone who happens to own one or the other of these fine watches!