Wait a second, the Omega Railmaster is far too new to be featured on #TBT! Well, for sure, the discontinued watch from Omega is not so far removed from our mindscape, but it is gone. I had a recent visit from family and my Dad, who is seemingly a master in finding overlooked but worthwhile objects, wore a 39mm (39.2mm but who’s counting?) ref. 2503.52.00 version during most of the visit. I noticed it – because, well, I notice the watch on anyone and everyone’s wrist – and I thought, damn, that is one seriously good looking piece that deserves a longer, more reflective view. It simply one of those watches that just feels so right. So, here we are and here you go…the Omega Railmaster is on Fratello Watches for what I believe is the first time. All aboard!
Omega embarked on a serious renaissance in the early to mid-2000’s. Watches such as the original Seamaster Planet Ocean were released along with the Seamaster Aqua Terra. Part of the renaissance was backed by a decision to move more in the direction of a true manufacture as Omega began to implement the now-famous co-axial escapement (since 1999). The George Daniels’ invention that reduces internal friction and lengthens service periods is now synonymous with Omega’s in-house movements, but it wasn’t always that way. During this period, Omega paired the escapement with the bulletproof ETA 2892-A2 movement in order to create the chronometer certified caliber 2500. Amongst all the various colors and sizes of watches featuring the movement, Omega released a real peculiarity in 2003: the Omega Railmaster.
Why was the Omega Railmaster such an odd re-release? Well, it brought back a name not seen since the 1960’s. The Railmaster CK2914 originally debuted in 1957 alongside the Seamaster 300 CK2913 and Speedmaster CK2915 and rounded out Omega’s sporty trio (a nice overview can be found here). However, it was clearly the most niche in its reference to trains. The name likely owed to its no-nonsense dial with Arabic numerals, no date, and large focus on legibility.
It was marketed, in a manner similar to Rolex’s equally unique Milgauss, to engineers and other technicians who would likely be working around strong magnetic fields often found in the vicinity of trains. To support the marketing push with real hardware, the dial was soft iron and the watch featured a dual layer case back. Today, vintage Railmasters command serious sums and finding good original versions presents a serious challenge.
When the Omega Railmaster was released in 2003, the marque certainly placed effort behind the launch. In doing so, they created a fairly dizzying number of models. A hand-wound featuring a chronometer rated ETA/Unitas 6498-2 model came in an over the top size of 49.2mm – perhaps looking more like a conductor’s pocketwatch for the wrist. It was available in steel, gold and a version with a mother of pearl dial. Normal, co-axial automatic editions were released in 36 (a nice writeup here dosed with some history too), 39 and 42mm. Gold versions came and chronographs were also marketed. And, Omega being Omega – wishing to appeal to about everyone – offered the watches with bracelet or on strap. Looking back, all the models aside from the pearl abomination are great exercises in simplicity and restraint. The steel models, though, should now be viewed as true gems.
The Omega Railmaster sat in a Seamaster Aqua Terra case, complete with its twisted lugs, screw-down crown, and exhibition case back (sorry, Robert-Jan, but this one is nice and worthwhile). Oh, and if purchased correctly, the watch came with what I’d argue is one of the greatest bracelets to over come from the house of Biel. As mentioned, the watch came in three different sizes, but it’s the 39mm version that has resonated most with collectors and savvy secondary market trawlers.
Yes, in 39mm, the Omega Railmaster displays ridiculously perfect balance. Eschewing the date function that plagues so many ill-devised retro inspired models, the timepiece makes do with a matte black 3/6/9/12 dial and bold, lumed arrows at each hour. In between are simple white hashes to mark the minutes that match the equally simple font showing the brand, the model, movement and certified accuracy. The time is denoted by what just might be Omega’s best ever try at a redo on vintage hands. It’s a glorious combination of a dagger for the hours, an arrow for the minutes and a paddle-bottomed arrow similar to a pre-Moon Speedmaster for the once-a-minute trip around the dial. Topping all of this is a barely domed anti-reflective sapphire crystal. And did I mention that 150 meters (500) feet of water resistance are part of the package?
If all of this sounds too good to be true, it isn’t. The Omega Railmaster was in production until roughly 2012 and it was seemingly the answer to a call from enthusiasts who wanted a simple, classically inspired sports watch without a bunch of useless fuss. If it sounds a lot like a Rolex Explorer, then I’d say you’re on the right track. A watch that everyone pines for, gets all steaming mad when a company threatens to change or modernize it, and then – no one buys it. It’s a bit like when enthusiasts scream for sports cars with manual transmissions and then ashamedly go and buy an automatic. This, sadly, is exactly what happened with that Railmaster.
Want proof? When the Omega Railmaster was unceremoniously dumped from the Omega line in or around 2012, my father happened to walk into a local authorized dealer in the USA and saw the unsold model you see here for – wait for it – 40% off or $1600. Needless to say, the perfunctory hemming and hawing was all show; this was a no-brainer of a purchase.
I spent a little time with the 39mm Omega Railmaster and I am 100% convinced that this watch will be a collectible at some point. In fact, with prices now hovering in the $3,000 range, it seems that they’re already headed in that direction. No, I am not suggesting that this watch is going to pay for your kid’s college tuition, but I do think it has become a real cult classic not unlike the original Longines Legend Diver “no date”. The bracelet is as smooth as silk (it’s actually stamped as made in Switzerland 😉 ) and the way the button clasp clicks and the buckle smoothly slides just oozes subtle quality.
And on the wrist? The Omega Railmaster fits perfectly and can easily do duty in any situation – just like an Explorer. With a magic 20mm lug width, it’s also suitable for loads of straps from a ratty NATO to formal croc. Personally, though, I’d stick with the bracelet.
Are there concerns about the Omega Railmaster? A couple… First, there’s the caliber 2500 movement. It has garnered some deserved criticism (yeah, yeah – too good to be true my foot!) as early versions had some teething problems. Various internet postings point out too much lubrication and the odd case of the seconds hand stopping due to too much torque – early versions ran at 28,800 bph and later editions dropped to 25,200. Still, if you continue to read on about the movement, it seems that most failing movements had their issues early on and have been sorted. Also, an early movement wasn’t a guaranteed catastrophe. So, consider yourself warned, but I wouldn’t let the issue stop me. The underlying ETA runs like a – well, a train – and a decent service history should erase most concerns.
The only other superficial concern I have with the Omega Railmaster is that it offered little to no deference to its ancestor on the topic of anti-magnetic properties. I call it superficial, as most people aren’t truly dealing with magnetic fields that can affect a watch, but it does make the modern rendition feel more like window dressing. Still, all in all, I find that it has enough other premium specifications to garner interest. On that front, though, it does seem that Omega felt a little uncomfortable with the lack of anti-magnetic protection because it released the Seamaster Aqua Terra 8508 “>15,000” watch in 2013. I’ve never read that this watch was officially the replacement to the Railmaster, but it does seem very logical.
If I were in the market today for a perfect everyday watch that also has some relative rarity behind it a 39mm Omega Railmaster would be near the top of my list. As mentioned, they’re not very common and do seem to sell quickly (Omega likely bristles at this) to collectors around the $2,500 – 3,000 mark. It’s easily as credible as an Explorer and likely more of an oddity on the wrist. Plus, Omega can bristle again, it strikes me as one of those watches that would receive a lot of “wow, what is that” type compliments as it does stand out on the wrist more so than in the case. Thanks for taking a look at a modern, but deserving watch. And, hey, you can’t claim that it’s impossible to find like so many pieces we discuss here. Happy hunting!
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