December 9, 2016
by David Bredan
First produced in 1970 and later relaunched in 2009, the Omega Seamaster Ploprof 1200M Co-Axial Master Chronometer – as it is today called – is one of the world’s most unique and, yes, iconic dive watches. It quite remains the Quasimodo character today, even among professional dive watches, which admittedly have a tendency of getting rather lairy-looking from time to time. But there is charm – and a lot of it – to go with the Ploprof and its, well, “developed taste” looks. This new model for 2016 – originally debuted in 2015 in different colors – is lighter, more rugged, and more refined than the Ploprof ever has been; so let’s see how it faired over an extended period of wear.
Here’s a contradiction. One would think that the luxury watch industry – with its self-imposed-luxurious price levels, exquisite movement decorations and delicate case finishing – has in every practical way detached itself from the original notion and practicality of its historical products, the very products it has taken as inspiration and elevated to those aforementioned levels of quality, refinement, and (un-)affordability.
Yet, watch lovers around the world (including the one typing this) will forever love a strong connection between modern and historical pieces, and drift towards luxury watches that imply (or, in the case of the Ploprof: scream) “Purpose Built” at them. There is this almost intangible longing for a luxury product that says it can go deeper, faster, harder while being lighter, more robust and reliable than it ever was – even if their true purpose in life is to perform desk diving missions (a most descriptive term for their true use), and, sadly, in some cases to impress yahoos… All that enjoy utmost priority to actual technicalities like smartly releasing helium atoms through levels of decompression from deep-dive military tasks.
So, what’s a 55 by 48 millimeter wide, super weird, form follow function shaped, titanium and ZrO2 ceramic encased, 1.2 kilometer water resistant, anti-magnetic watch with a price tag above $13,000 doing in 2016? What it is doing is ticking all those boxes I mentioned: it mixes luxury levels of refinement with purpose-built looks. This doesn’t mean that it’s for everyone – how could it possibly be, when it’s so over the top? But new models added every year to the Ploprof collection prove that, thankfully, there is demand for this kind of stuff.
I’m glad the Ploprof is around, because this way I get to enjoy the wearing experience only such a quirky, weird, yet under the radar (I’ll explain) watch gives. There are lots of elements to this statement, so I’ll start with “under the radar.” When I have a watch in for review and wear it around for a couple of weeks, I monitor people’s reactions (if there are any) to the watch and/or ask for their feedback about it. The Ploprof, despite its shape, large footprint and consequent, unquestionably prominent presence on the wrist, in my experience didn’t quite raise people’s attention the same way as other, similarly expensive watches do.
Sure, I (and likely you too) will appreciate its 1,200 meter water resistance, its new and genuinely amazing 8912, anti-magnetic, METAS-certified test-proven movement and light, yet robust titanium case… but to non-watch-people, it’s just another large, rather daft-looking watch that, if I told them how much it costs, they wouldn’t believe it until they got to take a closer look at it (or perhaps not even then).
But said people will never ever buy a Ploprof for themselves, and so this review is hardly for them, but rather for someone who wants to understand how the Ploprof fits into the broader segment of truly expensive luxury watches – and if it has any good reason to be around today.
I respect Omega for taking on the challenge of further refining the Ploprof, a watch they could totally get away with calling the rugged, super niche model that can live on unmodified in the vast catalogue of Omega watches. Instead, the Omega Seamaster Ploprof 1200M Co-Axial Master Chronometer features a superior movement and an updated case and bracelet, from steel to grade 5 titanium. Also known as Ti6Al4V, it is the most commonly used alloy of titanium that has a chemical composition of 6% aluminum, 4% vanadium, 0.25% iron, 0.2% oxygen, and the remainder being titanium. Titanium watches are not as rare these days as they were a few years ago, but their highly noticeable lightness and warmer touch over steel makes it easy to grasp why this modern material is deemed superior by many.
That said, polishing, brushing and sharp angles on titanium cases, no matter the manufacturer, will never reach the levels of refinement as they appear on steel, gold or platinum cases. The best comparison I could bring is looking at a nice image displayed at two different resolutions: the titanium always is the softer, low-resolution version, whereas edges and surface treatments appear in ultra-HD on most well known modern luxury watch cases in steel. The corners, edges and even larger surfaces just appear to be softer, mushier – not by much, but to a definitely noticeable extent.
This is a trade-off to be considered, but in return you get anti-allergenic and anti-corrosive properties, super light weight when compared to steel, and hence, greater wearing comfort. Weight plays an even more important role in how a watch like the Ploprof wears: having worn a few different versions, to my taste, the Ploprof in steel has gone beyond the “preferable heft” and has proven to be annoyingly heavy more than a few times. In titanium, however, the new-for-2016 Omega Seamaster Ploprof 1200M Co-Axial Master Chronometer wears light and super comfy, no matter how long the day ends up to be.
Even the mesh bracelet and clasp is crafted from a combination of grade 2 and grade 5 titanium, making it very light indeed. I personally have never been a big fan of Milanese (or mesh) bracelets – they remind me of the gloves butchers wear… and that’s it. From a more objective approach, the Ploprof’s mesh bracelet and clasp in titanium is impeccably machined and I have not experienced any hair-pulling at all.
The long clasp has two built-in extensions: first, it can be set to 17 different positions for a total of 22 millimeters of extra reach, while the second feature is a foldable diver’s extension for another 26 millimeters to allow the Ploprof to be worn over a wetsuit. Nicely made as always it may be, I did end up taking the Ploprof off the bracelet and started wearing it on leather straps – weight distribution and the subjective aesthetic properties all changed for the better.
I already talked about the case construction a bit, but the design and execution deserves a closer look – and a fair bit of praise. What at first might appear to be a giant slab of titanium actually is a wonderful design with numerous genuinely amazing treats and details that one can tell were added to the Ploprof to please the discerning watch enthusiast – and justify the high price. Having been raised in Hungary, which suffers no shortage of Soviet-era concrete monuments, I can’t help but compare the Ploprof case to massive buildings of “Russian heritage.” Weird stuff, I guess, but I tried to capture my point with images… and, you know, after so many nicely executed, but not very stirring watches, a Ploprof can play its “look at me, I’m different” game very well.
Finer details of the titanium case include a polished edge that runs all the way around, as well as the 30, highly polished notches around the side of the bezel and the same finishing around the crown. These reflective areas add a small, but noticeable touch of refinement that contrasts nicely against the brushed, almost satin-looking case sides and the sandblasted areas in between the bezel’s notches. Set into the matte orange ceramic of the bezel are luminous indices that light up and frame the dial in the dark – it truly adds a lot to the Ploprof’s look in the dark.
Two of my very favorite elements to the case are the right hand side’s four large, rectangular, checkerboard-like surfaces that meet in a sharp point in the center, as well as how complex the lug under the Helium escape valve is designed. Imminently beautiful watches may please the eye more at first glance, but often prove to be super boring in no time – a very large part of why I enjoy wearing the Ploprof so much is because of these very minute and unique parts of the case, necessitated by the, yes, 99.99999% of the time entirely unharnessed functionalities.
Speaking of which: the screw-down crown and its massive guard remain at the 9 o’clock position. As you unscrew the crown, the guard lifts away from the case with it. On the other side of the case you’ll find the orange ceramic push-piece (that used to be aluminum) at 2 o’clock: press down on this and the orange ceramic bezel can be rotated in large, solid clicks in either direction. Below the pusher you’ll find the previously mentioned, automatic Helium Release valve, that part of me wishes had its “He” letters perfectly horizontal with the case.
Almost perfect. The dial of the Omega Seamaster Ploprof 1200M itself is crafted from titanium (a rare feat) and its surface is treated with some sort of extremely finely grained, partially glittery grey that allows for some extra visual luster and excellent contrast against the white Super-LumiNova indices, their blackened frames, as well as the bold hands. The lume, unlike on the bezel, is really bright: when charged by the sun and walking under the weakest shade you can see it show its color. Speaking of color: all the indices in the dial and bezel, as well as the hour and seconds hands turn turquoise, while the minute hand and the green triangle of the bezel turn green. This, I take it, is to help read the dive time more easily.
Here’s where legibility could be improved: the
big huge orange minute hand is instantly distinguishable from other dial elements when there’s sufficient light (or no light at all). However, I found that when there’s barely enough light and the lume has not been charged by a strong light source for a while (like when walking home and the street lights are covered by trees), the orange frame of the minute hand blends into the dial, leaving you with a white inner surface that is very nearly the same size and shape as the hour hand. This may sound like nitpicking but my eyes are fine for close viewing and even like so I encountered this issue – with worse near sight, I imagine this being more of an issue.
Dial elements are of top notch quality though – what stands out the most by a mile though is the blackened and mirror finished Omega logo and text just below 12 o’clock. I cannot imagine ever getting bored with how these two elements literally light up on the dial almost every time when I flick my wrist to check the time. Mirror finishing (meaning a completely flat surface) works in a way that it either reflects a lot of light and looks very shiny, or stays matte – there’s nothing in between. A very high quality touch that goes well with the aforementioned finer details of the case.