Man’s boundary-pushing quest to explore the sea is a fascinating and well documented one. While the earliest days of deepsea diving for survival purposes may have been quite spartan in nature, it would quickly become one of the most technically demanding activities, with a more inquisitive motive. For both commercial, military, and exploration purposes, diving really took off in the 30’s, and would continue on strongly through the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. As you surely know, one of the key tools of the golden days of diving was a mechanical dive watch, and today we’re here to talk about an outstanding specimen, the Omega Seamaster Ploprof. This family of dive watches was born with purely utilitarian intentions, resulting in its now legendary status among dive watch aficionados. Without delay, let’s go Under The Loupe, and take a closer look at the Omega Seamaster 600m PloProf.
As previously mentioned, a large part of the dives taken during the 60’s and 70’s were for commercial purposes, within the shipping and oil industries. One of the biggest names in commercial diving is Comex, and when a dive watch capable of more difficult feats was needed, the French company turned to Omega and oceanographer extraordinaire, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, for assistance. Over a period of four years, the watch was developed and tested by Omega and Cousteau, and would eventually come to the market in 1970. By the time of its release, it was affectionately nicknamed the “Ploprof” (PLOngeur PROFessionel) by the French development team.
Seeing as the watch was developed with pragmatism in mind, it was by no means a conventional looking piece. The asymmetrical monocoque case was milled out of a single block of stainless steel for increased water resistant qualities, and featured a locking bolt to secure the crown. For the additional prevention of underwater mishap, a locking luminous bezel was fitted, that could only be adjusted once a red pusher had been put to use. This further ensured that perceived dive times weren’t altered, resulting in an unfortunate deficiency of oxygen. While it can be argued that this was truly a more practical bezel design, uni-directional bezels stood the test of time better for their more compact and low-maintenance tendencies.
Furthermore on the note of design choices, Omega produced the PloProf with a medium blue dial, orange minute hand, and a stark white hour hand. Now, we can’t deny the perfect harmony produced by these colors, but the real reason behind these decisions was again, practicality. On the spectrum of visible light, certain colors possess higher and lower levels of energy, making some indistinguishable below certain depths. Since blue is a relatively low energy color, it was used on the dial for increased legibility at extreme depths. While orange, as seen in the minute hand, is a high energy color that has been proven to disappear quite quickly at certain depths, the size and “Plongeur” shape of the hand was enough to help discern between it and the hour hand.
One thing that’s worth noting about this watch, is the fact that it was largely unsuccessful in the grand scheme of things, and this is due to one main reason. The main challenge faced when designing a dive watch is obviously just how watertight the watch is. Omega’s solution was somewhat rudimentary, in that they simply made the case harder to infiltrate through sealing techniques. While they did get the job done, you could say that the easy road was taken. Comex ended their contract with Omega upon completion of the design, as Doxa and Rolex had began to develop the helium escape valve. The new technology would certainly help decrease case sizes, while still maintaining similarly impressive depth capabilities. So, with no more contract, and a pricey, overly capable dive watch, the PloProf didn’t do so well on the consumer market, as even the average hobbyist diver couldn’t justify it over other dive watches. The watch would then go on to be discontinued after a 9-year run, in which it’s believed that development costs weren’t even recovered.
While the average consumer back in the day didn’t see value in such a watch, we now live in a world where overkill is greatly accepted, especially within the consumer dive watch community! Omega took note of both this, and the cult following possessed by the PloProf, so they decided to relaunch the legendary diver in 2009 with an updated water resistance rating of 1200 meters. The watch received an update again at this past Baselworld, and we’re quite excited about the updates. At the end of the day, successful or not, you really can’t deny the technical significance and overall badass nature of the watch. It’s simply a big, bold diver, with some technical chops to boot, that I’m positive will be survived in the future by divers, watch collectors, and Omega enthusiasts alike.