About Omega Constellation Vintage Calibres

Omega Men’s Constellations of the 1950s to the mid-1970s are one of the most collectible branches of the Omega family. ‘Connies’, as Omega enthusiasts call them affectionately, are beloved offspring of the golden era of watchmaking, an era that reached its high point in the late 1960s. Embodying a combination of style, precision and quality, Omega Constellations, particularly ‘Pie Pans’, have attracted renewed interest as the mechanical watch continues its strong comeback.

It wasn't all that long ago that the mechanical wristwatch looked as though it was going to go the way of the typewriter. In the late 1960s, Swiss and Japanese watch houses invented movements that used the vibrations of a quartz crystal to keep time. Within a few years, cheap mass-produced quartz watches flooded the market and the venerable Swiss watchmaking industry was brought to its knees.

Strange as it may seem, talk of the demise of the mechanical watch created the impetus for its survival. The prospect of the mechanical watch era coming to an end stirred an interest in collecting them. By the middle of the 1980s, the vintage watch market was buoyant, and, apart from a few slumps caused by prevailing economic conditions, the demand for vintage watches has continued to grow.

There are two forces driving the mechanical watch comeback. Wealthy males, businessmen and other acquisitive types looking for status symbols beyond those of boats, cars and Italian suits, are active in the high and middle ends end of the market, buying both new and vintage mechanical watches. The other group is made up largely of men who love engines – horological ‘petrol-heads’ – and they are active in all segments of the market. These collectors are more interested in the movements of watches, the aesthetics of case design such as flawless finish and smooth amalgamation of lines, and the boyish thrill of watching beautifully finished wheels, gears and cogs purring and oscillating. As collector Mathew Watson puts it,

“It is like an living organism with a heart that beats like ours and where wheels spin around each other and work together to form a machine that enables us to keep time. And then you see the beauty of the tiny, machined parts, the wheels set in ruby and gold and the craftmanship that created it all”.

What lad could resist that?














Omega Constellation timepieces, notably Pie Pans, attract devotees from both groups of collectors. It is the engineering, beauty, functionality and great pedigree of these watches that makes them so alluring to investors, the status conscious and horological petrol-heads alike. Another attraction of Constellations is that they were manufactured at a time when mechanical watchmaking technology had reached a high point, and so they can be worn and not coddled. The introduction of white alloy hairsprings dramatically improved their timekeeping capacity and the invention of jewelled shock absorbing systems meant they could withstand the bumps and grinds of daily life.

In the 1950s and '60s, Omega enjoyed a status equivalent to Rolex, achieved through the production of innovative, high quality and relatively affordable timepieces. The Constellation was one of the finest and most accurate watches available at the time and catered to different budgets and tastes with a choice of stainless steel to solid gold cases and simple to lavishly styled dials.

From the outset, Omega concentrated on making the external appearance of the Constellation distinctive. The first dial was strikingly luxurious, featuring gold hour markers with sloping planes complimented by a convex twelve-sided dial, reminiscent of a pie pan.

The early 1950s automatic Constellations usually featured a calibre 354 hammer self-winding design (Known colloquially as a Bumper Movement).  These movements were not new to market and had more than a decade of development before they were earmarked for the Constellation range. A dream of any Constellation collector is to own the Grand Luxe Constellation which has hooded lugs and, occasionally, a solid gold ‘brickwork link’ bracelet. Constellations watches were powered initially by a the calibre 352 Rg movement, which was the deluxe execution of the chronometer-graded movement.

The Bumper movement was replaced in 1956 with a calibre 501 movement that featured a central rotor self-winder. It was superseded quickly by a calibre 505 movement, and in 1959 was replaced by the famous Calibres 551 and 561 (with date). In 1966, Calibre 564 with quick date change replaced Calibre 561.

The Omega Constellation 551 Certified Chronometer was one of the finest watches of the 1960's and this makes it particularly collectible. It had a power reserve of 50 hours and was similar to Calibre 550. It was a 24 jewel watch with a four arm ‘gluycdur’ (beryllium) balance, allowing the spring to maintain its strength, shape and anti-magnetic quality. Fine timekeeping was achieved through the micro-regulator.

The 500 series was designed by Marc Colombe under the direction Henri Gerber. The series has proven over time to be the most precise and indeed the most celebrated movement series in the history of the Omega company. The success of the series 500 owes much to its tremendous reliability and a number of ingenious improvements, amongst which are the self-winding mechanism and the mobile balance spring stud holder: the latter an improvement invented by Jacques Ziegler.



















The main differences between this Omega and the famous Rolex Calibre 1570 are in the balance wheel and hairspring. The Rolex has a white alloy hairspring with a Breguet overcoil, whereas Omega used a flat hairspring made from Beryllium that allowed for adjustments by a micrometer screw "swan-neck" regulator.
Omega in the 1960s was in the vanguard of technological development in the watch industry and made vast improvements to the standard of quality as it applied to large-scale watch manufacturing. The 500 series benefited from this eruption of ingenuity, which included high tech manufacturing technology such as a 1962 Pierre-Luc Gagnebin invention called the Omegatronic, a revolutionary system for measuring the torque of balance-springs.

By 1969 Omega was producing more than 194,500 Constellations a year. The Constellation was chiefly responsible for expanding the commercial reputation of the company and allowing it to further its aims in the prestige market sector.

Constellation Calibres:

If you are about to begin collecting these beautiful timepieces you would be well advised to learn as much as possible about the calibres of movement used for Omega officially certified Constellation chronometers.

Because of the popularity of Omega Constellations, particularly the Pie Pans, numerous ‘Frankenwatches’ have appeared. The widespread use of Pie Pan dials with non-certified movements, often from the Seamaster and Geneve lines, or watches that have been made up of parts from other Omega non-certified movements, demands strong buyer awareness.

Fortunately, the calibres of Constellations from the first Bumper movement to the nineteen seventies are few, and this is good news to collectors of the pie pan dial Constellations particularly. If you stick to the following descriptions of the 300, 500, 700 and 1000 series calibres, you can be reasonably assured that you won’t be acquiring a ‘monster’ created by some fiend or swindler in his workshop.



Calibres for the bumper movements were 352 Rg, 354 Calibres 352 and 354 were based on a design by Charles Perregaux under the direction of Henri Gerber and known in-house as the 28.10 mm which was a slightly smaller movement than the famous 30.10mm, but essentially both movements shared the same fundamentals. The bumper used an oscillating weight that wound in one direction. Over 1.3 million of these movements were produced between 1943 and 1955. They are a classic: well designed, made robust to handle the strong vibrations caused by the hammer action and still going strong on the wrists of owners of early automatics, Seamasters and Constellations. Over half a million of these movements were certified chronometers.

The 500 series self-winding movements, 501, 504 with date and 505, replaced the bumper movements. In 1959, new Constellations were powered by certified Calibres 551 and 561 with date. In 1966 Calibre 564 was introduced with the quick date feature.

The success of the series 500 owes much to its tremendous reliability and a number of ingenious improvements, amongst which are the self-winding mechanism and the mobile balance spring stud holder: the latter an improvement invented by Jacques Ziegler.

The rarer Calibre 700 series Superflat movements came in both solid white and yellow gold, some had a solid gold balance of which only 12,500 pieces were made. Calibre 711 came in solid gold and stainless steel cases, while the superflat 712 without second hand was available in solid yellow and white gold and stainless steel.

The movements powering Omega Constellations up until the end of run for the 500 series (including the 750s) were all produced in-house as were the 1000 series designed in 1968 by Kurt Vogt under the direction of Alfred Rihs.

The 1000 series was one of the best-selling of all Omega self-winding calibres. More than 1.5 million were used not only as certified chronometers in Constellations, but also as uncertified movements in Seamasters, Geneve’s and Speedmasters before Omega outsourced its manufacture of mechanical watch movements in the later 1970s.

The early 1000 series movements are not held in as much esteem by collectors. The newly designed winding mechanism and the self-lubrication system created problems with reliability. Calibres 1000, 1001 and 1002 are best avoided, except by those who can repair and maintain them. However, Omega soon fixed the problem by eliminating the self-lubrication system and instantaneous date setting device as well as making improvements to the winding mechanism.

Calibres 1011 (1972-74) with cases in solid gold, gold bezel and stainless steel, 1012 (1977) gold plated version, 1020 (1978) in both solid gold and gold bezel, 1021 (1972) in both solid gold and stainless steel are well worth collecting. These calibres were some of the very last in-house movements made by Omega, and because of their higher frequency (28,800 a/h) they allowed better regulating performance, certainly holding their own against the onslaught of Quartz movements that occurred in the 1970s.

(C) Desmond Guilfoyle 2006

20 comments:

  1. Dances With Art3:01 pm

    Wonderful information. THANK YOU.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous2:29 pm

    Hi

    I have a Solid Gold (18 carat) Solid Gold WIth a rickwork link Bracelet and a sprungexpamndable clsp, the watch is in full working condition with the only fault being the first few blocks either side of the watch are fused together (done by an errent Jeweler) We still also have the small booklet as my Father bought this while e was merchan seaman. the watch was used as his only watch so th constallationon the back is quite worn, have you any idea of thevalue or where it can be valued at.
    MY email is chris_joyson@hotmail.cuk

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous9:56 pm

    I have a:


    Omega Constellation
    Serienummer watch: 12363455
    Serienummer box: 2652-1
    Cal: 354
    Jewels: 17
    Year: 1950-1951
    Price???

    kevlar_iia@hotmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  4. Kevlar, I'm not sure what you mean when you refer to price???

    The value of a watch is determined by a number of variables, such as metal (gold, stainless steel or gold cap), the state of the dial and if it is original and not refinished, the condition of the movement and the overlook sharpness of the case.

    The best way to gain some idea about values is to check the completed listings on eBay for a watch identical to yours.

    Cheers

    desmond

    ReplyDelete
  5. About Omega Constellation Vintage Calibres"


    I have a Solid Gold (18 carat) Solid Gold WIth a rickwork link Bracelet and a sprungexpamndable clsp, the watch is in full working condition with the only fault being the first few blocks either side of the watch are fused together (done by an errent Jeweler) We still also have the small booklet as my Father bought this while e was merchan seaman. the watch was used as his only watch so the contellation

    where to price the watch

    my email: chichi.wat@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  6. One of the best places to ascertain the 'global Internet value' of a watch is the check the completed listings on EBay.

    Some online retailers have listed these models at outrageous prices, but I notice they don't sell.

    Also, weigh the watch head and bracelet together and take off about 16 grams for movement weight, and then calculate the troy ounces of pure gold. Just google for a formula.

    Cheers

    Desmond

    ReplyDelete
  7. I have an early fifties stainless steel with originall SS band serial no 11793314 any idea of its value.
    Antony Scott

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very hard to value a watch without seeing it because there are so many variables: condition, calibre, metal, model, collectibility etc.

      Cheers

      Desmond

      Delete
  8. Anonymous12:58 am

    I am selling a classic 1970's Gents 18 carat yellow gold Omega Constellation Automatic Day/date swiss jewelled lever wristwatch , black leather strap and a gold plated Omega buckle, champagne dial with batons it does has inscription on the back as was my Grandfathers

    I have no idea of the best way to sell this watch ?

    Your help is greatly appreciated

    Thanks

    James

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi James,

      The first thing I would do is take a look at eBay completed listings for the exact same watch. That will give you an idea of its global internet value.

      A risky place to sell a watch without knowing what it's global internet value is a vintage watch dealership, as you are completely at the mercy of the dealer.

      ONce you have an idea of the value you can then photograph the watch - inside and out - and list it on the sales forums of sites like OmegaForum, PurisPro, Watchuseek and Timezone.

      If you send me some pics of the watch - just click through the about me link above - I'll let you know roughly what you could expect for the piece.

      Cheers

      Desmond

      Delete
  9. Anonymous3:10 am

    I own a constellation gold omega as pictured in you website above.
    The back has the observatory with stars in a circle.
    Would like to know selling value, was bought in the late 50's

    ReplyDelete
  10. The watch above was produced from 1964 onwards, so yours may not be this model. Values of watches vary according to calibre of movement, model, dial, and most importantly, condition.

    One of the better ways in which to determine value id to look at the completed listing on eBay for the exact same model as yours and in similar condition. While live listings often show Constellations with 'ambitious' Buy it NOw price tags, completed listing show what pieces are actually worth at auction.

    Hope that helps.

    Cheers

    Desmond

    ReplyDelete
  11. Anonymous5:41 pm

    About 20 years ago I found a omega constellation,it had been trodden into the ground and its glass was missing,the other day whilst tidying up i came across it, looking more closely i found that the seconds hand was catching the hour finger, once this had been freed it started working and has been running for the last few days keeping very good time, it is made of stainless steel and is calibre 564. Obviously the face and case are scratched and the back was loose when found but looks clean inside, would it be worth the expense to have it restored. the number inside is 168010 sf

    ReplyDelete
  12. Yes, I think so, as the cost to you was nil. A service, new crystal, crown and case back gasket would be the order of the day. Additional expense would include having the dial refinished.

    I would not run the watch until it is serviced as running could create parts wear.

    Regards

    Desmond

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hi Desmond, Is the SS pie pan with arrowhead markers on a crosshair dial true to caliber 501? It also has bracelets ending number 570. Unable to locate your email as I'd send over some photos. Thanks and really appreciate your site.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, those features are very much legit on a cal 501 Constellation. Bracelets were sold at point of sale rather than being part of the watch model, so, within reason, any bracelet is fine. Beads of Rice bracelets were designed and released a couple of years after the introduction of the cal 501, so strictly speaking would not be 'correct', but if you like it, why not?

      Cheers

      Desmond

      Delete
  14. It is possible to have an Omega Constellation cal. 551 where the dial doesnt show "cronometer" or "constellation", just Omega but the back has the solid gold constellation mark and its written "Constellation"?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sounds a bit fishy to me. All genuine Constellations will have the Constellation name printed on the dial. It is the practice of OMega to mark gold content on the inside of the case back and so I think you should be very careful in assessing this watch.

      Frankly I would walk away from it.

      Regards

      Desmond

      Delete
  15. Has anyone got an Omega 168.046 case for the unfairly criticised 1001 movement ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good luck in your search.

      I don't know about unfairly criticised, however the 1001 did have significant issues that Omega itself acknowledged.

      My view is that unless the official Omega fixes have been applied to the calibre then it's value as a collectible is limited.

      Cheers

      Desmond

      Delete