OMEGA Railmaster

This OMEGA Railmaster watch was presented at the World Watch Show in Basel 2003, Providing an even stronger link with the original Railmaster model of the Fifties, which provided the inspiration for the Aqua Terra collection, it was only fitting that it should take the Railmaster name. A new version of OMEGA’s revolutionary Co-Axial movement links this historical model firmly with the present.

The original OMEGA Railmaster was first launched in 1957 – the same year as the now legendary Speedmaster model – as the successor to a watch created for the British Royal Air Force in 1953.

Designed specially for scientists, technicians, electricians and railway workers, or anyone else working in or around powerful electric currents, it had a special double antimagnetic case to protect the watch movement from the harmful effects of these electrical fields. The outside case was made of Staybrite stainless steel, with a polished bevelled bezel, polished solid enveloping lugs, reinforced crystal and a screw-in back with O-ring gasket to ensure water resistance.

The inside case consisted of a protective cap, a casing ring and a 1mm thick dial (as opposed to the 0.4mm for a standard dial) made of soft iron, which formed a screen against magnetic fields of over 900 Oersted in any position, as opposed to 60 Oersted for a conventional antimagnetic watch.

The contemporary Railmaster retains the exterior look of the original, with a matt black dial bearing four luminous Arabic numerals at the quarter hours together with luminous triangular hour markers and central Railmaster inscription. The facetted Dauphine-style hands (with arrowhead minute hand) also have luminous inserts, ensuring excellent legibility in all light conditions. A more up-to-date domed, anti-reflective, scratch-resistant sapphire crystal kept in place by the Aqua Terra’s simple polished stainless steel bezel rounds off the pure lines of the watch.

The interior of the new Railmaster is a different story, however. The original calibre 30SC T4 created in 1955 (a derivative of OMEGA’s world-renowned 30mm calibre) is replaced by a new version of OMEGA’s revolutionary Co-Axial Escapement movement. The latest incarnation of this movement, OMEGA calibre 2403, displays the hour, minute and central seconds on a sober yet tidy dial.

The Co-Axial movement is self-winding and chronometer certified by the COSC (Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute). It has a power reserve of 44 hours and an intricate finish of Geneva wave décor and circular graining with gold-plated engravings. The innovative technology of the OMEGA Co-Axial Escapement reduces friction in the watch’s drive train and thus offers better long-term accuracy.

The Railmaster models are available only with the new Co-Axial movement and hence only in the 41mm and 38mm case diameters. A choice of steel bracelet with safety clasp and brown or black leather straps with foldover clasp provides for a total of six models in this collection. Like all Aqua Terra models, they are fitted with a screw-in crown and case back that ensure water resistance to 150 metres, the latter fitted with a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal that guarantees a view of the watch’s unique movement that will always be perfect.

The Railmaster is the perfect watch for those wishing to invest not just in a prestige timepiece but a piece of history as well. Its 1950s design remains classic today and its distinctive dial is sure to help it stand out from the crowd day and night.

References
Ref. 2502.52.00/2503.52.00: Steel on steel with black dial
Ref. 2802.52.31/2803.52.31: Steel on black leather with black dial
Ref 2802.52.37/2803.52.37: Steel on brown leather with black dial

OMEGA & Rail Time
Towards the end of the 19th century, railway companies were adopting a standard time, or “railway time” based around their country’s mean solar time. In the case of Britain, this was Greenwich Mean Time, which was adopted by various railway companies from the 1840s and established as the world’s prime meridian (longitude 0°) in 1884. Railway time alone, however, was not enough to solve the above-mentioned problems: though the reference time had now been determined, it had to be transmitted by telegraph to railways. From that point on, the standard time depended solely on the accuracy of the individual railway worker’s timepiece.

The consequences of this were illustrated only too well in the USA by a collision between two trains on the same stretch of single-line track in Cleveland, Ohio, on 19 April 1891, which resulted in 9 fatalities. The subsequent enquiry revealed that one engine driver thought the track was free, because his watch was running 5 minutes fast. This precipitated an ad-hoc regulation which established strict standards for an official Railroad Watch, with the essential criterion being a minimum precision to within 30 seconds per week, in other words chronometer precision.

By the time railway companies decided to equip their personnel with such precision timepieces at the turn of the century, OMEGA already had nearly half a century of experience in watchmaking and was a natural choice as supplier to many of the world’s railway companies – a relationship of trust that would continue until well into the 20th century.

The following list summarises OMEGA’s relationships with railway companies and, where available, gives details of the first watches produced for the company. It does not take into account the subsequent models produced for such companies, or the numerous “non-official” railway watches produced to meet general customer demand.

  • 1895: Official Watch of the Chinese Railways: The same year the first OMEGA watches were sold in China, the national railways chose to equip its personnel with OMEGA watches for the following lines: Canton-Hangchou, Peking-Hangchou, Tientsin-Pukow, Nankin-Shanghai-Hangchou, Chekiang, Lunghai & Manchuria. Official Railway watches were also produced for the Chinese Railways in 1938, 1940, 1951 and 1955
  • 1898: Official Watch of the Electric Tramways Riga
  • 1900: Official Watch of the Serbian Railways
  • 1900: Official Watch of the Swiss Railways: The Swiss Railway’s first Official Railway watch was delivered by OMEGA in 1900. It was a silver Lépine pocket watch with 20″‘ (“‘= lines, or 2.255mm) calibre, enamel dial, recessed small seconds and “Railway” decor with winged wheel and Swiss cross.
  • 1902: Official Watch of the Ethiopian Railways: OMEGA’s official Ethiopian railway company watch was produced in 1902. It was a 19”’ calibre with enamel dial and dedication in the Amharic language with Roman numerals, Louis XV hands, hunter white metal case with locomotive on the back and an Abyssinian lion on the cover. Emperor Menelik II also wore a similar piece in gold.
  • 1902: Official Watch of the Canadian Railways: The company first supplied the Canadian Railways in 1905 with a “Ls Brandt & Frère SA – Grade CCR” branded pocket watch with a 20″‘ calibre. Representing the best quality of the time, the watch was water resistant and had a dustproof band at the pendant to protect the movement from dust and humidity. The movement itself was CCR quality, reserved at the time for 19 and 20″‘ high-precision finely finished official chronometers: it had 19 jewels including 10 with collets; rubies set into screwed gold collets, gold balance screws, jewel-set barrel, index with screw or with graduated index-snail, double steel plate, Breguet balance, pallets and spring of superior quality, barrel stop for large pieces, precision adjustment in five positions and temperatures for a rate deviation of less than one minute per week, with rate certificate on request. A new Ls Brandt branded watch and one OMEGA were produced for the Canadian Railways in 1906 and later a Brandt-OMEGA in 1910, a Ls Brandt in 1911 and a watch for the Watch Inspector in 1915.
  • 1903: Official Watch of the Belgian Railways
  • 1905: Official Watch of the Argentinean Railways (Ferrocarril General Sarmiento)
  • 1920: Official Watch of the Norwegian Railways
  • 1921: Official Watch of the Romanian Railways
  • 1925: Official Watch of the Bulgarian Railways: The first official OMEGA of the Bulgarian railways was a 19/20″‘ calibre pocket watch with a white metal Bassine case, enamel dial, recessed small seconds and a minute track with each minute clearly indicated. An official watch was also produced for the Bulgarian Railways in 1938.
  • 1925: Official Watch of the Polish Railways
  • 1926: Official Watch of the Smyrne gulf Turkish railway company
  • 1926: Official Watch of the Smyrne-Kasaba railways
  • 1926: Official Watch of the Rhodesian railways
  • 1931: Official Watch of the Italian Railways
  • 1933: Official Watch of the Izmir and Aydin railways (Turkey)
  • 1934: Official Watch of the South African railways
  • 1940: Official Watch of the Turkish Railways: The first official watch of the national Turkish railways was a chronometer calibre 43 L T1 with a steel case, prominent Arabic numerals and a case back stamped with a raised steam locomotive, the Turkish crescent and the monogram TCDD. A total of 60 such watches were produced and delivered.
  • 1945: Official Watch of the Nigerian Railways
  • 1947: Australian railways (Official Watch of the West Australian Government Railways & Official Watch of the New South Wales and Victoria Railways)
  • 1948: Official Watch of the Finnish Railways
  • 1948: Official Watch of the South Rhodesian Railways (also in 1961)
  • 1950: Official Watch of the Turkish railways (also in 1971)
  • 1963: Official Watch of the Canadian Pacific railways: OMEGA developed its automatic “Railroad Official Standard” model specially for the Canadian Pacific company. Its stainless-steel case housed the calibre 552 movement and had a white lacquer dial with easily legible Arabic numerals and minute circle.

Today: Though modern technology had gradually made official timepieces superfluous for railway workers, there was still a clear need to provide passengers with clear and accurate information, particularly with large modern stations offering a plethora of national and international connections. Thus “Passenger Information Systems” were born, as attention focussed on integrated systems to provide the passenger with as much information as possible.

Since the mid-1970s, OMEGA Electronics, a sister company of OMEGA, has been recognised worldwide as a major supplier of such systems. OMEGA’s link with the world of railway transport therefore remains intact today, with the brand name visible on timetable boards and electronic displays at many of the world’s major railway stations.

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