Omega Railmaster

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 Railmaster

The modern Omega Railmaster was part of the brand’s “rebirth”

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.

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.

Omega Railmaster

1960 Omega Railmaster (Image courtesy of matthewbaininc.com)

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.

Omega Railmaster

A dizzying array of Omega Railmaster offerings came in 2003

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.

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Omega Railmaster

Balance and restraint define the Omega Railmaster

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.

Omega Railmaster

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?

Omega Railmaster

The Omega Railmaster – the perfect watch bought by no one

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.

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Omega 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.

Omega Railmaster

The Omega Railmaster is already a cult classic

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.

Omega Railmaster

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.

Omega Railmaster

Concerns about the Omega Railmaster cal.2500 Co-axial?

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.

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Omega Railmaster

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.

Omega Railmaster

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!

Michael Stockton

Michael Stockton

Contributor at Fratello Watches
Michael has worked in the Automotive Industry and is currently in the Electronics Industry. When he's not cruising at 30,000 feet, he calls Germany home. Michael became interested in watches at a young age through the influence of his father. His interests lie in a wide array of watches, but he has a real passion for vintage chronographs.
Michael Stockton
  • Henrik Sernander

    What I really like about this Omega RM is that it isn’t too thick.
    Is it perhaps lack of the date disc that makes it possible to build an elegant, slightly thinner watch like this? I think Omega’s watches in general (and especially in Seamaster series) – for different reasons – are too thick.

    • Thanks for your comment! I agree that this is a relatively thin watch and that is part of the charm. I am not sure if the date wheel would add much – as this is really a tried and true ETA at heart and is rather thin. I suppose that is a criticism of Omega’s co-ax true in-house movements – a lot of thickness there. Room for improvement!

  • Nice article, and thanks for the link to my RM review! When I used to sell Omega watches at a boutique, I tried on the 39.2mm model and it just seemed too large on my 6.5 inch wrist. When the 36.2mm model was released a few years later, as soon as I tried this one on, I knew it was the right fit for me. Even though the 39.2 mil model was closer in size to the 38mm originals from the 1950s & ’60s. I never did end up buying it when it was new, but I was lucky enough to get a call from one of my customers who was looking to sell his 36 mil model and he graciously gave me first dibs on it.
    I’ve never looked back. It’s one of my favourite watches in my collection. And if the rumours are true and Omega brings out an in-house calibre Raily next year to mark sixty years since the first releases, I have a strong feeling that they’ll jazz it up to the point where it loses the magic and sparse clarity of the previous models.
    They’ll probably sell like crazy, but I think they’ll be Railmasters in name only.

    • workahol

      Amen to that. The 39mm is a nice watch, but too big for my tastes and 6.75″ wrist. But 36mm is great, as I discovered after a year-long search that was kicked off by teeritz’s post!

    • Henrik Sernander

      I would love if Omega did it!
      I.e. to relaunch a 15 000 gauss Railmaster. And on the top that, 2017 would mark the model’s 60th birthday.
      Maybe this time with antique luminova – like in the Seamaster 300.
      I think the numerals should also be of super luminova in RM, since it is undoubtedly a central part of the watch model’s uniqueness.
      What a great story it would be also…
      Switzerland is world renowed for its accurate trains. Antimagnetism was first and foremost invented for wristwatches because of the electric-train network in the 50’ies.

      • Hmm, I don’t know. I can’t help but think that they will jazz it up too much, with steel numerals, 40mm case and sandwich dial, so that it no longer bears much resemblance to the watch that it’s based on.
        Cynical, ain’t I?

  • slightlydetuned

    According to Omega, there was a 41 mm, not a 42 mm model, see https://goo.gl/bhYZlF

    The 39,2 mm model is as great as the other sizes available at that time. But the 36 and 41 mm versions are more difficult to find in the meantime, because to my knowledge they hadn’t the quantities of the 39,2 mm model at their time of production.

    • This might be a case of Omega rewriting history, because all of the Master Catalogues that I have from the years of production list the size as 42.2mm.
      From memory, the 42mm model was a hard one to sell because it had a lot of dial (due to the thin bezel) and it really stood out on the wrist. For reasons that are hard to fathom, the 49mm sold better than the 42mm one. I think it might have been because the size of it appealed to guys who wanted to make a bold statement. Whenever I would try it on, I’d start laughing. Should have seen me when I tried on a customer’s Panerai Egiziano. I was in stitches! Laughed until my face muscles ached. That watch was 60mm in diameter. On my 6.5 inch wrist.

  • arsenal55

    Another great article, and of course I immediately went to a variety of online sites to check prices and availability. The 39, which would be my ideal, is, as written, very difficult to find. If only I was aware of this watch when it was in production!