- Solid yellow gold case and bracelet
- Caliber 8801 METAS-certified Co-axial auto-winding movement with date
- Precision: -2/+2 secs/day from factory
- Year of release: 2020
- Reference: 126.96.36.199.02.002
Hanging Tough with the Big Three
Amidst the integrated-bracelet-watch renaissance of the 2020s, the 39mm solid yellow gold Omega Constellation contends with heavy-hitting legends from The Big Three (a.k.a. The Holy Trinity): Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak 39mm “Jumbo” Extra Thin ($70,500 in solid gold), Patek Philippe’s Nautilus ($59,000 in solid gold), and Vacheron Constantin’s 222 ($69,000, gold only released in 2022). I’ve had the privilege of wearing all three of these watches, and after a couple weeks enjoying the Constellation I’ve come to consider it in the same league.
But not everyone agrees.
Noting the Constellation’s $29,800 price and little else, my fellow journalists have consistently ranked the Omega in a lower category. I find this a perplexingly shallow critical approach. I can’t find much other than a literal use of relative pricing as a ranking system. Let’s be sure to avoid that here.
Perhaps the Patek Nautilus stands out with its rather odd case shape. And, indeed, the Royal Oak Ultra-Thin and Vacheron 222 are comparatively very thin watches. But nothing about the Constellation felt lesser-than to me. The finishing, the style, the overall refinement, bracelet construction, dial silvering, hands and markers – all these elements are beautifully executed. And they come together to form a watch in the same league as the Big Three’s legends costing twice as much.
I believe the following images I made spell this out better than I can with the keyboard.
A More Legitimate Comparison
If there’s anything that could be said to set the Omega into a lower category than its counterparts from Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet, it would have to be the movement.
And yet, even writing this sounds absurd, because the Omega Caliber 8801 is a technical leader across the industry. It achieves METAS-approved Master Chronometer precision, resists up to 15,000 gauss of electro-magnetism via staff and pivots in NivaGauss, spins at a faster-than-usual 3.5 Hz (25,200 vph) on 35 jewels, runs a George Daniels’-derived Co-axial escapement with a free-sprung balance wheel strapped to an Si14 silicon balance spring while providing 55 hours of power from a low-friction DLC-coated barrel, employs a Nivaschoc anti-shock system in amorphous non-metallic materials, and on and on. As my father used to say: Put that in your pipe and smoke it!
The legitimate issue that some people might take with Omegas Caliber 8801 in comparison to the movements found in the Big Three’s integrated bracelet watches – Caliber 7121 from Audemars Piguet, Caliber 324-SC from Patek Philippe, Caliber 2455 from Vacheron Constantin – is that the Omega 8801 can be said to be “mass produced.” I put that in quotes, because the Caliber 8801 most certainly does not deserve the dismissive connotations. And yet there’s no denying that the sheer quantity of Caliber 8800 (all steel) and 8801 (Sedna gold components) Omega delivers each year across many models means that some components are not hand finished to the level one finds inside the movements from The Big Three.
But here-in lies the sly stratagem of the Omega Constellation 39mm: you’re saving about $30,000 to give up a bit of thinness and a level of movement finishing that you’ll likely not be able to perceive (even with a loupe magnifier) unless you were to disassemble the movement, in which case you still might not notice anything. Sure, the hand beveled edges of the bridges within the Vacheron Constantin Caliber 2455 are remarkably shiny and smooth, but you have to be the kind of person for whom knowledge of such finishing impacts your subjective experience of wearing the watch for that to matter, because most of that is hidden behind the bridges and winding rotor anyways. And regarding what you can see through the caseback window, 99% of the time that’s going to be pressed against your arm or a watch-box pillow.
The Stealthy Authenticity of The Omega Constellation Integrated
I’ll go further and submit that history reveals the Omega Constellation as more true to the spirit of the 1970s luxury sports watch with integrated bracelet because of the Caliber 8801. Hear me out.
The original Audemars Piguet Royal Oak of 1972, the Patek Philippe Nautilus of 1976, and the Vacheron Constantin 222 of 1977 all used the Jaeger-LeCultre Caliber 920 as the base for the movements in their integrated bracelet watches (Audemars Piguet Caliber 2121, Patek Philippe Caliber 28-255, and the Vacheron 1120). A far cry from boasting of elite in-house movements, these sporty watches were about style, vibe, and reliable performance. This better describes the 2020 Omega Constellation than what The Big Three are up to in the 21st century. As such, the Constellation possesses a stealthy authenticity and elicits a compelling nostalgia.
Further, the Constellation with an integrated bracelet first appeared in 1969. That’s a solid three years before Audemars Piguet dropped the Royal Oak, and to my eye the Omega Reference BA 368.0847 of 1969 perfectly captures the funky disco spirit of the 1970s. In 1982 Omega released the Constellation Manhattan, a round-headed version with roman numerals and integrated bracelet which lends its form to the 2020 version we’re considering here. And all of those Omega models housed Quartz movements until 1984, because Quartz movements were the ultra-precise, reliable and unfussy movements of the 1970s.
All of this is to say that Audemars Piguet has most certainly coasted into the 21st century with the integrated-bracelet trophy held high for all to see, but Omega’s Constellation was there first and, today, is arguably more in the spirit of the original era because of its ultra-reliable and incredibly precise Caliber 8801 movement. It’s sure felt that way to me after wearing it for a week.
The Experience of Wearing It
Not that I’d discourage or find it at all odd for women to rock this watch, but as a man this Constellation made me feel more masculine than my biggest and most rugged tool watches do. This is because those tool watches satisfy the adventurous boy inside, while the Constellation satisfied the (however ironic) grown-ass man inside me. I really can’t come up with a better way to put it, so there it is.
The reason for this mature and masculine feeling comes down to three things for me: the weight, the colorway, and the roman numerals.
It’s a heavy watch, plain and simple, but that’s precisely what one wants to feel when one straps on a solid gold watch with an integrated bracelet. I happen to love how that feels, as if Mother Earth herself is trying to slip it off my wrist and reclaim her precious metals.
The colorway here is very special. Yellow gold with opaline silvered dials is the look of modern Patek Calatravas, Lange Saxonias, and, of course, more than a few Cartiers. It’s warm and lustrous. Sophisticated, and decidedly timeless. Easy to wear. Gorgeous. If you’re drawn to this colorway, I can say with confidence that the Constellation wears it well.
Thirdly, those roman numerals. I can’t think of a more obvious aesthetic nod to cosmopolitan sophistication. The use of Roman Numerals in the modern era derives from a revival of them by European Neo-Classicists during the Enlightenment as these elites rediscovered the texts of the Ancient Greeks through Roman translations. It’s why Washington DC is designed to look like Ancient Rome and Greece, for example. So there’s a deep and legitimate connection between Roman numerals and the cosmopolitan elites of the past few centuries. I could feel that connection when wearing the Constellation.
As a member of Generation X, however, Roman numerals come bundled with a set of ironic postmodern overtones that can inspire my generation’s pervasive and self-conscious tendency to downplay anything smacking of sincere elitism. I believe this is why a friend on Instagram called forth Cadillacs in reference to this watch, because during the 1970s and 80s (i.e. before grunge) Cadillacs and Roman numerals were aesthetic touchstones during the final years of a sincere, classically-oriented, elite masculinity (Ricardo Montalbán comes to mind). This isn’t to say that no men experience this aesthetic sincerely today, but many of us will find it impossible to embrace it without conjuring an ironic nostalgia for our fathers’ fashion sensibilities. In fact, I’m convinced this is why this genre of watch is so popular right now.
Perhaps this is just a long-winded academic way of saying that I felt like a grown-up wearing this watch. So, I’ll spare you further analysis, which is about to veer into quoting French deconstructionists of the 1970s – who, by the way and ironically, rocked this aesthetic with sincerity and aplomb.
In the end, I was completely smitten with this Constellation for all the reasons I’ve listed above. And I say this as a Vacheron Constantin collector who – just for a moment – considered making a mad dash out the boutique door with a 222 on my wrist. Kidding aside, I’ve often struggled to identify with Omega’s ubiquitous Speedmaster, and it was eye-opening to discover a watch from Omega that resonated with a whole different kind of nostalgia and authenticity. I didn’t see that coming, and my time with the Constellation has been surprisingly revelatory.