This week Omega, the most prolific sponsor of the Olympics, just announced two new models for the Tokyo games this year. Unsurprisingly, Omega opted to customize their super popular Aqua Terra line of watches, which are among the most versatile in the world. With these new models, however, Omega has chosen to create something very distinctive rather than mainstream.
That’s due not merely to the yellow gold cases, hour markers and hands, which are shared between these two models, but rather its wild checkerboard dial. This is derived from the official Tokyo Olympics logo, although you’d be forgiven for thinking that it emerged from one of Salvador Dalí’s works. Apparently, the Tokyo Olympics logo’s pattern is based on “ichimatsu moyo,” a traditional Japanese form of checkerboard design from the Edo period, but Omega’s interpretation of it is far more avant garde. It’s certainly a deviation from ichimatsu moyo, but, at least to my eye, it most closely resembles the podiums that will be used in the Tokyo Olympics.
Whatever you think of the design, it is certainly bold. That’s no surprise for Omega, however, as you’ll find a long line of distinctive Olympics special editions in the past, often relying on bright, high-contrast coloring. While the rainbow-theming of many Olympic Omegas is not present here, there is a very clear distinction between the blue geometric backdrop and the yellow gold hands/markers. On a strictly functional level, this is a surprisingly legible watch.
The new watches come in two sizes, 41mm and 38mm (seen above). These are easily distinguished by more aggressive, tooth-like hour markers of the 41mm model (in addition to a trapezoidal date window), compared to the gentler boat-hull shaped markers on the 38mm model (in addition to the round date window). Omega continues its policy against applied date frames with both models, but this is less noticeable on the 38mm since it still has a 6:00 hour marker below it. Whether or not that’s a good thing is strictly a matter of opinion, but I would prefer to see the old date frames come back (which is one of the reasons I’ve kept my old Aqua Terra 8500 all of these years).
The differences, both between the Olympic models and most other Aqua Terras, and between each other, continue on the back. Because both watches feature solid gold cases, they get the aesthetically upgraded versions of their respective movements. The 41mm watch gets the larger, dual-mainspring 8901 with a 60-hour power reserve while the smaller model gets the 8801, which, owing to its single mainspring configuration, has a slightly shorter power reserve of 55 hours. Another minor difference is that the 8901 has an independent hour hand (making it convenient to set for new time zones or DST) while the 8801 has a more conventional setting mechanism. Both remain extremely anti-magnetic Master Chronometers, however, so buyers should feel free to ignore the differences in movements; they are sufficiently similar as to be a non-factor.
What might be more valuable is that these movements, as signified by the “1” at the end of their model number, get aesthetic upgrades. Specifically, both the rotor and balance bridge have been replaced with gold components, making for a very visually interesting movement. Omega’s movements remain among the most attractive at their price point, in addition to performing exceptionally well.
While I can’t say for certain without trying one on, I’m betting that the dial will become much more subdued from ordinary viewing distances on the wrist, so it may be a bit more versatile than it at first appears. Although these are really designed for devotees of the Olympic Games, if you wanted a much bolder, more dynamic Aqua Terra, these could still make sense. Because they’re yellow gold, however, the price is quite a bit higher than their steel counterparts. The larger model is priced at $18,500, while the smaller is slightly less at $17,800, no doubt due to the gold case. Still, Omega is charging virtually nothing extra for these Olympic models compared to their regular production versions. For instance, a directly comparable rose gold 41mm model with blue dial is just $50 less than this Olympic model.