An ad for the original Omega Ploprof stated, "It may not look pretty on the surface, but deep down it's beautiful." It is a curious statement for an official advertisement, but well sums up a lot of what the original early 1970s super diver was all about. Omega was one of the lead innovators along with Rolex in the market to supply serious professional divers (most notably the likes of Jacques Cousteau) with reliable diving watch instruments. In its heyday, the Ploprof (a contraction of "Plongeur Professional") was an extremely advanced tool based on years of development.
Omega achieved a design that not only withstood the depths, but was able to, time and time again, remain underwater for very long periods of time. It sported unique features such as a more or less one-piece case, easy to grip safety bezel, and secure crown. It was arguably the best diving instrument of its time. It was also very expensive. As a professional instrument it actually sat more or less at the top of the Omega product line and was extremely expensive even considering its professional-use market. Nevertheless, the watch was a hit with pros and consumers alike. Yet Omega needed to make excuses for its looks.
History seems to claim that the Ploprof was a hit with the men and a dog with the ladies (not a cute puppy). The design isn't exactly elegant, which has much to do with the fat orange minute hand, and the strange looking asymmetrical case. Today it looks a bit like a Star Wars spacecraft on your wrist. Nevertheless, we find it beautiful. So beautiful that the original models continue to enjoy a very healthy cult status and collector's market. In 2009, Omega released an updated version of the Ploprof under the Seamaster collection, offering fans of the design an exciting modern way of enjoying the famous diver.
Why do we find the Ploprof attractive? That is a good question, and I think it is for the same reasons we find a tank or well-designed tool attractive. The Ploprof was born in a lab, by engineers and technicians. No one sipping an espresso ever sat at a cafe and discussed how the piece would make for a nice luxury item and whether they could put diamonds on it. It was the anti-luxury high-end watch. A real tool that signaled the result of teamwork and problem solving. Something which represented innovation without concern for budget, and was designed to be a necessary element in the exploration of the deep. Tools such as this are created by smart humans to let humans do more than we could without them - and that concept is completely sexy.
The modern Omega Seamaster Ploprof 1200M holds those principles true - at least it emulates them well. No longer is a mechanical dive watch necessary or even used often by professional divers. But if you want to SCUBA dive deep with this watch then it is ready for duty anytime. Side by side with the original Ploprof watch, the modern incarnation is very similar with notable changes and upgrades. In a sense, the new Ploprof is the original Ploprof that Omega always wanted to build.
While the original Ploprof was 54mm wide by 45mm tall, the new one is 55mm wide by 48mm tall. The taller case helps frame the bezel and dial a bit better. There is a lot of steel in the case, and this is no lightweight watch. That weight goes up on the mesh metal bracelet. It does not bother me, but some will find wearing the watch to be a workout. We all need more exercise though. As strange looking as it is, the case is quite comfortable. While the new caseback details a "sea horse" engraving, it does mimic some of the texture of the original Ploprof designed to keep the watch from slipping around. The tall and flat back also makes the case relatively stable. On my medium sized wrists, the Seamaster Ploprof 1200 is remarkably comfortable and well-composed. So much so that it is almost surprising.
Case details are impressive. You can see the polished faceted edges and well integrated parts. The shape of the case quickly grows on you, but it is not without its quirks. The massive case is very solid, and has 1,200 meters of water resistance. This is twice the rated water resistance of the original which had 600 meters of water resistance. Though reports seems to indicate that both the original and new Ploprof can exceed their depth ratings. Probably not a good idea to "try that at home" (do you live underwater?). The case also includes an automatic helium release valve to ensure you can go down that deep without helium popping out the AR coated sapphire crystal.
The two most notable features of the case design are the bezel rotation system and the crown protector. Let's start with the bezel. The bezel itself is tall and sloped, and a thing of beauty. Omega fitted it with a sapphire crystal inlay - which is a major upgrade from the acrylic of the original. These so called "sapphire bezels" are highly valued by myself, but more common these days are ceramic bezels. Omega offers these as well on other Seamaster models in the form of basic ceramic or Liquidmetal bezels. Assuming you have the industrial process down, I believe that ceramic bezels are less expensive than sapphire ones. Each are durable, but the aesthetic are different. The beauty of the sapphire covered bezels are that they visually integrate with the dials more because of the dial crystal. Under the sapphire is a standard minute marker array coated with a lot of luminant. More SuperLumiNova is used on the dial. From a darkness viewing perspective this is a very bright watch - high marks for lume quality and volume.
Unlike most diver's bezels, the one on the Omega Ploprof rotates in both directions. This makes it easier to set. Only the bezel can't be moved unless the vertically aligned pusher on the top right-hand part of the case is depressed. The original models had this piece in plastic, but Omega put a metal one with an orange aluminum ring around the pusher on the 1200M models. At first, having to press down the pusher and rotate the bezel ring with one hand is rather awkward. I worried about what this would be like with diving gloves on. While I never did test it with gloves, the process became simple rather fast, and now I don't mind or think about it at all. I also like to pretend that the pusher is a little antenna. For what? I don't know... let me have my nerdy fantasy.
For years I saw the crown on this watch and had no idea how it worked. Plus, the crown on the 1200M Ploprof is very different than that of the original models. It is meant to protect the large crown, and acts as a sort of plus and minus. On the one hand you can ensure a lot of water resistance and crown protection, but it does make it less comfortable to use. The way it works is that the large guard releases as you unscrew the crown. That is simple enough, though sometimes it can be tough to get enough leverage on the crown if it is screwed in too tight. When the crown is released it then functions normally. However, there isn't a lot of play room to release the crown in the winding, date correcting, or time setting positions. This is just a quirk of the design, and again is a simple balance of features the Ploprof is intended to have.
The Seamaster Ploprof 1200M dial is a significant upgrade over those of the originals in terms of quality. Though it is visually similar. The dial is legible and attractive, with a lot of Omega DNA in the design. I found it easy to read and live with as a stalwart instrumental companion. Omega offers the dial in both black and white. Though the black often resembles a deep blue based on its glossy finish. You have applied hour numerals and the fat orange minute hand is a welcome metallic hand versus merely painted orange. The date window is out of the way, but easy to spot. Overall the dial is simply a more attractive and modern redo of the original. Which itself was based on older Omega dive watch designs.
Inside of each Omega Seamaster Ploprof 1200M watches is an in-house Omega made caliber 8500 automatic Co-Axial Escapement Chronometer movement. The original Ploprof also contained an in-house made Omega movement called the caliber 1002 automatic. The 8500 is a pretty good movement which I've discussed before. It has a power reserve of 60 hours and is one of the first very modern in-house Omega movements. This is their standard three-hand automatic caliber for high-end models. One quirk of the movement is how you set the date. Omega designed the hour hand to be moved independently for travel purposes, but this is also how you adjust the date. By rapidly moving the hour hand back or forth you can move a day ahead or behind. Though this is much slower than simply moving a date disc. This can be annoying when you've left the watch around for a while and need to reset the date. But on the plus side it is easier to travel with.
While you can get the Omega Seamaster Ploprof on a white, orange, or black rubber strap, it is hard to overlook the milanese (mesh) metal "shark-proof" bracelet. While aesthetically this bracelet is not for everyone, this is one of the best bracelets of its type out there. First of all, the metal mesh is made very well and does not have the tendency to pull arm hair. Second, Omega designed it to have actual removable links - which makes adjusting it very simple. Plus, the links are hard to see so it looks like one flush bracelet. Both texture, quality, and feel are very good on this mesh metal bracelet in comparison to others out there.
Then there is the deployant - which is wonderful. The push-button clasp system hides two secrets. First is a diver's extension which smoothly unlocks from the deployant. It is made from solid milled pieces of steel. Then there is the best part which is a ratcheting micro-extension system. A small button labeled "push" on the inside of the deployant lets you adjust the bracelet with what feels like an entire inch of total space in small steps. This offers a secure and comfortable fit (necessary for a heavy watch), as well as the ability to adjust the size for comfort at any time. To top all this off, when you close the clasp on your wrist it looks very compact and is minimally obtrusive. On the deployant are Omega and Seamaster engravings which are filled with probably black lacquer for extra visual pop.
Even after a few years on the market, the Seamaster Ploprof 1200M is a strong seller, but it isn't cheap. Then again, it wasn't cheap back in the early 1970s either. Has the design become more sexy over the years? Even by female standards? I can't speak for women, but I think it certainly has gained a degree of honorary elegance given what it is. No one I presented the watch to thought it was unattractive. As I discussed above, I think anyone can appreciate its tool watch spirit, as well as find great and sincere beauty in that fact. As an instrument, it works rather flawlessly. Retail price for the Omega Seamaster Ploprof 1200M watch is $9,400 on the strap and $9,700 on the bracelet (as seen ref. 126.96.36.199.01.001).