As one of Omega's less-talked-about collections, the Constellation often flies under the radar despite its heavenly name. When one thinks of buying an Omega, one tends to veer towards the classic sports models such as the Seamaster and the Speedmaster. And why not? These are the models around which most collectors’ interest is centered. But, for exactly that reason, they also tend to come at a premium price, both at retail and on the pre-owned market.
For lovers of quality and slightly unusual design (that has a surprising history), the Omega Constellation family offers a genuine alternative. Built with no less attention to detail (and with many subtle variations to suit most tastes), the Omega Constellation is a sleeper model that has survived for more than half a century because there is nothing quite like it on the market. Some may see its design as fiddly and overwrought, but others interpret its legendary designer's intentions as avant-garde, and responsible for the furtherance of a conversation that needed to be had in the era that the Constellation came to life.
As with many famous models, the origins of the Omega Constellation begin with the story of another. In 1948, Omega turned 100 years old. To celebrate its centenary, the brand decided to produce a limited edition automatic chronometer. It was named (rather unimaginatively) the Centenary and was incredibly popular.
Seeing how popular this style of wristwatch could be, Omega released an entirely new collection in 1952, fitted with now-iconic Pie-Pan dials (so named because they look like an upturned pie dish). These domed dials, with the 12-sided center-disc, gave the Constellation's visage an extreme and novel appearance – one that remains popular with collectors to this day.
The addition of polished and applied hour markers further increased the dimensional complexity of the high-contrast display while retaining excellent legibility. Although these strikingly nuanced dials would give way to simpler designs as tastes changed, they set the Omega Constellation off on a running start that continued even when the rest of the mechanical wristwatch industry floundered.
Omega’s willingness to bend the Constellation collection to the preferences of the day is perhaps to thank for the range’s longevity. The diamond hour markers used in the early models gave way to stick markers (sometimes with an onyx inlay, which was reputedly the idea of Gerald Genta, who is said to have designed at least two Constellation models from this era, including reference 168.005, which is regarded by many as the emblematic steel Constellation), foreshadowing a complete overall of the collection that would begin in the 1970s with the advent of quartz technology.
Omega, eager to maintain the Constellation's reputation for accuracy and reliability, decided to outfit the family with quartz movements. This enabled the entire collection, which had already been of relatively dainty diameters and thicknesses, to be streamlined even further. An era of ultra-slim watches followed that marked the brand and the family as one of the most agile in the threat of quartz domination. The downside to this strategy was that while the watches sold (and filled a necessary gap in the market for Omega by being affordable electronic alternatives to their floundering forbears), they couldn’t help but dilute the esteemed reputation of the family name that had started life as synonymous with luxury and quality.
Regardless, Omega knew that to survive in a quartz-driven era (which, at that time, showed no signs of abating), it was necessary to make tough decisions. Omega took the Constellation name so far down the quartz path, it resulted in the creation of the only wristwatch to achieve the rank of Marine Chronometer when the Omega Constellation Megaquartz (accurate to 2,000ths of a second per day). One could have been forgiven for thinking the days of old were well and truly buried, but fans of the mechanical Constellation line needn't have worried. A change was coming, however slow-burning and stylistically shocking it may have been.
The collection was once again overhauled in the early 1980s. The quartz revolution that had once threatened to destroy the company had run into a new and unexpected opponent (Swatch) that had managed to refocus the attention on the Swiss watch industry and (ironically) its mechanical past.
In 1982, the Constellation Manhattan was introduced. Initially, it too was quartz, but an automatic option soon followed. So successful was the Manhattan line that, these days, it is rarely used (as the Manhattan silhouette comprises the beating heart of the entire collection). The instantly recognizable claws, hooked over the case flanks along its horizontal axis may not be universally loved, but they helped establish an aesthetic that would go on to become iconic.
In the original designs, those claws (known as "Griffes") clamped down on the bezel, and tucked in beneath the snap-on caseback, holding the bezel and the crystal firmly in-place. Nowadays, they are simply there for decorative purposes and a nod to the origins of what has become the family's most enduring format. The Manhattan design, which had originally been a very flat affair, was updated in 1995 to include a domed crystal that sat within the confines of the bezel, reducing the claws to a vestigial element.
Since then, however, the Constellation range has received very little in the way of an update. Although the Globemaster (which was released in 2015) is technically part of the Constellation collection (and certainly looks the part), it does not bear the name on the dial and so is discounted by many from the official history of the line.
It may seem odd to those operating in the western watch market that Omega has bothered to keep the Constellation collection around for so long, especially with so few additions or improvements to the line-up. But, quite simply, this family remains incredibly popular in the Far East, and while very few Omega boutiques in Europe and America wish to see their shelves populated with models their local customers have little to no desire for, the tourist trade is essential to Omega’s international strategy and the maintenance of its reputation in Asia. As such, it doesn’t look like the Omega Constellation is going anyway (or changing its core DNA) anytime soon.
It is hard to look past the very earliest Omega Constellation watches when looking for the "best" model ever produced under this family name, but it would be a disservice to the Manhattan line – the longest-lived and most commercially successful of the styles – to discount it from the conversation.
If human history were to be frozen today, it would be unfair to christen anything but the Manhattan as the quintessential Omega Constellation simply due to its ubiquity and longevity. The case claws may not be to everyone’s tastes, but they do give the family a very clear visual identity that Omega has become adept at selling to a specific portion of its audience.
One of the most attractive things about the Omega Constellation range is its accessibility. For both men's and women's models there are affordable quartz entry points in the current collection. Both ranges top-out with luxurious models crafted from solid gold, with artisanal dials and diamond-studded bezels, which offer a completely different aesthetic from the stainless steel entry-point.
Retail prices for quartz-powered Omega Constellation watches start out at under $2,700 and quickly go up from there depending on the size, materials, and movement used. As a point of reference, the all-steel 36mm Constellation with a quartz movement (ref. 22.214.171.124.01.001) comes with an official retail price of just $2,700, while the 39mm automatic version in solid 18k yellow gold retails for $21,700.
Below is a table outlining the retail prices of current-production Omega Constellation watches.
|Model||Reference||Case Size & Materials||Movement Type||Retail Price (MSRP)|
|Constellation Quartz||126.96.36.199.08.001||35mm; Gold + Steel||Quartz||$5,300|
|Constellation Co-Axial Master Chronometer||188.8.131.52.01.001||39mm; Stainless Steel||Automatic||$6,050|
|Constellation Co-Axial Master Chronometer||184.108.40.206.02.002||39mm; Gold + Steel||Automatic||$9,900|
|Constellation Co-Axial Master Chronometer||220.127.116.11.02.002||39mm; 18k Gold||Automatic||$37,300|
|Constellation Co-Axial Master Chronometer||18.104.22.168.03.001||36mm; 18k Sedna Gold||Automatic||$32,200|
|Globemaster Co-Axial Master Chronometer||22.214.171.124.03.001||39mm; Stainless Steel||Automatic||$7,200|
|Globemaster Co-Axial Master Chronometer||126.96.36.199.02.001||39mm; Gold + Steel||Automatic||$12,100|
|Globemaster Co-Axial Master Chronometer||188.8.131.52.02.002||39mm; 18k Gold||Automatic||$22,500|
Despite the Constellation collection being conceived as a man's wrist chronometer, it is equally pitched towards a female audience these days. This is perhaps because of the shifting trends and tastes in the size of watches – the original Constellation models were around 35mm wide, which was a fine size for man’s watch in those days but is now considered by many to be just a bit too petite.
This shift away from a predominantly male audience gave rise not only to the Globemaster range (which feeds heavily on the aesthetic of the early Constellations for men), but also Omega's selection of strong, female ambassadors for the Constellation line.
Supermodels Cindy Crawford and Alessandra Ambrosio, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with actresses Nicole Kidman and Liu Shishi as four of the most prominent Constellation ambassadors. Kidman's more frequent choice tends to be the Omega Ladymatic, but the Constellation Manhattan makes its way into the feted screen star's rotation with a Mother of Pearl dial 27mm co-axial reference 184.108.40.206.57.001. Perhaps the most interesting Constellation Manhattan in Shishi's stable is reference 220.127.116.11.53.001, which employs a blue lacquered dial sporting a leaf pattern that marks it as a unique character in the family.
Crawford, a fashion industry icon, is Omega's longest-serving ambassador, having joined the fold way back in 1995 (when fellow ambassador Liu Shishi was just eight years old). She has been a constant advocate for the Omega Constellation with one of her earliest posters featuring an all-gold, diamond bezel, Mother of Pearl dial Manhattan, which is most similar to the 25mm reference 18.104.22.168.55.002 - still a popular choice within the collection today, and a favorite of Alessandra Ambrosio, who proudly continues the tradition of the world’s most accomplished supermodels representing this long-standing family.
In most cases, choosing which reference to buy from a collection with such a long history comes down to very subtle factors of personal taste. The Speedmaster, for example, launched in 1957, has undergone very few startling changes to its overall design. Yes, there have been hundreds of variations, with one extreme to the other representing very different aesthetics, but the level of difference within the Constellation family is so much greater.
Different iterations of Constellation watches look so far removed from one another that they could (and possibly should) be regarded as different collections entirely. This is a family linked more by design remit - to be a dressy, elegant chronometer for men - than it is any one physical attribute. While the star and wordmark remain constant presences on the dial, and the Geneva observatory stands firm on the caseback, pretty much everything else has been changed at one point or another. Truth be told, the original Constellation Pie-Pan dials look so much like the modern Globemaster collection (which was directly inspired by them) that they feel completely removed from the post-’82 style that we now regard as "traditional" for this range.
So, the question of what model to buy very much comes down to personal preference. It is perhaps easier than in many other cases to both love and hate models from the same family with a passion. They are so different that it would be odd to not have a strong reaction (either positive or negative) to at least one or two models in this family's long history.
The very earliest Pie-Pan dials (especially those fitted with bumper calibers such as the 351, 352, and 354) are absolute gems, but very difficult to find. Although the 360-degree rotors fitted to the 500, 501, and 505 calibers that replaced the 35x series are excellent movements (and highly sought after), they lack a little bit of the anachronistic charm of their forerunners. That being said, they are significantly easier to come by, however rare they remain.
If you aren't lucky enough to uncover such treasure on the pre-owned market, then picking up a mid-size Constellation Manhattan from the early part of the 20th century offers a great way to access an iconic watch from a top luxury brand at a reasonable price. The modern collection benefits from roughly 20 years spent finding itself and carves out a character that, while still divisive, is comfortable in its skin. The collectability of these pieces may not be the highest just yet; however, they can provide a lot of value for money and a design that is recognized throughout the industry.