Back in spring 2007 rumors began circulating of a supposed edition of the blue-dialed Omega Seamaster GMT 300 Co-Axial (ref. 2535.80.00) specially made for members of Britain’s elite Special Boat Service (SBS), a specialized contingent of the UK’s Royal Marine Commandos and a rough equivalent of the US Navy’s SeALs.
Shortly thereafter an article appeared in the watch-centric British QP Magazine (April 2007, Issue 24) attesting to the same. For more than a year and a half afterward essentially nothing was heard until just recently when some pictures and new information finally emerged.
Some initial detractors complained that the idea was a transparent Omega publicity stunt intended to capitalize on the publicity afforded by the James Bond connection and the DVD release of “Casino Royale” but following reports seem to discredit the notion. According to sources owing to Omega’s existing popularity among SBS and military members it was actually SBS members who approached Omega about the idea, not vice versa. There were also unconfirmed rumors that both the SBS and SAS had previously approached Rolex about making a special edition in the spirit of the earlier vintage “Milsub” 5517 and others but Rolex had declined. The SAS also had a special edition watch produced by Breitling.
Other critics pointed to the idea that the elite commando unit by reputation does not advertise membership openly; others have pointed out that unlike the SAS Breitling, when worn the SBS Seamaster GMT is indistinguishable from a regular production model.
Reportedly quantity will be limited to 500 with most (or all) of the series already spoken for but delivery as yet not 100% complete. Sale is restricted to “badged” SBS-qualified members alone, and not even affiliated suport personnel are eligible. It was also reported that the “Bond”-style skeleton hands were so strongly disliked by SBS members that after many requests a local AD was converting the hands to match the highly luminous sword-type hands used on the Seamaster 2254.50.00 diver and similar models for a minimal fee.
Only a single example has been offered by Omega for public sale, the watch featuring serial number — you guessed it — # 007. It sold at a charity auction for a tidy sum reportedly north of £19,000, approximately US$37,430 at the time! Like the X-33s sold to military aviators under the Military Purchase Program, the SBS Seamaster is shipped in regular retail boxes and packaging indistinguishable from civilian models. My original personal speculation at the time was that these were likely keepsakes intended for garrison and off-duty wear, but several other sources have pointed to the longstanding popularity of the blue Seamaster models within the British military. In fact, the Seamaster is so effectively omnipresent that it’s been frequently said that they might as well be issued.
There’s no definitive answer yet as to value of the unique edition. At present these are mostly still held by the original owners with but a bare few having reached the collector market so far. It is probably unlikely that these will reach the value of the vaunted vintage military SBS-issue 5517 Rolex Submariners, but of course it’s to be expected that they will fetch a considerable premium over regular production models in years to come.
Incidentally, I do know of at least one example that is presently for sale though at a hefty figure; interested parties are invited to contact me for more info.
UPDATE: Since posting this entry I’ve been in contact with someone with direct knowledge of the watches’ use within the unit who was able to clarify some details:
- My earlier suspicion seems to have been correct that these are mostly for off-duty and garrison wear and are not worn during operations or training exercises
- Members were indeed able to select the s/n# matching their zap number when ordering
- Total production quantity was actually 501: serial numbers range from 000-500, with s/n# 000 reportedly kept in a museum (perhaps the Omega Museum in Bienne?)
- The rumors that the SBS had been previously rebuffed by Rolex have been called into question