Audi vs. BMW, Apple vs. Windows, Coca Cola vs. Pepsi. Some brands are doomed to be compared to each other for all eternity. When it comes to watches, there will always be a Rolex versus Omega debate going on somewhere. As with any such debate, though, the trick is to separate the facts from the storytelling. And even more importantly, you need to try to avoid being led by the opinions of other people. Instead, buy what you feel best suits your personality and taste. Buy what you like!
With that in mind, let us give you a run-down on these two brands and their famous all-round watch models, the Rolex Datejust and the Omega Aqua Terra.
Rolex watches are the most sought-after luxury timepieces in the world, by far. However, if there is one brand capable of getting in Rolex’s way, it is Omega. During the last 10–15 years, they worked hard to get rid off the tarnish that the quartz crisis in the 1970s and the lack of vision in the 1980s left on their reputation and image. Those who still think Omega is the same brand as it was before the 2000s might have to do some additional reading. Rolex never had this problem. Even the quartz-driven Datejust and Day-Date that they produced were made in such way (with mechanical escapements) that they’ve attracted a lot of fans in the years since then.
The Rolex Datejust and the Omega Aqua Terra come in many variations. However, we will be looking at the stainless steel variations of both watches. No gold, diamonds, or mother of pearl dials. These are the most basic versions that can be worn with a suit as well as with jeans or shorts. All-round watches that, strictly taken (though we don’t recommend this), don’t need the company of other watches. They are sporty enough to be used in the water or for a game of golf and dressy enough to be worn with your nice shirt and shoes.
The Datejust has its roots in the mid-1940s when Rolex introduced it as the world’s first automatic watch with a date indicator. A few things have changed since then, but put the original 1946 Datejust next to one of the current collections and you will see it is clearly part of the same family carrying the same genes. The Aqua Terra is part of the famous Omega Seamaster family and is a collection on its own within this family. It is based on those vintage sporty Omegas that were introduced in the 1950s with the twisted lyre lugs and dials that will remind you of a nice teak deck. However, the Aqua Terra name wasn’t introduced before 2003. Since then, it has become part of the Seamaster family and is a strong seller for Omega.
Rolex uses their caliber 3136, which is developed and manufactured in-house and which has its roots in the 3135 caliber that was used for decades. This movement is a solid performer that can be compared to a BMW 530D engine, one that keeps going forever. While Omega relied on ETA movements for a long time, they have been using their Co-Axial escapement since 1999. In 2007 they introduced their caliber 8500 movement, which is also manufactured entirely in-house. The caliber 8500 movement is now widely used in Omega’s watch collections, using George Daniels’ famous Co-Axial escapement innovation. This means less friction and thus higher accuracy and fewer service intervals.
However, Rolex is also confident regarding their movements and has increased their warranty period up to five years. Omega watches with their in-house Co-Axial movements have a four-year warranty period. There is no good and bad when it comes to these movements. Both are mass produced in-house movements (an industrialized manufacturing process) that are reliable workhorses. The Omega is a tad bit nicer to look at through the transparent caseback of the Aqua Terra watch, in our opinion. The Datejust movement is hidden underneath the stainless steel closed caseback, but we think it wouldn’t have looked bad with a transparent caseback either. One feature to add is that the Omega movement is resistant to magnetic fields up to 15,000 gauss.
The case of the Datejust is unmistakably Rolex. However, the Aqua Terra case is also unmistakably Omega. The Rolex Datejust comes in 36 mm and 41 mm (Datejust II, officially) sizes while the Omega Aqua Terra comes in 38.5 mm and 41.5 mm variants. While 36 mm can be a bit small on some (men’s) wrists, 38.5 mm is usually OK. 41 mm and 41.5 mm are probably a good size for the average man, especially when it concerns an all-round timepiece for everyday use. In terms of material, the Rolex case uses a type of steel that is of a higher grade (904L versus 316L). 316L is the type of steel most commonly used by watch manufacturers, including Omega. 904L is used by Rolex because it is more resistant to pitting and corroding, but we are talking exposure to salty seawater over a longer period of time here in order to gain from the use of this higher grade steel. However, the use of 904L steel is certainly worth mentioning when discussing the pros and cons of these watches.
As previously mentioned, all Aqua Terra models have a dial that should remind you of the teak deck of a boat. The Aqua Terra dials are available in a variety of colors. Black, silver, and blue are the most common combinations. Some specific models, like the PGA Golf edition, have some colorful accents to make them a bit more playful. With regards to the Rolex Datejust dials, there is a bit more variety: not only in colors or motifs, but also because of the variety in hour markers. The stick markers give it a sportier look, while the Roman numerals are a bit more formal, in our opinion.
Both watches have a modern reinterpretation of their ancestors’ classic hands. The Omega Aqua Terra relies on broad arrow-shaped hands while the Rolex Datejust has wide stick hands. Both watches use Super-LumiNova to ensure you will be able to read the time in low-light conditions.
Not only does Rolex produce one of the most recognized watches, their bracelets are also well-known for their design and quality. Although some people complained that their bracelets were not up-to-date until recent years, they hardly ever failed. The Oyster bracelet is the sportier type, while the Jubilee is a more refined bracelet that is very comfortable but which could be perceived as a bit too classic for some people. Whichever bracelet you choose (the Datejust in 41 mm is only available with the Oyster bracelet), you can’t go wrong.
Omega uses a bracelet with a design similar to that of Rolex’s Oyster model. It has a polished center link and two matte links on each row of the bracelet. The clasp has a fine adjustment, like the Rolex bracelets. However, the fine-adjustment on the Rolex clasp is just a bit nicer than on the Omega. Though, once correctly set, you shouldn’t have to deal with it again, except for when the seasons change and it gets colder or warmer and you want to make the bracelet a bit more comfortable on your wrist.
As one might have expected, there is a price difference between the two watches. You can get the Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra for € 1.150 less than the Rolex Datejust or even cheaper. The exact price difference depends on factors like new vs. pre-owned, small vs. big model, dial color, and location of the seller.
However, you may wonder if price is the most important aspect when buying a watch. The brand name, whether it be Rolex or Omega, is still important to a lot of people. Both are great brands, have heritages that make a lot of other brands jealous, and produce good quality watches featuring movements developed in-house. If you are able to buy them at a good price, depreciation should also not be of concern. It is a matter of taste, really: you have to ask which watch fits your personality best. The Rolex Datejust and Omega Aqua Terra watches are great choices—just make sure to pick the one that suits you best!
Note: The Omega Aqua Terra also comes in a few varieties, like an annual calendar complication and chronograph. We did not include them in this comparison article.