Omega Railmaster: A Collector’s Guide
Initially starting in 1848, Omega has worked its way into becoming a worldwide brand. Being known as the brand that produced reliable and accurate watches, Omega has been very much a part of world history. From being on the wrists of Presidents, a timepiece used in the Olympics, to being the first watch on the moon, Omega has indeed made its mark.
1957 OMEGA MASTERS TRILOGY
In the year 1957, Omega sought to release a trilogy of technical watches to match the current trend and need in the market for niche watches. Thus, Omega released the CK 2913, CK 2914, and CK 2915 or what is commonly known as the Seamaster 300, the Railmaster, and the Speedmaster.
Each watch in the Omega Masters Trilogy sought to fill a specific need. The Seamaster 300 was intended for professional divers with its improved water resistance. The Speedmaster was intended for car racers or one who would need to measure short periods of time as it featured stopwatch functions. The Railmaster was intended for professionals who worked close to electric currents or strong magnetic fields as it features an anti-magnetic case. The Railmaster lacked the appeal of a dive watch or chronograph to the wider public, so today this is a rare piece, much sought after by collectors. The Railmaster was Omega’s answer to other anti-magnetic watches already in the market, such as the Rolex Milgauss 6541 released in 1954 and IWC’s Ingenieur 666 released in 1955.
For this guide, we will be focusing on the CK 2914 or the Railmaster.
Below is the Mk 1 version of the CK 2914
Magnetic fields are one of the major causes of inaccuracy in watches and these days they are everywhere. Due to the two delicate springs inside mechanical watches – one so thin it is actually called a ‘hairspring ‘- magnetism has been a significant problem throughout most of watchmaking history because it can cause havoc with the timing of a watch. Watches are particularly vulnerable when worn by people who do a lot of travelling or work in certain areas such as the medical or scientific professions for instance.
World War II led to the development of an accurate navigator’s chronometer to complement the bubble sextant for airborne navigation.
On board radar disturbed the accuracy of the issued chronometers the Mk VII and the Mk VIII.
The result was the legendary IWC Mk 11 (6B/346) watch which was not available until 1949.
The ‘6B’ showed the watch as ‘Aircraft Navigation Equipment, Accessories and Unit Servicing Parts’.
Its characteristic features were laid down in the initial specifications:
a highly accurate movement with hack-device,
an inner soft iron cage forming a shield to screen the movement against magnetic interference, the dial being an integral part of this soft iron cage, (a Faraday Cage),
a stainless steel waterproof case with the crystal secured by a screwed ring to prevent it detaching from the case during sudden depressurization, and
a black dial with luminous markers and hands.
The succeeding navigator’s watch, the 6B/542 was supplied by Omega in an order of 5900 pieces from 1953. It was an Omega model CK2777-1 with a 17 jewel 283 movement. The original thin arrow model is shown on the right, and the redialled fat arrow or broad arrow dial on the left.
The case back on these models was engraved with the numbers, meaning (6645-101000- NATO code) ( 6B/542- RAF Store Reference Number) (3695/53- Serial number/year of order).
Drawing on this military experience, in 1957 Omega released their Railmaster watch which had specially constructed case, dial, movement and dust cover using materials to shield against magnetic activity. The movement was copper finished and protected by a special double case and iron dust cover making it Omega’s first 1000 gauss anti-magnetic watch.
THE OMEGA RAILMASTER
The Omega Railmaster is best known for its anti-magnetic features. The timepiece is said to be able to resist 1000 Gauss or 0.1 Tesla. The timepiece had a short production run starting in 1957, and ending in 1963 while its trilogy counterparts continued in production. Due to its short production run and limited pieces produced, it is one of the most collectible pieces of the trilogy today. Ref. 1 Omega issued a new version in 2003 called the Railmaster Co-Axial Chronometer, but this model has also been recently discontinued. In 2012 Omega released the Railmaster XXL Chronometer which is still in production.
Omega Railmaster Co-Axial Chronometer released in 2003
One of the key elements for any timepiece to be anti-magnetic is the dial. The Railmaster dials are 1 mm thick, as opposed to the usual .4 mm. The dials also have luminescent markers for improved visibility.
The dials for the series have several marking variations but only come in two colors, black and white. The markings on the upper half of the dials feature the logo and signature of Omega, and some have the word “Automatic” underneath these markings.
The black version of the dial comes in several incarnations. The most common one seen has the markings “Railmaster” written in script on the bottom half of the dial by the 6 o’clock marker. This type of dial has numeric and short triangle markers at the poles, long triangle markers for every five minutes, and indices for every minute.
Another dial (the “Railroad” dial) is shown below, this CK 2914-4 having syringe hands and an arrow second hand.
There are less common versions of the black dial for the Railmaster series. One of the versions released has the markings “Railmaster” written in Edwardian script, with shorter minute hash marks
Other variations of both the dial and hands are far less common; a broad arrow minute hand, and a lollipop seconds hand are said to exist. Edwardian-style “Railmaster”
The “Railroad” dial which has all numeric markers, and shorter minute hash marks. It was made to comply with the Railroad Standard for watches during the 1960s.
There are also the prototype versions of the dials for the Railmaster series. The first from about 1952 has a gladium hour hand, a baton minute hand, 5-minute markers in numerals on the chapter ring, and the inside back case is engraved 2777. This is shown below with the RAF 53 Omega antimagnetic pilots watch.
Another prototype of the Railmaster series was made in October 1955. This version has numeric markers, similar to the “Railroad” dial. The dial also has rectangular indices for every fifteen minutes and circular indices for every five minutes. There are 2 chapter rings, with tick marks between.There are fewer than ten pieces that have been seen of this version and only one had a white dial.
This watch, 2777-2 produced in 1955 and sold in Canada, bridged the gap from the 2777-1 RAF pilot’s military watch of 1953 to the first Railmaster production model, 2914-1.
THE RAILROAD APPROVED RAILMASTERS
The Railroad Approved versions of the Railmasters are those with white dials. These were produced for North American railroad companies in the early 1960s. The initial version of the dial has the logo and signature of Omega on the upper half of the dial with the word “Automatic” underneath it. The bottom half of the dial is dominated by the markings “Railroad Official Standard”. This type of dial has numerical markers for every hour with circular indices underneath. Some versions of this dial also have red inner numerical markers from 13 to 24 as the one shown below.
Another version of the Railmaster with a white dial has the markings “Railmaster Official” on its bottom half with the word “Railmaster” written in script.
However, the watch produced by the Ball family in the 1960s was very similar to the white dialed “Official Railroad Standard” versions of Omega. The Ball company has been using the markings “Official Standard” on their pieces for years. Ball ended up suing Omega, and Omega was ordered to stop production. Due to its short production run and history, the white dialed versions of the series are some of the most sought after by collectors.
There are also several variations for the hands that came with the series. The Railmaster series are known to have come with broad arrow hands, Dauphine hands, baton hands, and leaf hands. There does not seem to be any specific pattern or order to which hands came with which versions. It is observed, however, that the initial versions of the CK 2914 mostly came with the broad arrow hour hands. According to Marco Richon’s book “Omega – A Journey through Time”, there was also a version of the series that came with the broad arrow minute hand.
For the white-dialed versions of the Railmaster, these came with leaf-shaped hands for the “Railmaster Official” model and “Official Railroad Standard” model.
There are two types of bracelets that were originally used on the Railmaster series. The earlier versions of the series are usually found with the 7077 Omega bracelet with #6 endlinks. The Omega 7077 bracelet is unique as it has “double links” which can be seen when it is stretched.
The latter versions of the series usually come with the 7912 bracelet also with #6 endlinks. Unlike the 7077 bracelet, the 7912 has “7912” markings on the inside of the clasp. Both are flat link stretch bracelets and are hard to come by with the original end links.
The case for the Railmaster series is the key to its anti-magnetism. The timepiece has a double-constructed case. It has a Staybrite stainless steel outer case and a MuMetal inner plate creating a Faraday cage that protects the movement. The case measures 38mm with a screw-in case back. The piece also comes with an armoured hesalite crystal.
The case back for the latter versions of the series have a picture of a seahorse whilst the initial version does not. The anti-magnetic case for the Railmaster can withstand up to 1000 Gauss, as opposed to the usual 60, and is water resistant of up to 60 meters or 200 ft.
The Railmaster uses a Naiad crown, which Omega also used on the Seamaster and Speedmaster. The crown further improves on the water resistance of the piece as the crown further seals as the pressure increases. A Naiad crown can be easily identified by the symbol inside the Omega logo that looks like a “Y”.
The reference/model number for the Railmasters is not readily visible upon looking at the piece. It is marked inside the case back of the series. The different reference numbers for the series range from 2914-1 to 2914-6. Later on, Omega changed the way they reference their timepieces and the code for the Railmaster series changed to 135.004. The new reference coding indicates the type/materials used for the piece. The code 135.004 indicates that the piece is a Men’s watch with manual winding and is water resistant. Elite Timepieces has a page containing information on how to read Omega reference numbers.
The Railmaster prototype uses a different case back reference number, which is the 2777. It is the same case back used for the Omega RAF 53 Pilot watch.
The Railroad Approved versions of the series used different reference numbers, 165.001 and 165.002. The main difference they have with the serial production of the series is that they make use of automatic winding movements, the Cal. 550 and Cal. 552.
There are several movements released for the Railmaster series. For the versions that were included in the serial production, the movements used were Cal. 284, Cal. 285, and Cal. 286, depending on the year of release. The Cal. 284 movement was used in models that were released in 1957 until 1958. The Cal. 285 was used from 1958 until 1961. After this time, the Cal. 286 was used on the Railmasters until 1963. All of the movements make use of 17 jewels, measure 30mm in diameter, and are manual winding.
The serial number for the piece can also be found on the movement and helps give an indication of when the piece was made. You can check this page from Elite Timepieces for a better idea of when a piece was produced based on its serial number.
For the 1955 prototype, the movement used was quite unique as it was a Cal. 283 with a swan neck regulator/index, or what is termed as the Cal. 283 Rg. This is the only known movement to be used with the prototype. The movement was no longer used as of December 1957.
For the Railroad Approved versions of the Railmasters, there were two movements used, the Cal. 550 and the Cal. 552. According to the Omega article from 2003, the movement used for the 1963 “Railroad Official Standard” model was the Cal. 552, which was developed for the Canadian Pacific Railways. On the other hand, versions with the “Railmaster Official” markings on the dial are usually found with the Cal. 550 movement.
Image of Omega Cal. 552 by Ranfft Watches
The Cal. 550 and Cal. 552 are different from the movements used in the serial production as they are automatic winding. The Cal. 552 also has 24 jewels while the Cal. 550 still has 17 jewels.
There are various versions of the Railmasters with the following reference/ model numbers: 2914-1, 2914-2, 2914-3, 2914-4, 2914-5, 2914-6, and 135.004 when Omega changed their reference coding system.
There are incarnations of the series that have automatic winding and would have the reference numbers 165.001 and 165.002. The prototype for the Railmasters would have the reference number 2777.
There is a broad range of versions for the Omega Railmaster that a collector may choose to purchase. You may choose to go for the pieces that were included in its serial production, which are relatively easy to acquire. You can also go for the versions with a limited production but bear in mind that these are seldom found and would have a heftier price tag. Here are some recommendations to help you get started with your search.
A PLACE TO START
A good version to start with would be the early models produced for the series. Tell-tale signs of an early version are those with the reference number 2914-1 with broad arrow hands and Cal. 284 movement. Another piece to look out for is those with the elusive Edwardian script.
Online auctions are a good place to start when looking for these pieces. There are also some pieces that are sometimes sold on Ebay, but ensure to be careful about authenticity and scrutinize the pictures posted. Prices for these versions of the series would usually be around $ 8,000
Some of the common Railmasters that can be found online are those that were produced during the latter part of the series’ run. Those with Cal 286 movements from the 1960s are fairly easy to find and most are in good condition. Prices for these versions of the series sold in the past years are around the $5,000.
THE HIGH END
The more elusive pieces are the military versions of the series. There are two military versions produced for the series. The first one is a cross between the Railmaster and Seamaster. It was produced for the Pakistani Air Force (PAF). The PAF did not seem to take a liking towards the Railmaster dials and requested for Seamaster dials and case backs to be put on the timepieces instead. These pieces, however, still have the case and movement of a Railmaster. The case back would feature the markings “P.A.F.” and were delivered to the Pakistani Air Force in the early 1960s.
There are two variants for the PAF version of the series. The first had the Seamaster markings on the case back, the Seahorse, the PAF signature, and the serial number for the piece. This variant would have the 135.004 model number (e.g. 135.004-63). Another variant would only have the initials “P.A.F” on the case back and PAF engravings on the movement. This variant would have the 2914 model number (e.g. CK2914-5). These pieces are seldom found for sale as there were only around 200 made. It usually costs around $15,000 and can be found for sale on online auctions and trading corners of watch forums.
A rarer military version of the Railmaster is the one produced for the Fuerza Aerea Peruana (FAP) or the Peruvian Air Force. The piece also makes use of the Railmaster case and movement, but the dial and case back features markings for the Flightmaster, which was not yet released during the time the pieces were ordered in 1964.
There are only a few hundred pieces ever produced of this version of the series. The model number CK2914-4 is on the inside caseback. All hand variations were used: Broad arrow, Dauphine and baton. Pieces in good condition are extremely expensive and can be found on online auction sites.
A FAP catalogue for the model shows the original price $45.00
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR OMEGA RAILMASTER:
Even though it had a short production run, there are still several Omega Railmaster pieces that are available nowadays. For information regarding the Omega vintage pieces, you can visit their database found here. It is also possible to request for anExtract of the Archives from Omega for information regarding a vintage timepiece that you own. Other sites that may be of help when looking for information about vintage Omega watches are Old-Omegas, ChronoMaddox, and RochPro Watch Gallery.
From The Spring Bar Store:
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- Bill Sohne, THREE HIGH-PRECISON WATCHES FOR SPECIAL ASSIGNMENTS…, Website, 2001
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- Chronocentric user SteveW62, Here are some pics of an original 7077, Forum post, 2007
- Elite Timepieces, Omega Wristwatch serial Numbers and Omega Wristwatch Reference Number Decoder, Watch dealer website, n.d.
- Heirloom Gallery, RARE OMEGA AUTOMATIC RAILROAD OFFICIAL STANDARD Ca. 1963, Watch dealer website, n.d.
- Hodinkee, A Railmaster Called A Seamaster: What Did Pakistan Have Against The Railmaster?, Online magazine, 2009
- Jason Heaton, The Third “Master” In Omega’s Trilogy of Tool Watches: The Railmaster Explained, Online magazine, 2010
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