Omega T17 Tank watch, 1935

Last Updated on July 13, 2024 by Jason

Recently I have been interested in vintage watches that have a distinct Art Deco style. The design is known for its use of geometric forms, vibrant colours and strong contrasts. Bold hues such as gold, silver, black, and red are typical and are often used to create striking visual effects. Overall, Art Deco watches have a distinctive and elegant style that is still attractive today. I have found myself drawn to the Omega “Tank” style watches of the 1930s with the classic T17 movement. However, they are proving hard to come by in their original condition. In this post, we will take a look at an Omega T17 Tank found on eBay that came under consideration.

Omega T17 Tank watch, 1935.
Omega T17 Tank watch, 1935.

The Omega brand

In 1848, La Generale Watch Co. was founded by Louis Brandt (1825-1879) in La Chaux-de-Fonds. In the beginning, Brandt assembled key-wound pocket watches made from parts supplied by local craftsmen. When Louis Brandt died in 1879, his sons, Louis-Paul and César, took over the family business. In 1892, they produced the first minute-repeater. In 1894, the company developed an in-house movement known as the 19 ligne calibre. The brothers named the movement “Omega” and it was so successful the company adopted the Omega name in 1903. Omega watches were used as official timekeepers for the Royal Flying Corps.

Omega and Tissot merged together to form Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère (SSIH) in 1930. In Omega’s centenary year, 1948, the iconic Seamaster was introduced. In 1952, they added the Constellation followed by the legendary Omega Speedmaster in 1957. The Speedmaster, renowned for its durability and precision, gained fame as the “Moonwatch”. Omega continues to be an innovative and respected watchmaker well into the 21st century.

Omega T17 Tank watch

This vintage watch has an Omega 15-jewel T17 hand-winding movement which is working nicely. The movement is fully signed and it has the serial number 8021178 which dates back to 1935. The movement is protected by a separate inner dust cover. It measures 20.3mm in width excluding the crown and 36mm high, although originally a gentlemen’s watch, it would suit a slimmer wrist. The watch winds and sets the time, however, it is not running. The description says that the balance needs to be replaced and from the photo, the regulator arm is missing. As a result, this is a project timepiece.

Omega T17 movement

In 1934, Omega introduced the tonneau (barrel) shaped calibre T17 as the ideal movement for use within rectangular “Art Deco” styled cases.  The T17 was designed by Charles Perregaux, under the direction of Henri Gerber. The “T” is in reference to the movement’s tonneau shape and the “17” to its width at its centre in millimetres (height 24.5 mm). It’s a 15-jewel manual wind movement beating at 18,000 beats per hour. The T17 quickly gained a reputation for reliability and quality and today is one of Omega’s most highly regarded vintage movements. This calibre was typically housed in a protective soft metal, anti-magnetic, movement cover. It was an exceptional movement and the T17 was used in all Omega Tanks from the period. In total, 167,000 T17 movements were produced and distributed the world over. It was in production until 1943.

Omega T17 movement.
Omega T17 movement.

The T17 boasted a 60-hour power reserve, something that many modern-day watches struggle to match. In fact, the T17 had the largest power reserve of all Omega wristwatch movements until the calibre 8500 was introduced in 2006. The 60-hour power reserve was achieved by using an enlarged, slowly rotating barrel, that had a gearing ratio that allowed a considerable increase in the time it took for the mainspring to unwind. As a result of the 60-hour power reserve, the watch only needed to be wound once every 2 to 2.5 days.

Art Deco

The Art Deco period spanned from the early 1920s to the late 1930s. It was defined by geometric shapes, bold colours, luxurious materials and an overall feel of glamour and sophistication. Watches of the period adopted these themes, this Omega T17 Tank watch is a perfect example. The Great Depression had a significant impact on the popularity of Art Deco. The financial hardship caused by the Depression led to reduced spending on luxury items. As a result, people sought more practical and frugal designs, which meant the extravagant and ornate Art Deco style fell out of favour. The Depression shifted preferences toward mass-produced, affordable goods. This Omega T17 Tank watch is a perfect example, instead of an expensive gold watch case, it is presented in a more affordable stainless steel “Staybrite” case.

Case and dial

The “Staybrite” stainless steel (acier inoxydable in French) case measures 20.3mm wide excluding the crown and 36mm high at the lug tips. Initially called “rustless steel”, Staybrite was invented by Harry Brearley in 1913 when he was trying to find a corrosion-resistant alloy for use in gun barrels. At the time Brearley was working for Brown Firth Research Laboratories, a subsidiary of the steelmakers Thomas Firth & Sons, Sheffield. The alloy was further enhanced by Dr. W. H. Hatfield and it was ultimately marketed under the brand name “Staybrite” by Thomas Firth & Sons. Staybrite began to be used for making watch cases in the early 1930s. As to be expected from “stainless steel” the case is relatively free of corrosion and the only markings are those from normal daily use, which would classify as patina rather than damage.

Acier Staybrite case.
Acier Staybrite case.

The signed dial is in its original finish with original hands, a subsidiary seconds dial and inner minute markers. There is some darkening to the main dial, but it is still easy to read the time. Many of the Omega T17 Tank watches I have come across have had complete dial restorations, which in the eyes of many collectors detracts from the piece’s originality. However, in this instance, the dial is original and still in a usable state. The age-related patina gives this watch character and I think I prefer the natural look as opposed to a pristine re-dial. The convex crystal lens looks good to the naked eye. However, it has a short light scratch above the 3, but it is barely visible unless viewed through a jeweller’s loupe.

Summary

Ultimately, this is a project timepiece. Therefore, it needs someone who has the skill, time and money to invest in restoring the movement. However, that person isn’t me, I want a vintage watch that I can strap onto my wrist and enjoy wearing from day one. Because of the investment in time and money required, I will continue the search for an Omega T17 Tank.

Related content

Stainless steel in watches at Vintage Watchstraps.

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