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Omega's Fourth Man: The Handsome Ranchero


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A Troika of Omega Rancheros (pic from thesubdial.com):

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My first encounter with the Omega Ranchero was while watching an episode of the Antiques Roadshow, and I fell in love with it instantly. I am clearly not the only person to be enthralled by this sublime piece of watch design, as prices for the Ranchero have rocketed over recent years, also engendered in part by the scarcity of good examples. The Ranchero represents an early attempt to produce a price-conscious wristwatch that would cover most bases including work and leisure activities that didn’t specifically require a specialized professional wristwatch, and even the odd dress-occasion. It would appear that this advanced thinking on the part of Omega came to nothing when it came to sales of the Ranchero, but it sowed a seed that was later to encompass a myriad of watches by different companies made for the multi-purpose market. So here is the Ranchero story.

The late 1950s was a busy time for Omega; during this period, the company launched three somewhat specialized “tool” wristwatches, all of which were to become legendary. These were the Seamaster 300, the Railmaster, and the Speedmaster, all three of which were introduced in 1957. In addition to these three icons of their age, Omega decided to launch a fourth watch which drew upon design cues from the three new “professional” models and was designed to be an all-purpose, go-anywhere, timepiece. Enter the “Ranchero” then, which began manufacture in 1956 and first appeared in the 1958 Omega catalogue, as Reference 2990 (sometimes denoted as 2990.1 or CK2990).

Reference 2990 featured a stainless steel 36 mm case with a press-in caseback and a water resistance of 30 metres; the watch was powered by the hand-wind caliber 267 movement. There was a choice between matt black and silvered matt white dials, both with long triangular radium-lumed dagger-shaped main markers and a running seconds subdial at 6 o’clock. The long dagger shape was maintained for the minute hand while the hour hand featured a broad arrow at its tip - both hands were radium-lumed. The Ranchero case was simpler and different from its siblings, with a completely flat press-in caseback stamped “waterproof” on its rear surface; a tall lip edge was used which snaps into the case centre with a gasket. And in keeping with its promise of being a watch for all occasions, the Ranchero was relatively slim at 10 mm.

 

 

 

A series of pictures showing an original steel-cased black dial Omega Ranchero Ref. 2990 1. The strap is not original to the watch, but the buckle is, and on the reverse of the buckle (not shown here) are the abbreviations "PAT.BVT." (pics from assets.catawiki.nl):

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In addition to Reference 2990, 1958 saw the addition of two more versions of the Ranchero - the CK and PK 2996 - identical in size and form to the Ref. 2990. Both versions also had the option of a matt black or white dial, while the case materials were different; the CK was in stainless steel and the PK in rolled gold. The movements used in these variants were the slightly later hand-wind calibers 284 and 285, both of which feature a centre sweep seconds rather than a separate seconds register. In connection with the calibers used in the Ranchero, they descend from the 30 mm family of Omega movements - the Omega 30, 30T1 and 30T2 - and are named for their 30 mm diameter. These movements were very reliable and well-made, and it is notable that Omega proudly printed “30 mm” on the dials of most Rancheros.

The Ranchero was considerably cheaper than its three relatives - the Seamaster 300, Railmaster, and Speedmaster, partly because it was sold on a leather strap rather than a steel bracelet; a 1959 advertisement shows the watch starting at just 147 Francs, while the Seamaster and Railmaster started at 245 and 285 Francs each. Looking at the Ranchero from today’s perspective where we have a multitude of all-purpose watches to choose from (and even wear specialized watches in a general role), it may seem surprising that the watch was not a great success and struggled to sell. A large portion of blame for this failure has been laid at the door of the name, “Ranchero”, for the watch, especially in North America, and the Omega Museum states that “the watch encountered resistance in Spanish-speaking countries from potential customers who were put off by its name that means ‘ranch hand’ in Spanish.” Omega was quick to discontinue production of the Ranchero, in 1958, some two years after its commencement, and then came the process of selling off existing stock. An Omega price list in dollars effective from 1 August 1959 shows again the price difference between the Ranchero and the related Seamaster 300, Railmaster and Speedmaster models, listing the four models in the same catalogue section as follows:

 

Railmaster ..... $130

Seamaster 300 ..... $180

Speedmaster ..... $195

Ranchero, regular second ..... $69.50

Ranchero, sweep second ..... $79.50

 

Apparently, in the early 1960s, Omega rather confusingly merged the Ranchero into the Seamaster line as a “Ranchero variant” and dials of this period may be printed with only the Seamaster or Ranchero name, and a few examples, now very desirable, are signed with both names. It has been speculated that this measure was taken so that dealers could actually sell the remaining rather unsaleable Ranchero wristwatches. Apart from a brief revival of the Ranchero name in the 1970s, for the Belgian market, that was the end of the line for the name.

 

 

 

A double-signed Seamaster Ranchero - see text immediately above (pic from thesubdial.com):

menta-ranchero.jpg.4385fe6998dc82e768f69e91b68a8982.jpg

 

 

A stainless steel cased black dial Ranchero Ref. 2996 with sweep centre seconds hand and powered by a seventeen jewel caliber 284 movement. The dial has been refurbished and given tritium lume and the caseback has been given a polish which seems to have obliterated the word "WATERPROOF", but all other elements of the watch (apart from the strap) are original, including the hands and the crystal (pics from vintage-portfolio.com):

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I mentioned at the beginning of this topic that the Omega Ranchero has become a desirable acquisition in the world of watch collecting and this has led to the model being frequently faked or “frankened”; great caution should be exercised when buying a Ranchero, and the prospective purchaser should be on their guard to take into account any refurbishment or restoration that might have taken place. Serial numbers for Rancheros from the late 1950s should be in the range of 15 to 17 million and where the crystal is original to the watch there should be a tiny omega logo in its centre. Given the Ranchero’s popularity in recent years, it is ironic that in 2017 Omega released a 60th anniversary trilogy comprising the 1957 Seamaster 300, Railmaster and Speedmaster, thus ignoring the Ranchero - the so-called “fourth musketeer”.

 

 

 

A Seamaster or a Ranchero: This interesting, untouched and rare example of the Ranchero merging with the Seamaster range sports a rose gold-plated case and is powered by a caliber 284 movement. Case and designation for this watch are as for the Ranchero, while branding on the dial is for the Seamaster, probably intended for the European market (pic from thewatchcollector.co.uk):

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A stainless steel Omega Ranchero Ref. 2990 from 1959 with matt white dial  (pics from timeline.watch):

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References and Sources used for the Text of this Topic

 

Analog Shift, “Omega Ranchero”. Online at shop.analogshift.com/products/omega-ranchero-as02187

Connor, Andrew, “The Omega Ranchero Was a Handsome Watch That Only Sold for Two Years”, Watches You Should Know, 27 September 2018. Online at gearpatrol.com/watches/a494245/watches-you-should-know-omega-ranchero/

“Omega price list effective 1st August 1959”. Online at omegaforums.net/threads/vintage-1960-omega-ranchero-ref-2990-1-authenticity-check.105101/

Ron, “A Long Lost Relative - The Omega Ranchero”, The Subdial: Looking Closer at Watches, Horology, and Time, 16 September 2019. Online at thesubdial.com/author/rhoude/

Timeline Watch Collection, “1958: Omega Ranchero”. Online at timeline.watch/watch/1958-omega-ranchero-ref-ck2990/

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