Watch of the Month: A Look at the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch
This entry was posted on May 23, 2018.
By far one of the most famous mechanical Swiss watches on earth is the one that ventured out into space. We’re speaking of course about the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch, our watch of the month. Let’s explore the details about this legendary chronograph with a brief recap of its history and a look at some contemporary versions of the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch.
Brief History of the Omega Speedmaster and NASA
Omega introduced the Speedmaster chronograph in 1957 and positioned it as a watch for motorsports. Given the watch’s chronograph stopwatch functionality and tachymeter scale to calculate the average speed of a moving object over a certain distance, this made perfect sense. However, about a decade later, the spirit of the Speedmaster watch would change forever.
On October 3rd, 1962, astronaut Wally Schirra wore his own Speedmaster during his Mercury 8 mission, making that the first Omega in space. In 1965, NASA made it official by qualifying Omega Speedmaster watches for piloted missions, including the ensuing Gemini 3 and Gemini 4 missions.
However, it was in the summer of 1969—when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin armed with their Omega watches became the first two humans to land on the moon—that the Speedmaster became known as the “Moonwatch.” While Neil Armstrong left his Speedy on board the Eagle lunar module as a back up to the malfunctioning electronic timing device, Buzz Aldrin has his Speedmaster strapped around his spacesuit when he took his steps on the moon.
According to the Omega Museum, Armstrong’s and Aldrin’s NASA-issued Omega chronographs was the Speedmaster ref. ST105.012 model, sporting a 42mm case, a hesalite crystal protecting the dial, and a hand-wound Caliber 321 ticking away within. Hesalite was chosen as the ideal material for the crystal since it doesn’t break into small pieces when it breaks, which would be a big problem in zero gravity environments.
This July will mark 49 years since that milestone Apollo 11 lunar landing. Since then, Omega has supplied watches for all subsequent NASA lunar landings and of course, created plenty of new Speedmaster Moonwatch models for the public too. Here we take a look at some modern interpretations of the legendary Omega Moonwatch, all carrying on the spirit of the original.
Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch
The Omega Speedmaster Professional “Moonwatch” ref. 3570.50.00 is a direct descendent of the first Moonwatch. Crafted in stainless steel, it features a 42mm case and hesalite crystal. There’s also the familiar black tachymeter bezel and black dial combination. On that dial there are the small running seconds, 30-minute, and 12-hour subdials in the customary 3/6/9 layout. Flanking the winding crown is the duo of chronograph pushers to stop, start, and restart the central chronograph hand on the dial.
Driving the functions of the watch is the Omega Caliber 1861 manual-wound mechanical movement with 48 hours of power reserve. Although the Cal. 1861 is an updated version of the Caliber 321 that journeyed on Apollo 11, Caliber 1861-powered Speedmasters also made it to the moon on other NASA lunar missions.
Protecting the movement is a steel screw-down caseback with some very cool markings. Along with the famous hippocampus Speedmaster logo, there are also two pieces of text: “FLIGHT QUALIFIED BY NASA FOR ALL MANNED SPACE MISSIONS” and “THE FIRST WATCH WORN ON THE MOON.”
Completing the look of the iconic Omega Speedmaster Professional “Moonwatch” ref. 3570.50.00 chronograph is a stainless steel link bracelet.
Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Co-Axial
While the original Moonwatch was a manual-wound watch, Omega understood that contemporary life calls for some modern practicalities—like an automatic movement. The Omega Speedmaster "Moonwatch" Co-Axial ref. 3220.127.116.11.01.002 is a fantastic blend of heritage inspiration and modern-day expectations.
Powering the Speedmaster is the Omega Co-Axial Caliber 9300. Introduced at Baselworld 2011, Cal. 9300 was the very first chronograph movement from the famed Omega Co-Axial family of calibers. The Co-Axial calibers are equipped with the co-axial escapement, which cause less friction than traditional Swiss lever escapements. In real-world terms, this translates to less frequent servicing needs and improved performance. The Cal. 9300 offers 60 hours of power reserve.
In addition to the automatic movement, the Co-Axial Moonwatch has other key differences over the manual-wound Speedmaster we outlined above. First, the stainless steel case measures a slightly larger 44.25mm. Also, the black dial includes only two subdials rather than three as the 12-hour and 60-minute chronograph recorders are combined on one subdial at 3 o’clock. Furthermore, there’s also a date window at 6 o’clock for added functionality.
Finally, rather than hesalite, the Speedmaster Moonwatch Co-Axial ref. 318.104.22.168.01.002 is furnished with a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal.
Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Dark Side of the Moon
Taking yet another approach to their space legacy, Omega introduced the “Dark Side of the Moon” Speedmaster chronographs as a tribute to the Apollo 8 astronauts who were the first to see, well, the dark side of the moon! For example, this Omega Speedmaster “Dark Side of the Moon” ref. 322.214.171.124.01.003 is an all-black version of the Speedmaster using zirconium dioxide ceramic.
The black ceramic 44.25mm case has the signature tachymeter scale laser-etched into the ceramic bezel, while the matching black ceramic dial is home to 18k white gold hands and a pair of ceramic subdials at 3 and 9 o’clock. Plus, there’s the date window at 6 o’clock and sitting above the dial is sapphire crystal.
Flip the watch around and you’ll get a glimpse of the Omega Co-Axial Caliber 9300 automatic movement via the transparent caseback. Also, in case you forget the name of the watch, Omega also engraved the caseback with the "DARK SIDE OF THE MOON” moniker.
Regardless of which Omega Speedmaster “Moonwatch” model you choose to wear, they are all linked to a significant time in human history. Out in space or right here on earth, the Moonwatch is an iconic timepiece not just for Omega, but for the luxury watch world at large. A little piece of Switzerland joined the American astronauts that day as they proudly planted the U.S. flag on the lunar surface.