The Speedmaster Reference 2915: The Birth of the Legend
The 1950s marked the introduction of a number of legendary “tool” or “sport” watch lines that continue to be produced today. The Swiss watch industry, which had previously faced healthy competition from abroad including the United States, began to assert its international market dominance in the 1950s. Swiss watch companies began increasing in revenue and prestige, while technical advancements allowed for the introduction of more robust watches, including highly water-resistant watches for divers and antimagnetic watches for engineers and those working near strong magnets. OMEGA introduced its own series of these robust “tool” or “sport” watches during this time: the Seamaster 300, Railmaster, and Speedmaster lines. These watches were each made and marketed more specifically as tools for particular customer segments rather than as watches meant for popular purchase and use. With its completed design toward the end of 1956 and introduction to the public in 1957, the Speedmaster, in particular, was a completely new innovative category of watch: the “tool” or “sport” chronograph.
The Speedmaster, according to original advertisements from the time, grew out of the Seamaster line, sharing a similar case and screw down case back to the Seamaster 300 reference 2913 and Railmaster reference 2914, but adding round capped pushers and using the caliber 321 chronograph movement supplied by Lemania (that OMEGA used for years prior in other chronographs). While OMEGA designed the Seamaster 300 for diving and the Railmaster for use by strong magnetic fields, OMEGA designed the Speedmaster specifically for driving, with flying as a secondary use. The engineers that developed the Speedmaster could scarcely dream that successors in the Speedmaster line would be used by astronauts floating in space and walking on the surface of the Moon.
The Speedmaster had a particular key innovation: a fixed bezel showing a tachymeter scale. The benefit of this bezel was that it was much easier to read speed when driving than previous chronographs that placed small tachymeter tracks around the edge of the dial. When placed on the dial surface, the tachymeter scale would often be extremely small and difficult to read. An external bezel depicting a tachymeter scale would allow for the scale to never be blocked by a central seconds hand or obscured by a crystal, while placing it at a height in line with the central seconds hand. This made reading the tachymeter scale much easier when driving around a fixed course with marked distances at a high speed.
The Speedmaster also appealed to drivers due to the large rectangular luminous markers and the hands filled with lume, allowing for the reading of the time in darker conditions or at night. The Speedmaster was quite large in size for its time, again assisting with legibility. The size also allowed for the screw down case back and capped rather than square pushers, making the Speedmaster more resistant to water, dust, and other difficult conditions that would damage other chronographs from the time. A number of the Speedmaster’s characteristics made the watch appealing for use by pilots, and the Fuerza Aerea del Peru (or Peruvian Air Force) ordered examples of the reference 2915.
The reference 2915 featured a number of special elements later altered within the Speedmaster line. The reference 2915-1, 2915-2, and early examples of the 2915-3 included a unique hour and minute hand shared across the early examples of the Seamaster reference 2913 and Railmaster reference 2914 lines: an hour hand with a large luminous triangle at the end and long triangular minute hand, commonly referred to as 'broad arrow' hands. In many instances, the luminous material fell out of the hour hand, perhaps due to the larger surface area of the luminous material making it more prone to falling out during shocks or drops. For later examples of the reference 2915-3, OMEGA changed these hands to dauphine (also referred to as Alpha hands), or thin triangular hands, before switching to the straight baton hands introduced in the 1960s and still used in the Speedmaster Professional today.
Another key element of the reference 2915-1, 2915-2, and early examples of the 2915-3 was the steel bezel with an engraved tachymeter track. There are variations of the steel bezel on surviving examples, including some with a flat “3” in 300 while others hand a rounded “3” in 300. Some also appeared to have numerals that were originally unpainted, while others had black paint in the numerals. It is possible that OMEGA may have outsourced the bezel production to different companies, or had some variation from a single company over time. The steel bezels seemed particularly prone to losing adhesion to the case and were not as legible as the painted bezel with minute demarcations on the Seamaster, so OMEGA developed a bezel with an aluminum insert painted black with the tachymeter numerals exposed as grey metal. OMEGA introduced this aluminum insert bezel on the reference 2915-3 and it is believed that some earlier reference 2915-1 and 2915-2 examples may have had their bezels switched to the aluminum insert for better visibility, while other examples may have had their bezels switched simply due to the original steel bezel no longer adhering to the case.
Additional notable elements of the reference 2915 were the case back and the movement. The case back on the early reference 2915 examples simply was blank and on the beveled edge near where a tool could be used to open the screw down case back was an engraved “SPEEDMASTER” in all capital letters. Later examples of the reference 2915 had the famous hippocampus, or mythical seahorse, logo engraved on the case back. Jean-Pierre Borle, an engraver, developed the logo after seeing an image in Venice of the Roman god of the sea Neptune driving a chariot pulled by “seahorses” resembling real horses. OMEGA began using the hippocampus logo to symbolize water resistance in 1958 and the logo depicted the bridles on the seahorse as an artistic way to reflect the image of Neptune and suggest the wearer of a watch with the symbol could also be a god of the sea. Finally, the caliber 321 movement used in the reference 2915 had certain minor modifications in later references.
THE BIRTH OF A LEGEND
The distinctive elements of the early examples of the reference 2915, particularly the 'Broad Arrow' hands and steel bezel, combined with the fact it was the first Speedmaster reference made and the absolute rarity of original extant examples, make it the most desirable Speedmaster reference for collectors. There is no question that as the origin of the “tool” or “sport” chronograph genus and OMEGA'S most recognizable and legendary line of watches, the Speedmaster reference 2915 is one of the most important OMEGA references ever made. Thus, it should serve as no surprise that original examples of the reference 2915 are some of the most highly-sought trophies by vintage watch collectors.