The Omega Speedmaster Professional ‘Moonwatch’ has been a part of popular culture for every generation of watch enthusiasts since the late 1960s. Like the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and the Patek Philippe Nautilus, the Moonwatch owes its timelessness largely to the fact that Omega has done almost nothing to change the design of the watch over the years. The piece available in boutiques today looks almost identical to a 1980’s auction piece or to this reference 145.0022 from circa 1975. It’s a perfect watch, and Omega was right to leave it alone. — Chris Greenberg
Synonymous with more than space
Today, the name ‘Speedmaster’ is synonymous with the space race. But the original Speedmaster, the 1957 ref. CK 2915 ‘Broad Arrow,’ was, according to vintage Omega ads, designed for ‘Men who reckon time in seconds...for scientists, engineers, T.V. and movie producers, athletes and their coaches,’ and some of those same ads boast of its use in professional auto racing. In 1959, Omega introduced the ref. CK 2998, for which the ‘Broad Arrow’-style hands were replaced with ‘Alpha’ hands, the chrono pushers were fitted with O-ring gaskets, and a black aluminum tachymeter bezel replaced the original version engraved in steel. From there, the path to what would eventually become known as the ‘Moonwatch’ included only two more major design steps. First, Omega had used the same straight-lug case for the first four Speedmaster references, but in 1963 it released the ref. 105.012, which had an asymmetrical case — the look that still defines the watch today.
A new classic
Aesthetically, the 105.012 and all standard steel Speedmaster Professional references that followed (including this 145.0022) resemble today’s model in almost every way. Omega made its final major design change in 1968 with the ref. 145.022 (the immediate successor to this watch), which replaced the calibre 321 column wheel chronograph with the higher beat shuttle/cam chrono cal. 861. The 861 provided for greater accuracy, less wear over time (due to a synthetic chrono ‘brake’) and more efficient and cost-effective production and servicing. This model is driven by the stalwart 861; the Speedmaster Professional Moonwatches in Omega’s current collection are still outfitted with a nearly identical variant, the rhodium-plated cal. 1861.
Omega’s role in the space race began unofficially on Oct 3 1962 (only sixteen-and-a-half months after President John. F. Kennedy challenged Americans to land a man on the moon and bring him back safely), when NASA astronaut Wally Schirra wore his own personal Speedmaster ref. 2998 on the Mercury-Atlas 8 Sigma 7 mission. In early March of 1965, NASA deemed the Speedmaster ref. ST105.003 ‘flight qualified for manned space missions and EVA (extra-vehicular activity).’ This fourth iteration Speedmaster outperformed chronographs from three other manufacturers during a series of stress tests conducted by NASA to determine viability for the space program.
Three weeks later, on March 23 1965, the first manned Gemini flight (Gemini III) launched the ‘Molly Brown’ capsule into space, and the Speedmaster was on board. Ten weeks after that, NASA astronaut Edward White made the Speedmaster famous when he was photographed wearing the Speedmaster during the first American spacewalk. White’s extra-vehicular activity was an unbelievable achievement that was overshadowed only by the first lunar landing on July 20 1969.
The moonwalk, and a new nickname
The moon has ‘...only one-sixth the Earth’s gravity,’ according to NASA, but when Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the surface, the Speedmaster he wore performed without fail or complication in an environment devoid of atmosphere and foreign to mankind. From that moment forward, the Speedmaster Professional became known as the ‘Moonwatch.’ It’s no exaggeration to say that the Speedmaster ‘Moon’ remained legendary through its history thereafter: Only twelve men since 1969 have set foot on the moon, and each one wore a Speedmaster during his respective missions.
Lifesaving accuracy and reliability
Omega’s NASA heroics weren’t over: On April 13 1970, the Apollo 13 mission (designed to be the third lunar landing) was aborted nearly 200,000 miles above the earth, after a service module oxygen tank exploded. In what might be the most important historical use of a chronograph, the crew used its Speedmaster Professionals to time the fuel burns critical to achieving the proper trajectory for re-entry. The capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean near Samoa on April 17th, after traveling a total distance of 622,268 miles. Unsurprisingly, Omega was the standard choice for most of the world’s top space agencies by 1975, and has meanwhile played an integral role in Olympic and auto race timing, polar exploration, and even timekeeping aboard the Concorde.
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Images by Raymond Patrick