- World-renowned watch: NASA's official watch
- Robustness thoroughly tested by NASA
- Manual chronograph movement
- Tachymetric scale
- Choice between sapphire glass and Plexiglass
A Tried and Tested Chronograph
The Speedmaster is more than just a watch; it's also a chronograph, meaning it has a stopwatch function. This watch has a stainless steel case
, is powered by a manual movement, and features a tachymetric bezel. It is made by Omega
, one of the top Swiss luxury watch manufacturers.
There's a lot more to this watch than just that, however. The remarkable story of the Speedmaster, or the "Speedy," as its fans lovingly call it, began in the fall of 1964 when NASA commenced their watch selection process. While the rest of the astronauts' equipment was being specially made, NASA decided to use commercial watches. They put watches from various manufacturers to the test, subjecting them to temperatures as high as 93 °C and as low as -18 ºC. Furthermore, the watches were made to endure conditions with 95% humidity, violent shocks, vibrations, and high pressure, as well as vacuum pressure.
The Omega Speedmaster was the only watch to pass all of the tests and at the beginning of March 1965, NASA decided to use it. The astronauts of the Gemini 3 mission wore the watch during their flight on March 23, 1965. Around two months later, Edward White wore a Speedmaster Professional during his spacewalk. The watch functioned perfectly even in the unusual conditions of space.
Omega added "Professional" to the Speedmaster's title after receiving NASA certification in 1965, four years before the Moon landing. Yet the watch had already had its space premiere in 1962: Astronaut Walter Schirra took his own Speedmaster along on the Mercury-Atlas 8 mission, which orbited the Earth six times.
No other watch combines a legend with functional technology like the Speedy. If you decide on a Speedmaster Professional, then you’re purchasing a watch with a unique history. Moreover, it’s one of the most beloved watches there is among watch enthusiasts and collectors. It also has impressive technical features: Its chronograph function allows you to use it as a timer, and the tachymetric scale on the fixed bezel helps you determine average speed.
Die-hard Speedy fans prefer the Hesalite version of the watch. Hesalite is Omega's name for Plexiglass. The original Speedmasters from the 1960s use this material, as it doesn't splinter and can be affordably produced and replaced. NASA required that the watch wouldn't splinter out of safety concerns. The Hesalite version is still produced today; you can find it under reference number 318.104.22.168.01.005. This Moonwatch variant is closest to the watch from the 1960s and costs around 3,500 euros new.
A more practical material for use on Earth, however, is sapphire glass, as it doesn't easily scratch. The version with sapphire glass can be identified by reference number 322.214.171.124.01.006 and is available for around 300 euros more than its Hesalite sibling.
In terms of the movements, you should be aware of the difference between the 1861 and the 1863. While they are identical in technical terms, the 1863 is more ornately decorated. Therefore, models powered by this movement have a see-through case back so you can admire its beauty in action.
With a case diameter of 42 mm, the Moonwatch certainly has an impressive appearance. A smaller alternative is the Speedmaster Automatic "Reduced." Omega produced this watch from 1988 to 2012. The Speedmaster Automatic "Reduced"
has a design very similar to the Professional. However, thanks to its smaller 39-mm case
, it complements thinner wrists. A well-maintained model can cost around 1,700 euros.
Two variants of the Speedmaster Professional feature a moon phase indicator. The version with the usual 42-mm case and reference number 3876.50.31 costs around 4,000 euros new. The larger version has a diameter of 44.25 mm and can be identified by its reference number, 3126.96.36.199.01.001. You should be prepared to spend around 7,500 euros for the larger version.
If you're on the hunt for an original Speedmaster Professional from the time of the Apollo missions, then you should keep an eye out for reference numbers 105.012 and 145.012. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin wore a 105.012 as he took his first steps on the Moon on July 21st, 1969, while his colleague Michael Collins wore a 145.012. Neil Armstrong left his Speedmaster on board the lunar module, as its clock was broken. A 105.012 from the mid-1960s is rare. The value depends on its condition and if the accompanying box and documents are available. It is much more expensive than a new Speedmaster Professional and in some cases can cost over 10,000 euros. A 145.012 in very good condition is a bit less expensive than its predecessor, but not by much.
The change from reference number 145.012 to 145.022 marks the change from caliber 321 to 861. According to Omega, caliber 861 is more robust. You can buy a pre-owned Speedmaster Professional 145.022 for 3,000 to 4,000 euros, making it significantly more affordable than its predecessors. As long as you find its functionality more important than its collector's value, then the 145.022 is a good choice for you. It also has potential to increase in value. Omega produced watches with the 861 movement until 1997.
If you'd like a more colorful Professional, then look for a watch with reference number 3188.8.131.52.01.004. While the range of Speedmaster models normally keeps it subtle with a dark color palette, this watch truly pops. It has a red and white checkered dial edge with a special story behind it. The watch earned the nickname Tintin after the comic hero created by the Belgian cartoonist Hergé. In the issue Destination Moon from 1953, a red and white checkered rocket plays an important role. The rocket's checkered pattern inspired this unusual Speedmaster Professional's design. If you decide on this watch, you'll have another interesting origin story to tell - in addition to all the others already surrounding the Speedy.
- Hesalite version slightly less expensive than the sapphire glass version
- Reference numbers 105.012 and 145.012 used by Apollo 11 astronauts
- Pre-1968 models valuable to collectors
- Large selection of watches with reference number 145.022
- Limited special edition: Silver Snoopy Award
A Consistent Design for Over 50 Years
The 1962 version of the Speedmaster was a chronograph with three subdials. The subsidiary seconds subdial was at nine o'clock, and the hour and minute counter subdials were at three and six o'clock, respectively. Not much has changed since then; the stainless steel case, black dial with white accents, and tachymetric bezel all remain key to the Speedmaster's design. A push-piece on each side of the crown controls the stopwatch function. A long, textile band suitable for spacesuits replaced the traditional leather or stainless steel band.
Neil Armstrong was the first man to step foot on the Moon on July 21st, 1969. However, because the clock on board had failed, he left his Speedmaster behind as a replacement and took his historic step on the Moon's surface without a watch. About fifteen minutes later, his fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin took his first steps on the Moon with his Speedmaster on his wrist. Aldrin's watch has been missing since 1971. He sent it to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., but the package never arrived. The Speedmasters belonging to the other Apollo 11 astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Mike Collins, are on display at the museum.
"Houston, We've Had a Problem."
The Apollo 13 mission was plagued with bad luck. However, it provided the Speedmaster with its first opportunity to shine, even if it was only for 14 seconds. After an oxygen tank exploded, the astronauts were forced to cancel their planned Moon landing. Commander Jim Lovell reported the incident with the now-famous phrase, "Houston, we've had a problem." From that point on, the mission's goal was to return to Earth safely. In order to do so, the astronauts had to right their course and burn their rockets for exactly 14 seconds. Astronaut Jack Swigert used his Speedmaster to time and the maneuver worked. If it had failed, Apollo 13 would have missed the Earth by about 60,000 km and disappeared into the vastness of space.
For its role in saving the mission, the Speedmaster Professional was awarded the Silver Snoopy Award. This award is the highest honor given by NASA for achievements related to flight safety or mission success. The 1995 Hollywood adaptation of the story elevated the Speedmaster Professional's reputation even further. After shooting finished, the main actor Tom Hanks was a dedicated Speedy wearer. In honor of the watch's role in the Apollo 13 mission, Omega introduced two special limited edition models featuring Snoopy on the dial and case back.
The end of the Apollo flights in 1972 didn't mean the end of the Speedmaster Professional as an astronaut's watch, however, as it was also used on space shuttle flights.
A Movement True to the Original
Both the inside and outside of the Speedmaster have stayed nearly the same since the days of the Apollo missions. Omega uses the manual calibers 1861 and 1863 for the Speedmaster models. The movements have a 48-hour power reserve and vibrate at 21,600 alternations per hour (A/h). This was only 18,000 A/h until 1968, when the calibers were reworked. The movement was then replaced by the 861, which has been further produced as the 1861 since 1997.
The modern version of the Moonwatch has its case diameter in its name: the Speedmaster Professional 42 mm. It is waterproof to 50 m (165 ft, 5 bar) and thus, can also accompany you while swimming.
Fellow Astronauts: Breitling and Fortis
Although the Speedmaster Professional is the most prominent space watch, Omega does have a bit of competition. In May 1962, astronaut Scott Carpenter orbited the Earth three times with the Breitling Navitimer
, making it the first chronograph wristwatch in space. The Russian space agency also appreciated high-quality Swiss watchmaking: They relied on the Official Cosmonauts Chronograph
made by Fortis
. Breitling's Navitimer
is one of the most well-known pilot watches, and Fortis is one of the most prominent manufacturers of space and pilot watches. The Speedmaster, however, doesn't have its origins in flight travel, but rather in car racing. It first debuted in 1957 and as a chronograph, was designed to time laps.