July 20, 1969 – the Eagle module of the Apollo XI mission touches down on the surface of the Moon, the first time mankind has reached another celestial object. Neil Armstrong steps on to the surface, uttering the immortal words “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. Following him is Buzz Aldrin, and on his wrist exposed to the harsh environment is an Omega Speedmaster. This trusty timepiece was there to witness one of the greatest achievements in human history – as icons go, this watch’s story is quite literally out of this world. Welcome to the incredible story of the Moonwatch.
[image: Buzz Aldrin wearing his Omega Speedmaster]
The story of the Speedmaster starts 12 years before, with it originally being launched in 1957. The original looks a little different to the variant which became the Moonwatch, most notably with the “Broad Arrow” hands and the metal tachymetric bezel.
[image – An original 2915-1 Omega Speedmaster. Image credit Hodinkee]
Powering it was the legendary Cal. 321, a hand wound chronograph movement with a reputation for being as tough as nails. The watch quickly evolved, and its second version was the first time an Omega was used in space, being taken on the Gemini 4 mission on the wrist of Astronaut Wally Schirra. At this point, this was by no means an official watch of NASA, and was actually Schirra’s personal timepiece. Omega honoured this variant with the “First Omega in Space” edition in 2012, this certainly proved to be popular with collectors
[image – The Speedmaster ‘First Omega In Space’ was created in honour of Wally Schirra and his historic wristwatch]
The following version evolved into the look of the definitive Speedmaster, with the hands changing into the long, elegant white batons that remain to this day. 1964 was a defining year for the Speedmaster, as it was then that NASA began its experimentation to find a watch suitable for all of its manned space missions. Along with watches from several other brands, NASA subjected the Speedmaster to the most brutal tests ever carried out on a timepiece. It had to withstand extreme shocks, temperature variations, explosive decompression and exposure to vacuum, amongst other simulations of the harsh extremities of outer space. The Speedmaster was the only one that was still functioning correctly after the barrage of tests, which led it to being cleared for all of NASA’s manned space missions. Indeed, according to Omega, it is the only piece of equipment that has been used in every single manned NASA space mission from the mid-1960s, and plays an important role to this day
[image – The Omega Speedmaster is the only wristwatch approved by NASA for all manned space flights. The watch was put through a number of strenuous tests to determine wether it was suited to the extreme challenges of space]
It was during the doomed Apollo XIII mission that the Speedmaster had another important role to play. Whilst en route to the Moon, an explosion in an oxygen tank crippled the spacecraft, leaving it with limited battery power and an increasingly toxic atmosphere. To get back on a trajectory towards Earth, with enough time to survive, they had to fire the engines for a precise amount of time. What did Jim Lovell use to time this? You’ve guessed it, it was his Omega Speedmaster. As such, the watch played an important role in saving the lives of the three Apollo XIII astronauts – few watches can claim to have done that! NASA awarded Omega their “Snoopy” award, the highest decoration awarded by Astronauts for outstanding contributions.
[image: A tribute to the anniversary of the legendary Apollo 13 mission and the Silver Snoopy Award presented in 1970]
[image: The official certificate awarded to Omega in 1970 in recognition of the important role the Speedmaster watch played during the doomed Apollo XIII mission]
The Speedmaster has expanded out into a whole family of watches in the Omega range, but there is only one Moonwatch. You can still buy something almost identical to the very first one worn on the Moon. It features a hand-wound mechanical movement (designated cal. 1861, a variant of a movement used since the late 1960s) and a hesalite (acrylic) crystal. Some argue that having a plastic crystal makes a watch less suitable for every day wear – for me, it adds to the charm of the watch. With a little bit of know-how, and a bit of elbow grease, scratches can easily be dealt with. The Speedmaster Professional is a watch very close to my heart, and it’s one where I’ve put my money where my mouth is – it’s my absolute favourite piece in my collection. For me, it’s like wearing a piece of history on my wrist
[image – The Omega Speedmaster is one one of my favourite pieces]
Available to buy through Fraser Hart Omega stockists and also online, the Speedmaster Professional in my preferred combination retails at £3,340
Omega ref. 31130423001005 | FH Ref. 0734554 | http://www.fraserhart.co.uk/omega-speedmaster-professional-moonwatch-with-stainless-steel-bracelet-and-nato-strap.html