Hiren Kumar Bose goes back in time to retell the story of Speedmaster’s beginning and ushering of its new avatar
“Meeting a member of one of the world’s most elite clubs – only 12 men have ever walked on the Moon – is a thrilling moment in one’s life. More so, when you get to speak to the astronaut who followed Neil Armstrong on the Moon and stepped on its surface: Buzz Aldrin,” wrote Mitrajit Bhattacharya, my colleague, in an article published in our sister publication, btw, in April 2009, having met Aldrin at an event organized by Omega at the BaselWorld on the 40th anniversary of the historical event.
Time flies and we see its ephemeral nature captured in timepieces. Ten years have passed since the Aldrin meet happened.
This year happens to be the 50th year of the event. The three astronauts flying in the Apollo 11 Saturn V space vehicle launched into space on the 16th of July, 1969, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida were each officially equipped with an Omega Speedmaster, including Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin. The watch came to be known as the Moonwatch, for it became the only wristwatch approved by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) for all its manned space flights. Even before Apollo 11, the Omega Speedmaster had been a vital tool aboard each of NASA’s manned missions, including those in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.
On the 22nd of July, after more than 21.5 hours on the lunar surface, Armstrong and Aldrin lifted off in Eagle’s ascent stage carrying 21.55 kg of moon samples. They eventually reached Columbia in lunar orbit, along with Michael Collins, who had been waiting for them while flying solo around the moon. Collins later said, “Not since Adam has any human known such solitude.”
The journey home, however, was not a farewell for the Speedmaster! The watch returned to the moon for all of the future lunar landings. This included Apollo 12, Apollo 14, Apollo 15, Apollo 16 and Apollo 17. To this very day, only 12 men have walked on the moon, yet the Speedmaster has been there for every step.
Long before it reached the moon, the original Speedmaster from 1957 was made to support auto-racing teams and engineers on the track. For that reason, it was the very first watch to place its tachymeter scale on the bezel. Along with the chronograph function, this allowed racers to easily measure elapsed times and calculate their speed. In design, these early Speedmasters featured distinctive “broad arrow” hands; a steel-coloured bezel with a base 1000 tachymeter scale; and asymmetrical case with straight lugs. Inside, each model was driven by the now-famous Calibre 321.
With the introduction of the Speedmaster ST 145.022 in 1968, the Moonwatch received its first significant internal upgrade. The new Calibre 861 offered greater consistency and precision and paved the way for future variations. Along with this extra innovation, it featured a painted Omega logo instead of an applied one, and was also the first Speedmaster, from 1970 onwards, to include the famous words; “FLIGHT-QUALIFIED BY NASA FOR ALL MANNED SPACE MISSIONS”, as well as “THE FIRST WATCH WORN ON THE MOON”. From this model, one can clearly see a direct link to the Speedmaster of today.
Today’s Speedmaster looks almost identical to the models that NASA’s astronauts wore into space in the 1960s and 70s. Without a doubt, it combines the same pioneering spirit and distinguishing style. From 1997, the models were upgraded with Luminova detailing for better visibility, as well as the new Calibre 1861 – built with more rhodium-plating for greater stability.
In November 1969, just four months after the Apollo 11 landing, a unique Omega Speedmaster was launched to celebrate the mission’s success. This was the brand’s first numbered edition Speedmaster and only 1,014 pieces were produced between 1969 and 1973. Numbers 3 – 28 and 1001 – 1008 were gifted to NASA’s serving astronauts and the watch has become a highly sought-after the timepiece in Omega’s famous collection.
This year, Omega revisits that golden design, with a Limited Edition of 1,014 pieces. It carries many of the same historical touches as the original but also introduces some pioneering features of its own.