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The Omega Speedmaster “Moonwatch” is one of the most legendary and collectible watch models in the world, its fame derived from its pivotal role in history as the first watch worn on the moon. Now the undisputed flagship of Omega’s vast and diverse watch portfolio, the original Speedmaster has changed very little from the timepiece worn by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Apollo 11 mission more than 50 years ago. However, over the course of subsequent years, Omega has released dozens of special editions of the “Speedy,” many in commemoration of milestone moments in NASA history, which have featured distinctive differences from the core model and have gained an avid following of their own. Perhaps no Speedmaster best exemplifies both the watch’s enduring collectibility, as well as its significant role in the Space Race and beyond, more so than the "Silver Snoopy'' editions. How did Snoopy, the beloved cartoon beagle from Charles M. Schulz’s iconic “Peanuts” comic strip, find his way onto the dial of a spacefaring Swiss watch in the first place, you ask? Here’s the story.
As related in far more depth in my article on the history of the Moonwatch, the Omega Speedmaster was launched in 1957 and originally intended as a wristwatch for timing motorsports. In the 1960s, however, the watch was submitted as one of a handful of chronographs tested by NASA to endure the rigors of space travel. After emerging victorious in the competition, the Speedmaster was the sole timepiece certified as “flight qualified for manned space missions” and became part of the official, government-issued equipment for the Apollo space missions, which culminated in July 1969 with the moon landing.
The Apollo program, however, continued beyond that historical accomplishment; NASA launched six subsequent manned space flights to the moon, the final one, Apollo 17, returning to Earth in December 1972. But it is the infamous Apollo 13 mission, launched on April 11, 1970, that would be the most historically significant as well as the one that would give rise to the decades-long association between NASA, Omega, and Snoopy.
Many of us too young to have followed the harrowing story in the news will recall its dramatization in the 1995 movie Apollo 13. The eponymous mission, which was the third space flight bound for the moon, experienced a potentially fatal equipment failure when an oxygen tank exploded, crippling the service module that provided life-sustaining functions to the crew, made up of Commander James A. Lovell, lunar module pilot Fred Haise, and command module pilot Jack Swigert. The original lunar landing mission had to be aborted and the explosion had thrown the spacecraft dangerously off course. With time running out, Lovell (portrayed by Tom Hanks in the film) executed a risky maneuver to ensure a safe landing: a fuel burn of precisely 14 seconds’ duration — remember that number — that would reorient the spacecraft to a safe angle for a return to Earth’s atmosphere. The onboard clock had malfunctioned, so the Speedmaster worn by Swigert (that’s Kevin Bacon to the film buffs) was pressed into service to time the crucial interval for the burn. The desperate gambit was successful, and the crew managed to return safely to Earth on April 17.
In the wake of Apollo 13, it became clear to the brass at NASA that the Omega Speedmaster, a humble piece of personal timekeeping equipment, had played a pivotal role in averting what would have surely been a national tragedy and possibly a crippling public-relations blow to the space program. The agency decided to award Omega with a special honor that it had established in 1968 for its employees and contractors: the “Silver Snoopy” Award, bestowed upon individuals who have achieved, as per its certificate, “professionalism, dedication, and outstanding support that greatly enhanced space flight safety and mission success.” In addition to a commendation letter and a framed certificate, award recipients are given a sterling silver lapel pin (above), itself having been flown aboard a space mission, that depicts Schulz’s beloved “Peanuts” character as an astronaut. On October 5, 1970, NASA astronaut Thomas Stafford, one of only 24 people to ever fly to the moon, presented the Silver Snoopy to Omega’s then-technical manager Hans Widmer.
The idea to use Snoopy as a mascot for NASA’s space program originated with a public affairs director at Houston’s Lyndon B.Johnson Space Center (at the time called simply the Manned Spaceflight Center), responding to a NASA edict for a recognizable character to symbolize its mission in the same manner as the U.S. Forest Service used Smokey the Bear. As it turned out, Charles Schulz was a strong supporter of the U.S. space program and was happy to lend the imagery of his character, already a pop cultural icon by the 1960s, to NASA free of charge to promote its activities. (United Features Syndicate, which distributed the “Peanuts” comics strips, also agreed to the usage.) Schulz himself provided the illustration of the astronaut-helmeted Snoopy that was used for the pin, as well as for other NASA promotional posters. Perhaps not coincidentally, NASA had assigned call signs for both modules of the preceding Apollo 10 mission: “Snoopy” for the lunar module (since its job was to snoop around the moon’s surface for a landing site) and “Charlie Brown” for the command module (apparently for a nickname the module’s pilot got tagged with).
In 2003, Omega took many of its fans by surprise with the launch of the Speedmaster Professional Ref. 3578.51.00, aka the very first “Silver Snoopy” edition of the iconic Moonwatch. It was surprising because the year itself was not a particularly major anniversary year for the events the timepiece was issued to commemorate, namely the Apollo 13 mission and the award that followed it. (It marked 33 years, rather than the more common 30 or 35, for anyone counting.) Also unconventional was the number of pieces issued in the limited-edition run: 5,441, which represented a portion of the total length of the Apollo 13 mission — 142 hours, 54 minutes, and 41 seconds. These peculiarities notwithstanding, the watch was a huge hit, one of the first and most sought-after of the slew of commemorative Speedmaster limited editions celebrating space-travel milestones.
The watch has the familiar 42mm stainless steel case of the classic Speedy, with the black tricompax dial and baton hands; the dial is covered by a Hesalite crystal rather than the sapphire crystal standard on most luxury watches today, just like the watches that went to the moon in 1969. Distinguishing this edition from the mainline models is its painted 9 o’clock subdial, which duplicates the actual Snoopy badge used by NASA, complete with the “Eyes on the Stars” motto above Snoopy’s head. The same imagery appears as a colorful sticker on the sapphire caseback. Beating behind that caseback is the manually wound Omega Caliber 1861, an updated version of the Caliber 861 that powered the original watches worn by Apollo 11 astronauts. As with the Hesalite crystal, the use of a manually wound movement rather than an automatic one in a watch at this level of luxury is something of an anomaly these days, but one that caters to the desires of the Moonwatch’s coterie of purist fans. Fully wound, the movement stores a 48-hour power reserve. The watch remains a coveted item on the secondary market due to its relative rarity, fetching up to $25,000.
Would-be collectors who were unable to snap up one of the first Speedmaster “Silver Snoopy” editions in 2003 would have to wait more than a decade before the second one emerged. Unveiled in 2015, which was the 45th anniversary of Apollo 13, the limited-edition model (Ref. 3126.96.36.199.04.003) also had a production run that was smaller than its 2003 predecessor’s, but also not as esoteric in its reasoning: 1,970 pieces in honor of the seminal year of 1970. Once again, Omega uses the 42mm stainless steel case with its pump chronograph pushers, hallmark twisted lugs, and tachymeter bezel, the latter an element ushered into the world of watchmaking by the very first Speedmaster, here in black ceramic. The dial, however, stands apart from that of its predecessor, in stark white with black details like the baton hands and applied hour markers, much like Snoopy himself.
On this model’s dial, Snoopy again occupies the 9 o’clock small seconds subdial, not frolicking in his astronaut’s helmet as in the 2003 edition but crawling parallel to a horizontal straight line that bisects the subdial, accompanied by a thought balloon expressing the resolute mantra, “Failure is not an option,” which bridges the center area between the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock subdials, directly under the “Omega Speedmaster Professional’ logo at 12 o’clock. (The phrase also graces the Apollo 13 movie poster.) Not far from it is another motivational quote, cleverly inserted on the periphery of the dial between 12 and 3 o’clock beneath an arc of 14 tiny, comic-strip-style frames: “What could you do in 14 seconds?” — a reference, of course, to what the Apollo 11 astronauts managed to accomplish in that frantic time frame back in 1970. Green-glowing Super-LumiNova highlights many of the dial’s details, including the crawling Snoopy figure and even on the numerals of the bezel’s tachymeter scale. The caseback is solid on this model, its main talking point the use of an Astronaut Snoopy medallion in 925 silver, framed by a blue enamel background, which resembles the illustration on the official badge. The model contains the same manually wound 1861 movement as the previous limited edition, but is notably mounted on a black-coated nylon fabric strap rather than the steel Speedmaster bracelet. This 2015 edition is even rarer than the 2003 model and, consequently, even more expensive on the secondary market, with many examples priced at $40,000 or more.
The year 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13, and there was no way that even a devastating worldwide pandemic was going to stop Omega from commemorating it with perhaps the most spectacular Silver Snoopy edition to date. The first thing you’ll notice is the use of dark blue for the subdials, indexes, tachymeter bezel, and even the strap of the watch — an unconventional color for a Speedy, inspired by the colors of the NASA patches used on the original 1970 mission. The bezel is in blue ceramic, the indexes in blue PVD; the 9 o’clock sundial, as per tradition, hosts the playful image of Astronaut Snoopy, with the “50th Anniversary” text above his helmet, here represented as a silver medallion evoking the official award pin. Like both its predecessors, the case has the classic Speedmaster configuration, with a 42mm diameter, twisted lugs and pump pushers.
Flipping the case over, you’ll discover the main reason why the most recent Silver Snoopy Speedmaster is so special. The caseback depicts a photorealistic view of the Earth and its galaxy from the Moon, with a cartoonishly rendered command module rocket, occupied by Snoopy, poised at the tip of a hidden, moving hand, which Omega calls a “Magic Hand.” When the wearer activates the Speedmaster’s built-in chronograph, Snoopy begins traversing the circumference of the caseback in his little rocketship, disappearing behind the “dark side of the moon” and then re-emerging, in an animated homage to the voyage of the Apollo 13 astronauts. But that’s not the only eye-catching dynamic on the back side of the watch: the blue disk representing the Earth also rotates once per minute in conjunction with the watch’s small seconds hand. (But don't just take my word for it; check out Teddy's video review of the watch here.)
Inside, as in other Speedmaster Snoopy models, we find a manually winding movement, in this case Omega’s Master Chronometer Caliber 3861, which is essentially the same movement that occupied the original Speedmaster “Moonwatch” but souped up with modern technical advances like Omega’s co-axial escapement and a magnetic-resistant silicon balance spring. It also boasts Omega’s “Master Chronometer” certification, which attests to the watch’s accuracy, reliability, and robustness. The best news of all for enthusiasts is that Omega has not put a “limited edition” tag on this 50th Anniversary model, so you can acquire one direct from Omega (as opposed to one marked up, you should pardon the expression, to the moon on the secondary market) for an MSRP of $9,600. Will the presence of a Silver Snoopy Speedmaster in Omega’s regular collection forestall future limited editions? Looking ahead to 2025, we can actually foresee two Apollo 13 anniversaries: 55 years since the mission as well as 30 years since the release of the award-winning movie. The combo just might be too tempting to resist.
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