Omega Speedmaster: The Ultimate Guide to the First Watch on the Moon
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Omega Speedmaster: The Ultimate Guide to the First Watch on the Moon

The Omega Speedmaster, aka the Moonwatch, is one of the most legendary and collectible watch models in the world. Originally conceived as a wristwatch for race car drivers, it has since become much more associated with its pivotal role in history as the watch used by the astronauts on the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, thus making it the first watch worn on the moon. Now the undisputed centerpiece of the modern Omega watch portfolio, the original Speedmaster has not only changed very little from the timepiece that symbolized America’s Space Race supremacy more than 50 years ago; it has also given rise to dozens of special editions, innovative variations, and the use of bold new technologies and avant-garde materials in the pioneering spirit of early space exploration.

1957: A YEAR OF MASTERY

Omega Speedmaster original - 1957The Space Race that dominated the 1960s had yet to kick off in 1957, the year that Omega, a Swiss watch manufacturer founded in 1848, released a trio of sport-oriented tool watches with “Master” in their names, all descended stylistically from the first Seamaster of 1948, one of the first waterproof dress watches. One was the Seamaster 300, an evolution of the original that was built for deep-sea diving (I explore the Seamaster collection in depth here). The second was the Railmaster, a watch aimed at scientists and technicians whose technical hallmark was its extreme magnetic resistance (more on the Railmaster here). The third, and most influential, was the Speedmaster, which as its name implied was a watch designed for timing motorsports, equipped with a three-register chronograph and a tachymeter scale printed on the bezel; the latter feature was a watch-design first and has since been widely adopted by other chronograph watches. The original Speedy, as the model has come to be known in shorthand, was distinctly different from the model that went into space more than a decade later, distinguished by its “Broad Arrow” handset and vintage-style Omega logo with oval-shaped “O,” but it contained the same movement, manually wound, column-wheel chronograph Caliber 321. Models of that watch, Ref. CK2915, are now among the most valuable Omegas on the collectors’ market.

ROAD RACE TO SPACE RACE

As new watch models are wont to do, the Omega Speedmaster underwent a series of small (but, to collectors, significant) changes over the subsequent years. The Ref. CK298, launched in 1959, added a black aluminum bezel for its tachymeter scale and replaced the “Broad Arrow” hands with thin, Alpha-shaped ones. This reference, while still differing in some significant regards from the familiar “Moonwatch,” was the first Omega worn in space. Astronaut Wally Schirra wore one as his personal watch on the Sigma 7 mission of the Mercury program in 1962. 

Ed White Spacewalk

Following up the CK2998 in 1964 was the Ref. ST 105.003, the model that would play perhaps the second-most significant role in the collection’s spacefaring history. Differentiated aesthetically from the “Moonwatch” by its straighter lugs and dearth of crown guards, but also containing Caliber 321, this was the watch that astronaut Ed White wore on his milestone space walk (above) in 1965. Perhaps because of its role in this feat, it is also the watch that Omega submitted when NASA came calling that same year with a challenge. President John F. Kennedy had vowed in 1962 that the United States would send a man to the moon, and return him safely to Earth, by the end of the decade, and the time had come to find an officially approved, reliable watch that would serve as vital equipment for the bold moonshot mission.

Omega Speedmaster NASA tests

Omega was one of four watch manufacturers — out of 10 that were contacted — that submitted timepieces to NASA, and the engineer in charge of the competition, James H. Ragan, for consideration. (The others were from Hamilton, Longines-Wittnauer and Rolex, though Hamilton’s watch was disqualified for not meeting the stated criteria.) Under Ragan’s direction, all the watches were subjected to a rigorous regimen of tests to determine their mission-readiness. They were subjected to wide fluctuations in temperature, pressure and gravity that simulated the expected conditions on the lunar surface, as well as a punishing series of shocks and impacts and the rapid acceleration and deceleration that they would encounter in a space launch. When the results were tallied, on March 1, 1965, the Omega Ref. 105.003 emerged as the winner (it was also the unanimous favorite of the astronauts who’d been given all three qualifying watches to wear), becoming the first and only watch “flight qualified for manned space missions by NASA.”

Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch - back

TO THE MOON AND BACK

The Speedmaster that aced NASA’s testing gauntlet was actually discontinued by 1966, several years before the Apollo 11 mission to the moon was launched in 1969. The model was superseded by the Ref. ST105.012, whose case was larger (at 42mm) and now featured an asymmetrical build with crown guards and wider-set chronograph pushers on the right side. It is that watch that cemented its place in the annals of history on July 21, 1969, shortly after the Apollo 11 mission commander, Neil Armstrong, stepped onto the surface of the moon and declared the accomplishment “One small step, for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Omega Speedmaster MoonwatchArmstrong was not wearing his NASA-issued Omega watch at that moment, having left it behind aboard the Eagle lunar module to keep time in the event of a clock malfunction. Armstrong’s crewmate Buzz Aldrin, however, was wearing his when he emerged from the capsule several minutes later (below). After the crew returned to Earth, and the subsequent advertising blitz by Omega touting its watch’s spacefaring cred, the Omega Speedmaster’s reputation as the Moonwatch was secured, and its original identity as a racing watch, left in the lunar dust.

Buzz Aldrin wears Omega Speedmaster on the Moon

The Omega Speedmaster has been part of every astronaut’s equipment kit in every NASA mission since, from Apollo up to the present day. In April 1970, the Speedmaster made history a second time, as dramatized in the 1995 movie Apollo 13 (below). The eponymous mission, 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. With the lunar mission aborted and the spacecraft dangerously off-course, mission commander James A. 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 that would reorient the craft to a safe angle for a return to Earth’s atmosphere. The onboard clock had malfunctioned, so the Speedy worn by Lovell’s fellow astronaut Jack Swigert was pressed into service to time the crucial interval for the burn. The desperate gambit was successful, and the Apollo 13 crew returned safely to Earth on April 17.

Apollo 13 movie poster

For the role that its watch had played in saving the lives of astronauts, Omega received the Silver Snoopy Award, bestowed by NASA for outstanding achievements in “flight safety and mission success.” The imagery of the award — a sterling silver lapel pin featuring the beloved beagle from the “Peanuts” cartoon strip (his creator, Charles M. Schulz, was a strong supporter of the U.S. space program) — has been used by Omega in several “Silver Snoopy” Speedmaster commemorative editions in the years since, including the most recent one in 2020. 

Omega Speedmaster Silver Snoopy Award

As one would expect of such an iconic watch in our modern era of brand extensions and product families, the Omega Speedmaster has gone on to spawn numerous variations in the decades following its identity-defining lunar adventure. We spotlight several of the most notable versions of the Speedmaster below.

SPEEDMASTER MOONWATCH PROFESSIONAL CHRONOGRAPH 42mm

Omega Speedmaster MoonwatchPrice: $7,000, Case Size: 42mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Hesalite, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Manual-wind Omega 3861

Still the undisputed flagship of the expanded Omega Speedmaster family is the one that most resembles the original 1969 “Moonwatch” that Buzz Aldrin rocked on the Apollo 11 mission more than 50 years ago. The contemporary version is among the most accessible “icon” watches out there from a pricing standpoint and often serves as the first “serious watch” in a budding connoisseur’s collection. The watch still comes in a 42mm steel case, with a hesalite crystal over the tricompax dial rather than a more contemporary sapphire crystal, and the trendsetting tachymeter-scale bezel that speaks to the Speedy’s motorsport origins. The dial’s hands and hour markers are luminous-treated, and the subdials at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock measure elapsed minutes, elapsed hours, and running seconds, respectively. It’s even equipped with a modern version of the hand-wound movement that powered the original, Omega Caliber 1861, or its successor, the Master Chronometer-certified Caliber 3861, with a 3Hz frequency and a 48-hour power reserve. With this reference, Omega takes the adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” to heart.

SPEEDMASTER CALIBRE 321

Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Calibre 321

Price: $16,400 - 91,200, Case Size: 39.7mm, Thickness: 13.7mm, Lug Width: 19mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Manual-wind Omega 321

One of Omega’s many major projects in 2019, the 50th anniversary year of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, was the launch of a painstakingly recreated version of the original Caliber 321 that powered the first Speedmasters, including the one that went to the Moon. The platinum-cased special edition with moon-meteorite subdials that ushered in the reconstituted movement, which dropped precisely fifty years after Apollo 11 landed, was followed up the following year by an all-steel version, which takes its primary aesthetic inspiration not from the Reference ST 105.012 model that Buzz Aldrin famously wore on the 1969 mission but from the earlier Reference ST 105.003, which Ed White wore on his 1965 space walk. Its steel case is 39.7mm in diameter, with the familiar tachymeter-scale bezel ring made of polished black ceramic (Zr02), accented by markings in white enamel. Collectors of vintage Speedies will also appreciate details like the “dot over 90” on the bezel, a subtle detail that identifies a Speedmaster model as being from pre-1970. Behind a sapphire caseback is the Caliber 321 movement, whose distinctive copper-finished bridges and monobloc column wheel have been painstakingly duplicated by Omega’s engineers through the use of digital scanning technology.

SPEEDMASTER ‘57

Price: $9,100 - $9,500, Case Size: 40.5mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Manual-winding Omega 9906

In 2013, Omega returned to the Speedmaster’s auto-racing roots, and its initial bicompax dial, releasing the retro-flavored Speedmaster ‘57, a contemporary reissue of the 1957 original. The watch’s streamlined design includes the vintage “Broad Arrow” hands, the original steel tachymeter bezel with blackened scale, and two subdials at 3 and 9 o’clock, for chronograph readout and running seconds, respectively, along with a date window at 6 o’clock. The chronograph subdial is notably upgraded from its 1957 predecessor, with an unusual two-handed design that allows both the elapsed minutes (60) and elapsed hours (12) to be read simultaneously and intuitively on one subdial. All the models in the Speedmaster ‘57 series have 40.5mm stainless steel cases and contain Omega’s manually wound, Co-Axial Master Chronometer Caliber 9906. The dial options include a sandwich-style version in black, with recessed hour markers and vintage-look Super-LumiNova, and blue, green, and varnished burgundy versions in PVD.

SPEEDMASTER RACING

Price: $9,200 - $31,700, Case Size: 44.25mm, Thickness; 14.9mm, Lug Width: 21mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Automatic Omega 9900

The dial of the first Speedmaster in 1957 was designed to resemble the dashboard of that era’s Italian sports cars, but in 1968, on the cusp of the watch’s elevation from the racetrack to the rocketship, Omega doubled down on the automotive DNA by adding a motorsport-inspired “checkered flag” minute track on the dial’s periphery to complement the subdials and the tachymeter bezel. The Speedmaster Racing, launched in 2012, resurrects that vintage design, sporting a 44.25mm steel case with a matte black aluminum tachymeter ring on the bezel. The beveled hands and arrowhead hour markers also echo the 1968 watch’s design, alongside the well-placed orange details on the dial and bezel. The movement, displayed behind a sapphire caseback, is Omega’s Co-Axial Master Chronometer Caliber 9900, an automatic with a column-wheel chronograph function and a power reserve of 60 hours. Like all Master Chronometer calibers, it features a silicon balance spring and a co-axial escapement and is antimagnetic to 15,000 Gauss.

SPEEDMASTER MARK II

Omega Speedmaster Mark II

Price: $6,250 - $11,400, Case Size: 42.4mm x 46.2mm, Thickness; 14.9mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 100 meters, Movement: Automatic Omega 3330

Released in 1969, the same year that its NASA-certified sibling went to the moon, the original Speedmaster Mark II contained the same hand-wound mechanical caliber that powered the Moonwatch, Caliber 861. The modern version, released in 2020, houses an automatic movement, Omega’s chronometer-certified, co-axial Caliber 3330, with an antimagnetic silicon balance spring and a column-wheel chronograph mechanism. That movement ticks inside a distinctive barrel-shaped case with brushed and polished finishing, and behind a three-register dial with the hallmark Alpha-shaped hands, a 6 o’clock date window, and the checkered-flag-style minute track of the racing models. The Mark II model’s other distinguishing feature, beyond the shaped case, is its glow-in-the-dark tachymeter scale, printed on the flat sapphire crystal over the dial and illuminated from behind by a lume-filled aluminum ring.  

SPEEDMASTER ANNIVERSARY SERIES: SILVER SNOOPY

Omega Speedmaster Silver SnoopyPrice: $10,600, Case Size: 42mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Lug to Lug: 48mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Omega Master Chronometer Caliber 3861, manually wound

The most recent of Omega’s immensely popular and historically significant Silver Snoopy Anniversary Editions was released in 2020 and commemorates 50 years since Omega first received the eponymous award from NASA in 1970. The watch has the classic Speedmaster configuration, with a 42mm steel case, tachymeter-scale bezel (here in blue ceramic), and tricompax dial with blue PVD indexes and blue subdials for chronograph minutes and hours and running seconds — the latter subdial featuring an image of an astronaut Snoopy. The cartoon beagle also makes an appearance on the back of the watch, in a spacecraft poised at the tip of a hand, which begins cruising in a circle when the chronograph, powered by Omega’s manually wound Master Chronometer Caliber 3861, is activated. 

SPEEDMASTER ANNIVERSARY SERIES: FIRST OMEGA IN SPACE

Omega Speedmaster Anniversary First Watch in Space

Price: $5,300, Reference: 311.32.40.30.01.001, Case Size: 39.7mm, Lug Width: 19mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Manual-wind Omega 1861

Another model from Omega’s Speedmaster Heritage collection resurrects the “First Omega in Space,” aka the model worn by Wally Schirra when he orbited the Earth in the 1962 “Sigma 7” mission. Launched in 2016, the watch stays faithful to its ancestor’s 39.7mm dimensions (more modest than those of the standard modern Moonwatch), its straight lugs with thin bevels, lack of crown guards, and its use of the relief-engraved seahorse emblem (a holdover from the early Seamaster watches from which it derives its DNA, and a testament to its water resistance) on the caseback. The Alpha-shaped hands and applied Omega logo at 12 o’clock are also features drawn from pre-1969 Speedmasters. The manually wound Caliber 1861 beats inside, as in the current-production Moonwatch, representing the most up-to-date evolution of the Lemania-based Caliber 321 that powered the vintage models. The brown leather strap with contrast stitching completes the package.

SPEEDMASTER DARK SIDE OF THE MOON

Price: $10,700 - $16,400, Case Size: 44.25mm, Thickness; 13.8mm, Lug Width: 21mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Automatic Omega 9330/Manually Wound Caliber 1865/1869

The Speedmaster Moonwatch “Dark Side of the Moon” derives its name from the monochromatic, ebony aesthetic of its case and dial, both made from black zirconium oxide ceramic. The 44.25mm case has both brushed and polished finishes, and the dial features applied indexes made of 18k white gold, and two blackened subdials at 3 o’clock and 6 o’clock — a bicompax subdial arrangement that speaks to the watch’s movement, Omega’s in-house, automatic Caliber 9300. As on other Speedmasters with that movement, including the ‘57 editions, the subdial at 3 o’clock serves as both the 12-hour and 60-minute counter, with two hands to display the elapsed time intuitively, while the running seconds occupy the subdial at 9 o’clock and the date appears in a window at 6 o’clock. The bezel’s traditional tachymeter scale is inscribed in matte chromium nitride on the polished black ceramic surface. The chronograph pushers are also in polished ceramic. Despite straying far beyond the purist’s version of an Omega moonwatch, the Dark Side of the Moon has become a successful sub-family in its own right, offered in several executions, including models outfitted with the manually wound, three-register Caliber 1861 rather than the self-winding, two-register 9300, or its skeletonized version, as in 2018's Apollo 8 limited edition.

SPEEDMASTER CHRONOSCOPE

Omega Speedmaster Chronoscope

Price: $9,100 - $51,400, Case Size: 44.25mm, Lug Width: 21mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Manually Wound Omega 9908

Launched only recently, in 2021, the Speedmaster Chronoscope pulls off a rare horological trifecta, combining three chronograph-related scales on its vintage-inspired dial and bezel: a tachymeter, telemeter, and pulsometer. Deriving its name from the Greek words “chronos,” meaning time, and “scope,” meaning to observe, the model pays tribute to vintage Omega chronograph watches from the 1940s with its spiral track patterns, snailed subdials, and leaf-shaped hands. The Chronoscope is available in seven total references, six that use stainless steel for their 43-mm cases and another in Omega’s exclusive bronze gold, a corrosion-resistant alloy made up of copper, gold, and a handful of other precious metals. Inside the watches beats a new, manually wound manufacture movement, the Omega Co-Axial Master Chronometer Caliber 9908, whose noteworthy features include Geneva waves in Arabesque that radiate outward from the balance wheel rather from the center of the bridge — the first time that Omega has executed this distinctive finish, which is a visual hallmark of its in-house movements, in this manner. 

SPEEDMASTER MOON-PHASE

Omega Speedmaster Moon Phase

Price: $11,200 - $71,000, Case Size: 44.25mm, Thickness: 7.6mm, Lug Width: 21mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 100 meters, Movement: Automatic Omega 9904

While nearly all Speedmaster “Moonwatches” are chronographs, relatively few of them are also equipped with that most on-theme of additional complications, a moon-phase display. In 2016, Omega released the most noteworthy example, a blue-on-blue timepiece (with a sunburst dial and a tachymeter bezel insert cast in the brand’s proprietary “LiquidMetal”) that was also the first Speedy with a movement that achieved Omega’s then-recently-instituted Master Chronometer certification, attesting not only to the movement’s accuracy and robustness but also to its extreme antimagnetic properties. Joining the hours-and-minutes chronograph subdial at 3 o’clock, and the dual small seconds/analog date subdial at 9 o’clock, a moon-phase at 6 o’clock is distinguished by a photorealistic moon disk with a subtle historical detail that is worth viewing under a loupe: the minuscule imprint of Buzz Aldrin’s astronaut boot on the surface. 

5 Comments

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MZ
Mark Z.

Thanks for the education!

MZ
Mark Z.

Thanks for the education! I’m new to this “hobby”.

ML
Mel L.

Awesome guide, checkout Asorock watches, a black-African-owned luxury watch brand with swiss ap, and Hublot homage watch designs.

SP
Sergio P.

Great article! Although I think you mean 105.012 (not 105.021). And for completeness, you may want to note that the other two references to make it on the moon were the 145.012 and 105.003.

WJ
William J.

Love getting your emails. So informative. Please keep sending them.

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