Omega Speedmaster, the first and only watch on the moon

June 10, 2021By Bonetto Cinturini

For many, this probably isn’t a surprise, but…. there’s a new Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional that is being produced regularly!
As far as we can tell this is a big novelty, simply because we are talking about one of the most iconic and respected watches ever made, namely a model that has been produced repeatedly since 1957. Clearly, Omega was not authorised to meddle with this watch and whatever had to be changed, removed, redesigned or updated was carefully assessed. Why all this? The answer is easy. Even though every single element of the Omega Speedmaster Professional Master Chronometer is new, luckily it is still the iconic, first and only mechanical watch that has ever been to the moon.

 

Omega Speedmaster: the art of watchmaking  

Refreshing your memory before looking at the new Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional Master Chronometer is important; when seen for the first time, in fact, the new reference seems almost identical to the first and only watch worn on the moon. There are differences, however, even if only minimal, and listing them is a priority.  With that being said, it must be mentioned that in spite of being made in 1957 with the reference CK2915, the Omega Speedmaster as we know it today, in other words the Professional model, arrived on the market in 1964 with the reference ST 105.012. The word Professional was added, and along with the new name came, among other things, a new asymmetrical case, lug ends in a twisted lyre shape, and a crown guard and button whose diameter, by coincidence, was increased from 39.7 mm to 42 mm, even if the lug end was slightly smaller. This form has remained practically unchanged since 1964, and is still the same in the pre-2021 model of the Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional. As a further demonstration that the Speedmaster first edition is still an icon of the Swiss company, just consider the 3570.50 model, part of the 1996 collection, the year when Omega launched the caliber 1861, in other words a development of the 861 that appeared in 1968. Excluding the change from tritium to Super-LumiNova, a new presentation box, and small updates made to the bracelet, nothing has changed in more than 20 years of production.

 

The birth of a watchmaking icon 

The story of Speedmaster goes back to 1957, when it was introduced as a sports and race chronograph; its name was chosen because of its bezel with tachimetric scale, and following the Omega convention used for other models, for example the just-as-famous Seamaster and Railmaster. With that being said, it should also be added that this first model of the Omega Speedmaster, reference CK 2915, also known as Broad Arrow, was designed by Claude Baillod from Switzerland and already had some of the brand’s distinctive traits: the chronograph layout with three subdials, high-contrast indexes, and the curved Plexiglass crystal. The dial instead was a perfect example of balance and proportion. The model had straight lug ends, large arrow hands and the bezel was of steel with etched black print. The case diameter, finally, was 39 mm.

 

The basic movement of the Omega Speedmaster

The watchmaking technicians of Omega, the company with headquarters in Biel, Switzerland, chose the Caliber 321 movement, which was introduced in 1942 as a joint project involving Omega and Lemania, one of Omega’s subsidiaries at the time that supplied it as an ébauche (Lemania cal. 2310). The caliber 321 is recognised as being one of the best examples of chronograph with pusher and column wheel, and was used as the basic movement even by Breguet, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin in a variety of chronographs. In 1946, the movement was boosted by adding protection from magnetic fields and knocks, something that later became very important for passing NASA tests in preparation for what would become the first and only watch to be worn on the moon.

 

The years of the first crewed space missions

The Mercury solo flight space programme was reaching its end (the astronaut Wally Schirra wore his Speedmaster ref. CK 2998 on the Mercury flight that lifted off on 3 October 1962) and NASA was preparing for the Gemini (two men) and the Apollo (three men) missions. The astronauts on these missions were expected to move around in space, outside the craft, so they needed a wrist watch that could resist the difficult conditions. Starting from about 1962, NASA anonymously purchased a series of chronographs of different brands in order to find the best watch available for their astronauts to wear in space. In 1964, the watches that satisfied all the prerequisites were purchased officially by NASA and then put through a series of tests and qualification processes called Qualification Test Procedures. Only three out of six chronographs successfully passed this arduous qualification phase. The finalists then underwent 11 different tests, defined as the toughest in history, and in the end the Omega Speedmaster was declared the winner. For example, the three finalist chronographs were exposed to a temperature of 71° C for 48 hours, followed by 30 minutes at 93° C. After passing this test there was another one, where the watches were exposed to low temperatures, more specifically -18° C. Yet another test, but no less important, followed this umpteenth one. NASA, in fact, had decided to create a pressure-temperature mix that included 15 hot cycles at 71° C for 45 minutes, followed by a cold cycle at -18° C for 45 minutes at 10-6 atm.

 

The other NASA tests on the Omega Speedmaster

Once NASA finished the first cycle of tests, it immediately realised that only the Omega Speedmaster had passed them all with top marks, so the technicians decided to go further and test the watch in other extreme conditions, as listed here:

  • Relative humidity: the Omega Speedmaster watch was exposed for 240 hours to a temperature of between 20° and 71° with a relative humidity of at least 95%.
  • Atmosphere and shock test: in the first case the Omega Speedmaster was exposed for 48 hours to a pressure of 0.35 atm, while for the second there were six shocks of 40G each, lasting 11 milliseconds and in six different directions.
  • Acceleration: in view of the fact that the Omega Speedmaster had to become the first (and only) watch to be worn on the moon, the NASA technicians put it through an acceleration test of from 1 G to 7.25 G in 333 seconds, along an axis that was parallel to the longitudinal axis of the spacecraft.
  • Decompression: the Omega Speedmaster underwent decompression for 90 minutes (vacuum) at 10-6 atm and at a temperature of 71° C, then for 30 minutes at 93° C.
  • High pressure and vibration: the Omega Speedmaster was kept at a pressure of 1.6 atm for one hour and went though 3 vibration cycles from 5 to 2000 Hz for 30 minutes.

On 1 March 1965, the test results finally came through and the Omega Speedmaster was the  clear winner. After this, James Ragan, the NASA engineer in charge of the tests, referred the importance of the Speedmaster, saying that the watch was a sort of backup instrument; indeed, if the astronauts could no longer speak to earth or their digital timers on the moon’s surface no longer worked, the only thing they were to trust was the Omega watch they wore on their wrists because it was truly sensational under every point of view. 

The myth of the Omega Speedmaster started that day, still leaving those who admire the photos or choose to buy the new model speechless, and with the awareness that no other watch has stolen its record of being the first and only mechanical watch to be worn on the moon.