50 years ago, when Man first stepped on to the moon, they were wearing the Omega Speedmaster.
Televised live in 33 countries and watched by one million spectators on nearby beaches and highways, the Apollo 11 Saturn V space vehicle launched into space carrying three men – Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin. The three astronauts were about to make history by successfully landing on the moon four days later. Each astronaut was wearing an Omega Speedmaster.
This was how the Omega Speedmaster became the first watch to go out to space.
Five years before this historic (time)piece de resistance was declared “Flight Qualified for all Manned Space Missions”, NASA had gone in search of a timepiece that could be relied on for all manned forays into space. A request was issued out to different watch manufacturers around the world to submit their chronographs for testing. The tests were stringent and punishing. Only the Speedmaster survived and thus by 1969, the two models ST 105.012 and ST 145.012 were adopted by NASA for the all important mission to the moon.
Months after the Apollo 11 returned to earth, Omega launched its first gold-cased commemorative numbered edition Speedmaster to celebrate the success of this mission. Produced between 1969 and 1973, only 1,014 pieces were available with 34 pieces given to serving astronauts. It is without a doubt Omega’s most sought after series since.
Five decades later, as a timely reminder of how far mankind has progressed in terms of technology and innovation, Omega celebrates that legendary era of courage and the spirit of discovery and exploration with a new edition of the Speedmaster with a similar limited run of 1,014 pieces.
The new 2019 Speedmaster Apollo 11 50th Anniversary edition bears many of the historical trademarks of the original timepiece whilst introducing new and important features.
After all, this is a rather important year for Omega and the Speedy. The 50th or golden anniversary of the lunar landing by the Americans rocketed the Speedmaster into its own cosmic hall of fame. In addition, it also signalled the need for a tribute with new innovations that will propel the Moonwatch forward in terms of Chronograph standards.
While the first commemorative Speedy in 1969 was a 18k yellow gold affair ensconced in a lush burgundy bezel of anodized aluminium, with the inscription on its solid gold caseback, “To mark man’s conquest of space with time, through time on time”, the 2019 Speedmaster boasts a paler shade of gold to its 42-mm case – a proprietary Moonshine alloy of gold, silver and palladium that the watchmaker claims will mean its colour and shine will never fade. Moonshine gold is also applied to the bracelet as well as the dial, its indices and hands.
The Speedy has kept its familiar asymmetrical caseband design and the burgundy bezel. What’s new is the materials used – the bezel is given ceramic treatment over the old aluminium while its tachymeter scale is now expressed in another patented material called Ceragold.
Another notable upgrade from the 1969 version is the use of its new Master Chronometer-certified movement, the Omega Caliber 3861. While the movement still requires manual winding, this caliber introduces important new advances like gold-plated mainplate and bridges, the Omega Co-Axial escapement and a silicon balance spring, and a clear display of the movement through a sapphire window. The impressive part is that the watchmaker managed to squeeze a lot of visual intricacy and information onto the rest of its caseback – limited edition number, the denoted 50 years, an inner ring of blue of the earth with a partial map of the Apollo 11 lift-off site at Cape Canaveral, a meteorite inlay apparently taken from moon samples, and the inscription, “The first watch worn on the moon”.
And if that isn’t impressive enough, Omega wanted more fans to be able to enjoy this commemorative watch – this time in its stainless steel version that holds true to those worn in the original Apollo 11 mission. With 6,969 pieces up for grabs, the steel speedy has the same twisted lug 42mm steel case but with similar new trappings of its gold sibling. There is a lot to love about the steel speedy – Omega chose a vintage-inspired step dial but with the new Moonshine gold applied to the vintage logo and indices. The dial itself has a smokey grey centre and a cosmic black minute track. The little touches that allude to the moon mission are considerable. The 11:00 index is an actual number “11” in Moonshine gold – Apollo’s mission number – and a laser-engraved image of Buzz Aldrin clambering down from the Eagle module onto the lunar surface at 03:15:16 UTC. Just like the stainless steel Speedmasters worn by the astronauts, the caseback is here stays true to that with a laser engraved footprint on a brass base with Moonshine gold plating with laser blasted gold lettering with the much loved phrase “One Small Step For a Man, One Giant Leap For Mankind”.
For the gold Speedmaster, even the packaging has been carefully fussed over with a crater-inspired design of side panels boasting 3D-printed surfaces of the moon with a render of the moon’s Sea of Tranquility on the face of the box. As for the Steel version, the packaging is equally epic and we shall not attempt to describe it in words but allow you time to feast your eyes upon it! And to top off the celebrations, the original astronauts, Hollywood celebrities like Omega ambassador George Clooney gathered at a gala to toast this achievement, gaze at the moon and reminisce about time. For any fans of iconic timepieces, even those who are greatly inspired by the big unknown, the imagination and awe that space travel inspires, and not least the great story of man’s courageous foray into something bigger than our world – Omega has certainly not disappointed with their efforts to pay tribute through their brand this year.
The first watch on the moon : The timeline
Images courtesy of Omega, artwork by Curatedition.