In 1957, Omega introduced three interesting new watches onto the market: the Seamaster 300 (CK2913), the Railmaster (CK2914) and the Speedmaster (CK2915). The three watches were of similar design and all considered ‘tool’ watches: the Seamaster for diving, the Railmaster for professional use (it was anti-magnetic as well) and the Speedmaster for race and sports purposes.
There was no thought of getting involved in the space program or severe testing processes yet. The Speedmaster was still just a chronograph watch, using the Lemania-based caliber 321 movement, meant for timing lapses and so on. This movement was also used, with different finishing, in watches from Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, for example.
In 1962, the Omega Speedmaster was used in space by NASA astronaut Walter Schirra during the Mercury Sigma 7 mission. However, it wasn’t until 1964 that NASA decided to put out a tender on chronograph watches for their Apollo astronauts. When NASA tested watches by four different brands (Omega, Rolex, Longines-Wittnauer, Hamilton), only three brands even survived the first selection phase of relatively normal accuracy checks. Besides the accuracy checks, NASA also performed tests that included severe shocks (40Gs each), high (93 degrees Celsius) and low (-18 degrees Celsius) temperatures and extreme temperature changes, pressure tests, vibration tests and so on. The Omega Speedmaster passed all of them.
It was clear to the responsible NASA procurement officer that this should be the watch of choice during the Apollo missions. (At some point, Bulova was able to sneak a watch into the testing procedures after the Omega had already passed them all by using their White House contacts. But the watch they delivered didn’t stand a chance anyway!).
In 1965 all test results were processed and NASA communicated that the Speedmaster would become the official watch for all manned space flights. NASA even included the following in their communication: “…the astronauts show a unanimous preference for the Omega chronograph over the two other brands because of better accuracy, reliability, readability and ease of operation.” The word ‘Professional’ had been used before in some cases on the dial of the Speedmaster, but from that time on, all Omega Speedmaster watches have carried that label on the dial.
Fast forward to the famous Apollo XI mission in 1969, when the first men set foot on the Moon. All three astronauts wore the Omega Speedmaster Professional on their wrists; Collins stayed in the spacecraft with his reference 145.012 Speedmaster, while Aldrin and Armstrong wore their 105.012 Speedmaster watches. Basically these were the same watches, with just a few minor optical differences. Armstrong had taken his watch off his wrist to use instead of the on-board clock (Bulova) on the lunar module, which stopped working. The first watch worn on the Moon was therefore on the wrist of Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, the Omega Speedmaster Professional 105.012.
The Speedmaster Professional with caliber 321 was worn by astronauts throughout the entire Apollo program. Even though its successor had arrived by 1969, the Speedmaster with Lemania-based caliber 861 (reference 145.022) continued to be used as it was certified by NASA.
The Omega Speedmaster was a civilian product, but astronauts on high-risk space adventures trusted it with their lives. The Speedmaster Professional actually saved the entire crew during the Apollo 13 mission in 1970. The crew needed to time the boost of their rocket at exactly 14 seconds in order to enter the atmosphere at the right angle; otherwise they would have been burned alive. Although any watch could probably time 14 seconds accurately, not every watch would have been able to survive the launch of Apollo’s Saturn V rocket in the first place!
The Omega Speedmaster Professional ‘Moonwatch’ is one of today’s most sought-after chronographs. Also on Chrono24 the demand for the product is incredibly high. The current Omega Speedmaster Professional is very similar to the model of 1969 with the Lemania-based hand-wound caliber 861 movement. Although the pre-1968 models are highly sought-after by collectors, you cannot go wrong with any of the Speedmaster (Professional) models with hand-wound movement. Each watch is a piece of history on your wrist.
Besides being the legendary Moonwatch and a handsome watch, it is a very affordable watch. The price-quality ratio is very high, even with today’s prices. A brand new Omega Speedmaster Professional has a list price of just under EUR 4,000, but you will be able to source a pre-owned model for around half that amount. The price of vintage models can go up like a Saturn V rocket, however, depending on the condition, age and demand among collectors.
There are a lot of models to choose from when buying an Omega Speedmaster Professional. Make sure that you bring the right knowledge to the table if you are looking for a vintage model or a highly sought-after limited-edition model (such as the Apollo XI and Apollo XIII commemorative models, or a ‘Snoopy Award’ model).
Remember, no watch collection is complete without a Speedmaster.