3 Speedmasters You’ve Not Seen
In 1957, a legend was born: the Speedmaster. It went on to become NASA’s official watch for the Apollo missions, the first watch worn on the moon, the watch that timed the engine burn that saved the lives of the Apollo 13 crew—but we’ve heard all that a million times over. So, how about some Speedmasters you’ve not seen instead?
Omega Speedmaster Automatic Legend 3507.51.00
Back before his days demolishing race after race and record after record in his bright red Ferrari, F1 ace Michael Schumacher steered a middle-of-the-pack Benetton to his first drivers’ championship in 1994, and the team’s first constructors’ championship in 1995.
This performance caught the attention of not only Italy’s finest, but also one of Switzerland’s: Omega. Schumacher was an ambassador for Omega until 2010 when he shifted gears to top three watchmaker Audemars Piguet, but not before he’d been immortalised in ticking form in no fewer than ten Speedmaster variants.
We all know that Omega likes a limited edition, but there’s something rather interesting about this particular one that becomes clearer with a little bit of digging. It helps to know that the Speedmaster was originally designed as a sports timer, the chronograph and tachymeter a multipurpose toolset to cover any speed-related activity.
The Speedmaster was in fact one of the first proper sports chronographs, with its chunky, oversized case, external tachymeter bezel and high-contrast dial setting a trend that many would copy. One of those copycats was Rolex, its chronograph of the time still very much following the old school of design. This was changed with the 1963 Cosmograph—later renamed Daytona—a watch that completely failed to inspire the public, even with the ‘exotic’ variant that has since become so collectible.
And it’s this exotic-dialled Rolex that, bizarrely, this Speedmaster looks like. Sat side-by-side with that ultra-rare Daytona and the similarities aren’t even subtle: there’s a black dial with white sub-dials and chapter ring; long, defined, sub-dial markers; red minute markers; and even—and this is the icing on the cake—red model branding. Perhaps it’s a dig at Rolex, mimicking the brand that tried so hard—and failed—to get its watch chosen by NASA by following Omega’s 1957 lead.
And in case you’re still not convinced that this isn’t just a coincidence, Omega also did an inverted version of this watch—just like Rolex did all those years ago.
Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch Moonphase 3126.96.36.199.01.001
It might not be obvious at first, but this Speedmaster is a big ’un. At 44.2mm in diameter, it’s over two millimetres bigger than its plain Jane cousin, and that is of course to accommodate the calibre 1866, a variant of the 1861 with a date and moonphase complication added. It’s an impressive movement to look at, free of a rotor weight hiding the chronograph mechanism, but that’s not what makes this watch special.
It’s no secret that Omega watches have been going into space on an almost continual basis, ever since astronaut Walter Schirra wore his CK 2998 up there in 1962, and there seems to be a special edition Speedmaster for practically every trip—but this one’s a bit different.
Other than being a Speedmaster, there’s nothing on it that might hint that it perhaps honours the first sandwich eaten in space, or maybe commemorates that time Buzz Aldrin stubbed his toe on the Lunar Module ceiling; it’s clean, simple and unassuming, with just one sizeable difference that reveals that it’s about space.
Catch the dial in just the right light, and something will notice: it’s made from a piece of blackened aventurine, a type of quartz known for the metallic inclusions embedded in its translucent form. The result is a shimmering sparkle so unique that it has its own name, aventuresence, and the effect is startlingly similar to the way the stars in the night sky shimmer through Earth’s atmosphere. It’s a captivating thing to behold, one that gives the dial a depth almost like that of space itself.
Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch 3188.8.131.52.99.001
You may or may not remember 1975. The threat of nuclear war loomed, the Cold War in full swing, the Soviet Union a deadly and unpredictable beast. The space race, fought since 1957 when the Russians had launched the first satellite into space, had been won by the Americans. Russia was defeated in its bid to be the first nation on the moon, and tensions were, as a result, high. The last thing anyone expected was a meeting between the two nations—let alone one in space.
It’s an example of the transcendence of science over politics that still continues to this day. As it stands, the only current way to ferry humans to-and-from the International Space Station is via the Russian Soyuz rocket—which follows the same basic design used by the Russians back in the 1960s. Even NASA uses Soyuz to get people into space.
It’s a relationship that was founded, despite all odds, when an Apollo capsule met with a Soyuz one, just like the ones still used today, at nineteen minutes past four on the afternoon of July 17th, 1975, some 140 miles above the planet’s surface. Whilst the Americans thought the Soyuz and its automated systems were overly simple, the Russians thought the manually piloted Apollo was extremely complex and dangerous, but the technical differences were overcome to mount a docking in low Earth orbit that lasted almost two days.
The leader of the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev, described the mission as ‘the first major joint scientific [space] experiment in the history of mankind. Our Planet,’ he said, ‘is big enough for us to live peacefully on, but is too small to be threatened by nuclear war.’
It was a major moment in the turning of the Cold War, one that acknowledged the importance of science, and the cooperation needed to achieve it. Today, the International Space Station is a collaboration between 15 nations and would have never been possible without this historic meeting.
It seems fitting that Omega, whose watches were worn by the Americans during this incredible international space treaty, chose to save the best for the inevitable special edition Speedmaster commemorating the event. The case back depicts the meeting of the two craft over Earth, but it’s the dial that’s really special, hewn from meteorite to give each of the 1,975 examples a completely unique finish.
Omega’s back catalogue of limited editions can become a bit wearisome, but if you’re willing to wade through it, you’re guaranteed to find something special. These three lesser-known examples may not command the same following as the Snoopy, Moon to Mars or Alaska Project editions, but they’re equally as fascinating, keeping stories from our history alive for the years to come.
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