In 1969, when Buzz Aldrin walked on the lunar surface, he did it with an Omega Speedmaster strapped to his wrist. The moonwalk would forever cement the Speedmaster, or Moonwatch, as the most interesting and adventurous wristwatch in the world. More than three decades later, Omega continues to produce nearly the exact same watch. While this is by far the most collectable Speedmaster and, frankly, one of the most collectable watches ever produced, Omega manufactured variations on the Moonwatch.
Later that year after the moon landing, Omega released the Speedmaster Professional Mark II. It was an extension of the Moonwatch and the first major departure from the iconic design. It boasted a brushed steel case with hooded lugs, a look we now consider very characteristic of racing chronographs from the 1970s. There were three main variations and finishes of this model, including a stainless steel black and white dial, a steel gray and orange “racing dial,” and finally a gold-case and gold-dial version, which is today the most rare of all vintage Mark II’s. On the outside, it was a watch like nothing else Omega had done before, but inside the barrel case beat caliber 861, the same handwound mechanical movement inside the moonwatch at the time.
At Baselworld in 2014, Omega reissued the Mark II, and today we look at the gray and orange “racing dial” version. The 2014 reissue is a near-perfect remake of the 1969 original masterfully executed with slight, mostly welcome, improvisation.
The dial is nearly a stroke-for-stroke remake.
Let’s start by examining the differences between the reissue and the original, the “Omega Speedmaster Professional Mark II.” It was the successor to the Omega Speedmaster Professional (which technically makes the Moonwatch the Mark I, although it’s really never called that and Omega denies the existence of a “Mark I”). Printed on the original dial underneath the logo were the words “Professional” and “Mark II,” both of which don’t exist on the reissue and have been replaced with “Co-Axial” and “Chronometer,” references to the updated technology behind the dial.
Most apparently is the date aperture at 6 o’clock, an eyesore for purists but likely a necessity for the mainstream watch buyers. While I’d rather not see the date myself, I enjoy its placement and the black date wheel against the gray makes the date feel like it’s intentionally coordinated with the tachymeter. It’s as if all things that are tangential to the time are in black while the rest are gray, orange and white.
Aside from these differences, however minor or major you feel they are, the watch is an exemplary reissue. The gray dial with flourescent orange accents captures the charm and personality of the original “racing dial.” The varnished and luminous black and white hands against the dark dial make reading the time at a glance a snap. At 3 o’clock, there’s the minute totalizer for the chronograph; 6 o’clock houses the hour counter; and 9 o’clock has the running seconds for the time. The chronograph subdials feature orange hands that match the central stopwatch seconds hand, which is shaped just like that of the original, which is shaped just like that of the Moonwatch.
Orange hour markers line the perimeter of the dial, with some accompanied by white luminous markers just inside of them. Hashes that indicate 1/4-second increments zig-zag between each minute hash mark. The Omega Logo, the writing that underlines it and the markers on the dial are all painted on and not applied. It would be tempting to give it a luxurious facelift with applied markers and a logo, but I applaud Omega’s discipline at sticking to the script.
Directly underneath the flat sapphire crystal and just outside of the dial is the tachymeter scale, which is illuminated by an aluminum ring filled with SuperLumiNova. It’s a really neat effect and increases the utlity of a tachy scale now that it can be used day or night. A side effect is this cool play on depth, as the scale floats above the rest of the dial.
The case size, heft and finishing are remarkable
The original Mark II had a 41.5mm steel barrel case but Omega upped the case by 1mm for the reissue. Lug-to-lug, it’s 46mm and about 14mm thick. The finishing is breathtaking. By far, it’s the best we’ve seen on GMT Minus Five this year. From the case to the bracelet, Omega paired thick brushing with mirror-polishing to bring the curvatures in the steel to life. Sharp lines distinguish the radial brushing on the top of the case from the polished surfaces that accentuate the sides of the case and the front of the hooded lugs.
At 10 o’clock on the side of the case is a date corrector. If I had to be picky I’d wish the date were correctable via the crown so as to not interrupt the fine brushing on the side of the case. It’s also one of the more significant ways in which the new case design deviates from the original Mark II.
The crowns and pushers on the right side of the case are fully polished, contrasting with the brushed side. Like the original, the crown does not screw in. More on this later, but the original Mark II didn’t have a column-wheel chronograph, so a distinguishing feature in the new model is the smoother action on starting, stopping and resetting the chronograph.
Powered by an in-house/ETA hybrid
This new Speedmaster houses Omega’s caliber 3330, which is an automatic movement with a column-wheel chronograph based on the ETA A08.L01. Omega has been proudly introducing new in-house calibers over the past few years, but the 3330 isn’t a manufacture caliber. It exists somewhere between a full in-house movement like the 9300 found in co-axial Speedmasters and a stock ETA chronograph. This base caliber is the exact same one you find in the Longines Heritage Column Wheel chrono, but Omega has fitted it with a co-axial escapement and a Si14 silicon balance spring. Plus, it’s a COSC-certified chronometer. It’s an interesting choice for Omega and it results in a bearable mid-range price for the collector.
To play what-if for a moment, my dream movement here would be to reuse the 1861 (or 1863 if display caseback) so as to use the same caliber as that of today’s moonwatch, enabling the watch to maintain a closer resemblance to the original watch. There would be a tri-compax chronograph layout, Omega would lose the date and inside would be a manual wind movement–all resulting in absolute perfection. Admittedly, this would be a pure collector’s watch. Most of the Omega-purchasing population likely has little patience for winding their watches everyday.
On the wrist
It’s a substantially sized watch, but a 46mm case height assures wearability. It’s a heavy and thick watch, so you could find some difficulty slipping this under a shirt cuff. But it’s a sporty timepiece, especially when you take into account the orange accents on the racing dial, so it’s best left to accompany more casual attire.
This is my first hands-on experience with Omega’s new extendable bracelet that allows you to adjust the length of the bracelet up to 9.6mm without adding or removing links. Underneath the clasp, you press a button to slide out the extra bracelet. I think it’s a strong answer to Rolex’s GlideLock but only falls short in comparison in one way: the aesthetics. The first 5 or so millimeters of hidden bracelet might look like a bracelet but when you pull out the remaining half from beneath the clasp it looks too much like a standard dive extension. It’s great for micro-adustments, but the discrepancy in appearance between the extension and the adjacent links would bother me so I’d find myself using the extender up to the first 5mm or so–which is still a huge win in my book because that’s often all you need to achieve comfort.
Some folks would love to slap a leather strap onto this watch, and it would look great, but I love the bracelet for not only its comfort but its truth to the original. The link styles are the same, fully brushed, but what’s nice about the reissue is that the links use screws so they’re much easier to change yourself without having to go to a jeweler or watchmaker to hammer out the pins.
If you’d rather blend in more, there’s a black-and-white dial version as well. Either variation is unique, and if you like the watch just as much for what it is as its history, you’ll be pleased that no one else is wearing a watch like this. It was such a pleasure to look at my wrist and then survey the wrists of subway riders and not see a single comparable piece.
The final word
It retails for $6,250 and is available now at Omega boutiques and special authorized dealers throughout the country. This is one of those watches you need to hold in your hands to appreciate its value. Yes, you can pick up a Longines Column Wheel chrono for half the price of the Mark II, but the Longines doesn’t compete with the Mark II in terms of fit and finish, mechanical reliability and timekeeping precision. The new Mark II is a strong overall package.
The Mark II succeeds as both a vintage-inspired reissue and a modern chronograph. The new Speedmaster Mark II has all the ingredients to be one stunner of a remake. It’s remarkably respectful of its lineage with slight deviation. It has welcome improvements over the original–the new extendable bracelet, a sapphire crystal and a robust column-wheel chronograph–and maybe a couple of unwanted date-related elements that likely spawn out of contemporary mainstream demands from wrist watches. But there is no mistaking the provenance of a watch like this. From the dial to the bracelet, it’s distinctly from 1969 Omega.