From front to back, inside and out, I cherish my Omega Speedmaster, and it’s one of the few watches that I fall more in love with every time I put it on. Since picking it up a few years ago, not a week has passed without giving it at least 25-50% wrist time. It’s unique in that it ticks a lot of boxes that few other watches could match, earning a reputation as the ultimate collector’s watch.
So many watch enthusiasts clearly agree, so what’s the draw to the Speedmaster? What does Omega’s celebrated chronograph offer in a single model that so many other brands fail to realize across an entire lineup?
It boasts an unparalleled and colossal history
Buzz Aldrin wore his Omega Speedmaster when he stepped out of the lunar module onto the moon, and since NASA certified the Omega Speedmaster in 1965, it continues to be the only watch approved for manned space missions. That’s a story that only the Speedmaster ca tell, and this story is a big reason collectors are initially drawn to Speedmasters. Had Buzz Aldrin left his Speedmaster in the lunar module like Neil Armstrong did, then maybe the Speedmaster wouldn’t be as coveted by collectors. What’s ironic about its role in the moon landing is that, because the watch made it to the moon, diehard vintage collectors hunt for early Speedmasters (dubbed “Pre-moon” and/or “Pre-Professional” to signify that the watches were produced before the touching down on the lunar surface and prior to NASA’s certification respectively) that were never intended for space exploration.
New and old, there are variations for everyone
It’s hard to just stop at “Speedmaster” around a collector. Omega has so many Speedmaster models to offer that terms like Speedy are often too broad. There is, of course, the classic Moonwatch. The reference of Aldrin’s Omega is speculated to be 145.012, introduced in 1966, but it’s not known for sure since his watch was lost in shipping to the Smithsonian Institute. If you’re a vintage watch collector, you might be after Aldrin’s or another Pre-moon or Pre-professional. However, if you prefer new watches, then what’s particularly attractive about buying a new Moonwatch is that it hasn’t changed a lot since 1968, although several variations (reference 3573.50, often called the “sapphire sandwich,” pictured throughout this article, is a popular one) and limited editions have been produced. It’s hard to find products that companies don’t continue to improve over time where these “improvements”, in the eyes of collectors, only further divorce the product from its original glory.
The Moonwatch, and its variants, are hand wound mechanicals, so if you’re not interested in giving that much attention to your watch, then you could, I suppose, purchase one of the newer automatic models featuring Omega’s co-axial movement. These models, while excellent watches with solid construction, aren’t as tangible to the moon landing as they don’t share the classic triple-register design and Lemania-based movement that excites watch lovers.
It’s hard find a more perfectly designed chronograph
Take a moment to appreciate the design and the proportions employed throughout the dial. The tri-compax arrangement of the subdials is perfectly offset by the Omega logo, so much so that you can imagine it being the fourth circle at the top. Even within the logo, there is incredibly harmony due to the way the type increases in size and style as you move down the pyramid from “OMEGA” to “PROFESSIONAL.” Now that you’re imagining a triangle at the top of the dial, picture coinciding lines extending from the sides of the triangle, past the base, all the way to the subdials. Notice how they hit the centers of the subdials exactly. The central seconds hand of the chronograph, when zeroed, sits perfectly centered in the Greek letter Omega logo.
Legibility of the design is supreme. Both the hour and minute hands are sized appropriately and offer plenty of contrast against the matte charcoal dial. At no point do the hands obscure the chronograph subdials, and the absence of a date window both means there is less for the hands to get in the way of and all the more pleasing symmetry in the design.
This is a watch that was conceived as a whole. Albert Piguet didn’t just pass off the movement to the dial guy who had already designed what he wanted. The movement was made for the case and the dial; the case and dial were made for the movement. A lot of watches, especially contemporary chronographs, have acres of space between the chronograph subdials and the bezels because they slap huge dials on tiny movements in search of that modern, manly size, but the placement and padding of the Speedmaster’s chronograph subdials are just perfect.
Speedmasters have an interesting movement
Caliber 321, developed by Albert Piguet of Lemania, was introduced in 1946. It was a handwound column-wheel chronograph that beat at 18,000 bph. If the speculation is accurate, that Aldrin’s watch was a 145.012, then he stepped foot on the moon with a caliber 321 on his wrist. If that’s true, then it’s fascinating that a mechanical watch movement made so long ago was deemed robust enough for space exploration. In 1968, Omega transitioned to the more cost-efficient 861, still designed by Albert Piguet, and this is the movement that still stands as the base for contemporary Speedmaster Professionals. The 1861 caliber used today is rhodium-plated and contains a plastic piece that you will not find in the exhibition caliber 1863, which is what is pictured above.
It looks good in any shoes
You can dress your Speedmaster up or down. It’s friendly to all strap materials, which makes it one of the most versatile choices for a wardrobe. It will excel just as well in a business setting as it will on vacation.
Put it on the original steel bracelet and it will retain a sporty look more true to its original intentions as a motor sports chronograph. I personally prefer mine on the OEM alligator strap with a deployment buckle because I think it adds a little bit of class to the look, giving it a dressier vibe. However, older or distressed straps lend some vintage appeal and they look especially great on vintage Speedmasters. Finally, you can’t go wrong with a NATO strap on most watches, but it really looks and feels at home on a Speedmaster due to the size and slim profile of the case.
You can’t beat the price
While the Speedmaster doesn’t use an in-house movement, its Lemania 321/861-based movement is far more exclusive than an ETA 7750, and a retail price of $5,500 is a very fair price of ownership for this mechanical piece of history. Of course, you can shop grey market or pick a pre-owned one up for less, but even at full retail price the Speedmaster is a great value.
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