In watchmaking, it was the PR coup of the 20th century. Omega’s manually wound, steel cased chronograph, the Speedmaster, is world famous as the watch worn by the Apollo crews on all lunar missions –perhaps its most well known performance was during the dangerous return to Earth of the Lunar and Command Modules of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission. Crippled by an explosion in one of its oxygen tanks, the Command Module became uninhabitable and the crew was forced to use the attached Lunar Module as a lifeboat –and, without battery power for cockpit instruments (all onboard systems had been shut down to conserve power for re-entry) the crew was forced to use their Omega Speedmaster chronographs to time critical engine burns in order to keep the spacecraft in the proper course for re-entry.
Though the Speedmaster has been through many variations since it was worn by the Apollo crews, the basic model (known to aficionados as the “Moonwatch”) is not only still in production, but in many respects unchanged –the original Speedmaster movement, the calibre 321, was modified and became the calibre 861/1861 but in 1972 the Speedmaster was re-certified by NASA for not only cockpit but also EVA (extra-vehicular activities –spacewalks, in other words) and remained in use by NASA crews flying the Space Shuttle.
Though the Speedmaster was officially certified by NASA for manned space flight in 1965 (after enduring torture tests that put other candidates out of the running) it flew into space for the first time three years earlier, with astronaut Wally Schirra, during the Mercury Atlas 8 mission of October 3rd, 1962. The flight, at nine hours, was the longest so far for the fledgling America space program, which was still playing catch-up with the Soviets, whose Vostok 3 mission had, at four days, set a record for duration earlier that year.
The Speedmaster Schirra wore differed only slightly from the model used by subsequent missions –the most noticeable difference being the hands, which were pointed “alpha” hands on Schirra’s Speedmaster but which by the time the Speedmaster was officially adopted by NASA had become the baton hands still used on the Speedmaster today. The “First Omega in Space” limited edition is a very faithful duplicate of Schirra’s watch –minor differences include the use of a more scratch resistant sapphire crystal (in place of the Hesalite –a type of acrylic plastic –used on the original Speedmasters) and the caseback carries the Omega seahorse symbol and the words, “The First Omega in Space.”
Inside is the manually wound Omega calibre 1861, one of the most reliable, durable, and legendary chronograph movements ever made, which traces its lineage all the way back to Omega’s 27 CHRO C 12 movement of 1942.
There is, quite simply, no other watch in the world –or off it –that can match the Speedmaster’s history. In a world where authenticity has become one of the rarest commodities, the Omega Speedmaster Professional remains one of the very few watches whose heritage speaks for itself.
The Omega Speedmaster “First Omega in Space” chronograph is delivered on a brown leather strap with beige stitching. Inside is the Omega calibre 1861 manually wound chronograph movement –certified by NASA for both flight-deck operations, and use in the vacuum of outer space itself. Estimated availability is in September; at $5,300.