This feature has been produced in partnership with OMEGA
A timepiece doesn’t just get given the ‘moonwatch’ moniker. It’s earnt through superior design, precision engineering and rigorous testing before it is allowed to be shot into space on the human race’s first ever successful manned mission to the moon.
The OMEGA Speedmaster is that watch and this year it celebrates a milestone in the 50th anniversary of the iconic moon landing of 1969. As the first ever timepiece to ever reach the moon, we’re taking you on a voyage through the Speedmaster’s most influential moments of innovation, exploration and triumph.
OMEGA Speedmaster’s Race To Space
First arriving on the scene in 1957, the Speedmaster was never designed to be a space travelling timepiece. Quite the contrary, it was a sports chronograph tasked with strengthening the Swiss watchmaker’s position as the official timekeeper of the Olympic Games. It was a task which led to the conception of the Speedmaster’s signature tachymeter, the first to ever be featured on a watch bezel.
Fast forward to 1962 and the tool watch had caught the attention of NASA astronauts Wally Schirra and Gordon Cooper. The duo were some of America’s first astronauts and on their voyage on Mercury 9 they wore their own personal OMEGA Speedmaster CK2998 timepieces – private pieces which had no connection between NASA at the time. Over the years the astronauts would voice their desire to have an official timepiece dedicated to space missions and NASA listened, citing the potential dangers of using personal watches on these flights into unchartered territory.
Two years later and NASA had officially realised the need for a certified space watch for their astronauts. James H. Ragan who was a young NASA engineer was tasked with procuring the perfect watch and it was here that he approached a handful of local Swiss watchmaker suppliers. OMEGA was one of them.
The OMEGA Speedmaster was never designed to be a space travelling timepiece.
Moonwatch Facts: What It Takes To Get There
The tests that Ragan devised for the watches was nothing short of extreme at the time. Under NASA’s ‘Qualification Test Procedures’, the suitable watch needed to pass 11 different tests:
- Withstand 48 hours in high temperature 160°F (71°C) followed by 30 minutes at 200°F (93°C)
- Withstand 4 hours in low temperature at 0°F (-18°C)
- Withstand temperature and pressure cycles with 15 cycles of heating to 160°F (71°C) in 45 minute segments, followed by cooling to 0°F (-18°C) for 45 minutes at 10−6atm
- Withstand high humidity of at least 95% whilst operating in temperatures between 68°F and 160°F (20°C and 71°C)
- Operate in an atmosphere of 100 percent oxygen for 48 hours
- Withstand six shocks of 40G at 11 millisecond durations and in six varying directions
- Withstand longitudinal acceleration from 1G to 7.25G within 333 seconds
- Withstand 90 minutes in a vacuum 10 – 6 atm at 71°C and 30 minutes at 93°C
- Withstand a high pressure environment of 1.6 atm for a minimum of 60 minutes
- Withstand three cycles of 30 minute vibrations in extreme low and high frequency
- Withstand acoustic noise of 130 dB across low and high frequencies for 30 minutes
After five months of intense testing NASA had found their moonwatch. The OMEGA Speedmaster was the only timepiece to have passed all 11 test parameters and in 1965 it was officially declared fit for space exploration.
The First Watch To Ever Reach The Moon’s Surface
On July 21st 1969, the OMEGA Speedmaster became the first watch to ever reach the moon’s surface on the wrist of Buzz Aldrin. Neil Armstrong also had a Speedmaster but he chose to leave his in the Lunar Module as a back-up to NASA’s onboard timekeeping system. You could say that’s one small task for a watch, one giant leap in the history of watchmaking.
Icons Of The OMEGA Speedmaster Family
With over half a century of tenacity and innovation dedicated to a single model, there’s been no shortage of rare and special edition Speedmasters over the decades to marvel over. Here, we explore some of OMEGA’s finest in this illustrious lineage.
Speedmaster Apollo XI 1969 18K Yellow Gold
Representing the first and most coveted timepiece to wear the Speedmaster name, ref. BA 145.022 features an 18K yellow gold case, dial and bracelet alongside a striking burgundy tachymeter scale on the bezel. The caseback is engraved with the statement: “The first watch worn on the moon” and “Apollo XI 1969”. Only VVIPs were awarded the timepiece in which only 1,014 pieces were made and 38 of them allocated to NASA astronauts and staff. President Nixon and Vice President Agnew also got one.
Speedmaster Apollo XI 20th Anniversary
Ref. ST 345.0022 was the first Speedmaster in the anniversary series. The left side of the case features the engraved serial number and the ‘Apollo XI 1969’ marking. Only 4,000 pieces exist in the world.
Speedmaster Apollo XI 25th Anniversary
The 25th anniversary saw the introduction of steel (Ref. ST 345.0062) into the Speedmaster name alongside three other variants in white gold and platinum. The sapphire caseback on these four watches wore the ‘Apollo XI 1969-1994’ engraving.
Speedmaster Apollo XI 30th Anniversary
This Speedmaster is one that resonates closely to the original moonwatch. Ref. ST 145.0223 features the same case, dial, bezel and bracelet as the astronaut’s original. The point of difference is on the caseback where it wears the “Hello Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed” engraving. OMEGA produced 9,999 pieces of this reference.
Speedmaster Apollo XI 35th Anniversary
Ref. SU 145.0227 is distinguished by a ‘panda’ dial where black sub-counters contrast a white face. On the dial under the ‘Professional’ label is a date marked “July 20, 1969”. The caseback also features the logo of the Apollo XI mission alongside a limited run of 3,500 pieces.
Speedmaster Apollo XI 40th Anniversary
This model came in two materials: steel (7,969 pieces) and platinum (69 pieces). It had two differences to the original moonwatch including a gold chip on the sub-counter and an engraved caseback featuring an eagle – the Apollo XI’s logo.
Speedmaster Apollo XI 45th Anniversary
Ref. 3184.108.40.206.06.001 is the only moonwatch to come in a titanium case paired to a gold bezel, gold hands and gold indexes. The dial is set in a dark grey and offset by a NATO strap. As one of the bolder Speedmaster models it was limited to 1,969 pieces with every single one spoken for.
Speedmaster Apollo XI 50th Anniversary
This year brings us to the most recent moonwatch iteration and OMEGA have released two variants to celebrate half a century since the landing. The hero piece is the one set in 18K Moonshine Gold with the signature burgundy bezel, a true throwback to the original 1969 piece issued to NASA’s VVIPs. The new gold hue is softer than the original yellow gold and it utilises Omega’s latest Master Chronometer Calibre 3861. Like the original, this one is once again limited to just 1,014 pieces. The more accessible variant of this anniversary comes in steel with a sleek grey dial offset by gold indexes and a gold engraving of the lunar landing in the sub-dial. Only 6,969 pieces of the steel version will be made available.