How Omega reached the moon

In 1964, NASA put out a tender for a watch that can withstand punishing tests, including thermal, shock, vibration and vacuum examinations. Only the Omega Speedmaster prevailed.

The 21st of July 1969 is a date familiar to many. It is the day man first stepped foot on the moon, a feat materialised by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

Their defining achievement saw them spending a total of two and a half hours on the surface of the moon, a moment recorded by a particular watch on their wrists – the Omega Speedmaster Professional – the first watch worn on the moon.

Thanks to its robust, reliable and easy-to-read design, the Speedmaster was known as the “pilot’s choice”, favourited by those in the US Air Force long before it reached the gates of NASA. How then did it become the first timepiece to keep time in space?

We take a look.

From the skies to space

The Omega Speedmaster Professional’s position as a pilot’s watch was testament to its reliability and durability as a timepiece, so it was only a matter of time before astronauts got in on in, especially with many of the aces of the Air Force becoming Mercury Astronauts. In 1962, one of those astronaut, Walter Schirra, took his own Speedmaster CK2998 on the Mercury-Atlas 8 Mission. That privately-owned model became the first Omega watch ever worn in space, orbiting the Earth six times on Schirra’s wrist.

In 1964, NASA put out a tender for the one watch that its astronauts can rely on for all of its manned missions. Flight Crew Operations Director Deke Slayton, issued a request for a wrist-worn chronograph from different manufacturers worldwide that can withstand punishing tests, including thermal, shock, vibration and vacuum examinations, among others. Only the Omega Speedmaster prevailed, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Omega Speedmaster was declared ‘Flight Qualified for all Manned Space Missions’ on the 1stof March 1965, becoming and remaining the only supplier of watches for NASA’s Human Space Flight Program. It was trusted throughout the Gemini Program and, ultimately, the Apollo Program, aimed at the moon.

James Ragan, the NASA engineer who qualified the Speedmaster in 1965 has spoken about the importance of Omega: “The watch was a backup. If the astronauts lost the capability of talking to the ground, or the capability of their digital timers on the lunar surface, then the only thing they had to rely on was the OMEGA watch they had on their wrist. It needed to be there for them if they had a problem.”

On the 21stof July 1969, the world watched as the Apollo 11 shot into space, with the two famed astronauts sporting the Omega Speedmaster Professional on their wrists. This was a mission which require each and every one of its technology to be just right. There was zero space for error. Fifty years since the successful mission, Omega continue to be implicitly trusted and proud to have timed mankind’s greatest hour.

The original Speedmaster BA145.022

The success of that mission culminated with a special ‘Astronaut Appreciation Dinner’ in Houston, Texas, organized in tribute to the moon landing heroes. They were each presented a certain Omega Speedmaster, the Speedmaster BA145.022, crafted from 18 karat yellow gold. Marked by a rare burgundy bezel as well as an inscription on the back that read “to mark man’s conquest of space with time, through time, on time.”

This gold Speedmaster housed the calibre 861 and was OMEGA’s very first commemorative numbered edition, with only 1,014 modelsbeing produced from 1969 to 1973. The very first of these was created for US President, Richard Nixon, with number two allocated to the US Vice President Spiro Agnew. These watches, however, were later returned to OMEGA due to the US government’s strict gifting protocol.

Model numbers 3 – 28 were given to the NASA astronauts, including 19 of those who were present at the gala dinner in Houston. This also included three models that were awarded posthumously to the three crew members who died during Apollo 1 – Virgil Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. Watches 29 to 32 were offered to Swiss watch industry leaders and politicians, without any engraved number. The public were given the opportunity to purchase model numbers 33 – 1000. Although these models had a different caseback in- scription, reading “OMEGA SPEEDMASTER”, “APOLLO XI 1969” and “Ω THE FIRST WATCH WORN ON THE MOON”, they remained highly sought-after due to their rarity and connection to space.

They also came in an exclusive moon crater presentation box, which itself is a prized collector’s item today. It may also be interesting to know that model numbers 1001 – 1008 were later presented to the astronauts of Apollo 14 and 17, while models 1009 – 1014 were reserved for other personalities.

For true Speedmaster fans, the BA145.022 is one of the great highlights in the chronograph’s iconic history. Not only is it a beautiful watch to look at, with its blend of gold and burgundy, but it also pays the highest tribute to the NASA astronauts who delivered mankind to the moon.

Speedmaster Apollo 11 50thAnniversary Limited Edition

It has been 50 years since that iconic day and to mark the golden anniversary of it, Omega has produced a new Limited Edition Speedmaster of 1,014 pieces, delivered with a five-year warranty. Following the famous design of the Speedmaster BA145.022, this new chronograph has been crafted from an exclusive new 18K gold alloy and is powered by a brand new manual-winding Master Chronometer calibre 3861.

The case, bracelet, dial, hour-markers and hour-minute hands have all been created in 18K Moonshine gold – a unique new alloy whose colour is inspired by the shining moonlight in a dark blue sky. In a paler hue than traditional 18K yellow gold, Moonshine gold offers high resistance to the fading of colour and lustre over time.

The polished and brushed 42 mm case of this timepiece features the asymmetrical case- band of the 4th generation Speedmaster. Around the wrist, the brushed-polished bracelet bears the five–arched-links-per-row design and a grooved clasp with an applied vintage Ω.

Remaining true to the historical piece of 1969, OMEGA has included a burgundy bezel ring – this time in ceramic [ZrO2], according to a special patent pending process, with its tachymeter scale in Ceragold. Following the first generation of the Speedmaster tachymeter scale, which graduated to 500 units per hour, this new model features a marker dot above 90 (also known as “Dot Over 90” or “DON”).

The vertically brushed dial is marked “Au750” for the use of solid gold and is enhanced by the facetted black onyx indexes set in the polished hour-markers, as well as the hour-minute hands filled with black varnish and the black varnished central chronograph seconds and subdial hands

 The outer caseback ring features mechanically engraved markings: “1969-2019” and the Limited Edition number highlighted in burgundy, as well as an uncoloured “Master Chronometer”. The inner decorative ring, also created in 18K Moonshine gold, has undergone two separate laser ablation processes, as well as two PVD (Physical Vapour Deposition) colour treatments in blue and black.

This has produced the following exquisite results:

  • a matte-finish blue ocean that surrounds a partial world map of the American continents (in polished finish), with a glimpse over the rocket’s lift-off site Cape Canaveral (known as Cape Kennedy from 1963 – 1973)
  • a matte-finish black background which accentuates polished markings including, “APOLLO 11 – 50th ANNIVERSARY” and “THE FIRST WATCH WORN ON THE MOON”.

Finally, a domed lunar meteorite inlay representing the Moon has been delicately set into the cavity of the ring. Interestingly, the Earth and the Moon on the inner ring have been produced in true proportion (3.67 : 1 in diameter).

This Speedmaster is driven by the OMEGA Master Chronometer Calibre 3861 – a manual- winding movement with Co-Axial escapement, silicon Si14 balance spring, Moonshine goldplated main plate and bridges and burgundy markings. For fans of OMEGA history, there are a number of vintage OMEGA logos to be found throughout the design – including on the dial, crown and bracelet clasp.

Inspired by the original packaging of the BA145.022 model in 1969, OMEGA has created a new crater box that will house each Limited Edition timepiece. The panels of the box are in grey ceramic with 3D printing of the lunar surface. Since every panel is structured differently, no crater box will be alike. Furthermore, the top panel of every box is printed with the image of the Sea of Tranquillity and the landing position of Apollo 11.

Learn more at the official website here.

(Photos and video: Omega) 

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