60 years of the Omega Speedmaster
Alongside 21 and 40, a 60th birthday is a big milestone in the average person’s life.
Depending on where in the world you live, it probably marks the age where you can qualify for pension, or begin thinking of retirement. In some parts of Asia, 60-year-olds sometimes wear red at their birthday party, where guests will offer gifts of really long noodles to symbolize a long and healthy life.
It’s supposedly the year that the calendar resets – a so-called second birth. I suppose that’s something to look forward to, at least.
This year the Omega Speedmaster turns 60 – but there’s no sign of slowing down, or retirement, at least not any time soon. In fact, to mark the occasion, Omega has just released the Speedmaster Moonwatch Automatic Master Chronometer.
As far as luxury watches go – the Speedmaster is a legend. Most often it’s associated with the NASA space flight programs of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and being the first ever watch on the moon, it has earned the title “moonwatch.”
Back in 1957, when it was first created, however, it wasn’t intended for space flight at all. It was the world’s first chronograph wristwatch with a tachymeter scale on the bezel – and it was a tool watch for racing car drivers.
Today those original “Speedy’s” with the reference CK2915 movement, and the characteristic broad arrow hands, are prized by serious watch collectors. If you can find them, they come at a premium. Few were made.
The second generation of Speedmasters, known as the CK2998s, are the models most commonly associated with the space missions. The broad hands were slimmed down, but much of the watch remained true the original, including the case and movement.
Over the years the Speedmaster came out in plenty of different variations, and the Speedmaster Professional made its appearance in 1964. The Mark II followed in 1969, and the caliber 321 movement which powered the originals was replaced by the caliber 861.
Omega kept certain details about the watch’s development under wraps, and its “Alaska Project” was the most secretive of all. At the same time, the brand flaunted its association with NASA in the media. Adverts around the world made sure everyone knew exactly why NASA had chosen Omega over the competition (including Rolex, among others).
There was even a limited run, with the cartoon character Snoopy on the dial,produced as a series of 5441 numbered pieces to commemorate the Silver Snoopy Award presented to Omega by NASA for their part in the Apollo program. The Speedy was involved in all the lunar missions.
Even so, many of the iterations of the watch stayed true to its original purpose as a race car timer – with different “racing” dials making an appearance from time to time.In 1996 when racing legend Michael Schumacher became an ambassador for Omega, there was a limited edition ‘Reduced Racing Schumacher’ in striking red or yellow, complete with a racing rubber box, and signed by the driver.
In 2005 Omega introduced a revolution to the inner workings of the Speedmaster– the Co-Axial GMT (banner picture). The new Co-Axial escapement was incredibly precise, and at the same time Omega returned to the original charismatic broad arrow hands. Then ten years later the Speedmaster’57 took it a step further, incorporating many of the features of the original 1957 model.
It’s a trend that many luxury brands follow – re-inventing their vintage classics.
The latest SpeedmasterMoonwatch Automatic Master Chronometeris a classic racing watch with a matt black racing dial, two-register chronographand hands and markers in 18ct white gold.
A perforated black leather strap reveals orange rubber below, and the new watch houses a chronograph-certified caliber 9900 movement.
Over the past sixty years the Speedmaster has gained a large and loyal following – among amateur watch lovers, and among seasoned collectors and watch nerds too.
I’ve often advised first-time buyers who are looking for a classic vintage to look no further than the Speedy.
Just recently Omega created a special edition called the “#Speedy Tuesday” as a nod to the loyal social media following that has grown online recently, supported by die-hard Speedmaster fans from around the world.
Although I’m always interested to see what Omega will do next with the watch that basically formed the foundation of their range – my admiration and passion will always belong to those early vintage models.
No, there’s no question about it. Retirement is not an option for the Speedmaster – so, Happy Anniversary, and long may it continue!