In terms of icons, the Omega Speedmaster is definitely a big one. If not the most iconic watch ever, it can easily be categorized as one of the 5 watches to know (and to own if you’re a collector). Of course, everyone knows about the “Moonwatch”, the Speedmaster Professional, the one that has been worn on the Moon by Buzz Aldrin and that is still in the actual Omega catalogue. However, there’s another vintage edition that should tickle your interest, the Speedmaster Mark II, a very 1970s watch that also has a link with NASA and space research. That’s the one that Omega decided to re-issue in 2014 and here is our hands-on with the modern Omega Speedmaster Mark II Chronograph Co-Axial.
What is the (original) Omega Speedmaster Mark II? At the end of the 1960s (in 1967 to be precise), Omega decided to redefine the Speedmaster and to improve its resistance to extreme temperatures. NASA wanted to create the perfect Space Watch. The goal was to create a watch able to function in both extremely hot and extremely cold environments (meaning on the bright and dark sides of the Moon), and also to have a great resistance to all the possible aggressions of a space mission. Thus, within Omega, the Alaska Project was born. One of the axis of research was to redefine the shape of the case. Omega developed a brand-new bulky design for a case made of titanium, a worldwide first in watchmaking. The case was as smooth and unadorned as possible in an effort to prevent anything from snagging on the watch. But after the presentation of the prototypes (a total of 5 were made), NASA decided that the Omega Speedmaster ‘Moonwatch’ 145.012 succeeded in its mission so the Alaska Project was declared obsolete. (you can read more about the Alaska Project and the development of the Omega Speedmaster Mark II in our 2nd part of the History of the Speedmaster).
My ex-Omega Speedmaster Mark II ref. 145.014 Vintage
In order to absorb the Alaska Project R&D costs, in 1969 Omega introduced the first of the Speedmaster Mark Series, the Mark II ref. 145.014. The Mark II employed some of the specifications and innovations introduced in the Alaska Project, however with a more consumer-oriented approach – meaning that wearability was considered after all. The shape of the 45mm x 41mm case is seen nowadays as a typical 1970s style but the Mark II was one of the first watches to use that shape. It has this ‘egg’ style shape with integrated lugs and no apparent angles or facets. The tachymeter bezel would now be integrated but for the sake of legibility, it was not part of the dial but printed directly on the inner face of the crystal. The face of the watch was very similar to a ‘Moonwatch,’ with the same dial and hands. The only difference came from the inscription ‘Mark II’ under the ‘professional’ at 12. The Omega Speedmaster Mark II relied on the Calibre 861, the cam-operated variation of the historical Calibre 321. The Mark II 145.014 was also available in a funky ‘racing’ edition, with a dark grey dial, orange accents on the minute rail-track and orange hands for the chronograph indications. And this is the one that inspired the Omega Speedmaster Mark II Chronograph Co-Axial we have in our hands today.
The new Omega Speedmaster Mark II Chronograph Co-Axial, racing dial, ref. 3126.96.36.199.06.001
The new Omega Speedmaster Mark II Chronograph Co-Axial is a rather faithful re-issue of the vintage Ref. 145.014, at least visually. Concerning the mechanical part, that’s another story. The new one is a modern watch with a vintage feel, not a pure re-edition or a watch that continues the tradition of an antique and iconic piece. This job is due to the classical Omega Speedmaster Professional “Moonwatch”. The shape and look of the new Mark II are vintage-oriented, the rest (construction, materials, movement) is modern. Period. Does it make the Speedy Mark II void of interest? Definitely no.
The new Omega Speedmaster Mark II Chronograph Co-Axial with racing dial (the ref. 3188.8.131.52.06.001 to be precise) uses the exact same design as the vintage one. The bulky case, with integrated lugs, is still in place. It measures a hefty 42,4mm x 46,2mm (so slightly bigger than the original, at 41mm x 45). The finish, with the sub-ray brushing on the top, the facetted and polished sides and the satined casebands are also part of the new edition. Omega even reintroduced the same metallic bracelet, with three rounded links and a highly tapered shape. Overall, it has to be said, the new Omega Speedmaster Mark II is a big and heavy watch. The combination of a bulky case (that really is a block of stainless steel) with this large bracelet makes the watch highly present on the wrist – and that’s something the vintage one also had, and that’s why I was wearing mine on a strap… You’re now aware, don’t expect the Mark II to be light and small. Try it and feel it. However, this only means that it is a pure sports watch, not that it is an uncomfortable timepiece.
For this modern edition of the Speedmaster Mark II, Omega decided to re-introduce the 2 vintage styles: a black dial with white hands and indexes (extremely close to an Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch) and a dark grey dial, with white main hands, white inscriptions and several orange accents (on the chronograph hands and on the 12 hour indexes), the so-called racing dial. if the dial is almost identical to the original ref. 145.014 (tri-compax layout, same places for the logos, same slightly recessed sub-dials, with the same function), one thing has to be noticed: a date window. Even if practical on daily-basis, it sometimes doesn’t make sense to add this function on a watch with a vintage-oriented feel. It would have more relevant (on an historical basis) and more elegant to simple remove the date function of the movement (this a personal opinion that some won’t share, seeing the date as an interesting feature).
One other thing that Omega chose to re-introduce: the specific flat crystal with integrated tachymeter scale. Just like the old edition, the tachymeter scale is not part of the dial (on a inner flange for example) but printed on the inner face of the crystal, making it extremely legible. One cool thing created by Omega on this modern Speedmaster Mark II: the inner face of the scale is coated with luminous paint, making the numerals visible during the night but also creating a luminous halo around the dial (in white on the black dial edition and in orange on this racing dial version).
The main point of divergence between the old and new Omega Speedmaster Mark II remains of course the mechanics. If the old one shared its movement with the “Moonwatch” (the calibre 861), this new edition relies on a more modern and automatic calibre, the Omega 3330. The 3300 has a chronograph operated by a column-wheel and features the in-house Co-Axial escapement and the Si14 silicon balance spring (and it is chronometer rated). The Omega 3300 is based (well, “inspired by” would be better) the Piguet 1185, as many specs are different (not the same diameter, not the same frequency, not the same escapement…). However, the 3300 is an interesting movement, with interesting features (antimagnetic and co-axial escapement, automatic winding, column-wheel, 52 hours of power reserve and COSC certified). Not that bad considering the price asked by Omega! It has, intrinsically, nothing wrong. It’s just that it would have been nice, for nerds like us, to see this new Omega Speedmaster Mark II equipped with the calibre 1861. However, the 3300 will be more convenient on a daily-basis. Long debate that will end to many solutions…
Overall, do we have to be rude with this edition? No, it is a very well build watch (the overall quality of the case, the bracelet and the dial can’t be denied). The movement, even if no to our too-nerdy tastes, is a very good one. It is not the most modern of the Omega collection (this is due to the 9300) but it allows to keep this watch relatively well priced. The new Omega Speedmaster Mark II Chronograph Co-Axial has to be seen as a tribute rather than a pure vintage re-edition. it is a watch inspired by an antique edition but with modern attributes. In the end, it remains an interesting sports watch with an assumed bulky design and with this cool 1970s feel on it. The hardcore collectors with the need of a real vintage watch will certainly look for a “Moonwatch”. This Speedy Mark II is simply not targeting the same clients. And it does it well. Price: 5,200 Euros (whatever the edition). omegawatches.com.