As watchmaking goes, there are only a select group of watches that fall into the ‘Iconic’ category. The omega Speedmaster is certainly one of them. The Speedmaster’s history goes back to 1957 with the reference CK 2915 (known as the “Broad Arrow”). It was designed by a Swiss gentleman by the name of Claude Baillod. The watch featured the triple-register chronograph layout, the high-contrast index markers, and the domed Plexiglas crystal. It was introduced as a sports and racing chronograph. The Collector Series once again travels to the effortlessly elegant city of Paris. In his first interview, Brice our Associate Editor and I discussed his stunning Breguet. On this occasion I thoroughly enjoyed finding out why is ref. 3870 Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch is so dear to his heart.
Brice what is that attracted you to Omega as a brand?
Many things, but I’d say that it’s the Speedmaster that created my interest for Omega rather than the opposite. I guess I initially studied the Speedy which in turn guided to Omega. Having done this, I then learned about Omega. I found the brand to be a genuine innovator and rich in terms of history.
I’m a real nerd when it comes to watches. I don’t just buy a timing device but something that has a background. It can be historical or technical. It doesn’t matter. But I need this. And clearly, Omega has a huge background. Just think about the co-axial escapement, about the space exploration, about the Olympic games, about Cousteau… And most recently, with the fully antimagnetic movement and the METAS certification. Honestly, in the 5.000 Euros to 10.000 Euros price range, no other manufacture can compete, in term of research and development and in terms of history (except Rolex maybe… But I’m not even sure of that).
When did you come to own the Speedmaster?
I bought my Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch in January 2013, as a late Christmas gift to myself. I chose the ref. 3870, which is the classical edition (1861 movement, 42mm case in steel, full caseback and Plexiglas) but with a leather strap. I’m not a metallic bracelet guy so I went for the strap edition – which I consider as a mistake now… It should have been for the 3570 (on a bracelet) so it could have another option and the true iconic look.
What I was sure about however was the choice of the watch itself. The Speedmaster comes in various editions (with an automatic movement, in ceramic, with a moonphase, with a 44mm case) but I wanted the Professional, the so-called Moonwatch. Why? Simply because that’s THE ONE, the real true Speedy, the one that will never be obsolete and the one with the historical background. I’ll recommend anyone who wants to buy one and only one Speedmaster to go for the Professional edition. Then, if you intend to buy several Speedies, that’s another story.
It’s a watch with immense history, can you tell us a bit more:
Immense is definitely not strong enough word to describe the history of the Speedmaster. It’s probably the watch that carries the largest history. It’s the Moonwatch, the one strapped on Aldrin’s wrist when he walked on the Moon in 1969…
[bctt tweet=”It’s the Moonwatch, the one strapped on Aldrin’s wrist when he walked on the Moon in 1969. Cool, right?”]
Briefly, the Omega Speedmaster was launched in 1957 as a racing chronograph (with the ref. CK 2915, as part of the professionally-oriented Master collection, together with the Seamaster 300 and the Railmaster). Even if it was already successful at that time, the history of the Speedmaster really began in 1962, when Wally Schirra went in space (as a member of the Project Mercury) with his own Speedmaster CK 2998 strapped on the wrist (it was the first Omega in Space). However, NASA prevented astronauts from using private items and then quickly realized the need for an “official space watch”. Here began the proper life of the Speedmaster as the Moonwatch.
NASA decided to procure several chronographs including of course Speedmasters. The legendary tests (a.k.a. Qualification Test Procedures) were carried out and the final result was in favor of Omega. NASA declared the Speedy operational for space exploration and flight certified. Strangely, Omega learned about it only after seeing Ed White wearing a ‘Speedy’ strapped on his wrist with a Velcro band during America’s first spacewalk in June 1965. Then came 1969 and the first walk on the Moon. Since this day, the Speedy is known as the Moonwatch and the Omega Speedmaster remains part of astronauts’ official equipment.
If you want to know more about the Speedmaster, you can consult the 3 articles I wrote about the history of this watch (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) and the article that the Omega Museum helped me to write (when they gave me the exclusive info about Aldrin’s Speedmaster reference – yes, that was really cool)… All of that also explains why I’m so in love with it.
Did this history play a significant role in your decision to buy?
Of course. I’ve always been interested in space exploration and I’m kind of fascinated by the Moon. I properly devoured books and documentaries about Space when I was younger – and especially about Moon-landings and the race between USSR and USA. However, it took me some time to discover that a watch was involved in exploration of the Moon. That was actually after my passion for watches came. Once I knew more about watchmaking, about the Speedmaster itself and about the history of the Speedmaster, I needed to have one. History is not the only reason why I went for the Speedy but indeed, it played a significant role in the final decision.
Aesthetically, what stood out for you?
I’d say its purity. The Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch is a functional object, designed to be as practical and legible as possible. This leads to a watch where everything has a sense, a purpose, a function, and a role to play. It’s not a designer’s watch. As many tools, the design comes from the function – which usually creates rugged, inelegant items – but here, it is so pure that the overall design becomes elegant… and timeless. This watch didn’t change (except very minor details) since 1965. And look how modern it is.
[bctt tweet=”The Speedmaster is a functional object, designed to be as practical and legible as possible.”]
There’s also something else that I love with the Speedmaster: its versatility. Because of this pure, timeless design, you can use it in every condition. If I use the original Omega black alligator strap with the folding buckle, it becomes a proper dress-watch that will be right in place with a suit and tie. Use a NATO strap and it becomes a toolish, adventurous watch. You can also play with racing straps, vintage leathers, fabric bands… Or simply use the original metallic bracelet. In fact, it will look good with everything. That is something common to all superbly designed objects: the capacity to adapt to every situation.
Do you think the Speedmaster is an icon of the future?
It’s already an icon. It became an icon in 1969. However, to be frank with you Justin, I have to say that interest in Speedmasters has spiked in recent times – at least for normal collectors, as the Speedy was already sought-after for years by many hard-core collectors.
There are multiple reasons for this. Firstly, the watch itself deserves it. Then, considering the insane prices reached by Rolex Daytonas, I guess that some collectors moved to the Speedmaster, seeing in it, huge potential (this is justified considering the rarity of some editions and the history that I consider deeper than the Daytona’s one). It results in huge prices for rare Speedies – and it’s not going to end soon. However, the positive point here is that you can have this icon new, in stores, whenever you want (and for quite a decent price). That’s also one of the strength of Omega and the Speedy: having this historical piece still available in the collection (and come on, that’s the exact same watch as Astronauts. Isn’t it cool?).
How does the Speedmaster fit into your lifestyle?
As said with my Breguet Type XX, I’m not only wearing them I also use my watches. The Speedmaster for example went with me for a 10-day road trip in the desert, strapped on a leather NATO strap – and it was superb there. I mean, the Speedy is the kind of watch you don’t have to care that much about. It is made to be used and abused – at least that’s how I see things. The Plexiglas allows scratches (and you just have to polish it with toothpaste).
I have watches for special occasions – dressier, more elegant, more delicate watches. However, this kind of watch is really my thing as I can wear them whenever I want.
What’s inside the Speedmaster Brice?
Another icon… The Lemania-based Calibre 1861. The early Speedmasters used to be featured with the splendid Calibre 321, but because of the column wheel mechanism, it wasn’t reliable enough and not that easy to service. Omega switched to the Calibre 861 with the reference 145.022 (in 1968 if I’m right). This one came with a cam mechanism, less prestigious on a horological side for sure, but more reliable and easier to adjust. Then, in 1997, Omega introduced the 1861, which is basically an 861 with one more jewel and a plastic brake (again, it’s not made to be luxurious but functional).
This movement is just perfect for a watch like the Speedmaster: reliable, easy to maintain, extremely precise… It is a tractor. Furthermore, it’s a very nice old-school movement with a nice finish and a beautiful shape.
Have you been out to the Omega manufacture?
Unfortunately not yet. I’d love to go there to see the assembly line of the new 8400 Master Co-Axial movements and the new certification procedures. Of course, it’s far from being a Haute Horlogerie manufacture but it’s always interesting to see these industrial tools.
I know you’re a big fan of the brand, what do you anticipate from them in the coming months/years?
Big question… I’m looking forward the deployment of the antimagnetic technology on the in-house chronograph movements. I have no clue when they will do it but they will do it for sure. If you set the 1861 apart, the entire production of Omega now uses the co-axial technology. I’m thus expecting them to do the same with their antimagnetic expertise.
Now in terms of new technologies, I haven’t a clue what they could come up with… They have the silicon, they have the co-axial escapement, they have the antimagnetic movements and they have the precision. There are certainly dozens of things in the boxes at Bienne (Omega’s headquarters) and they will probably impress us again.
When it comes to value for money, how does the Speedmaster fair in your opinion?
It’s still one of the best quality / pleasure / price ratios for me. I say “still” because the price increased a lot last year, going from 3.400 Euros to 4.300 Euros now (explained by the Swiss Franc crisis and the new box that contains several goodies, including straps, a loupe and a tool). It used to be one of the best deals available and it is still a very good one.
What do you think the Speedmaster says about you when people see it on the wrist Brice?
Like the Rolex Submariner – which I consider as one of the most iconic timepieces ever – the Speedmaster is an icon (well, in fact, I consider these two watch as THE most iconic watches). However, in my humble opinion, owning a Speedmaster tells more about who you are. Unlike the Submariner, I consider the Omega Speedmaster more as a collector’s piece. It carries more history and it has as much recognition. So many people, from hard-core collectors to people who just want to sport a nice watch, wear the Sub.
But in truth, I cannot really answer your question Justin. Not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t know. I know what this watch means for me but not what it says about me. Ask my girlfriend, maybe she knows…
Does it get much wrist time?
Yes. I’m wearing it from time to time, but when it does come out of the box, it usually stays on my wrist for several days. In addition, I’m not the only one to enjoy this watch as it also gets some feminine wrist time. I told you, it’s an extremely versatile watch.
What is your favourite feature of the watch?
It’s not about a specific feature (as, to be frank, the Omega Speedmaster is a quite simple watch). I’d say that what I prefer is the simplicity and intelligence of its design, that was lead mainly by practical needs. Sometimes the simplest things are the bests.
What three words would you use to describe your Speedmaster?
Iconic, pure, versatile (I also had: love, love, love… but it’s not very objective).