NOTABLE HISTORY

The Birth of an Icon.

In 1957 Omega introduced the Speedmaster with a reference of CK2915-1, it was powered by the robust caliber 321. This movement was developed in 1946 by Albert Piguet of Lemania, which had been acquired in 1932 by Omega's parent company, SSIH. The "Speedmaster" name was coined from the model's novel tachymeter scale bezel made in brushed stainless steel, and by the convention set by prior Omega brands Seamaster and Railmaster.


The model established the series's hallmark 12-hour, triple-register chronograph layout, domed Plexiglas crystal (named hesalite), and simple, high-contrast index markers; but, unlike most subsequent Speedmaster models, it used Omega's broad arrow hand set. In 1959, a second version, CK 2998, was released with a black aluminum base 1000 bezel and later in 2998-2, tachymeter 500 bezel and alpha hands. This was again updated in 1963 by references ST 105.002, which kept the alpha hands and then less than one year later ST 105.003 (AKA the Ed White)  with straight baton hands and ST 105.012, the first Speedmaster with the "Professional" appellation on the dial, with an asymmetrical case to protect the chronograph pushers and crown.


All of the early Speedmasters used the same calibre 321 movement, which was only replaced in 1968/69 with the introduction of the calibre 861, which was used in the 'moon watch'. 

Three years before the Speedmaster's official qualification for space flight, astronaut Wally Schirra took his personal CK 2998 aboard Mercury-Atlas 8 (Sigma 7) on October 3, 1962  That same year, per an anecdote repeated by Omega press materials, trade publications, and NASA itself, a number of commercial chronograph wristwatches were furtively purchased from Corrigan's, a Houston jeweler, to evaluate their use for the Gemini and Apollo Programs. James Ragan, a former NASA engineer responsible for Apollo flight hardware testing, has downplayed this story, calling it a "complete invention". Instead, bids were officially solicited of several brands already familiar to the pilots who were joining the growing astronaut corps. Brands under official consideration included Breitling, Rolex, and Omega, as well as others that produced mechanical chronographs. Hamilton submitted a pocket watch and was disqualified from consideration, leaving three contenders: Rolex, Longines-Wittnauer, and Omega. These watches were all subjected to tests under extreme conditions:


  • High temperature: 48 hours at 160 °F (71 °C) followed by 30 minutes at 200 °F (93 °C)

  • Low temperature: Four hours at 0 °F (−18 °C)

  • Temperature cycling in near-vacuum: Fifteen cycles of heating to 160 °F (71 °C) for 45 minutes, followed by cooling to 0 °F (−18 °C) for 45 minutes at 10−6 atm

  • Humidity: 250 hours at temperatures between 68 °F (20 °C) and 160 °F (71 °C) at relative humidity of 95%

  • Oxygen environment: 100% oxygen at 0.35 atm and 71 °C for 48 hours

  • Shock: Six 11ms 40 g shocks from different directions

  • Linear acceleration: from 1 to 7.25 g within 333 seconds

  • Low pressure: 90 minutes at 10−6 atm at 160 °F (71 °C) followed by 30 minutes at 200 °F (93 °C)

  • High pressure: 1.6 atm for one hour

  • Vibration: three cycles of 30 minutes vibration varying from 5 to 2000 Hz with minimum 8.8 g impulse

  • Acoustic noise: 30 minutes at 130 dB from 40 to 10,000 Hz 


All chronographs tested were mechanical hand-wind models. Neither the first automatic chronograph nor the first quartz watch would be available until 1969, well after the space program was underway. The evaluation concluded in March 1965 with the selection of the Speedmaster, which survived the tests while remaining largely within 5 seconds per day rate.

The Gemini Program - Ed White!

Gus Grissom and John Young wore the first officially qualified Speedmasters on Gemini 3 on March 23, 1965. Several months later, Ed White made the first American space walk during Gemini 4 with a Speedmaster 105.003 strapped to the outside of the left-side sleeve of his G4C space suit. In order to accommodate the space suit, the watch was attached via a long nylon strap secured with Velcro. When worn on the wrist, the strap could be wound around several times to shorten its length. According to Omega, the company was surprised to learn of the Speedmaster’s role upon seeing a photograph of the EVA; however, ordering forms sent by NASA's Gemini 4 Flight Support Procurement Office to Omega's American agents in 1964 suggest that this anecdote may be exaggerated.



These images would be widely used in Omega marketing materials from 1965–1967, establishing the popular connection between the Speedmaster and space exploration. Speedmaster’s were issued to all subsequent Gemini crews until the end of the program in 1966.


In 2005 Omega Released a Limited Edition Speemaster Gemini 4 'The First US Space Walk' for its 40th Anniversary. Collectors also know the reference 105.003 as the ‘Ed White’ made in 1964/65 and in big demand.

The Apollo program & Apollo 11 - The Moonwatch is Born
"Tranquility base here... The Eagle has landed!"

These words are probably the most remebered from the space race, the moment when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon 02:56 July 21st 1969 (UTC).


In 1966, Speedmaster reference 105.012 was updated to reference 145.012. These two models would be the two Speedmaster references known to have been worn on the moon by Apollo astronauts, the original "moonwatches." Speedmasters were used throughout the early manned Apollo program, and reached the moon with Apollo 11. Ironically, these and prior models are informally known as "Pre-moon" Speedmasters, since their manufacture predate the moon landings and lack the inscription subsequent models carry: "The First Watch Worn on the Moon", this was applied in the later part of 1970.


Although Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong was first to set foot on the moon, he left his 105.012 Speedmaster inside the Lunar Module as a backup because the LM's electronic timer had malfunctioned. Buzz Aldrin elected to wear his and so his Speedmaster became the first watch to be worn on the moon. Later, he wrote of his decision:

"It was optional to wear while we were walking on the surface of the moon ... few things are less necessary when walking around on the moon than knowing what time it is in Houston, Texas. Nonetheless, being a watch guy, I decided to strap the Speedmaster onto my right wrist around the outside of my bulky spacesuit."


Aldrin's Speedmaster was lost during shipping when he sent it to the Smithsonian Institution, its reference number being ST105.012, although it is sometimes erroneously reported as a 145.012.

Apollo 13 - The Snoopy Award

In 1970, after Apollo 13 was crippled by the rupture of a Service Module oxygen tank, Jack Swigert's Speedmaster was famously used to accurately time the critical 14-second Mid-Course Correction 5 burn using the Lunar Module's Reaction Control System, which allowed for the crew's safe return. In recognition of this, Omega was awarded the Snoopy Award by the Apollo 13 astronauts, "for dedication, professionalism, and outstanding contributions in support of the first United States Manned Lunar Landing Project."


Apollo 13 was the seventh manned mission in the American Apollo space program and the third intended to land on the Moon. The craft was launched on April 11, 1970, at 13:13 CST from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, but the lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded two days later, crippling the Service Module upon which the Command Module depended. Despite great hardship caused by limited power, loss of cabin heat, shortage of potable water, and the critical need to jury-rig the carbon dioxide removal system, the crew returned safely to Earth on April 17.


The flight was commanded by James A. Lovell with John L. "Jack" Swigert as Command Module Pilot and Fred W. Haise as Lunar Module Pilot. Swigert was a late replacement for the original Command Module pilot Ken Mattingly, who was grounded by the flight surgeon after exposure to German measles.

Apollo 15 -  The Lunar Buggy.

In 1971, Apollo 15 commander David Scott's issued Speedmaster lost its Plexiglas crystal during EVA-2. For EVA-3, the final lunar surface EVA, he wore a Bulova Chronograph (model number 88510/01 with velcro-strap part number SEB12100030-202) that was not part of the normal mission equipment and that he had agreed to evaluate for the company at the request of a friend. Because of the commercial interests involved and the revelation of the Apollo 15 postage stamp incident, NASA withheld Bulova's name for years afterward. There is also evidence that Rolex GMTs were used as back-up personal watches on the Apollo 13 & 14 missions. Therefore, while the Speedmaster was the first watch worn on the moon, it is not the only one, as Omega often claims on its watches and in marketing materials.

Apollo 15 was the ninth manned mission in the United States' Apollo program, the fourth to land on the Moon, and the eighth successful manned mission. It was the first of what were termed "J missions," long stays on the Moon, with a greater focus on science than had been possible on previous missions. It was also the first mission on which the Lunar Roving Vehicle was used.


The mission began on July 26, 1971, and ended on August 7. At the time, NASA called it the most successful manned flight ever achieved.


Commander David Scott and Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin spent three days on the Moon, including 18½ hours outside the spacecraft on lunar extra-vehicular activity (EVA). The mission landed near Hadley rille, in an area of the Mare Imbrium called Palus Putredinus (Marsh of Decay). The crew explored the area using the first lunar rover, which allowed them to travel much farther from the Lunar Module (LM) than had been possible on missions without the rover. 


They collected 77 kilograms (170 lb) of lunar surface material. At the same time, Command Module Pilot Alfred Worden orbited the Moon, using a Scientific Instrument Module (SIM) in the Service Module (SM) to study the lunar surface and environment in great detail with a panoramic camera, a gamma-ray spectrometer, a mapping camera, a laser altimeter, a mass spectrometer, and a lunar sub-satellite deployed at the end of Apollo 15's stay in lunar orbit (an Apollo program first).


Although the mission accomplished its objectives, this success was somewhat overshadowed by negative publicity that accompanied public awareness of postage stamps carried without authorization by the astronauts, who had made plans to sell them upon their return. Ironically, this mission was one of very few that had been honored with the issue of a commemorative US stamp, with this first use of a lunar rover happening one decade after the first Mercury astronaut launch.

Apollo 17 - Gene Cernan, Last Man on the Moon.

Apollo 17 was the final mission of the United States' Apollo program, the enterprise that landed the first humans on the Moon. Launched at 12:33 am Eastern Standard Time (EST) on December 7, 1972, with a three-member crew consisting of Commander Eugene Cernan, Command Module Pilot Ronald Evans, and Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt, It was the last use of Apollo hardware for its original mission. After Apollo 17, extra Apollo spacecraft were used in the Skylab and Apollo–Soyuz Test Project programs.


Apollo 17 was the first night launch of a U.S. human spaceflight and the final crewed launch of a Saturn V rocket. It was a "J-type mission," which included a three-day lunar surface stay, extended scientific capability, and the third Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV). While Evans remained in lunar orbit above in the Command/Service Module (CSM), Cernan and Schmitt spent just over three days on the lunar surface in the Taurus–Littrow valley, conducting three periods of extra-vehicular activity, or moonwalks, during which they collected lunar samples and deployed scientific instruments. Cernan, Evans, and Schmitt returned to Earth on December 19 after an approximately 12-day mission.


The decision to land in the Taurus-Littrow valley was made with the primary objectives for Apollo 17 in mind: to sample lunar highland material older than the impact that formed Mare Imbrium and investigating the possibility of relatively young volcanic activity in the same vicinity. Taurus-Littrow was selected with the prospects of finding highland material in the valley's north and south walls and the possibility that several craters in the valley surrounded by dark material could be linked to volcanic activity.


Apollo 17 also broke several records set by previous flights, including the longest manned lunar landing flight; the longest total lunar surface extravehicular activities; the largest lunar sample return, and the longest time in lunar orbit. Apollo 17 remains the most recent manned Moon landing and also the last time humans have travelled beyond low Earth orbit.

The North Pole - Ralph Plaisted.

In 1968, American insurance salesman Ralph Plaisted and three companions were the first confirmed expedition to reach the north pole by land on snowmobiles. The team successfully used the same reference 145.012 Omega Speedmasters as the Apollo program along with sextants for navigation.


Also in 1968, Omega transitioned the caliber 321 movement to the new caliber 861, also designed by Albert Piguet, with the introduction of the reference 145.022 Speedmaster. The 861 was very similar to the 321, but replaced its column wheel switching mechanism with a cam and increased the beat rate from 18000 to 21600 vibrations per hour. Most Speedmaster Professional watches from 1968 to the present have used variants of this movement, including the modern rhodium-plated caliber 1861 and decorated exhibition calibers 863 and 1863.


A standard Speedmaster Professional model with Plexiglas crystal, solid caseback with anti-vibration and anti-magnetic dust cover, tachymeter scale, without date or day complications, and powered by a caliber 861-based movement has been continuously produced since the 1861 cal replaced it.


The tritium-powered phosphorescent lume on the hands and index markers of the original watches were replaced at the end of the 1990s with non-radioactive pigments (Luminova®), but the fundamental design, dimensions, and mechanism of these watches have remained unchanged. In this form, the basic Speedmaster line has remained flight-qualified for NASA space missions and EVAs, after re-evaluation by NASA in 1972 and for use in the Space Shuttle program in 1978.

Present Day Speedmasters.

Omega has produced a large number of commemorative and limited edition variants of the basic "moonwatch" design, celebrating important anniversaries and events, emblazoned with the different patches for the space missions it was issued for, or evoking its motor sport roots with various racing patterns. It has also released many models made with various precious metals, jewels, and alternative dial colors for the luxury market.

 

Over the years, Omega has also sought to improve functional aspects of the basic Speedmaster Professional. In 1969, it produced the Speedmaster Professional Mk II, with shrouded lugs and a flat, anti-reflective mineral glass crystal. In 1970, Omega launched the Alaska Project under Pierre Chopard, which changed the dial of the original Speedmaster Professional from black to white and created a removable anodized aluminum housing to shield the watch from a wider range of temperatures.

 

In 1971 and 1973, Omega turned to automatic mechanisms the Speedmaster Automatic MkIII and MkIV models alongside Speedsonic Electronic Chronometer Chronograph (marketing as a Speedmaster) other non Speedmaster Chronographs such as the Omega Bullhead. However none of these proved as popular or long-lasting as the basic Speedmaster Professional "moonwatch". A variety of other types of watches have used the Speedmaster brand, including many different automatic day and day-date models, the tuning fork movement Speedsonic line, and the digital LCD Speedmaster Quartz (the Speedsonic and LCD Speedmaster where also prototyped in 10 examples each under the Alaska project but not taken up by NASA). The digital-analog Speedmaster X-33 was produced in 1998; it was qualified for space missions by NASA and flown on the Mir space station and Space Shuttle Columbia during STS-90 later that year.

 

The present day reference number is 311.30.42.30.01.005 (since 2014) which superseded the very popular 3570.50.00.

Chrono24 Vintag Speedmaster

darren@vintagespeedmaster.com 

 

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