This article comes to us from the “Speedy Tuesday” archives, and focuses on my opportunity to review, compare and contrast the modern Omega Speedmaster replica watches with its vintage predecessor from 1969.
After the Omega Speedmaster Professional won the race to the Moon in 1969, Omega thought it was time to come up with a watch that was perhaps a bit more up-to-date and ready for the 1970s — design-wise, that is, as the watch would still need to handle the same abuse as the Speedmaster Professional “Moonwatch” could. Sometime in 1969, Omega introduced the first Speedmaster Mark II, which was actually a Speedmaster Professional Mark II. (For non-native-English-speaking readers: the “Mark” in the name stands for a new or revised/improved version; it is similar to calling something a “2.0 version” these days.)
The Speedmaster Mark II came with the same Lemania-based movement as the Moonwatch, Reference 145.022. This movement is Omega’s Caliber 861 and was in production from 1968 through about 1996, when it was succeeded by the Caliber 1861 movement. Omega Speedmaster copy watches with Swiss mechanical movements had a barrel-shaped case that looked totally different from the asymmetrical Speedmaster Professional case. The regular Speedmaster, which was issued to NASA astronauts, was still in production, however. Throughout all the Speedmaster Mark series, the regular Speedmaster Pro remained available (and, of course, remains so today).
When Omega ceased production of the Speedmaster Mark II in 1972, the Mark III already had been introduced. The Speedmaster Mark III was succeeded by the Mark IV in 1973. Then there is the Mark 4.5 (which is a Mark IV with a different movement, an Omega Caliber 1045), which came on the market in 1974. The last one of the Speedmaster Mark series is the Mark V, introduced around 1984. Confusing, right?
There are even more models in between and some slight variations on the above. In any case, Omega decided to do a Speedmaster Mark II reissue in 2014, and we noticed that the watches were already in the Omega boutiques before their official introduction at Baselworld 2014. Just like the original Omega Speedmaster replica watches, there are a few variations available of the Omega Speedmaster Mark II Co-Axial 2014 models. There is a black-dial version and a racing-dial version as well as a Speedmaster Mark II “Rio 2016” Olympic Games edition (pictured below) that we saw during our appointment with Omega.
Among the most storied watches, the Omega Speedmaster holds a special position as the watch that’s been to the Moon and back – and a bunch of other places, as we shall soon see. While there is plenty of printed and online literature available to study for those who want to know all about the “Moonwatch,” it is exceedingly rare to be given a chance to go hands-on with some of the actual watches that have been through the historical events which have helped to create the remarkable popularity the Speedmaster enjoys today.
A few days ago, at Omega’s London event celebrating the notable 60th anniversary of the Speedmaster, we went hands-on with not one or two, but six incredible steel case Omega Speedmaster replica watches that have truly been “out there.” Here’s every one of them telling their story.
First Generation Omega Speedmaster CK 2915 (1957)
It all started rather inconspicuously in 1957, the year Omega introduced its “Professional” line of watches that included the first Speedmaster, the Seamaster 300, and the Railmaster. To see the trio together, check out our hands-on with the Omega 60th anniversary series here.
Omega says – and it makes sense – that they originally had not conceived the Speedmaster for extra-terrestrial use. Although it was in the very same year that the Russians successfully launched the first-ever satellite into space on October 4, 1957, it was not until much later, in 1965, that the first spacewalk happened – once again, achieved by the Russians, as Alexei Leonov spent 12 minutes and 9 seconds in the big vast unknown nothingness (cool story on that from Gizmodo here).
In the meantime, the Speedmaster had been set on its own course, as Omega heavily marketed it to car enthusiasts, motorists, and racing drivers. How? Well, did you know that the black dial Omega Speedmaster CK2915 fake watches, the first Speedmaster of them all (add Lord of the Rings narrator voice to that bit for added drama), was the first-ever watch to place its tachymeter bezel outside the dial and crystal? An almost laughably negligible “achievement” compared to what the Speedmaster would soon have to gloat about.
Still, the importance of the CK2915 is undeniable, as it was a strong enough beginning – thanks to its almost uncannily well-balanced, sporty, yet elegant looks and a heavy-duty 321 hand-wound chronograph caliber – to merit future updates to it. With its now-famed and highly legible “Broad Arrow” hands, plus excellent overall proportions and wearability, the Speedmaster collection was certainly off to a strong beginning.
The First Omega In Space: 2nd Generation Omega Speedmaster CK 2998 (1959)
1959 saw the introduction of a revised, second generation version, the Omega Speedmaster CK 2998. It retained the symmetrical case and the hand-wound Caliber 321 from Lemania, but introduced a new “Alpha” design handset that replaced the “Broad Arrow” ones seen on the first model. The tachymeter bezel was also standardized in the famous black aluminum version still in use today.
More importantly, the CK 2998 was also the first Omega in space, as Omega explains: “The CK 2998 was the very model purchased by Mercury astronauts Walter “Wally” M. Schirra and Leroy G. “Gordo” Cooper in 1962 as their private watch. It was worn by Schirra during his Mercury-Atlas 8 (Sigma 7) mission, becoming the first Omega Speedmaster worn in space in October 1962, a full two years before NASA’s now-famous tests that led to the official selection of the Speedmaster for use in all of NASA’s manned missions.” It is here where we should note – since I presume some of you are asking yourselves the question – that the first watch ever worn in space was the one on the wrist of Yuri Gagarin who ventured into the unknown on April 12, 1961, after taking off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in modern-day Kazakhstan. There is no official information on this, but he had most likely been wearing a Sturmanskie, a Soviet watch “brand” not sold to the public but reserved for soldiers at the time.
“First Omega In Space”, a modern, very elegant tribute in Sedna gold from 2015.
Today, the CK 2998 is one of the most collectible Speedmasters out there. Produced between 1959 and 1962, there aren’t many original ones around today in collectible condition with original parts, which sends resale value north of the $20k mark. Just look at the one Omega had on display: it had a lot of wear and tear – which arguably is part of the charm and patina of a vintage watch, if that’s your thing… And if it isn’t, you’ll have to hunt down a discontinued/sold-out steel or gold “FOIS” First Omega In Space produced more recently.
Qualified By Nasa: 3rd Generation Omega Speedmaster ST 105.003 (1963-1964)
The next development within the Speedmaster family, in Omega’s words, “was a decisive one.” Introduced in 1963 and still powered by the manual-wound Caliber 321, the 3rd generation Omega Speedmaster ST 105.003 is the exact model delivered to and tested by NASA. Responding to a request for “wrist chronographs” in October 1964, Omega’s North American agent supplied NASA with the required number of ST 105.003 Speedmasters, without knowing exactly what they would be used for – and, better still, without even informing Omega headquarters in Biel, Switzerland.
These watches, as well as models from other competing brands (Omega doesn’t specify, but they were from Rolex, Longines, and later from Bulova, even), were evaluated almost to destruction in a series of tests that can justly be described as the toughest trials a watch had ever endured.
To give you an idea, it included: high and low temperature tests (two full days at 70 °C (158 °F), 30 minutes at 93 °C (199 °F), then 4 hours at -18 °C (-0.4 °F); ten 24-hour cycles at >95% humidity with temperatures ranging from 25 to 70 °C; corrosion tests; six 40 G shock tests in six directions, low and high pressure tests, vibration tests and even a sound test where the watches were “shouted at” at a deafening 130 decibels at frequencies from as low as 40 up to 10,000 Hertz for 30 minutes. Key signs of deterioration included the lume falling apart on the hands, as well as, you guessed it, the rate being affected… and yet, the watches had at last been officially certified by NASA.
Edward White and the Omega Speedmaster ST 105.003 on America’s first EVA on June 3rd 1965, during the Gemini 4 mission.
As the Omega Speedmaster became “officially certified” equipment for NASA’s manned space program, NASA procured further examples of the ST 105.003 and officially equipped its astronauts with it. This model reached further fame when it was worn for the first time outside the space capsule: on the wrist of astronaut Edward White, this model became part of America’s first EVA (extra-vehicular activity, or, more plainly, “spacewalk”) on June 3, 1965, during the Gemini 4 mission. First Moonwatch: 4th Generation Omega Speedmaster ST 105.012 & ST 145.012 (1964-1965)
While Omega had no knowledge of what was going on over in Houston since NASA’s selection process was carried out without involving the respective companies’ headquarters, Omega was nevertheless evolving the Speedmaster. In order to offer additional protection to the chronograph’s pushers and its crown, the Speedmaster case was slightly modified: its right side was slightly enlarged, thus offering more protection and, as an unavoidable side-effect, a newfound, asymmetrical look.
It was introduced to some select markets in 1964 with the model ST 105.012 that now also featured “Professional” on the dial, as it was at this point a prominent part of Omega’s professional line of charming copy watches that, as we mentioned above, they launched in 1957. Still powered by the same trusty movement, the Caliber 321, the model further evolved in 1967 into the reference ST 145.012, with the addition of a slightly improved method of attaching the pushers to the case. This model proved to be the last one to use the Caliber 321, the very movement that guaranteed perfect timing during all six lunar landings up to and including the last mission to land on the moon: Apollo 17.
This year, the iconic Omega Speedmaster celebrates its 60th anniversary after originally launching in 1957. It was not until over a decade later that it started to be known as the “moonwatch.” All timepiece enthusiasts know (after the fact has been endlessly drilled into their clearly eager minds) that the Speedmaster by Swiss Omega was chosen by American NASA to be the official timepiece worn by Apollo mission astronauts and eventually to the moon – a few times. 2019 will be the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, and I am sure hoping that Omega has something interesting brewing for that. But I’m getting ahead of myself, because right now I am about to share my review of the 2016-debuted Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Co-Axial Master Chronometer Moonphase Chronograph.
Since the moon missions, the once racing- and pilot-themed Speedmaster became the timepiece synonymous with the moon and all things related to astronauts. It is a persona that continues to endure today, even if Omega has yet to decide how it will truly be a part of contemporary spaceflight activities in order to secure future relevance in this theme. What has really helped the Speedmaster endure, though, isn’t just a connection to the historic moon missions or NASA, but rather its winning design. Moreover, the Speedmaster has been rendered in so many ways with so many variants that even highly trained specialists have trouble keeping track of all the models.
Speedmaster product naming conventions don’t help much, as they are often confusing and similar to one another, or abstract and difficult to remember. For example, the official name of this watch according to the Omega website is the “Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Omega Co-Axial Master Chronometer Moonphase Chronograph 44.25 MM,” and that doesn’t even include the reference number. The name actually includes “Omega” in it twice. The only reason for this is that Omega has so many similarly themed watches (even though the timepieces themselves may be quite different) that it becomes very challenging to describe them. There have been other Omega Speedmaster models with moonphase indicators and chronographs in the past. In fact, one of them is still available for sale, with an almost identical case, but a different dial layout and movement.
Even when we wrote about the Omega Speedmaster Master Chronometer Moonphase (as I call it for short) after seeing it hands-on after Baselworld 2016, we weren’t quite sure what to call it. With a ten-word name and a complicated assortment of special features, this otherwise very lovely Omega watch is going to need a lot of special attention to stand out from the crowd. My overall take on the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Co-Axial Master Chronometer Moonphase Chronograph is that it is beautiful, distinctive in its own right, and comfortable. At the same time, you need to be a veritable Omegatologist to understand the depth of its technical appeal, as well as how it fits into the larger collection. Omega is a strong brand because it has a lot of good watches. Alternatively, you could see it as Omega’s weakness as a brand that it offers too many watches to allow relatively casual timepiece lovers an opportunity to choose easily.
Several years ago, in 2011, the Omega Speedmaster got modern when Omega released the first new generation models with the in-house-made caliber 9300 family movements. These did away with the chronograph’s three-subdial layout, opting for a two-subdial design, but with a right subdial with two hands (for measuring hours and minutes). The 9300 family of in-house automatic Co-Axial chronograph movements is now being replaced with the 9900 series family of movements which introduces some upgrades such as non-ferrous metal parts for key components, which makes the watch more or less totally resistant to magnetic fields. This is part of what “Master Chronometer” implies and is also part of the rather special METAS certification that each Master Chronometer gets.
The Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Co-Axial Master Chronometer Moonpahse Chronograph makes use of the caliber 9904 (also 9905 with gold parts for precious metal versions) movement which is the first to offer a Co-Axial Master Chronometer to the Speedmaster family. For 2017, Omega will roll out the 9900 movement without the moonphase complication for the rest of the Omega Speedmaster Co-Axial Master Chronometer Chronograph collection. The reason you buy this particular watch is because of the moonphase indicator as well as the fact that it has a Co-Axial Master Chronometer automatic movement.
Oddly enough, the other currently available Omega Speedmaster Moonphase Chronograph watch has the same size case (44.25mm wide) and is about the same price (actually a bit more). It is the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional Moonphase Chronograph. This builds on the “classic” Moonwatch Professional style watch based on a more traditional manually wound movement (which, compared to the 9900 series, is rather primitive for daily wear, in my opinion – unless you really like “old school charm”). This latter watch uses the caliber 1886 which builds on the 1861 by adding an upper subdial under 12 o’clock that has a moonphase indicator surrounded by a pointer date indicator dial.
Both of these latter elements exist in the blue alligator straps Omega Speedmaster Co-Axial Master Chronometer Moonphase replica wacthes but with a different layout. Here, the relatively empty space over 6 o’clock (where the date would normally go) is used for a traditional moonphase indicator disc with a life-like representation of the moon. The left sudial has hands for both the date as well as the running seconds. The right subdial is still used to measure the chronograph minutes and hours (the central hand on the main dial still handles the chronograph seconds).
The steel versions of the watch have a printed life-like representation of the moon in the discs, while the gold and platinum versions have textured moonphase discs which offer a different look. The platinum version of the watch even goes so far as to have a small magnifier disc where the date pointer hand is. This is pretty cool, but I recall Omega saying that the part was such a pain to make that they would not have been able to make it for a non-limited edition. For more information on the precious metal-cased versions of the steel case Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Co-Axial Master Chronometer Moonphase Chronograph copy wacthes (the name is so long it almost tires my fingers to type it out each time) see our previous hands-on article of the fuller collection linked to above.
This particular reference 304.33.44.52.03.001 version of the watch is in steel, on a blue leather strap. You can also get this same watch in a more classic black dial also on a strap, or on a more “traditionally Speedmaster” steel metal bracelet. The case is 44.25mm wide and certainly on the thicker side at about 16mm. This new generation Speedmaster case is easily among the most interesting “classic-style” watch cases I know. The reason I say this is not only because of how it is constructed but because looking at it from different angles can vastly change what it looks like in a way I’ve never experienced from any watch before.
A lot of this has to do with the sandwich-style construction of the case, as well as the fact that the various parts (bezel, middle case, caseback) are of different widths. Despite the size, the case is overall very comfortable (if worn snugly) and attractive on the wrist, and its details do merit close inspection. The case is water-resistant to 100 meters and has a sapphire crystal on both ends, with a display caseback offering a view of the handsome in-house-made movement. It is so obviously that the charming replica watches are the best gifts for male friend, father and husband. These unique models will all add your life with glorious feelings and noble taste.