Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1971 Omega Speedmaster Professional Moon watch
Like a great many of you, I imagine, my list of ‘must-haves’ seems to gather pace each year, far beyond the rate at which I can reasonably collect. However, even the most cursory glance at my collection here will lead you to appreciate the special place Omega watches hold in my heart. And amongst those watches this 1971 Omega Speedmaster Professional holds a very special place.
As a young child I watched in awe the vivid images of man walking on the moon in 1972 as Apollo 17 brought to an end the three and half years of extraordinary moon landings. Since that time everything to do with that brief period of history has left me captivated and there is no doubt that the words “The First Watch Worn On The Moon” still conjure an image of unimaginable adventure in my mind.
There is no doubt that in a world of extreme environments our planet has much to test the mechanical engineering skill of the finest of watchmakers.
From the depths of the Challenger Deep, 11,000 metres below the waves of the pacific in the Mariana Trench, to a sudden cabin de-pressurisation at 30,000 feet, the potential horological challenges are varied and supremely testing.
However, I’m sat here in my study now, having just opened the box of this newly acquired 1971 vintage Speedmaster Professional and I’m reading the case inscription “Flight Qualified by NASA For All Manned Space Missions”. And my heart misses the tiniest of beats. For there you have it. It’s space for heaven’s sake. Space! The Moon, NASA!
These are the guys who spend millions of pounds just finding the right pen to use in space. So, how hard must it be to offer up a mechanical timepiece they deem good enough to fix to the wrists of some of the greatest adventurers of the 20th century? The simple answer is… very. Or, on the other hand, maybe not so hard as it happens.
Because, of course, Omega didn’t make the Speedmaster specifically for NASA, the original design from 1957 was adopted by the administration as a flight watch in 1965 and subsequently made it to the moon and back on every mission thereafter. For me it’s actually more impressive that Omega were able to deliver an existing timepiece for these missions. I can imagine NASA technicians giving a briefing of the technical requirements and challenges of space travel to the Omega executive who in turn, opened a display case and casually tossed the Speedmaster across the table with the words “That should do the job.” Nice thought but the reality from the perspective of Omega was probably more useful to their eventual marketing efforts in that the Speedmaster was the only watch from an original shortlist of 6 to withstand a barrage of tests which included low and high pressure and temperature extremes, shock, acceleration, humidity and vibration. (Eat your heart out COSC!)
And if you think none of that is important, remember it was a Speedmaster that command module pilot Jack Swigert used to time the famous and critical 14 second engine burst that saw Apollo 13 eventually return safely to Earth. Remember that the next time your dinner party guest is telling you about the new ATM rating on his latest piece.
What is useful to a collector like myself is that there’s always a chance you can pick a Speedmaster Professional up for a ‘reasonable’ price and even a special piece like this one, built during the actual Apollo programme. And oh boy are they collectable. Helped of course by a wonderful design that has stood the test of time as well as any watch out there. Omega had the sense to realise that this timeless design really was timeless and it’s been left pretty much unchanged since baring the odd inflection here and there.
As you would expect of a supremely well engineered piece this particular Speedmaster Professional is in perfect mechanical condition, especially so for a watch that hasn’t had any dreaded refurbishment at the hand of an over zealous servicing technician. It’s a particular bug bear of mine that a genuine vintage find can be ‘tarnished’ by inappropriate refurbishment in the pursuit of nothing more than a slightly shinier veneer. But this piece exudes authenticity and is all the better for it. But be under no illusion, this watch is in superb condition.
One look at the perfect original dial, with full tritium markers ,correct original hands and ‘as new ‘bezel gives you an insight into how well this beautiful piece has been cared for. It even has the correct original DN90 unmarked Plexiglas with omega symbol to centre, a sure sign of a special collectors item.
The case is very sharp, as good as new , and the watch has the correct 5×3.5mm pushers and original 6.5mm crown. The case-back and dust cover are all in mint condition and the case-back itself bears the authentic commemorative engraving in practically new condition with no loss of black paint (rare these days).
There are a number of different legends to be found in the collectors market commemorating the moon watch and various anniversary versions, but this is most definitely the original.
Movement in time, fit for a moment in time
Anyone with even a passing interest in the Speedmaster will know that although the original Lemania based 321 movement more than did the trick in the early years of the Speedmaster, the change by Omega to its own, exceptional, 861 mechanical (manual wind) was truly one of the great introductions to watch making in what was a golden era for timepieces. Subsequent embellishments in the shape of the 1861 movement and the fact Omega was still using the 861 more than 30 years later tells you everything you need to know about the quality of this watch and the place it holds in the history of watches.