The History and Development of Omega SpeedmasterBack to Articles
Omega have been making chronographs since the late 1800s. In 1957 Omega started producing the Speedmaster range. Since then, Omega have made a number of chronographs under the Speedmaster name. The Speedmaster Professional, or ‘Moonwatch’ is the best known. A Moonwatch was worn during the first spacewalk, and most famously, was the first watch worn by an astronaut walking on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.
The Speedmaster wasn’t originally made as a ‘space’ watch, it began as a sport and racing chronograph, as a descendant of the chronographs of the 1920s and 1930s. Beyond racing drivers, they were taken up by pilots (no pun intended). By the time of NASAs space programmes (Gemini and Apollo), bids were invited from all the major watch makers to create a timepiece for space. Rolex, Longines, Hamilton and Omega all entered the race. Hamiltons pocket watch was rejected early in the process, leaving the other three.
The timepiece would have to be surpass, the following tests to be considered eligible:-
- 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 11 ms 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 watches tested were fitted with hand-wound mechanical movements. Quartz watches weren’t available early in the space programme, and automatic movements would be unreliable in a weightless atmosphere.
In March 1965, Gus Grissom and John Young wore Speedmasters on Gemini 3. During Gemini 4, in June of that year, Ed White made the first spacewalk wearing a Speedmaster strapped to the outside of his spacesuit.
Both Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin carried Speedmasters on the Apollo 11 in 1969. Although Commander Armstrong was the first person to set foot on the moon, he left his Speedmaster (ref 105.012) behind on the Lunar Module as the digital timer on board was malfunctioning. Therefore Buzz Aldrins ‘105.012’ model Speedmaster was the firsts watch on the moon. This particular watch was subsequently lost whilst being shipped to the Smithsonian Institute.
During the famous, and doomed, Apollo 13 mission, Jack Swigerts Speedmaster was used to measure the critical 14 second burn of the descent propulsion system. This crucial moment enabled the crew to return home safely.
In subsequent years, Omega have made various improvements and updates to the Speedmaster, changing various designs and materials in the watch, including an automatic version. None of these were ever as successful as the original model.
Most recently of all, in January 2021, Omega announced it would update the standard-production Speedmaster Professional with a new movement and a subtle design refresh, including a step dial and dot-over-90 bezel. The calibre 1861 movement has been officially discontinued, replaced with calibre 3861, featuring a co-axial escapement and Master Chronometer certification.