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The Omega Speedmaster history

The Speedmaster's history goes back to 1957 when it was introduced as a sports and racing chronograph, complementing Omega's position as the official timekeeper for the Olympic Games.

The "Speedmaster" name was chosen for its tachymeter scale bezel and following the Omega convention used for other models like the Seamaster - initially the Speedmaster was part of the Seamaster line - and the Railmaster.

This first Speedmaster model - reference CK 2915 also known as the "Broad Arrow"- was designed by the Swiss Claude Baillod and was already featuring some of the hallmarks of the model: the triple-register chronograph layout, the high-contrast index markers, and the domed Plexiglas crystal. The dial was an example of perfect balance and proportions. The model had straight lugs, broad arrow hands and the bezel was in steel with engraved black print. The case diameter was 39 mm.

Original Speedmaster ref. CK 2915 with Calibre 321 - 1958
Note the metal bezel with engraved tachymetric scale,
the straight lugs and the broad arrow hands

A beautiful Speedmaster ref. CK 2915 characterised by a brown patina - 1958
Below, the watch in its original red case
Images courtesy of Nacho

The movement of choice was the Calibre 321 that was introduced in 1942 as a joint project between Omega and Lemania, one of Omega's subsidiaries at the time, who supplied it as an ebauche (Lemania cal. 2310). Calibre 321 is recognised as one of the best example of lateral clutch, column wheel controlled chronograph and it was used as a base movement by Breguet, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin in a variety of chronographs. In 1946, the movement was further enhanced by adding protection to magnetic fields and shocks, something that later will prove to be very important to pass NASA tests.

Omega Calibre 321

On 13 May 2018, during “The Geneva Watch Auction: SEVEN” organised by Phillips, a reference CK 2915-1 established a world record for a Speedmaster selling for CHF 408,500. Produced in 1958, this well-preserved 38 mm stainless steel chronograph was originally sold in Costa Rica.

Image courtesy of Phillips

The previous record was smashed in November 2021 when a Speedmaster CK2915-1 produced in 1957 and characterised by a "tropical" dial was hammered for the impressive price of CHF 3,115,500 by "Phillips Watches at The Geneva Watch Auction: XIV" (you can read more about this timepiece here).

The reference CK2915-1 produced in 1957 that established the current world record for the most expensive Speedmaster ever sold at an auction
Image courtesy of Phillips

In 1959, a second Speedmaster version - the reference CK 2998 - was released with alpha hands and a black aluminium bezel to improve readability. The case diameter was expanded from 39mm to 40mm and, for the first time, Omega added the so called O-ring gasket around the push buttons to improve water resistance.

Speedmaster ref. CK 2998
Note the new black aluminium bezel and alpha hands

Finally, with reference ST 105.002 in 1962 and reference ST 105.003 in 1963, Omega introduced the Speedmaster's typical straight baton hands.

Speedmaster ST 105.003 with the new baton hands but still with straight lugs -1963

That same year - with reference ST 105.012 - a 42 mm asymmetrical case, adding protection to the chronograph pushers and crown, was released. This is the case that remains, little changed, in production today. The Professional marking appeared below the Speedmaster logo on dial during summer 1965.

The Speedmaster Professional ref. ST 105.012 with the new Lyra lugs and asymmetrical case - 1964

These were the years of the first manned space missions.

The solo-flight Mercury space programme was almost completed (the astronaut Wally Schirra had worn his own Speedmaster ref. CK 2998 on his Mercury flight on the 3rd of October, 1962) and NASA was preparing for the Gemini (two-man) and Apollo (three-man) missions. The astronauts on these missions were expected to move about in space outside the ship so they needed a wristwatch which could withstand the difficult conditions of space.

Beginning in about 1962, NASA anonymously purchased a series of chronographs of different brands, with the task of finding the best watch available for their astronauts to wear in space.

In 1964, the watches satisfying all pre-requirements were officially purchased by NASA and subjected to a series of tests and pre-selection processes called the “Qualification Test Procedures”. Only three watches out of six chronographs successfully survived this arduous pre-selection phase. The finalists were then subjected to 11 different tests - the most rigorous trials endured in the history of horology:
1. High temperature: 48 hours at a temperature of 160°F (71°C) followed by 30 minutes at 200°F (93°C).
2. Low temperature: 4 hours at a temperature of 0°F (-18°C).
3. Temperature-Pressure: 15 cycles of heating to 71°C for 45 minutes, followed by cooling to -18°C for 45 minutes at 10−6 atm.
4. Relative humidity: 240 hours at temperatures varying between 68°F and 160°F (20°C and 71°C) in a relative humidity of at least 95%.
5. Oxygen atmosphere: 48 hours in an atmosphere of 100% oxygen at a pressure of 0.35 atm.
6. Shock: Six shocks of 40 G, each 11 milliseconds in duration, in six different directions.
7. Acceleration: From 1 G to 7.25 G within 333 seconds, along an axis parallel to the longitudinal spacecraft axis.
8. Decompression: 90 minutes in a vacuum of 10-6 atm at a temperature of 160°F (71°C) and 30 minutes at 200°F (93°C).
9. High pressure: 1.6 atm for a minimum period of one hour.
10. Vibration: Three cycles of 30 minutes vibration varying from 5 to 2000 Hz.
11. Acoustic noise: 130 db over a frequency range of 40 to 10,000 Hz, duration 30 minutes.

On March 1, 1965, the test results were completed and only the Omega Speedmaster passed. At the time, NASA’s testers wrote, "Operational and environmental tests of the three selected chronographs have been completed; and, as a result of the test, Omega chronographs have been calibrated and issued to three members of the Gemini Titan III crews."

James Ragan, the NASA engineer responsible for the qualification tests, has spoken about the importance of the Speedmaster by saying, “The watch was a backup. If the astronauts lost the capability of talking to the ground, or the capability of their digital timers on the lunar surface, then the only thing they had to rely on was the Omega watch they had on their wrist. It needed to be there for them if they had a problem.”

Curiously, Omega only learned about the Speedmaster’s journey into space after seeing a photograph of Ed White taken during America’s first spacewalk as part of the Gemini 4 mission in June of 1965. The watch was attached to the arm via a long nylon strap secured with Velcro.

Following the discovery, Omega decided to add the word "Professional" to the product name, thus becoming Omega Speedmaster Professional. The new reference number was 145.012.

A perfectly restored Speedmaster Professional ref. ST 145.012 - 1967
Images courtesy of P Scott Conner

Pre-moon landing Omega Speedmaster advertisements

NASA's inspection document for a Speedmaster with Calibre 321 to be used for the Apollo mission

On the 20th of July, 1969 the first manned lunar landing was certainly one of the most dramatic scientific achievement in human history. Neil Armstrong was the first to step onto the moon’s surface. Since the electronic timing system on the Lunar Module was not functioning correctly, Armstrong had left his watch aboard as a reliable backup. Nineteen minutes later he was joined by Buzz Aldrin, who was wearing his Omega Speedmaster Professional was the first watch worn on the moon. It was a Omega Speedmaster Professional with a Calibre 321 movement. A few months after this mission, Buzz's watch was stolen and never returned.

Buzz Aldrin wearing a Speedmaster during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 - Courtesy of NASA

That same year, in tribute to the moon landing heroes, Omega created the Speedmaster BA145.022. This model was crafted from 18K yellow gold and included a rare burgundy bezel, as well as an inscription on the caseback that read, “to mark man’s conquest of space with time, through time, on time.”

Speedmaster BA145.022 - 1969

This gold Speedmaster housed the calibre 861 and was Omega’s very first commemorative numbered edition, with only 1,014 models being produced from 1969 to 1973. The very first of these was created for US President, Richard Nixon, with number two allocated to the US Vice President Spiro Agnew. These watches, however, were later returned to Omega due to the US government’s strict gifting protocol. Model numbers 3 - 28 were given to the NASA astronauts. Watches 29 to 32 were offered to Swiss watch industry leaders and politicians, without any engraved number. The public were given the opportunity to purchase model numbers 33 - 1000.

Moreover, to commemorate the exceptional achievement, the case backs of the Speedmaster Professional were changed. The engraved Hippocampus was removed and the phrases “The first watch worn on the moon” and “Flight qualified by NASA for all manned space missions” were engraved. The arrangement of the text was then changed in 1971 to incorporate the Hippocampus on the back as well. This case back design is still being used today on the Speedmaster Professional watches.

In 1968, Omega had decided to replace the Calibre 321 movement by a more accurate movement which was also cheaper to produce, the Calibre 861, also produced by Lemania.

The Omega Calibre 861
The Calibre 863 is a better refined Calibre 861 used for the models with see-through case-back 

The new Speedmaster Professional adopting the Omega Calibre 861 was identified by reference number 145.022.

Speedmaster Professional ref. 145.022 with optional bezels - 1968

In 1970, after an electrical failure caused an explosion in the Apollo 13 and the crew had to evacuate to the tiny Aquarius Lunar Module to conserve power, pilot Jack Swigert used his Speedmaster to precisely calculate the critical 14 seconds of engine boost to angle the shuttle for re-entry into the earth's atmosphere. 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."

Regarding this last topic, it must be noted that there is still some discussion on whether Jack Swigert actually used the Speedmaster Professionals to calculate the 14 seconds engine boost or if he instead used his personal Rolex GMT Master which he was wearing before suiting up to go to the Moon as documented by some photos. Since Swigert never denied the official version, there are no reasons not to believe that he was wearing the Speedmaster during the mission.

Jack Swigert wearing the Speedmaster professional with the Velcro strap

An Omega Speedmaster advertisement following the successful Apollo XVII mission,the sixth landing of humans on the Moon

As space exploration continued to break through new frontiers, the Omega Speedmaster Professional was again selected by NASA in 1978 as its official chronograph for the new Space Shuttle program following a new series of harsh tests. The Speedmaster was later subjected to additional gruelling tests on board the Russian space station MIR between July 1993 and July 1994. The success of these exceptional endurance tests was attested by a certificate initialled by the MIR crew. The Omega Speedmaster Professional has become the most tested watch in the world.

Omega created a number of variations introducing automatic models, reduced sizes, sapphire crystal version in place of the Plexiglas, and different dial colours and case metals.

The Speedmaster Moonwatch 50th Anniversary, a numbered limited edition of 1957 pieces featuring a black enamel dial - 2007

Omega has also launched several limited edition Speedmaster Professional watches to commemorate the anniversaries of the different NASA space missions. 

Speedmaster Professional July 20, 1969 - A limited edition of 3500 pieces with silver dial and black sub-registers released in 2004 to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the moon landing

In 2009 two Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch Apollo 11 “40th Anniversary” Limited Edition watches celebrated the first manned lunar landing: one in stainless steel and (7,969 pieces); the other in platinum and 18 Ct yellow gold (69 pieces).

The Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch Apollo 11 “40th Anniversary” Limited Editions: in steel on the left, in platinum on the right

In 2019, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 mission and the first lunar landing, Omega released two Speedmaster Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Limited Editions.

The first followed the design of the Speedmaster BA145.022 (described earlier in the article) that Omega created in 1969 in tribute to the moon landing heroes. Produced in 1,014 pieces, the 2019 limited edition was crafted from an exclusive new 18K gold alloy and powered by a brand new manual-winding Master Chronometer calibre 3861. Full article on this model here.

The Speedmaster Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Limited Edition in Moonshine gold
ref. 310. - 2019

The second edition was made in stainless steel with a polished bezel made from 18K Moonshine gold, a patent-pending alloy with a paler hue than traditional yellow gold which also offers high resistance to fading over time, and a black ceramic bezel ring with a Ceragold tachymeter scale. On the 9 o’clock subdial of this new Limited Edition, Omega has laser-engraved the image of Buzz Aldrin climbing down from the Eagle to reach the lunar surface on an 18K Moonshine gold plate. As most watch enthusiasts know, he had an Omega Speedmaster on his wrist. Full article on this model here.

The Speedmaster Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Limited Edition in steel and Moonshine gold
ref. 310. - 2019

In 2019, Omega also announced that the famous Calibre 321 was back in production.

The original Calibre 321 was the first movement ever used in the Omega Speedmaster in 1957. Most famously, it was used in a variety of space-bound models including the Speedmaster ST 105.003 (the model tested and qualified by NASA and worn by astronaut Ed White during the first American spacewalk) and the Speedmaster ST 105.012 (the first watch worn on the moon on the 21st of July, 1969).

Historical research were made to guarantee the highest accuracy. Digital scanning technology was used to see inside the true Speedmaster ST 105.003 timepiece that astronaut Eugene “Gene” Cernan wore on the moon during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

In the same year Omega presented the first new Speedmaster Moonwatch to house this movement: the Speedmaster Moonwatch 321 Platinum, a model housed in a 42 mm platinum case enhanced by a black ceramic bezel framing a dial formed from onyx with three subdials obtained from real slices of moon meteorite (you can read more about this model here).

Above and below, the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch 321 Platinum ref. 311-93-42-30-99-001

In 2021 Omega introduced the Speedmaster Moonwatch Master Chronometer, an important update that maintains the 4th generation Moonwatch style, commonly referenced as the ST 105.012, as its inspiration.

The key design features are all there: the classic 42 mm asymmetrical case with twisted lugs, the step dial, the domed minute and seconds chronograph hands which follow the bevel of the step dial, the double bevel caseback, and the famous dot over 90 (DON) and a dot diagonal to 70 on the anodised aluminium bezel ring. Water resistance is maintained at 5 bar (approximately 50 metres / 165 feet). 

The most remarkable novelty came with the arrival of the Co-Axial Master Chronometer Calibre 3861 making it possible to certify the entire watch as a Master Chronometer. In accordance with the Calibre 3861’s frequency (3Hz or 21,600 vibrations per hour), the minute track of the dial was split by 3 divisions, as opposed to the 5 divisions on previous models. 

With this new reference, the bracelet introduced an updated five–arched-links-per-row design a with a polished Omega logo on a satin-finished cover.

The Speedmaster Moonwatch Master Chronometer is available with hesalite glass and fully-brushed stainless steel bracelet (ref. 310. or with sapphire crystal and steel bracelet with polished and brushed links (ref. 310. For more details, we invite you to read our hands-on review of the new generation Speedmaster Moonwatch.

Above and below, front and back of the 2021 Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Master Chronometer: the hesalite version on the left and the sapphire crystal one on the right

Omega is currently designing a Speedmaster capable of accompanying man in a mission, planned for 2030, to Mars where temperatures range from -133°C to 27°C.

After more than 60 years, the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch remains one of the most iconic chronographs ever designed and the king of Omega's production.

By Alessandro Mazzardo.
Latest revision June 10, 2024.

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Time and Watches | The watch blog: The Omega Speedmaster history
The Omega Speedmaster history
The complete history of the Omega Speedmaster, one of the most iconic chronograph watches ever created introduced in 1957, and how it became the Moonwatch. The evolution of the Speedmaster models, from the original Speedmaster model reference CK 2915 with Calibre 321 - also known as the "Broad Arrow"- to the 105.012 and 145.012 models that were used for the first manned space missions and the Apollo XI moon-landing. The Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch remains the king of the Speedmaster collection. The Omega Speedmaster history
Time and Watches | The watch blog
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