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Horology picks: Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch Master Chronometer

Horology picks: Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch Master Chronometer

The new Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch Master Chronometer, fitted with a Co-Axial Calibre 3861, is the successor of the first watch to make it to the moon and back

Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch Master Chronometer

In the late fifties, Omega didn’t build the Speedmaster with space on its mind. Instead, with a far more terrestrial orientation, and as the name suggests, it was designed as a chronograph with a tachymeter that could easily measure land speed.

It was marketed and positioned as the ultimate racing accessory tool (there were special editions with custom dials made for the Peruvian Automobile Club, coveted in today’s auction markets) that allowed shotgun-seated navigators in rally car events to calculate their speed without anything else other than that tiny device strapped to their wrists.

In 1964 though, NASA sent out a tender asking for companies to submit watches that would become part of the official gear for manned space missions. Ten manufacturers responded, and only three – Omega, Rolex and Longines – made the final cut.

The winning watch had to be accurate, precise to +/-2 seconds every 24 hours, antimagnetic and able to withstand temperature extremes. NASA engineer James Ragan set up a special torture chamber whereby these watches were tested in temperatures of up to 70 degrees celsius and then abruptly frozen to -18 degrees celsius, impacted with a force of 40g and also tested in conditions of 93 per cent humidity as well as the very corrosive 100 per cent oxygen environments. The tests were thorough, specific and brutal, with only one watch passing the grade – the Speedmaster. In July 1965, it was declared by NASA to be “Flight Qualified for all Manned Space Missions”.

It went on to become the first watch on the moon when Buzz Aldrin wore his during the historic Apollo 11 mission in 1969. The fact that a Speedmaster made it to all the remaining five lunar landings since then, says much about how robust a timing device it continued to be.

Back in the sixties, it was backed by the excellent column-wheel chronograph Calibre 321. Insider tip: There are only 40,000 of these watches with the 321 across different product families, including the Seamaster, that were made. If you come across a Speedmaster 321, one in relatively good condition, via an auction, garage sale or an inheritance – seize it. It may not be rare, but it is definitely special.

The Calibre 861 was made available alongside the 321 for a while, before the latter was phased out. Speedmasters over the last few decades sported the Calibre 1861. This year, Omega has decided to revamp its Speedmaster collection and introduce a new calibre into its Moonwatch and debuted this Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch Master Chronometer With Co-Axial Calibre 3861.

The 3861 Moonwatch is still flight-qualified by NASA but has been built to higher standards than its predecessor. It is not just a COSC-certified timepiece (tested by an independent Swiss institute for its timekeeping accuracy), but also additionally faces Omega’s in-house METAS tests, allowing it to earn the name Master Chronometer. Eight tests subject it to intense magnetic fields (it can withstand magnetic fields of 15,000 gauss), test its power reserve, ensure that its timekeeping is accurate to 0/+5 seconds a day, and also check its water resistance. Each Master Chronometer timepiece has a scorecard for each test, and the results of your specific timepiece can be obtained by entering the certificate number of your watch on Omega’s portal.

While the new 3861 is available in various dials (silver and black), case material (stainless steel, canopus gold and sedna gold) and strap options (leather, five-arched-links-per-row bracelet and nylon fabric), the one that resembles closest the watch that became an international hit overnight in the Sixties is the stainless-steel case version with a bracelet and a hesalite glass crystal.

While the Speedmaster will be immortalised as the Apollo 11 lunar watch, of all its numerous missions into space, the Apollo 13 mission in 1970 that nearly ended in a disaster, was perhaps one of its most important missions. After a major incident aboard the space craft, the astronauts had to turn off the module’s computers, and rely only on their Speedmaster chronographs to precisely time a 14-second window before firing their engines to re-enter the earth’s orbit. If they got it wrong, disaster would be inevitable. The Speedmaster didn’t fail them. How did they do it? That’s a tale for another time.

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