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Fly me to the moon
WHILE we know the Omega Speedmaster is Nasa-certified and astronauts have worn it in space and on the moon, it's not well-known that there are 60 models of the chronograph - or one for every year of the Speedmaster's existence. That's a lot to keep up with - even for the most die-hard fans. Fortunately, Omega has recently made it easy to do so by offering 10 models which are most representative of the series. The first Speedmaster, of course, is one of them. The interesting thing is that the Speedmaster was never intended for space exploration.The first model, Ref CK2915, was conceived for and marketed to car enthusiasts and racing drivers. It was launched in 1957 as part of Omega's Professional line, which included the Seamaster 300 and the Railmaster.
The stainless steel timepiece was the first chronograph to have the tachymeter scale on the steel bezel, outside the dial and crystal. It also featured a Broad Arrow hour-hand and was powered by a hand-wound movement, Calibre 321.
The first Speedmaster was an instant bestseller and is today perhaps the most highly valued of all the Speedmasters.
A revised Speedmaster model appeared in 1959, the CK2998. New Alpha design hands replaced the Broad Arrow hands in the new chronograph. A black aluminium tachymeter bezel was introduced. It became the standard feature of subsequent Speedmaster models till today.
CK2998 was the very model Mercury astronauts Walter "Wally" M Schirra and Leroy G "Gordo" Cooper bought in 1962. Schirra wore it during his Mercury-Atlas 8 (Sigma 7) mission, making it the first Omega Speedmaster worn in space - two years before Nasa's test that led to the official selection of the Speedmaster for use in all Nasa manned missions.
The Speedmaster ST 105.003 introduced in 1963 was the one submitted in 1964 to Nasa and the sole survivor among competing models of its merciless tests. It was the model that got the Speedmaster accepted as the official watch for Nasa astronauts.
On June 3, 1965, when astronaut Edward White stepped outside his space capsule on the Gemini mission, the ST 105.003 was strapped on his wrist. The watch became part of America's first spacewalk (extra-vehicular activity, EVA) that day.
The asymmetric case, one of the Speedmaster's trademark design-elements, made its debut in 1964 with ST 105.012. Launched in select markets, the chronograph has a case that's slightly bigger on the right side to offer more protection to its pushers and crown. The word Professional was stamped on the dial to reflect the watch's prominence in Omega's professional collection.
The model further evolved three years later to ST 145.012 when the method of attaching the pushers to the case was slightly improved. It was the last Speedmaster to be equipped with Calibre 321, the very movement that guaranteed perfect timing during all six lunar landings up to and including the very last mission to land on the moon: Apollo 17.
NEW DESIGN ELEMENTS
In 1968, a year before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon, Omega unveiled yet another milestone in the Speedmaster's evolution: a new movement, Calibre 861. This came with ST 145.022, the first of the Moonwatch model. Offering some new design elements and incorporating Omega's advances in watchmaking, the new hand-wound movement and its succeeding versions continue to power the Speedmaster Moonwatch to this very day. ST 145.022 is also the first, from 1970 onwards, to include the famous words: "Flight-qualified by Nasa for all manned space missions" as well as "The first watch worn on the moon".
The Speedmaster Mark II, presented in 1969, had a redesigned case and marked the second generation of the Speedmaster. The model came with dials in various colours and designs and in a very rare 18K yellow gold version.
Also called the Pilots' Line case, Mark II's barrel-shaped case has its roots in a secret Omega research project code-named Alaska, whose mission was to further boost the Speedmaster for prolonged EVA-use on the moon.
One variation of the decade-long project featured a strengthened and well-rounded watch case with hooded lugs and protected crown and pushers. When the project shifted directions, some of the original ideas formed the basis of the Pilots' Line cases and were introduced in Mark II and the Flightmaster. Mark II was also the first Speedmaster that did not use hesalite crystal.
Speedmaster 125 was created in 1973 to celebrate Omega's 125th anniversary, indicated by the polished "125" on the black dial. The model introduced a new movement, Calibre 1041. Limited to 2,000 pieces, the model is the world's first automatic chronograph officially certified as a chronometer. Russian cosmonaut Vladimir Dzhanibekov took the watch with him in 1978 when he spent 145 days and 16 hours in space. Speedmaster 125 is now a collectors' favourite.
The X-33, or the Mars Watch, got its name from a secret Nasa project involving a possible new version of a space shuttle vehicle. The model's launch in 1998 was televised live from on board the Russian MIR station with the astronauts handling the watch while linked directly to mission control in Houston.
A collaborative effort between Omega and the world's major space agencies, X-33 took five years to develop and went through several prototypes and strenuous tests to ensure that it would live up to its new role: the possibility of man landing on the red planet. The watch, which included an array of digital functions tailored for professional use in space missions, was worn on board Nasa's space shuttles and the Russia MIR Space Station.
The Speedmaster 57 Omega Co-Axial Chronograph, introduced in 2013, is the first Speedmaster to be fitted with the brand's first in-house Co-Axial movement, the Co-Axial Calibre 9300/9301. Co-Axial watches feature a more efficient and reliable silicon balance spring and have a four-year warranty.
The same year also saw the Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon unveiled to celebrate the pioneering spirit of the nine Apollo missions which took their precious human cargo beyond the moon and back to earth.
The striking new chronograph, also powered by the Co-Axial Calibre 9300/9301, sported a black zirconium oxide ceramic dial, complemented by a matching ceramic 44.25mm case. It has 18K white gold applied indexes as well as two blackened sub-dials that identified the timepiece as a Moonwatch.