"I guess the question I'm asked the most often is: 'When you were sitting in that capsule listening to the count-down, how did you feel?"'Well, the answer to that one is easy. I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of two million parts all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract."* Astronaut John Glenn
On the 20th of July, 1969, after millennia of looking at the Moon, human beings finally walked on it. The success of NASA's efforts to put a man on the Moon before the end of the 1960s was far from a foregone conclusion, and the Apollo program alone had had its share of close calls and outright tragedies, including the deaths of astronauts Grissom, White, and Chaffee in a fire inside the Apollo 1 Command Module in 1967, and the near-disastrous accident which befell Apollo 13 an oxygen tank explosion tore open the hull of the Service Module, forcing the crew to use the attached LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) as a lifeboat. During that mission the Omega Speedmaster watches worn by the astronauts as issued equipment were used as backup timing devices, thanks to the fact that all the spacecraft instruments had to be shut down to conserve battery power for reentry. This is a fact about which any watch enthusiast has heard, ad infinitum and for some ad nauseam, but repetition does not alter the facts, and the fact remains that the Speedmaster has served (and still serves) in manned spaceflight, to an extent that other watches can only dream of.*
The wrist shot heard 'round the world: Astronaut Ed White, with Speedmaster, during EVA, June 3, 1965.
I am old enough to remember watching the Apollo launches on live television (a black and white Zenith set that we kept upstairs in the nursery in our home in Pennsylvania, which was a bit out in the middle of nowhere; the top floor nursery was where we got the best reception and so, that's where the set resided. The nursery had my younger brother as a resident at the time and as far as I can remember he slept peacefully through several Apollo launches and the live coverage of the Moon landings as well). Probably around the same time (my memory is not extraordinarily clear on this point, after fifty years) I saw for the first time, ads in magazines (including Life and National Geographic) for the Speedmaster, some of which showed the watch next to a space-walking astronaut.*
For a certain kind of kid in 1969, there was absolutely nothing more deeply interesting than spacecraft, spacemen, and indeed anything to do with outer space, including space gear, and the idea that you could actually wear, on your wrist, the very same wristwatch worn by the people who were for the first time in human history, walking on other worlds, was pretty compelling. (My mother at the time was wearing a Lady Hamilton, which I still have; my father had just switched from a triple date Benrus with radium hands and a moonphase display, to an Accutron; I found both watches interesting for different reasons). It was the first watch I can remember seeing, about which I thought, "One day, I shall have that watch," and it took several decades for me to do something about it, but when I got out of graduate school, the first so-called good watch I bought was the Speedmaster. (I had worn a Seiko 5, and later a Seiko dive watch, SKX007, all through graduate school and before, which are both certainly good watches as well, but the Speedmaster was my first really hifalutin' watch purchase).
Buzz says, "Say 'faked' to me. I dare you. I double dare you."
All this is by way of underscoring the fact that I have certain long-standing feelings about the Speedmaster Professional, yclept the Moonwatch for lo these many decades, and so, like many, had certain feelings about the*various things Omega did, and did not do, with the Speedmaster over the years. I was perfectly happy with the change from the caliber 321 to the caliber 861/1861; first of all, it happened when I was far too young to know or care what a movement was in the first place, and secondly, the latter movements in the course of time found their way into spacecraft on the wrists of American astronauts (and eventually spacefarers of other nations as well) so I've never been especially doctrinaire on the subject of what constitutes a "real" Moonwatch. That did not mean that I was not absolutely tickled pink to discover in January of this year that Omega was going to re-launch the original caliber 321 movement. In fact I got so overexcited that I called it "the single most exciting piece of movement-related information I've seen in over 20 years of reading and writing about watches, which is not a considered thing to write, but I admit, I got carried away. Of course I, and we, all knew that 2019 was the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing, so we were expecting big things from Omega and we got a couple, including a solid gold 50th Anniversary edition, which is pretty damned sharp, and we also got the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Limited Edition as well, which leaped into horological headlines 'round the world last May.
Now, dyed-in-the-wool Speedmaster fans with conservative tastes, who believe that when you get right down to brass tacks, the only real Moonwatch in modern production deserving the name is one with an 1861 movement and no other extraneous frills, did not exactly raise the roof with huzzars when the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Limited Edition was announced. There are always things that a certain kind of Internet-roaming watch enthusiast likes to deplore often, what one deplores is in fact a sign of tribal affiliation, where you get to be warmed both by the fires of enthusiasm and the fires of hatred at the same time. There are general and specific items one can deplore; you can deplore quartz, or date windows, or ETA movements or modular chronographs; the things you can deplore are, in fact, legion. For Speedmaster purists, nothing is more tribally affirming than to deplore Speedmaster limited editions, and there are certain tribally affirming phrases you can chant as well; you can deplore the limited edition as a "money grab," you can sneer at the number of watches made as being too large to constitute anything limited, and you can deride the specific details of the watch as manifestations of everything from absence of taste, to failure of imagination, and everything in between. It is all good clean fun up to a point.
Let us ponder together, then, the details of the Omega Speedmaster Professional Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Limited Edition.
The watch has actually got a lot of pretty interesting touches which call out the design of the Speedmaster reference 105.012, which was worn by the Apollo astronauts (not exclusively; Michael Collins, for example, wore the 145.012). The differences between a modern production Moonwatch and the 105.012 are probably basically invisible to anyone but a watch enthusiast, but to a Speedmaster fan they are dramatic. The Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Limited Edition uses a slightly different version of the Speedmaster logo, with a notably elongated tail on the letter "r," and the bezel dot at "90" is over the numbers, not to their right (as is the case with the current Moonwatch).*
Instead of an index marker at 11:00, the Apollo 11 LE has an applied number 11 as well (no prizes for guessing what that refers to). In one of the most conspicuous differences between a standard Speedmaster, whether the 105.012 or the current model, there is, inset into the running seconds dial, an engraving in gold over deep grey of none other than astronaut Buzz Aldrin, which shows him descending the ladder of the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) just before jumping off the ladder onto the lunar surface. The engraving well, I say engraving but it actually looks embossed onto the dial material, not engraved is based on a quite famous photo, shot by Neil Armstrong, who preceded Aldrin onto the lunar surface; the picture was taken, famously, with a Hasselblad lunar surface camera, fitted with a 70mm lens.*
Neil Armstrong did not actually wear his Speedmaster onto the lunar surface on this occasion it had been left behind in the LEM for use as a backup timing instrument so Aldrin's Speedmaster was actually the first Speedmaster on the lunar surface; this image captures the moment just before the Speedmaster became, for all time, the Moonwatch. Despite the fact that these are Speedmaster, and Apollo 11, details that any Speedmaster fan worth their overlong black Velcro strap can recite in their sleep, it is still worth reviewing some of the original 105.012 details, and Apollo 11 details, which have found there way into the Apollo 11 Limited edition. These continue on the back of the watch.
Just as with the image of Aldrin on the*dial side, the image on the back of the watch is taken from a very famous photograph, this time, taken by Aldrin. The picture is of one of his own footprints, on the lunar surface; it was taken for scientific reasons, to show the nature of the lunar regolith (the fine powdery minerals coating the lunar surface; the Moon doesn't have soil, in the usual sense of the word) and the degree to which it compacts and retains fine impressions.*
As with the image of Aldrin descending the lander's ladder, this picture was taken with a 500 EL Hasselblad camera. If you look closely, you can see, here and there, tiny crosshairs on the picture. Those are actually engraved on a glass film plate against which a frame of film sits when it's exposed; light comes through the plate, making the exposure, on which the crosshairs are superimposed. This is called a "reseau grid" and its purpose is to provide a uniform reference for correcting misalignment of the film, or other distortions; it also allows you, if you take several exposures from different angles, to reconstruct some of the three dimensional features of the object you're shooting. On the caseback of the Apollo 11 LE, Omega has gone so far as to include, not only fine details of the footprint, but the actual crosshairs from the reseau grid as well, which are positioned on the caseback, with respect to the footprint, exactly where they are in the original photo.*
The screw-down caseback uses Omega's Naiad Lock system, which ensures that the caseback image is always properly oriented with respect to the body of the watch.
A source of controversy (one among several) when this watch was originally announced, had to do with the quote, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." I actually do remember hearing Armstrong say those words in 1969, and I certainly didn't hear him say, "a man" but rather, "man" and a lot of other people thought he'd omitted the "a" as well. Armstrong however insisted he'd said it, although he also agreed later that it wasn't really audible in a recording of the transmission. However, in 2006, computer analysis of the recording shows a "35 millisecond-long bump of sound" between "for" and "man" consistent with Armstrong having spoken the word, just as he remembered, which would seem to vindicate his decades-long assertion that the first sentence spoken on the Moon was in fact, grammatically correct.
Omega has also delivered, with the watch, an updated version of the correct bracelet for the 105.012, which is the reference 1506 (the 1035 would I think have also been correct for this reference I appeal to the Speedmaster Hive Mind for correction on this point if I am mistaken). The bracelet is, says Omega, slightly thicker than the original in order to bring it up to modern standards but it's still a pleasantly old-timey look, and feel, without overdoing it; I like it a lot and wish I could get one for my own bog-standard Moonwatch. It's sort of a perfect Speedmaster bracelet for an Apollo buff; you feel the connection with the past without feeling hairs being pulled off your forearm as well.
On the movement: this Speedmaster uses the caliber 3861, which was launched in the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Moonshine (which despite the easy chuckle gotten from the name, does not mean its design was inspired by anything distilled in "the holler" but rather, refers to the gold alloy). This movement was four years in development, and is essentially a METAS-worthy version of the 1861, which is to say, it is a major functional upgrade. Now, here is where my conservative side kicks in I bridled immediately at the thought of anything non-flight qualified, replacing the flight qualified and currently-in-service (for EVA) 1861. I asked Omega if there were any plan to discontinue the 1861 for the 3861 would that not mean that "flight qualified" would no longer be true for the Moonwatch? Omega's former CEO, Stephen Urquhart, had once told me over a breakfast years ago that the Moonwatch must always have an 1861 movement, for that reason. Omega's reply was most interesting.*
"If OMEGA decides in the future to discontinue the 1861, we can imagine subjecting the 3861 to the same NASA tests of 1965. These, however, would likely be undertaken independently by OMEGA in Switzerland, with the results being submitted to NASA. This would be the same method that NASA approved in 1978, when we tested our Alaska III prototypes containing the calibre 861 and sent the results to NASA."
I would miss the 1861 but I can't argue with the 3861's superiority technically and I suppose if it was good enough as a certification procedure for the Alaska Project, it will have to be good enough for me.
I had not had a chance to see this watch in person as I was not along for the Swatch Group's launch event in Switzerland, so I had just seen Stephen Pulvirent's pictures and on the strength of the images, was not especially sure how I felt about the watch overall I have always felt (I suppose it is obvious by now) that I am one of those Speedmaster fans that will never be satisfied with anything other than the original Moonwatch I took some pride in having no truck with any modern decadences like LiquidMetal or co-axial escapements or silicon (all of which I admire, but when you want duck a l'orange, you don't want a nouvelle cuisine "deconstructed" duck a l'orange, you want a proper duck a l'orange). However in person, it is a very Moonwatch-feeling non-Moonwatch, I am bound to say; you hardly notice, after all, that every time you look at the watch you are looking at Buzz Aldrin's posterior; the other details are actually rather fun, especially if you are an Apollo maven (I like to think I am) and the little flashes of gold here and there are rather fetching, when you get right down to it.
One last word on the much-discussed issue of our view of the tuchis of Buzz Aldrin, immortalized in gold upon the dial of this limited edition it does not bother me in the slightest; in fact I rather like it. It is first of all, historically apt; it shows the moment the Moonwatch became the Moonwatch. It shows moreover a great moment in the history of human exploration. It commemorates an era when we dared to think big, when we were not, dare I say, afraid to fly by the seat of our pants in the name of the greater good; not scared to risk making asses of ourselves to get behind a big idea; not reluctant to butt through obstacles no matter how intimidating. And after all, what could possibly be more apt than being mooned by a Moonwatch?
For full information including pricing, specs, and more live images including packaging, check out our Introducing post, right here.