Watch specialist Eric Wind picks out seven watches from the upcoming OMEGA Speedmaster 50 sale that chart the development of the original sports chronograph
Upon its introduction in 1957, the Speedmaster defined the new category of sports chronograph. Originally designed for use by racing car drivers, OMEGA’s designers never anticipated that the watch would be destined to become a watch used by astronauts and cosmonauts during some of mankind’s greatest achievements. That a watch designed over half a century ago is still used on missions to space, is a testament to its timeless design and quality.
Other sport chronographs have undergone dramatic transformations, but the Speedmaster endures. Its particular key innovation — a fixed bezel showing a tachymeter scale — allowed for tracking speed when on a fixed track. The benefit of this bezel was that it was much easier to read speed when driving than previous chronograph watches that placed tachymeter tracks on the dial. This innovation was soon copied and adopted by other companies for chronographs.
The Speedmaster was quite large in size for its time, again assisting with legibility. The size also allowed for the screw down case back, and capped rather than square pushers, making the Speedmaster more resistant to water, dust, and other difficult conditions that would damage other chronographs from the time.
With these features in mind, here are seven watches from the OMEGA Speedmaster 50: From A Spacewalk To Today thematic auction to be held at Christie’s in New York on December 15 that show the evolution of the watch over the last half a century.
For the Speedmaster, there is only one first reference: the 2915-1. As the origin of the Speedmaster species, it has both the DNA that continues to exist in Speedmasters today, as well as notable features found the earliest Speedmasters: the ‘broad arrow’ hands and the steel bezel with an engraved tachymeter.
The OMEGA Speedmaster 50 sale also has an extraordinary example of a 2915-2 (Lot 4), which is very similar to the 2915-1. The dynamic look of the hands and limited production makes these early reference 2915 watches highly desirable for collectors.
After a couple years, OMEGA switched the steel bezel found on the early reference 2915 Speedmasters for a painted bezel made of aluminum that provided contrast for easier reading of the tachymeter scale to read speeds.
The other major change with this reference is the use of dauphine or ‘alpha’ hour and minute hands, which offered a dressier and sleeker look than the ‘broad arrow’ hands found on the reference 2915.
Notably, this lot has a dial that has faded to a ‘tropical’ or ‘chocolate’ brown from its original black, perhaps due to the fact it was, according to OMEGA, originally sent to Curaçao, an island of the Dutch Caribbean.
This lot was in fact formerly owned by a famous British pilot who set a record for the fastest transatlantic flight with return, and who was also the Senior Training Pilot during the initial tests of the Concorde supersonic passenger jet.
In particular, the crown is connected to the movement by a thin metal stem inside the watch and if the crown suffered a significant blow, the stem could bend or break, leaving the person wearing the watch without the ability to wind it or set the time and possibly exposing the movement to damage from moisture. Thus, OMEGA introduced the ‘PROFESSIONAL’ version, featuring a case that provided protection around the pushers and crown.
This reference marked the beginning of the use of the caliber 861 movement, which beat at a higher rate than the previous caliber 321 movements. This example also features a dial that no longer had an applied OMEGA logo, but instead was painted in white. This particular watch is anything but ordinary as astronaut Ron Evans used it on the Apollo 17 mission. In fact, it is the only opportunity for someone to own a watch flown in the Apollo missions.
With the dawn of the 1970s, OMEGA began experimenting with more unusual case designs, both from a functional and aesthetic perspective. The Speedmaster Mark II has a large case that protects the crown and pushers even further and a crystal that was supposed to be more protected from damage.
This particular watch is one of very few known to be made in 18k gold and is in mint condition. It is one of a number of more avant-garde and rare Speedmasters from the 1970s and 1980s in OMEGA Speedmaster 50 sale.
Notably, the watch featured ‘broad arrow’ hands, harkening back to the earliest Speedmaster reference 2915 models. One wonders what OMEGA will come up with next for its legendary Speedmaster line — and how it might be used in space.