Review: Omega Speedmaster
It’s often billed as the watch every enthusiast should own, but is the Omega Speedmaster really the default choice for the budding watch collector? Here are three things you should consider before you buy a Speedmaster.
Let’s break the Omega Speedmaster, the entry-level, basic Moonwatch down into a straight-out list of specification. Does it wind itself automatically? No, it does not. You have to do it by yourself every other day—or more if you use the chronograph. Does it have a sapphire crystal? Not the basic version, it has plastic. Is there a date? Nope, you’ll just have buy a newspaper or look at your phone.
So far, not so good for the Omega Speedmaster. Let’s continue. Does it have an in-house movement? Yes, yes it does. Does it have any complications? A chronograph, with a horizontal clutch, no less, just like Patek Philippe. It even comes with a special presentation box with an extra strap and tools to change them with.
So, on the one hand it’s pretty well plumped up with features, and on the other, it’s looking a built old-fashioned and antiquated. The funny thing is, that’s good on both fronts. If you want a watch that gives you the full experience of the era this technology was in its golden years, but without the hassle and trepidation of actually having to own an antique, the Speedmaster Moonwatch in its most basic form is near-on perfect.
Even the most basic Speedmaster Professional features a chronograph with a horizontal clutch
It may not be exactly the same movement as it was back then, but it’s still unique, still special, still very classical in its operation. The crystal won’t protect from scratches like a sapphire equivalent, but the warmth of the acrylic and the way it bends the light are the same now as they were back in 1957 when the Speedmaster name was first revealed. You don’t want its originality marred with a date window and an automatic winding rotor in the same way you wouldn’t want a steel and glass extension on your Tudor thatched cottage.
It’s a balance more manufacturers—including Omega, oddly enough—should take note of, weighing up historical accuracy in one hand with modern practicality in the other. In the case of the Speedmaster Moonwatch, equilibrium has been achieved.
The next obvious thought coming off the back of specification is price. What would you typically pay for a chronograph watch from a renowned brand such as Omega? A look to the company’s own catalogue will tell you that a Seamaster Chronograph is £5,740, a Planet Ocean Chronograph £6,700. Venture further afield to Rolex and the Speedmaster’s direct competitor, the Daytona, and prices move well north of £10,000.
Moving across to watches that don’t carry their own movements, you’ve got the Tudor Heritage Chrono with an ETA calibre at £3,400 and the Breitling calibre B01-equipped Black Bay Chrono at £3,900. This is of course a brand that sits in the shadow of both Rolex and Omega, and yet its prices are very much on par with the Speedmaster Moonwatch.
That’s because the entry-level Moonwatch costs a square £4,000. It used to be less—what didn’t—but in the realms of modern watchmaking, to carry the spec that it does and wear the logo it wears, £4,000 is almost unheard of. There are a greater number of manufacturers asking a lot more for a lot less than there are anywhere near close to competitive with the Moonwatch.
All that history and an in-house manually wound chronograph for £4,000. The Omega Speedmaster is great value-for-money
It’s certainly not the cheapest watch you can buy, nor the cheapest chronograph, but all else considered, it is remarkably good value. This is probably the core reason why it’s offered up as an option to so many first-time watch buyers, because it ticks so many great boxes with little compromise—for the price of what, from other brands, could really be rather ordinary.
Let me iterate all that again, because it’s so seldom said that it bears repeating: an-house, hand wound chronograph, like you get in a Patek Philippe—in fact, almost identical to what used to be in a Patek Philippe—from a watchmaker nearing two centuries old for £4,000. And we haven’t even got to the best bit yet.
It’s called the Moonwatch for a reason, and Omega will be the first to let you know why that is, but the Speedmaster is so much more than just a watch that went to the moon. I mean, that’s a ridiculous sentence to say, “more than just a watch that went to the moon,” but what I mean is that the reasons NASA picked it are because it was already a watch grounded in excellence.
When it first hit the scene in 1957, there was nothing else like it. Watches back then, especially chronographs, were small, demure, reserved. The Speedmaster was a big, bold brute of thing, built for measuring stuff that went fast by leaving nothing in the clarity department to chance. No fiddly little dials, impossible to read displays; it was all there in black and white, as clear as day. It was rugged too, beefy case and crown guards nothing like the delicate items seen previously. Even the bezel, raised and prominent, was built to be sacrificial to protect the case and crystal.
It left its competitors, Rolex included, scrambling to catch up. It was a watershed moment, offering a level of interactivity that just couldn’t be rivalled, and so in 1962, a year before Rolex had even released the Daytona, the Speedmaster made its first trip into space. Not to the moon, that would be seven years later, but on-board Sigma 7 for the Mercury-Atlas 8 mission, a nine-hour technical flight and the longest U.S.-crewed orbital flight achieved at that point.
The Speedmaster series is still used by NASA. The Speedmaster Professional is still today the only NASA qualified EVA (spacewalk) watch
Astronaut Wally Schirra chose the Omega Speedmaster himself, and although there were many gruelling tests to overcome before the Speedmaster could become certified by NASA for all manned missions two and a half years later, Schirra’s choice would be a landmark moment in that decision. That’s not to say the Speedmaster won by default, because also in 1962, John Glenn wore a Heuer stopwatch fitted with a band on board Friendship 7, and Scott Carpenter a Breitling Cosmonaute on Aurora 7.
The Omega had the edge. It had its own movement, reliable and steadfast; it was clear and uncluttered, ideal for the immediacy and unpredictability of space; and it was hardy, designed to take a beating and keep on undeterred. It was the right choice, aiding Apollo 11 on the moon when the lunar module mission clock failed, and on Apollo 13 to time the precise rocket burn that would return the striken crew home to safety.
It’s the trifecta, ability, value and credibility, the three things that you can usually only have two of. With the Omega Speedmaster, it’s a rare moment of getting to enjoy all three, benefiting from the many years of production this hardy timekeeper has lived through. So next time you wonder if an Omega Speedmaster is the right watch for you, think about those three things, and see if you can find anything else to beat it.
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