For many, the Omega Speedmaster Professional is the greatest watch ever made and the only watch you might ever need. Until this time last year, I disagreed. I recognised the watch’s greatness, but I had no interest in acquiring one. Despite having handled various executions, I found myself recognising the same shortcomings. The tachymetre was useless, the dial bland and the case affected in the context of being such a technical watch. However, what I had not done was to wear one, and so began my Speedmaster story.
Now, I don’t mean that I hadn’t worn one for a short while: I had previously worn both the Professional and the ‘First Omega In Space’ for several days. What I really mean is to have it on when scrabbling for the time whilst running to catch a train or to use to glance at the chronograph during an all-important exam. When I finally had the chance, my Speedmaster didn’t miss a beat.
“…Omega needed an automatic chronograph and needed it quickly.”
My Speedmaster story began not with the watch, but with the movement. Whilst the watches did not interest me, the development of the Lemania cal. 2310 into the cal. 2510 and the Omega cal. 321 piqued my curiosity. However, it was the next step which fascinated me completely. When faced with the Zenith El Primero and Calibre 11 used primarily by Heuer & Breitling in 1969, Omega needed an automatic chronograph and needed it quickly.
The option chosen was, unsurprisingly, to develop their existing chronograph: calibre 861, itself a reworking of the cal. 321. To give automatic winding, a rotor an automatic winding module was attached to the cal. 861 thus creating a towering 8mm thick movement. To keep up with the competition, the beat rate was increased from 21,600 vibrations per hour to a more modern 28,800 and the date was added. Most charming amongst this movement’s idiosyncrasies are the central chronograph minutes and the 24-hour disc underneath the seconds. And so, in 1971 was born the calibre 1040.
Expensive to make and to repair, the cal. 1040 was doomed from the beginning. It was replaced by the newly designed and immensely successful Lemania 5100 in which the central minutes and 24-hour counter endured. Despite this, the very existence of this funny, unsuccessful and largely unknown movement excited me more than any watch had in a long time. I was, therefore, left with only two choices: Seamaster or Speedmaster.
As an admirer of the wonderfully original Speedmaster ‘Mark series’, I settled upon a Speedmaster Mark III. With a unique conical shape, the Mark III is a very different animal to a regular Speedmaster, yet the essence remains there. Removing the watch from its case and placing it on my wrist, it wasn’t the curious movement for which I bought that watch which captivated me nor was it the 2001: A Space Odyssey case.
Instead, it was the purity of function. Where I had previously found the Speedmaster’s dial dull, I was captivated by its uncompromised practicality. Most interestingly, this also showed me something which I had never quite accepted: the brilliance of the Speedmaster concept is that it isn’t a watch for space.
“…when one thinks of a chronograph, the first thought is of the Speedmaster.”
What Omega actually created on a fateful day in 1957 was the ideal chronograph. Whether used as a racing tool as was originally intended or as a space watch when Omega turned their focus to this new application, the Speedmaster is universally practical. Where other chronographs from Rolex, IWC or Breitling have a significant element of styling thrown into their display, the Speedmaster only embellishes itself with the quality of componentry. Those other watches have design queues inspired by racing, aviation or number of other visual prompts to evoke a certain feeling. By contrast, the Speedmaster has no function but measuring time. Any associations which we make with astronautics are a consequence of its achievements. I don’t mean to detract from the watches of other brands, but when one thinks of a chronograph, the first thought is of the Speedmaster.
Prior to owning the Speedmaster, I thought that its polished surfaces and seemingly redundant bezel were profligate in the context of being a tool watch. Whilst wearing one, though, the brilliance of the watch quickly became apparent and strangely similar to the natural world. If I may use a simile, just as living beings have evolved to just match their environment, so too has the Speedmaster. It is not over-engineered, but simply offers exactly what is asked of it. In this way, with a relatively old-fashioned movement and design, it is an example of more not always being better. For this reason, whether you are timing something of great importance or just glancing down at a handsome watch, one doesn’t grow weary of the design because it is neither subject to a fad, nor is it too harshly technical.
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Perhaps this discourse appears overly complimentary, but the Speedmaster is a watch which has earned the respect which this industry bestows upon it. Ironically, the fact that this watch went to the moon doesn’t particularly excite me but instead affirms the trust I have in its quality and design.
“…it was the quality of this watch and not its details which took it to the moon.”
Of course, I do still find some aspects redundant such as the bezel. Some have tried to argue that it still serves a purpose for judging relative velocity in space, but this is quickly voided by the use of knots rather than km/h or mph. This brings me neatly back to the point that it was the quality of this watch and not its details which took it to the moon.
I have now enjoyed the ownership of my Speedmaster for over a year and I still don’t tire of it. What this does mean, though, is that I still have yet to own a standard Speedmaster Professional and enjoy a less ‘70s animal. However, I think that it can wait and, in the meantime, I’ll continue to receive strange looks for my peculiar, striking and beloved Mark III.
Please leave your experiences with the Speedmaster in the comments down below.
To learn more about the Speedmaster, take a look at the Omega website.