Let’s be honest, Omega releasing a new Speedmaster isn’t exactly unprecedented. In fact, it’s difficult to think of a watch more infamous for limited and special editions than the humble Speedmaster. However, Omega may have just released their most interesting watch of the last few years which guarantees to provoke discussion. It seems that Omega has prostrated itself before the iconic ’60s Speedmaster ST 105.003 and resurrected it with a mix of reverence for the past and modern quality. Behold the Omega Speedmaster cal. 321 ‘Ed White’.
At the beginning of 2019, Omega announced that it would be reissuing the calibre 321 — the much-venerated column wheel ancestor of modern Speedmaster movements. Since then, it has been used only in the platinum Apollo 11 50th anniversary model, but Omega has now put it into a more accessible standard-production model.
In the last few years, Omega Speedmasters with the cal. 321 have been steadily rising in value and the earliest models including the CK 2915 (the first Speedmaster) and the CK 2998 (the first Speedmaster to enter space) are beginning to hit auction records. However, one model of growing interest is the ST 105.003 or ‘Ed White’ which was worn by its namesake during the first NASA space walk. With straight lugs, exposed pushers and crown and white, professional hands, this is the perfect balance of Speedmaster elements. To sweeten the story, on the wrist of Gene Cernan, the ST 105.003 was also the last Speedmaster worn on the moon in 1972. This very watch was used to recreate the cal. 321 in the new Omega Speedmaster.
The modern watch is almost a perfect replica of the original except under close inspection. Being a remake of an early Speedmaster, its diameter is the same as that of the ‘First Omega in Space’ at 39.7mm but no thickness has yet been announced. Judging from its shape, it will likely be thicker than the aforementioned model. The steel case is paired with a domed hesalite crystal and, as used to be the case with the standard Speedmaster Professional, a sapphire caseback. Whilst this is a concession to the original design, I doubt that anyone will complain about the view of a truly remarkable movement.
Gazing at the front of the watch, the more eagle-eyed will already have noticed the homage to the original hidden on the bezel: a dot over ninety. However, this is paired with a bezel no longer composed of aluminium but ceramic with enamel numerals. First trialled on the Seamaster 300M, this technology gives high scratch resistance with greater gloss than Omega’s ‘Liquidmetal’ bezels.
As with most Speedmasters, the dial variations are subtle even for the most fastidious enthusiast, so here is a brief breakdown. When placed next to its closest relative, the ‘First Omega in Space’, the Omega Speedmaster cal. 321 takes a much more authentic swing at design. Where the former features the modern Omega logo applied to the dial, the latter uses the original logo and text. More fundamentally, the dial itself features a stepped and conical edge to break down its sections. Likewise, it is graduated to record 1/5th of a second: a scale befitting the slower 5 ticks-per-second of its cal. 321 movement. As was the case with the original, this watch features ‘Professional’ style white baton hands which should cure the legibility deficit often associated with vintage-inspired Speedmasters. Note the straight ’60s style second hand as opposed to the modern triangular form.
Inevitably, debate has already commenced regarding the use of aged SuperLuminova on the dial. Just as inevitably as a matter of taste, it is a moot point. I, personally, find it appealing from an aesthetic standpoint. More importantly though, this Omega Speedmaster houses the historic cal. 321 which has been recreated by scanning an original. It has grown into a more ornate calibre due to the inclusion of a Sedna gold finish yet retains the old-fashioned beat rate of 18,000 vibrations per hour and uses a column wheel. Under examination, this movement appears a window into the past with sculptural cocks, German silver components and a screwed balance. However, to judge this movement by specifications and featured strikes me as futile. Whilst Omega’s standard production manual chronograph, the 1861, is a mass-produced calibre, the new 321 is not.
Each of these movements is assembled, regulated and prepared by a single watchmaker thus showing that this is something quite different to the standard Moonwatch. In truth, with a price of CHF 13,000, this watch seems better value than the Rolex Daytona represents even before considering inflated prices. The most natural competitor for this non-limited edition watch is the Zenith El Primero A384 Revival. It represents the same level of attention but hasn’t required the same work to create nor demands the efforts of a sole watchmaker. Consequently, it shows similar value despite costing roughly half as much.
Having established that this watch is a beautiful recreation and sits a horological order above other Speedmasters, there remains one elephant marching with heavy steps into the room: the price of an original. To buy an original Omega Speedmaster ST 105.003 would, generally speaking, cost around 20% less than this new release. With that being said, finding a completely original piece capable of being used reliably every day would cost both time and money not to mention the inherent risk of wearing such a watch every day. By contrast, the new Omega Speedmaster cal. 321 is, objectively, a superior watch and one which can be worn without such concern. Perhaps it is the perfect balance?