The Omega Speedmaster is an icon, but which is the greatest Omega Speedmaster of them all? Today, on #speedytuesday , let’s explore some of the most interesting, important and desirable Speedmasters ever made.
The Omega Speedmaster and its following may be unique in the watch world. From its design to its ardent support, it’s difficult to conceive of a more universally loved watch. Of course, any number of Rolex models ranging from the Submariner to the Datejust could be regarded thus. However, none of these watches can avoid the seemingly classless and universal blend of style and practicality pulled off by the Omega Speedmaster.
Inimitable though it is, the Speedmaster is also one of the most liberally redesigned watches on the market. Umpteen limited editions are released with each year seemingly offering an appropriate model for every owner yet these are increasingly rooted in the retrospective nature of this passion. In this way, the greatness of the Speedmaster has to be judged against its greatest iterations: a horological greatest-hits album ranging from the first reference, the CK2915, to the moon-landing ST105.012.
However, with a veritable inundation of editions, variants and collections, how can one pinpoint the very greatest Omega Speedmaster? This is, undoubtedly, a herculean task beyond the abilities of this writer but, nonetheless, join me on a quest through several watches which might just be the greatest Omega Speedmaster of all time. So, get a coffee or light a cigar and enjoy the ride.
CK2915: The Daddy Of All Speedmasters
If we are talking lineage, then we have to begin with the Speedmaster CK2915 from 1957. Released alongside the original Seamaster 300 (CK2913) and Railmaster (CK2914), the original Omega Speedmaster was the beginning of Omega’s preeminent chronograph. Distinguished from the more generic contemporary Seamaster chronographs (a family to which the Speedmaster, confusingly, originally belonged), the CK2915 had the origins of the Speedmaster silhouette which we now recognise.
Whilst the first Speedmaster and a watch endowed with the Omega Calibre 321 — a retrospectively-understood bridge between high-horology and the durable sports watch — I do not believe that CK2915 is the greatest Omega Speedmaster of them all. Courtesy of its polished, broad-arrow hour hand and brushed steel bezel, this watch was afflicted by legibility concerns which prevented it from becoming a popular racing watch. Chief amongst issues, though, is the fact that this watch isn’t known for any major achievement — something absolutely central to the Speedmaster’s appeal.
Ref. 376.0822 “The Holy Grail”: A Truly Rare Speedmaster
This Speedmaster is a curious one. It isn’t what you would call important nor was it particularly innovative. However, what this Speedmaster lacks in originality it makes up for in rarity. Produced in only 2000 examples between 1987 and 1988, this example of the Speedmaster incorporated a Lemania 5100 automatic chronograph movement into the Speedmaster Professional’s iconic case.
This movement was by no means new to Omega as it had been famously used in the Mark 4.5 and Mark V Speedmasters of the preceding years. However, its use in a Speedmaster Professional case endowed this model with many, many quirks. Dot-over-ninety bezel, eat your heart out. The case featured different proportions, the pushers emerged flush with the case flanks and crown was almost entirely shielded. When paired with an oft-replaced unique bezel insert, unique bezel attached to the crystal and unique typography, these are immensely rare to find in original condition.
This makes ‘The Holy Grail’ the ultimate collector’s Speedmaster but, where the greatest Omega Speedmaster is concerned, I think that we can find a more important example.
Omega Speedmaster Mark III: The Speedmaster Goes Auto
The early 1970s were a period of significant change for the Speedmaster. Moving forward from the Speedmaster Professional, Omega explored new avenues for their chronograph. The Speedmaster Mark II introduced the idea of a brand-new case design whilst the Speedmaster 125 launched the first chronometer-certified automatic chronograph in the world. Amongst these, though, it is the Speedmaster Mark III which strikes me as the most important.
Released in 1971, the Speedmaster Mark III was a striking piece. Featuring the most extreme of ‘Flightmaster’ cases hewn from a cone of steel and an incredible movement, this was the first automatic Speedmaster. It was also the first to include a date function, central chronograph minute hands and a co-axial subdial with the seconds and a day-night indicator. This was all provided courtesy of the Omega cal. 1040 or the Lemania 1340. This movement was, in essence, a very clever and shockingly expensive iteration of the cal. 861 at the heart of the contemporary moonwatch.
Of course, being hideously expensive to manufacture and using a system usually seen on split-second chronographs, this movement was soon replaced. Even so, the watch world was left with a truly unique and groundbreaking Speedmaster. In fact, I love this piece so much that it remains the only Speedmaster in my collection. Nonetheless, it cannot be regarded as sufficiently iconic to be the greatest Omega Speedmaster of them all.
Omega Speedmaster 50th Anniversary: The Ultimate Modern Speedmaster
Whilst a thoroughly uncommon piece and one which is rarely discussed, the 2007 50th Anniversary Speedmaster (ref. 318.104.22.168.01.001.001) might just be the most successful pairing of a unique movement, unique dial and the familiarity of the iconic Speedmaster Professional design.
By comparison to the 60th anniversary Speedmaster in 2017, the 2007 edition is a subtle collector’s item. Where the normal Speedmaster features a matte dial, this featured an enamel one. Where normally would be a 50-metre water resistance, this piece could withstand 100 metres. Most importantly, though, it was also included one of the most impressive movements seen in a modern Speedmaster: the cal. 3201.
Unrelated to the iconic cal. 321 but also featuring a column wheel, this 29-jewel movement gave a 52-hour power reserve and, uniquely for this architecture, manual winding. Equally, the escapement was co-axial whilst the original movement design came from F. Piguet. In this form, you could view this watch as the perfect meeting point of traditional watchmaking and modern Omega in a stunning blend. This may be a future collectable amongst modern Omega Speedmasters.
Omega Speedmaster ST105.012: The Eagle Has Landed
I know what you’r thinking: “How can the first watch on the moon not be the greatest Omega Speedmaster of them all?”. Well, hold your horses because I have a few very good reasons. First, though, let’s look at what the ST105.012 actually was.
Housing the iconic Lemania cal. 2310-based Omega cal. 321, a stunning dial with more detail than later models and the first Professional case, the ST105.012 would always have been one of the greats. However, being the first watch on the moon on the wrist of Buzz Aldrin (Neil Armstrong’s Speedmaster remained in the lander) immortalised it.
There’s actually little to be said about this piece which hasn’t already been said but suffice it to say that it was hard to think of more iconic Speedmasters than this remarkable watch.
Omega Speedmaster 105.003: The Greatest Omega Speedmaster
There is no doubt in my mind that the Omega Speedmaster 105.003 is the greatest Speedmaster of them all. Discontinued in 1966, this watch arguably did the most for the Apollo Space Program where watches were concerned.
Firstly, this straight-lugged Speedmaster was the reference tested by NASA with considerable brutality. It was subjected to temperature changes, pressure changes, vibrations, shocks and humidity yet came out on-top next to competitors from other brands. In space, this was also the first Omega to operate in open space during Ed White’s first American EVA in 1965.
However, this watch wasn’t simply a plucky test pilot cast aside for the stars of the lunar missions. In a strange stroke of luck, the first Omega to leave the capsule was also the last Speedmaster to leave the moon during the Apollo 17 mission. As such, this watch saw and book-ended the major milestones of the glory days space exploration. Let’s also not forget that it might just be the most elegant Speedmaster of all with the most simple dial, hands and case as well as the marvellous cal. 321.
I think that this has to make the 105.003 the greatest Omega Speedmaster of them all.
What do you think? Tell us in the comment section below or head over to the Omega website for more.