Neil Armstrong wasn’t wearing his Speedmaster when he set foot on the moon. I bet OMEGA’s marketing mavens were pissed. But not as pissed as NASA’s PR department when Armstrong forgot to use the definite article for his first words on the lunar surface. (That’s one small step for “A” man, Neil.) Redo? Not a chance. Redo the OMEGA Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional Chronograph 42mm? Endlessly . . .
OMEGA offers a farrago of Speedmaster variants, from a ceramic-cased Dark Side of the Moon to the Silver Snoopy (commemorating the 14-second fuel burn that helped save Apollo 13). Jewels, moon phase complication, solid gold, meteorite dial, grey face, all-white, Co-Axial movement, this anniversary, that anniversary — there’s no limit to OMEGA’s limited edition Moonwatches.
The watch reviewed here is the latest iteration of the original, unadorned, unbedazzled Moonwatch Professional Chronograph. It’s more or less the same manual wind timepiece that Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin — a self-confessed “watch guy” — wore when he tripped the light fantastic across the lunar surface.
There’s enough information on the “Speedy’s” development to fill a book or ten. It’s also a lot of watch, tipping the scales at 117 grams (4.13 ounces). The 42mm case diameter is a tad shy of a humongous 44m Panerai, but the Moonwatch doesn’t look big.
Credit the outer bezel. The steel-rimmed ring circumnavigating the Moonwatch’s dial is a thin thing; a whisper compared to the bezels surrounding a Tag Heuer Formula 1, Rolex Daytona or Seiko anything. On the downside, the Speedy’s tachymeter markings indiscernible to all but the youngest, sharpest eyes.
The face within the Moonwatch’s outer ring is iconic: white rectangular indices all ’round, sunken sub-dials at the 3, 6 and 9 positions, identically shaped hour and minute hands, and a giant chrono hand extending to the outer edge of the dial. All white, but not all right.
Aside from 7:15 am or so, the Speedy’s not a quick read. With the logo and model name stacked under the 12 o’clock index, the Moonwatch dial is almost as crowded as a Japanese subway car.
The main hands frequently obscure the sub-dials’ hands. Whether parked at 12 or sweeping the dial, the tapering chrono hand does nothing to help the situation, and a lot to confuse things. The Moonwatch sometimes resembles a game of Pick Up Sticks.
Other “Moonwatches” fix the problem — deleting a sub-dial here, changing the dial color there, modifying the hands, making the bezel numbers more prominent, etc. Yes, well, you want legibility? Buy a book! It’s a federal offense — a violation of the Crimes Against Historical Horology Act — to mess with the Moonwatch’s original layout.
Besides, if OMEGA futzed with the Moonwatch’s dial design it wouldn’t be a Moonwatch. As is it is, it’s awesome. Not just in an anachronistic, throwback Thursday, the Eagle has landed sort of way. There’s an undeniable totality to this duo-chromatic chronograph, an irrational sense of completeness. No question: like the Tudor Black Bay 41, it’s its own thing.
All hail the unheralded Moonwatch bracelet, a silky, sturdy, three-links-across affair.
Because it flows from the case’s exquisitely twisted lugs like water down a stream bed, because the Speedy’s case is largely invisible from every angle, the bracelet is the case. It creates an all-steel vibe that somehow straddles the line between Village People 70’s machismo and timeless minimalism.
The Moonwatch bracelet is as secure as a Swiss bank vault, but it may not fit perfectly. The clasp provides just two micro-adjustment points and OMEGA doesn’t make half links. (Fortunately, there’s an OMEGA OEM aftermarket solution.)
And while we’re on the subject of tactility, the Moonwatch’s pushers are stiff. Sturdy? Positive, yes. Sensual, no.
There’s a bit of play before the start/stop pusher engages. That’s ideal if you want to pre-load the pusher (like cocking a gun). If you don’t, you have to hammer the thing. Tactical operators need not apply; you can hear the pushers’ thunkclick from across a room.
The OMEGA-branded crown isn’t screw down; you pull it out a fraction to wind the watch, a fraction more to set the time. Both actions keep your fingers in contact with the base, denying crown-only haptic satisfaction.
The movement being moved isn’t the movement moved by Apollo astronauts.
In 1968, Omega upgraded the Moonwatch’s 321 calibre. The 861 movement increased the beat rate and replaced the column wheel chronometer engagement system with a cheaper and more robust cam-based system (accounting for the stopwatch’s graunchiness). The 861 gave way to the current 1861, complete with rhodium-plated finish and a 48-hour power reserve.
There’s no point complaining about the current movement’s lack of Apollo 11 originality. Nostalgia-driven or not, modern customers require a reliable, durable, accurate timepiece. The current Moonwatch is that, and it no longer relies on radioactive pigments for the hands’ luminescence.
The classic OMEGA Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch shelters the 1861 behind a screw-down caseback. THERE’S A LOT GOING ON THERE, typographically-speaking. I would’ve preferred a blank caseback like the original, but I’m the kind of guy who eats a hamburger without ketchup.
On the positive side, if Uncle Sam recruits you to drill a planet-killing asteroid, you’re good to go with your “Professional Moonwatch.” As opposed to the kind amateurs wear. ‘Cause there’s nothing “amateur” about the OMEGA Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch Chronograph.
Actually, there is.
Just as serious divers wear a dive computer to avoid underwater issues and race drivers wear TAG-Heuer watches to collect sponsorship cash and watches, you’d kinda hope professional astronauts wear a smartwatch to manage their health and other important data.
Nostalgic civilians with an eye for design? That’s another story. One where satisfaction has nothing to do with legibility, and everything to do with history, quality and style.
Model: OMEGA Moonwatch Professional Chronograph 42mm
Reference #: 318.104.22.168.01.005
Price as tested: $5350
Features: Chronograph, small seconds, bezel Tachymeter
Movement: Omega 1861 (base Lemania 1873), rhodium-plated finish, manual-winding
Power reserve: 48 hours
Case Diameter: 42mm
Distance between lugs: 20mm
Weight: 117 grams (4.13 ounces)
Dial Color: Black
Water resistance: 5 bar (50 metres / 167 feet)
RATINGS (out of five stars)
Design * * * * *
It’s the Moonwatch. ‘Nuff said?
Legibility * *
Five-stars if you’re looking for authenticity. Two stars if you’re looking to tell the time and keep track of the chrono.
Tactility * * * *
It’s a hefty old thing that feels as good in the hand as it does on the wrist. Winding and time setting are too close to the crown and cam-activated pushers require some major oomph.
Clasp/Strap * * * *
The steel bracelet isn’t up to Rolex standards (what is?) but it’s secure, silky and comfortable. Star withheld for the lack of adjustability.
Overall * * * *
To paraphrase Pretty Woman, if you love the OMEGA Speedmaster Moonwatch you will always love it. If you don’t, you will appreciate it, but it will never become part of your soul. I’m in the latter camp.