“When I first looked back at Earth from the Moon, I Cried.” – Alan Shepard
Omega Speedmaster Professional (Hesalite / Bracelet)
- Ref. 318.104.22.168.01.005
- Movement, Calibre 1861 manual wind
- Case Size 42 x 48 x14.3mm
- Stainless Steel Caseback
- MSRP: $5,350
Omega Speedmaster Professional (Sapphire / Bracelet)
- Ref. 322.214.171.124.01.006
- Case Size 42x48x13.7mm
- Movement, Calibre 1863 manual wind
- Sapphire Crystal Caseback
- MSRP $6,350
When I was in elementary school I had a tent in the shape of a space shuttle that fit over my bed. My mom made me a shiny white astronaut costume for Halloween, and in my room I had a basic computer that my Dad built me out of spare parts from GE R&D (mission control). I remember watching Challenger explode on a wheeled-in TV while sitting in my classroom. I was stunned, too upset to process it.
My father is a PhD, an engineer, a physicist, and an aerospace enthusiast. You could say I was pre-programmed, or rather pre-enthused to look up at the night sky and wonder. Our family fascination with space naturally carried over to fiction such as Star Wars and Star Trek.
Watch brands love to capitalize on nostalgia. Omega has done it so well that they have not only been able to market the Speedmaster Professional “Moonwatch” to my father’s generation (who watched the Moon landing live in 1969), but they are continuing to ride the wave of enthusiasm through their now-adult children.
The emotion runs so strong that Omega is able to charge a hefty premium for a product that is downright mediocre by modern luxury watch standards. You’re probably thinking, “But it’s supposed to feel vintage.” You’re correct, but a luxury watch with an MSRP of $6,350 USD (Sapphire Sandwich on bracelet) needs to be more than mediocre in the details.
Picking up the Omega Speedmaster Professional, do you feel like you’re holding at six-thousand dollar watch? No. You don’t even have to go outside Omega’s own catalog to figure it out. Handle a Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch next to an Aqua Terra Co-Axial Master Chronometer and you’ll get it. They are very different watches. What you need to pay attention to is the finishing on the cases and other minor details. Running your fingers around the curved lugs to the flanks of the Speedmaster Professional, the unexceptional case finishing will be apparent. The price point will become questionable not only to other watches from Omega, but again as you evaluate options form competing brands.
One of the easiest ways to tell the approximate age of a Speedmaster Professional is by the bracelet (assuming that the watch is still married to the original). Let’s assume that we are dealing with a modern Moonwatch: Super-Luminova, no tritium, 1861 movement, etc. You could have three bracelets that look similar but are very different. Look closely at the listing before you buy pre-owned. The oldest has a stamped pressure clasp and pins. The more modern has a milled clasp and pins. The current bracelet has a milled clasp and screws. However, Omega botched it.
Simple changes could have made all of the difference. There are only two micro-adjustments on the clasp. It’s one small set up from “one size fits all”. It can be infuriating while struggling to size the watch that you just paid $6000 for. Perhaps the most egregious of all poor decisions was putting screws on both sides of the removable links. This leaves a floating pin in the tube of the center link. The lack of bracelet detail refinement on the third (current) generation is not OK for an iconic modern luxury watch. For instance, the 20mm Speedmaster Professional bracelet is actually a three-link with small, milled, and polished parts for the center link. The 19mm Speedmaster Racing bracelet is a true five-piece link. Smoke and mirrors should not get a pass with a $6,000 watch.
When you start to see owners all doing the same mod to a luxury watch, it’s a problem.
The popular bracelet mod is to order parts from the Omega Planet Ocean. Two saddle links (118ST1589) and one clasp (117STZ001154) will make you a few hundred dollars poorer and give you the same on-the-fly micro-adjustability of a Rolex Glidelock clasp. The Speedmaster Professional should come this way out of the box. That added value and refinement would have a minimal aesthetic impact while delivering true value to the customer.
Some complications are useful. Some are not. The tachymètre scale on the bezel serves no practical purpose in the modern area. It’s more of a distraction at the track than a tool. Have you ever tried to use it on the highway? I have and it works, but it’s in no way useful. For sports, are you really going to use a mechanical chronograph while trying to achieve a personal-best 5K time? Realistically, in a fitness scenario, you’ll be using a G-Shock, Apple Watch, or your phone. The sad truth is that chronographs don’t work really great as “egg timers”. A dive watch with a minute-scale on the rotating bezel is better.
However, the uselessness of the complication gives us the near-perfect dial of the Speedmaster Professional. It’s so balanced both in positive and negative space that it stands in elite company with other dial royalty, such as the Patek 5711 and the “two-liner” Submariner. The chalk-white hands over a matte blackboard put the Speedmaster Professional at the top of the legibility list.
Same Old Movement
If Omega tinkers with the Moonwatch movement too much, the watch community would be best described as:
Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling. Forty years of darkness. Earthquakes, volcanoes… The dead rising from the grave. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria!
Any other company would have moved forward. Omega is stuck in 1969. This impassable hurdle further plays off the emotion. “You’re getting what the Astronauts got. It was good enough for them on the Moon.” What you are really getting is a non-COSC certified, sub-fifty-hour power reserve, hand-winding, non-hacking movement that is over fifty years old. Oh sorry, I forgot to mention the calibre 1863 is rhodium plated so that it looks prettier on the display-back “sapphire” models. Whoopdi-friggin’-do. You also lose the anti-magnetic plate with the sapphire model in favor of displaying the 1863 movement.
Omega is damned if they do, damned if they don’t. The current 1861 movement has been around since 1997 and is basically the same as the 861 which first came out in 1968. The only difference is that the copper movement is now plated in rhodium. The 1863 in the sapphire sandwich has only cosmetic updates. It has a few surface decorations and the chronograph brake is metal instead of plastic but is the same tired old technology. The caliber 3330 movement is much more modern, featuring a co-axial escapement, silicon balance spring, automatic winding, COSC certification, and a column wheel instead of a cam. But can you imagine the outcry from the watchfam if Omega replaced a LEMANIA movement with a ETA 7753 derived movement no matter how modified? Don’t even dare mention the date window. A more realistic option might be the caliber 3861 with the Lemania heritage but with a co-axial escapement, METAS master chronometer certification, free-sprung balance with silicon balance spring, magnetic resistance to 15,000 Gauss, gold or rhodium plating with some decoration.
To further toy with our emotions, Omega introduced what is known as the “big box” set in 2014. This space sarcophagus serves both as a marketing message and justification for the 20% price increase over the pre-2014 much smaller “Red Box” version. Did you forget that the Moonwatch went to the moon? You are in luck because Omega isn’t shy about reminding you.
To justify a price increase of 20%, you now get a hodgepodge that is the saddest aerospace museum of all time and an assortment of horological knickknacks. Here is the list:
- Brown Cardboard Outer Box (Ref. 9410.6341 don’t throw it out)
- Black Outer Packaging Sleeve
- Back Outer Presentation Box
- The Presentation Box (Suitcase)
- Legendary Moonwatch Book (Ref. 03090050M)
- Strap Changing Booklet (Ref. 03090967M)
- Omega Operating Instructions booklet
- Speedmaster Coin (Ref. 122STZ002408)
- Tachymeter Loupe (Ref. 514W000643
- Omega black 20mm NATO strap (Ref. 032ZSZ002084)
- NASA Velcro strap (Ref. 032CWZ007442)
- Strap Changing Tool (5130131)
- Four extra spring bars (Ref. 068ST2208)
- Pictogram Card
- International Warranty Card
- Card holder sleeve
- Hang Tag
- Plastic “coffin” (for shipping the watch)
Do any of those items add real value to the users’ wearing experience? Most often the answer is “no”. I’m not one to sit at home handling trinkets. I want to be out there enjoying the watch while living my life. There is a perceived value between full-kit vs watch only. Preying on the completion mindset of collectors, the full sets will always command a hefty premium in the pre-owned market. Don’t feel the need for a “full kit” because you plan on keeping the Speedmaster forever? If you are unsure, get a pre-owned full set. Either way, demand is always high and you can easily re-sell a Moonwatch for what you bought it for. I have a hunch that Omega will attempt to tighten up the grey market and AD discounting to chase Rolex’s coattails. It won’t be a vague waitlist scenario, just closer to retail in the future. This is a great time to give in to emotion and pull the Speedmaster trigger.
The Swimming Debate
Omega’s factory specs list the Speedmaster’s water resistance at 5 bar / 50 meters. On the imperial scale, that’s 70psi / 167 feet. Watches are rated for water resistance, not waterproof. We will assume that the Speedmaster is in good condition with new seals and the case back is screwed down to spec.
Yes, you can swim with a Speedmaster. This also takes into consideration one other important variable: the crown and the pumper must not be manipulated in any way. Even putting the slightest pressure on one of the pumpers will break the little O-ring that seals the case from the outside world. Chronographs like the Rolex Daytona have screw-down pumpers to keep those seals tight.
Do you ever swim in a static environment? Heck no. Are you a downed pilot or playing Marco Polo? It’s irrelevant if you’ve seen a picture on the internet of Wally Schirra splashing around in his while training for Gemini 6A. He got his issued for free. With a modern-day luxury item, the problem lies with unnecessary risk.
I find it hard to believe that people continue to argue about swimming with a Speedmaster. The Speedmaster is rarely their only watch. Just wear your “dive” watch while in the pool and put your message-board mega-phone down. I’m considering this controversy closed.
It Just Happens To Be A Modern Size
One of the other key reasons that the Omega Speedmaster Professional has remained popular is its case size. Could you imagine wearing a watch that was almost 10mm larger in diameter than the normal 32-34mm men’s watches for the early 1970s? It would be like wearing a dinner plate back then. People would look at you like you came from outer space (the irony!). Flash forward to the 2020s and 42mm is more the norm than the exception.
What may surprise you is that I own and adore two Speedmasters, and one of them is the Moon Watch that I’ve just spent many paragraphs telling you offers bad value via emotionally manipulation. That’s because my connection to this watch is – like so many others – purely emotional. However, the Speedmaster reminds me of my Dad just as much as it reminds me of the Moon landing. Maybe that’s the point. The Speedmaster is a symbol of a generation that was the apex of analog technology. Those peak analog technologies paved the way for decades of digital innovation.C
There is a finite window that is rapidly closing before Omega can no longer use the original NASA Astronauts from the Apollo missions for their marketing. What would be truly interesting is to see if the Omega Speedmaster Professional could stand on its own merits. I’m not sure if it can. Omega knows this and is slowly pivoting to more recently-retired modern astronauts like Nicole Stott. That’s a step in the right direction, but expect Omega to milk the Moon-cow so long as space agency retirement homes allow residents on field trips.
Omega needs to expand on marketing the Professional model. One of my favorite Speedmaster Professional print ads contains a picture of the bobrun at St. Motitz. The copy is “The link between the past and future”.
I love the Winter Olympics. Nothing would tug at my heart more than timing Olympic bobsledding runs in person with a Speedmaster Professional. Not because Omega is the “Official Time Keeper”, but because the analog measurement of analog racing makes sense. Alas, it’s too niche and Omega will shy from the black and white in favor of brightly colored limited editions to commentate each Olympic Games. Moon-marketing has a much broader reach.
A generation or two later from the Moon landing, people’s emotions still run just as high for an antiquated tool of the analog era. The Omega Speedmaster Professional is deemed worthy of its existence by the enthusiasts and journalists alike. My Moonwatch arrived midway through working on this article. Despite my critiques, I’m not above the price of emotion. There’s no shame in that, as long as you are willing to acknowledge it.