OMEGA Speedmaster Professional “Moonwatch” review

Introduction

“Basho,” he said, handing me a fresh drink, “you know your watches, right?”

“Sure,” I answered.

“Well, I need a good watch.” He paused, swilled his glass and then looked at me. “If you could have any watch, just one, which one would you pick?”

That was a very good question, one I have been asked many times. And as always, the answer is that “it depends on the man”.

I considered the man in front of me; my wife’s cousin. He was a youngish man in his late twenties and a successful executive CEO. I smiled, as, in fact, he was one of those people who it is quite hard to believe actually exists outside of a James Bond casino scene.  He was very handsome (an ex-model for Aquascutum) and had that English noble adventurer look down pat. In his spare time, when not running his company, he snowboarded and rode speedboats. He had been incredibly expensively educated, all the while remaining a lot of fun to be around. An elegant ladies man and yet a total “lad” with it.

What to recommend?

I took a sip of my glass and considered my surroundings. I was on holiday in a cottage rented by my father-in-law for his closest family. I had just served up an enormous steak dinner, enough for 10 adults, and was now sipping a glass of scotch from the good doctor’s (another guest) private cask, we were waiting to set up for a games evening. Nothing much to help with watch statements amongst the men here, as I was wearing something by Christopher Ward and my father-in-law didn’t wear a watch at all ever, which – given the man – was as strong a watch statement as I have ever heard; but, not much help.

So, I thought about work. Many of the people in my office wore watches. Indeed, you get the more junior employees usually wearing fashion brands and perhaps the odd Apple watch. Then Managers and Senior Managers will normally have something suitable for the office, something elegant and aspiring as those in that position want to demonstrate. A Tag Heuer maybe? Then up to Directors, and well, here you get “serious” with smart Omegas, and plenty of Rolex choices. Then finally, once one has scaled Mount Olympus and spoken to the Oracle to become a Partner, well, then the sky is the limit. One guy wears a particularly impressive and bold Hublot and I see lots of oh-so-subtle Pateks hiding under the cuffs of handmade shirts.

This was the right world for my relative here; but, where to place him without insulting him? What watch is suitable for someone who was either constantly on a jet plane or, within minutes of leaving the office, would be bounding up a mountain, sitting on a beach or skipping onto a jetty? What could keep up with him? Then I realised who he reminded me of: a special and rare type of person, and one just as smartly adventurous as he.

“Come on -” he said, snapping me back from this consideration, “I thought you knew watches?”

Do I know watches?

“Omega Moonwatch Professional,” I said, reaching behind me for my iPad and booting up the Omega website. “It is the watch that astronauts wear into space and onto the moon.” I handed him the tablet. “It would be perfect for you.”

A few watches have been on the moon and, since we stopped going to that quite dusty rock, an even larger selection have been into space. But they all have something in common: they are the choice for Astronauts. So, what is an astronaut like? The first Americans into space, and especially those who walked on the moon, were truly the best of the best. Given the gene pool the US has to choose from that is really saying something. Much is made of making it to the moon, but the more impressive feat was for me the fact that they didn’t slam straight into it.

You see, when attempting their landing the computers, if one could call them that – big punch card programmed monstrosities, made a mistake. The landing point selected was no good. In fact, it would have forced an abort. So, Neil Armstrong switched the lander to manual and flew it over the nearest hill. He had only a few seconds of thrust left at this point. You can hear it clearly in the video of the landing. There is this voice in the background counting down. That is the seconds of burn he has left and he had to leave enough to, you know, launch back into space. Without a bead of sweat, while the world held its breath, this incredible pilot crested the hill, span the lander and planted it perfectly into the dust. OMEGA must have been gutted that Neil didn’t wear his OMEGA on the surface of the moon, but it was for the greatest of reasons; part of the timing module in the lander had broken and Neal was timing the mission by leaving his OMEGA in the capsule running its chronograph.

Think on that, it wasn’t on his wrist to look good, although it does, it was a proper tool and had a job to do. In many respects that this “back up device” was selected for this task without hesitation was a larger endorsement for OMEGA than merely gracing Neil’s wrist. Of course, Buzz, ever the watch guy, wore his.

OMEGA had won a victory for the wristwatch, beaten the competition – none of which survived the NASA tests – and actually been used on the mission. No wonder they keep the classic Moonwatch model in their inventory.

NASA put the Moonwatch through a bonkers level of tests to qualify for space missions. Of course, a modern Casio G-Shock could pass all of these, but I contend that this was in the 1950’s and – speaking as a very happy owner of one of the top “Mr G” models – G-shocks are not exactly elegant.

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NASA’s tests were carried out on the ST 105.003 (NASA reference 6049 according to the designation used in the USA), which formed part of the official gear of the Gemini astronauts. The ST 105.012 (NASA reference 6126) was chosen for the Apollo missions.

  • High temperature test: 70° C for 48 hours, then 93° C for 30 minutes in a partial vacuum.
  • Low temperature test: -18° C for 4 hours.
  • Vacuum test: Heated in a vacuum chamber and then cooled to -18° C for several cycles.
  • Humidity test: Ten 24-hour cycles in >95% humidity with temperatures ranging from 25° C to 70° C.
  • Corrosion test: In an atmosphere of oxygen at 70° C for 48 hours.
  • Shock-resistance test: Six 40 G shocks in six different directions.
  • Acceleration test: Progressive acceleration to 7.25 G for about ?ve minutes and then to 16 G for 30 seconds in three axes.
  • Low pressure test: Pressure of 10’6 atmospheres at 70° C for 90 minutes, then at 93° C for 30 minutes.
  • High pressure test: In an air pressure of 1.6 atmospheres for 60 minutes.
  • Vibration test: Random vibrations in three axes between 5 and 2,000 Hz with an acceleration of 8.8 G.
  • Sound test: 130 decibels at frequencies from 40 to 10,000 Hz for 30 minutes.

The Moonwatch is still issued to astronauts today, especially rated as standard equipment for spacewalks, but it isn’t the only choice for the modern spaceman. Some wear digital timers, some have sponsorship from other manufacturers, namely Breitling – another watch brand synonymous with pilots and very popular therefore with certain space roles filled mostly by Navy pilots. However, even though many other brands have been into space with the American missions, it is still OMEGA that holds the distinction of being certified equipment. To retain this, and attract the modern astronaut, OMEGA brought out a new model of Speedmaster, with a combined digital and analogue display. This was designed in conjunction with astronauts themselves and featured specific mission timers designed for timing seconds since a mission started, which is how you must count time when away from Earth as, after all, you have sunsets and sunrises every 40 minutes or so when in orbit.

This upgraded modern OMEGA Speedmaster graced the arm of the commander of the International Space station and went through a boon time in the European missions. However, back on Earth, the model – as lovely as it is – is not jewellery like the original. This then points to an important fact regarding this watch; it very precisely straddles the dual worlds of being a very serious, life-saving tool, while at the same time being a fascinating object to look at and wear.

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Fascinating is the right word. Diving into the world of the Speedmaster is to meet fanaticism on an epic level. At first, I believed this to be merely carefully cultured marketing by OMEGA, a branding exercise; but, ever alert to fake branding as I am, I realised quite quickly that OMEGA lost control of the Speedmaster fan juggernaut quite a long time ago. Forums are dedicated to it, museums exist to it, large and expensive coffee table books are published and dedicated to it, artworks are commissioned to honour it, endless papers are written regarding its glory and the second-hand market is so hot it threatens to burn to a crisp anyone’s bank balance who comes near it. Compared to that level of love and adoration, anything that OMEGA tries itself, like the interesting and yet cringe-worthy shorts featuring Buzz Aldrin and George Clooney, come across as pastiche fakery, even though OMEGA are probably spending millions per minute.

I can’t think of another watch with such a fan base. Sure, one could mention the Rolex forums and internet love; but, mainly I believe due to the price barrier to entry being 2k more, Rolex doesn’t have quite the link to history. The Rolex divers, are, of course, linked to the Royal Navy in WWII, and is a serious tool watch as well; but, their appeal is nowhere near as broad and capturing as many touch points. A Rolex diver no-date submariner is more a mark of financial achievement it seems to me, a mark that says you have “made it”. How many actually get dived with?

The OMEGA fanaticism is a lot of fun, it enables one to totally geek out on the details, and there is enough information to provide for all levels of obsession. One must just promise not to become a bore on the subject!

The Review

FEATURES
TECHNICAL DATA
  • Bracelet: Steel
  • Between Lugs: 20 mm
  • Case: Steel
  • Case Diameter: 42 mm
  • Dial colour: Black
  • Crystal: Hesalite crystal
  • Water resistance: 5 bar (50 metres / 167 feet)
  • CALIBER: OMEGA 1863

THE SPEEDMASTER PROFESSIONAL MOONWATCH

For well over half a century, the OMEGA Speedmaster has witnessed events that have tested the limits of physical endurance and human courage, including the first manned lunar landing in July of 1969 and every one of NASA’s piloted missions since March of 1965.

There are a bewildering variety of current Speedmaster models, not even counting discontinued and vintage editions. Some of them are in the regular ranges. Like the fantastic Speedmaster Mk2, which is one of the best-looking watches I have ever worn. However, some of the “minor tweak” models are a little bit over the top. It was, for example, a clever idea to release an all-black edition of the Moonwatch called the “Dark Side of the Moon” after the Pink Floyd album. Both are classics from a bygone age, elegant and still enjoyed today. Both are iconic. However, from there we have the White Side of the Moon and now the Grey Side of the Moon. It seems like OMEGA is trying to capture a market for whom the romance of space adventuring is not really a thing; whereas, rapper culture and couture are; those new OMEGA’s being aimed squarely at the more modest and down to Earth talents of Kim Kardashian and her ilk. Modern NASA is simply not very sexy, and even Hollywood has given up representing its current state anything like as accurately as in the past. For example, Sandra Bullock’s orbit stranded astronaut in the film “Gravity” caused me to stifle a laugh when she removed the space suit to reveal her extremely attractive underwear a la Barbarella. I laughed because the real undergarments of Astronauts owe more to the stilsuits of the Fremin than to Gossard. They are as sexy as a hospital tube sock run through with capillaries filled with fluid for the suit heating system. Space, you know, being bloody cold. No one could possibly look “sexy”, and certainly not as good as Sandra did!

60 versions!

Out of the models, for me, and my budget is not limitless by any means, it came down to one model and a consideration of its two editions. The Moonwatch has a cachet, it recalls the glorious era of space exploration, back when NASA was the place of beautiful people and the men and women of the space race the sort of people one could idolise without feeling an idiot when you got to 40. This watch has an indelible link to those men, to that adventurous spirit and yet manages to be an iconic male item of fashion and jewellery. Not bad for something to tell the time. Of the two models, only one question comes to mind, glass or plastic?

My version: 311.30.42.30.01.005

The Moonwatch comes in two flavours, one is the issue version, with a plastic based glass and a manual movement. The other has a more modern sapphire glass and a see-through back. Which one you take depends on two factors; do you want to buy the issue model? Are you worried about scratches? We will explore those things now.

The Movement

The OMEGA Moonwatch is a manual wind movement, which requires you to wind it every morning. This takes only one minute and is easy to do, yet the number one question on the internet regarding the model is “how many turns should I do?” Indeed, I wondered myself. The answer is simple: keep winding until the winder stops moving. There is a feeling of pushback from the spring when it is fully wound, and given the position of the crown, it is not easy to overwind the spring because one cannot get a really solid grip on it. This was a concern going into the experience for me because, as anyone will tell you, I am especially good at breaking things and have particularly large hands. I have found that winding the watch is actually quite fun, a morning ritual that provides for a moments reflection. I tend to try and find a moment when getting dressed for work where I “put on my war face” and kick my “mental work gears” into play. This used to be a moment of checking my ensemble I the mirror, particularly if I am alone and on the other side of the world about to host a meeting; but, now this moment has shifted to the “winding minute”, and it is much more completative than the mirror confidence boost. I like that.

Regarding the glass choice. You have two choices here. On the issue version, the glass is made from Hexalite. This plastic material can bend a lot more before breaking, and when it does break doesn’t do so into lots of little pieces like sapphire. It can also be shaped into a much nicer form than Sapphire can, which is essentially carved out of a solid block. The only downside is that it will scratch easily. Yours will scratch, I absolutely guarantee it. This means that you will be buying some Polywatch paste and rubbing out the scratches on a semi-regular basis.

If you are Ok with such maintenance for the sake of the nicer glass, hold on – you also lose something else: the see-through back. On the model with the sapphire glass, you get a see-through back to admire the movement. Not so on the issue version, why would you need one in space?

Indeed, this tool watch is not kidding when it wears its credentials on its sleeve. A no date, no sapphire glass, no see-through back, scratchable, hand wound…

Masterpiece.

Let us look deep into the watch.

The Face

The face of the OMEGA is black, really black, like “black hole” black. This effect is created and enhanced by the matte nature of the dial, as the light reflections are all in the glass, the dial below resists reflection and absorbs light. Cleverly, the simple pure white indices, hands and lettering also compliment the effect. I have seen a lot of two-tone dials, indeed the “other” Moonwatch, by Bulova, also has a two-tone matt dial, but there we see the consequence of the sapphire. Yes, the dial is clear and legible, but it isn’t as fascinating. The fine quality of the application of the indices is another bonus. The lettering, in particular, is very fine and small, encouraging one to lean into the dial to read them, and this also plays into the feeling of looking at the watch.

Around the inner edge is a track for the chronograph, but this almost disappears as it is defracted by the curve of the glass, which lends a sort of “grey ring” around the edge of the dial, effectively as if a sharpening filter has been applied to the centre of the dial, as it “lifts” the centre as your eyes refocus. When needed though, it is there; a simple shift of one’s eyes and they refocus on the track and timing functions.

The layout of the three dials is the classic arrangement for a Chronograph and I find this configuration to be the ideal. When seeing a chonro on a quartz Swatch movement, I often think that the sub dials are too close together, a consequence of the date wheel on the movement, perhaps. Here, with no date to get in the way, the sub dials can push out to the edges. Not as far as on a two sub-dial chronograph, but certainly quite far. Given the two-tone nature of the dial, OMEGA ran the risk here of swamping the main indices and reducing the legibility of reading the time or the chronograph (something that happened on the Tudor Chrono and to many a crime). OMEGA avoided that error by designing the dials to be as simple as possible, and a little recessed. This creates a border circle effect without printing the borders, they are instead formed of shadow. Elegant is hardly a good enough descriptor. Moving onto the hands, the column stack is neat and well put together, but not styled to be fine. I wonder if those disk sizes are on purpose as well? Perhaps there exists some glorious test model in a drawer somewhere at OMEGA HQ with smaller disks that are stacked tighter? But, it probably throws the dial off somehow. The hand’s are thin baton style, and unlike the problems experienced with a lot of two-tone baton dials, you can never confuse the minute and hour hands, or indeed the chronograph hand. The lume is excellent and runs almost the entire length of the hands, which helps clearly delineate them in the dark.

The chronograph has a solid click and the simple mechanism of older styled movements. It is very smooth in operation and able to run for 12 hours, something rare and special in this world of so-called chronographs that run for 30 minutes (I am looking at you Casio). You could time a turkey just as easily as you could your rocket’s afterburners. As for speed timing. Well, I rarely need to time my distance over 1 mile, which is what a tachymeter is for (anything I own that moves at the required speeds has one built in). However, aesthetically the silver and shiny scale is one of the very best in the world. It has a silver edge that catches a lot of light when the watch moves, forcing one to peer quite close to read the scale. It appears to be accurate compared to some, which are applied with not a moments thought to usage. This is a hang over from the time when this watch was for racing drivers and not astronauts, but again I expect test models without the moniker are terrible and they could hardly call it a Speedmaster without it.

The Strap and Case

Moving onto the body and here you can have a wow moment. The sides of this watch have a semi-sharp edge, which is polished on one side and brushed on another, in a twisting swoosh running the length of the case and right into the lugs. It’s a remarkable job, which catches the light incredibly and enables the body to sit neatly on the wrist in a way lesser watches cannot achieve. It is low to the wrist, spread out, but not massive. A true home run. Those lugs bulge and the transition into the strap is not smooth on purpose, something other brands get into trouble about; but, OMEGA simply adopted and is happy with. This is the secret as to why the Speedmaster wears so well on multiple straps, famously so, because its lugs are not cut for a particular strap and their bulge and shine means they can take a thick strap just as well as a thin one. Indeed, in the case comes two other straps to try on and tool to change them. A nod from OMEGA to the fans and their 3rd party strap choices.

Speaking of straps, the steel bracelet on the OMEGA is fantastic. Brushed on the large links with two polished thin lines running through the middle. This leads to a large but well-made clasp with a very reliable and solid button pusher mechanism. I do find that it requires me to reach under the clasp to close it again, as a simple push down against my wrist doesn’t connect and lock, I suspect that this is more me than the watch. However, once locked in, the clasp is very sturdy. I am sure that the clasp cover will scratch quickly; but, this watch is like the Millenium Falcon in that a few scratches add character. Once it is on the wrist you immediately know that this is not a watch to own but never wear and then flip. This is something to go out and really beat time with. The one bum note here is the sizing. My strap is on its maximum size from the outset and I found that it needs all those links to be comfortable. Indeed, I recommend wearing it with all the links before considering removing one if you have anywhere near my wrist size. Similarly adjusting the strap is hard, as it only has two micro positions and they are not that far apart from each other. There is space for a few more, but I suspect that the clasp then starts running into problems on the wrist. OMEGA are stuck in not being able to change very much here without changing “too” much.

The rear of the watch is laser etched with some cool writing regarding the moon mission and the watch credentials and has a logo in the centre. The latest version (like mine) also has the text “Professional Moonwatch” added.

Regarding setting the watch. The crown is not screwed down, ensuring that I will never swim in the watch (I have a G-shock for that!) and changing the time is easy as there is no second position for a date. The movement is not hacking, but in the manual OMEGA simply tells you to apply a little pressure on the crown and the movement will hold. I did not feel happy doing this, and given how often you will be setting the time, should you forget to wind the watch, I was a little put-off. But, I guess that if it is in the manual then it is covered by the warranty and it worked fine.

Accuracy is bonkers good, even though this is not a COSC movement, it runs only a few seconds per day plus/minus.

On the wrist the OMEGA is subtle, slipping under cuffs easily, yet striking when catching the light, it has a plethora of “light lines” that reflect the surrounding light beautifully. Indeed, the watch face seems to change the colour of its reflective glow dependent on the environment.

Once paired with a suit, and like many tool watches, the Speedmaster works perfectly. Dress down in jeans and t-shirt and then it still works. Basically, if you are any sort of manly man then a tool watch will look great on your wrist.

Unboxing

The first box.

Inner Box

The second box is clipped in.

Finally…

Finally…

A book about NASA and the Speedmaster.

One of the tools.

The watch on the wrist

Images

Conclusion

So, why did I purchase it? It’s a personal story really. That moment, back in the past, when I was recommending the Moonwatch to my in-law stuck with me. As much as I sold the concept to him, I managed to also sell it to myself. Flash forward 5 years and I have just passed a few major milestones in my life and career. The first milestone is the tragic one we all will one-day face, in that a treasured parent will pass away. For me, that was my mother in summer 2017. She had always been the most supportive person in my life and had recently encouraged me to change my job and join a major firm as a Senior Manager. This was a scary as hell thing to do, and well, I was relying on mum to continue to support me. Losing her the way I did, her dying in my arms suddenly at A&E, I felt very adrift. Worse was that I felt guilty when I didn’t think of her. Like I had forgotten her. I needed something, something that would be a touchstone for her memory and the astronomical courage she had in her life. I have always believed that we will all – eventually when the sun goes supernova – return to the stars, and on that day all mankind will be reunited as one. Now I guess I have that one thing that can remind me of her every day when winding my watch, of her determination and presence, her brilliant ability to show love and her sheer strength when faced with adversity. That’s why I bought the watch, partly funded by her legacy, and worn to remind me of my connection to the stars, where we will meet again.

Owning a watch is about paying for one. There are too many reviewers who don’t own their purchases, and I for one feel that without that cash down, how could one possibly know if the watch truly works long term or is going to be flipped? Paying for something necessitates considering it with fresh eyes, for unless you are the wealthiest sycophant engaging in some sort of modern potlatch then £3 thousand pounds is a serious wedge. It certainly seemed that way for me! The OMEGA Speedmaster passes this trial with nary a look back. It is simply elegant, bold and striking, handsome and classy. It is the watch originally chosen for the best of the best and put through all sorts of horological horrors. It has climbed mountains and raced around tracks. It has been to the moon and back and been instrumental in saving the lives of men trapped millions of miles from Earth. While it is true that the having of some sort of “heritage” is vastly overplayed in watches, but romance or no, the OMEGA Speedmaster Moonwatch is the quintessential man’s watch.

Oh, and it tells the time. Bonus.

Yes, the Moonwatch was the right choice for my relative, it was the right choice for me and it may well be the right choice for you too. Try one, and tell them Basho’s mum sent you.

Regards,

Basho

Final Score

98%
The Good 98
  • Classic history

  • Great internals, great time keeping.
  • Stylish and unique.
  • Great feel on the wrist
The Bad 2
  • Limited strap adjustment

  • Not cheap

If you are interested in purchasing the OMEGA Moonwatch, please visit this link:



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2018-05-03T06:02:13+00:00

About the Author:

Bio: Philosopher, film maker, writer and IT expert. Occupation: IT Consultant, film-maker and writer. Interests: Debate, cooking, computer-gaming, reading, writing, videoing, martial arts, air­soft, movies, diving, skiing… (The list goes on — Basho is a philosopher and therefore into everything!)