While there have already been comments bewailing the fact that the Speedmaster “First Omega in Space” fiftieth anniversary numbered edition is not the size of the Speedmaster Professional, perhaps said commentators may be somewhat mollified when they consider the unparalleled value offered by this commemorative piece. Besides, it is appropriate that a watch that honours Wally Schirra’s choice - two years and five months prior to NASA officially adopting the Speedmaster - to give his CK 2998 Speedmaster some wrist time aboard the Mercury Atlas mission of 1962 is sized as its contemporaries were.
Of the Speedmaster offerings at Baselworld, this is the purists version. The other two, notwithstanding the allure of the Z – 33, can be seen as ‘monetisations’ of the Speedmaster’s incredible brand power. Tracing its genotype back to the classic calibre 321 that powered Schirra’s original Speedie, the calibre 1861 under the bonnet offers authenticity and great value for money for the USD 5,300.00 price tag.
The hand-wound calibre 1861 is still one of the smallest chronograph movements on the market and this allows a nice comfortable case height of 14mm in the Schirra Speedie. The case aesthetics are of the later period and feature the familiar faceted lugs. The 1861 is fundamentally the same calibre as that designed by Lemania’s Albert Piguet in 1942. The main differences between its early predecessors are that of a column wheel having been replaced by a cam, a steel braking lever replaced by a more shock-resistant Delrin lever and a change of balance and beat rate. For a chronograph movement to have been around for seventy years with so few modifications is a testament to the brilliance and execution of its design.
The classic ‘white on black’ lacquered dial, originally inspired by the instruments on Italian cars of the period, together with the Alpha hands provides superb readability. The hour markers and hour and minute hands are coated with super luminova. Unlike the original, the Schirra commemorative Speedmaster has a sapphire crystal to better protect the dial from the bumps and grinds of contemporary life.
As a numbered edition, special attention has been paid to the screw-in caseback. The Seahorse medallion (the Speedmaster was conceived as part of the Seamaster collection) is deeply embossed, and around the perimeter of the medallion in raised lettering are the words “THE FIRST OMEGA IN SPACE” and “OCTOBER 3, 1962”, The numbering is etched on the case back rim. The watch comes with a brown stitched leather strap.
There are many reports of the how’s and whys of NASA choosing the Speedmaster as the official NASA mission watch, and it behooves any proud owner of a ‘real’ Speedie to know the history of the marque. A good write-up on the NASA evaluation and testing process can be found here. A fuller history of this iconic brand can be found here. From the inception of the concept, Omega’s design chief, Pierre Moinat, wanted the Speedie to both stand out from the crowd and appear the natural choice for a motoring chronograph. He succeeded on both counts, and Omega is not boasting when it states that the Speedmaster is the “world’s definitive chronograph”.
The Schirra commemorative Speedmaster will be available after September 2012