Proven In Time: Omega Speedmaster Professional
The Omega Speedmaster Professional, also known as the “Moonwatch”, is widely considered to be one of the most iconic watches ever produced. Over the decades, Omega has produced various watches that bear the Speedmaster name (such as the Speedmaster Automatic or Racing); however, this review focuses on the modern professional model alone.
The current production model of the Omega Speedmaster Professional is the watch that is being covered in this review. It is the reference 322.214.171.124.01.005 and yes, I know that’s a mouthful.
A Brief History:
The very first Omega Speedmaster (reference CK 2915) was launched in 1957 and was initially marketed as a chronograph watch for motorsports. The watch introduced many features still present on the modern Omega Speedmaster Professional including a three register chronograph (that can record up to 12 hours of elapsed time), a tachymeter scale, a hesalite/plexiglas crystal, and a manual winding movement. Over the course of the next decade, the Speedmaster would be slightly altered by Omega and eventually develop it’s instantly recognizable aesthetic. The quintessential Speedmaster is the reference ST 105.012 which gained the printing of “professional” on it’s dial and to this day, the watch really has not changed all that much, contributing to its icon status.
The Speedmaster is legendary due to it’s flight certification and use by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for manned space flights. The watch was famously worn by astronauts during the Mercury-Atlas, Gemeni, and Apollo space programs. Even in the modern era, it is still used by astronauts of various space agencies around the globe.
The story of man's quests in space is a rich and intriguing story, as well as the Speedmaster’s place in it, and I will cover this in-depth with an article in the future.
The Finer Points:
The Speedmaster Pro is relatively dated from a technical perspective, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. The movement inside the Speedmaster is the in-house Omega Caliber 1861. The movement does not feature any third party certifications for accuracy, but it is regulated by Omega to -1/+11 seconds per day. That said, the NASA requirements for accuracy, of which the Speedmaster passed, were more stringent at +5/-5 seconds per day or better (preferably within 2 seconds per day). The movement features a slower beat rate of 3 Hz or 21,600 bph (beats per hour). This means that the sweep of the seconds hand is less smooth than other, faster beating movements, but it also means that the movement is more durable, requiring less servicing and features a higher power reserve. The Caliber 1861 is designed with function and reliability in mind; it offers simplified architecture over most modern movements. It sacrifices luxuries of modern movements in favor of robustness. That said, the movement is still quite refined which is particularly evident when winding it. The movement features 48 hours of power reserve, which is relatively modest by modern standards; however, this is not an issue as long as you simply wind it every other morning at a minimum. Overall, the movement is one of the best aspects of the Speedmaster.
The watch features a diameter of 42mm and lug distance of 48mm. The watch wears closer to 40mm, which I believe to be the sweet spot for most people, as a result of the twisted lugs and rather compact lug distance. The standardized lug width of 20mm is perfectly proportioned for the watch and it allows for a vast variety of straps to be used. The Speedmaster stands relatively tall at 14.3mm, but as a result of its ergonomic case profile and heavily domed crystal, it wears slimmer than most watches with a similar specification. The high-contrast dial is finished in a matte black with printed indices and registers in bright white. The hands and indices all feature rich appointments of SuperLuminova that allow for exceptional low-light legibility over prolonged periods of time. The Speedmaster does have some resistance to magnetic fields thanks to a small iron cage encompassing the movement.
The case material and bracelet material is 316L stainless steel, which is the industry standard, and it features exceptional corrosion resistance and hardness. The crystal used is unique to the Speedmaster as far as modern luxury watchmaking is concerned; it is an acrylic crystal (called Hesalite by Omega) as opposed to the standard sapphire crystal. The use of the hesalite crystal serves a practical purpose as it is shatter-proof and cheap to replace, but it lacks the scratch resistance of sapphire. The Speedmaster features a water resistance rating of 50 meters (or 166 feet); however, it does not have a screw down crown (or pushers) so it is limited with regards to water exposure.
My Own Experience:
The Speedmaster is a very special watch to me. I received mine as a gift from my parents after graduating high school; it will, for the rest of my life, serve as a daily reminder of my parent’s love. Ever since I first got into watches (when I was maybe a bit older than 10), the Speedmaster was always the one that I was most drawn towards. At first glance, it is relatively plain and unremarkable, which is the opposite of what most 10 year old kids like. Maybe I was right that the Speedmaster is boring on the surface. However, on the flip side of that, there is so much more to the watch than its superficialities.
The true genius of this watch only becomes evident after you wear it. On the wrist, the Speedmaster is extremely well balanced. The watch is a perfect weight where it doesn't feel top heavy when paired with a light nylon or leather strap, but also not too light when paired with a steel bracelet. The Speedmaster comes standard with either a steel bracelet or alligator leather strap (with deployment clasp); an additional black Omega NATO strap is also included. There is only a 100 USD price difference between the two strap options so I would recommend getting the more expensive steel bracelet and then purchasing the alligator strap aftermarket if you want both. To be frank, the bracelet is not my favorite and is probably the weakest part of the watch. The actual fit and finish of the bracelet is superb; however, the fact that it adds about 3mm of lug distance (as it protrudes from the case) and lacks on the go adjustments spoils the overall wearing experience. The bracelet does feature solid end links and screwed-in removable links, which are nice touches. The clasp is well executed and feels very secure with an audible “click” when closed, but it is not as solid as other clasps such as the Rolex Oysterlock clasp. On the other hand, the Omega NATO strap is the best in the business; it is extremely comfortable to wear and the keepers/buckle are well finished, exhibiting a high polish.
In terms of actual daily performance of the watch, my particular Speedmaster has been an incredible performer. It is by far my most accurate timekeeper, averaging within a few seconds per month of daily wear. It is a watch that can handle pretty much anything you can throw at it (except some water sports). I have worn it skiing in the Rockies, fishing on the Great Lakes, riding roller coasters in Orlando, hurling lead at the range, driving balls at Top Golf, and more. If you can do it, the Speedmaster can too. There really aren’t too many things that I could do where I would be uncomfortable with wearing my Speedmaster.
A Practical Viewpoint:
The modern Speedmaster Professional is, on paper, not the most practical choice, but this is actually not the case at all. The watch requires you to wind it every day or two in order to function and its 50 meters of water resistance is a bit underwhelming. As I mentioned earlier, the movement is old school and it lacks the bells and whistles of most modern chronograph movements, it isn’t even certified for accuracy by a third party. So where does it get better? It gets better when you wear it and realize that none of these things aren’t issues with the watch at all. The act of winding the watch is actually enjoyable, much like driving a manual transmission sports car. The movement is brilliant because of it’s simplicity; it has been proven, in the field, to be an extremely robust and accurate movement. In general, I really don’t think a watch movement needs to be certified by a third party (like COSC) for it to be great and the Speedmaster is a prime example of this. As I mentioned earlier, my Speedmaster is ridiculously accurate for any mechanical watch and the general consensus is that Speedmasters are solid timekeepers. As a final point, the Speedmaster is probably the most legible chronograph watch available and this means that telling the time (and time elapsed) is extremely easy.
There are not many gripes that people have with the Speedmaster, but there are a few worth noting. The first is with the crown being too small for a manually wound watch. While this hasn’t been an issue for me at all, I could definitely see this being the case for people with larger fingers. The second commonly mentioned complaint has to do with the “jump” of the chronograph when starting it. Finally, some dislike the scratch resistance of the Hesalite crystal. In my years of wearing a Speedmaster, I found that the Hesalite is much tougher than I thought it was. It only scratches with hard, direct contact with things (notably walls and doors). Thankfully, there is a product out there called Polywatch that can buff away scratches on the crystal with great effectiveness.
There are a few things that the Speedmaster is capable of that are also worth noting. The chronograph function can be useful, but I honestly don’t use it for much more than grilling steaks or recording flight times. The tachymeter scale is essentially a nice decoration, but it is great for killing time on road trips or doing quick speed conversions (in order to use the tachymeter to measure speed, you start the chronograph when moving past a starting point and stop it when you reach a known distance such as a mile, the time elapsed corresponds to a speed). You can actually use the chronograph as a date indicator by stopping it on the second that corresponds to that day’s date. You can also track multiple time zones by stopping the seconds hand on hour indices. For example, you set the watch to your local time and then if you are traveling -3 hours time difference, you start the chronograph until it stops at the 3 o’clock indice. All you have to do is remember that the time zone you want to track is -3 hours from your local time. Because the pushers are not screwed down, the chronograph is much easier to use instantly which is convenient.
The Omega Speedmaster Professional is a beloved watch of high esteem for a reason. This is because it possesses the three things you can usually only have two of: reliability, value, and function. The Speedmaster really hasn’t changed all that much in the past 50 years; that’s because the watchmakers at Omega got it right the first time and there really isn’t anything that needs to be changed even to this day.
-Reference Number: 3126.96.36.199.01.005
-Case Materials: 316L stainless steel
-Strap: Steel bracelet or leather with deployant clasp (black Omega NATO strap
-Water Resistance: 50 meters (166 feet)
-Crown: non screw-down
-Caseback: Solid screw-down
-Bezel: Fixed, aluminum with tachymetre scale
-Country of Origin: Switzerland
-Price: 5,350 USD with steel bracelet (5,250 USD with alligator leather strap)
-Lug Distance: 48mm
-Lug Width: 20mm
-Name: Omega Caliber 1861
-Type: Manual winding
-Certifications: Flight qualified by NASA
-Power Reserve: Approximately 48 hours
-Frequency: 3 Hz or 21,600 bph
-Complications: Central hours and minutes, three register chronograph (with running