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THE OMEGA SPEEDMASTER

First watch on the moon.

One of the most memorable moments in modern day history was on 20th July 1969 when Neil Armstrong stepped off the lunar module onto the surface of the Moon with the immortal words 'Thats one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.' On his wrist on a velcro strap, on the outside of his space suit, was an Omega Speedmaster Watch which read 8.56 pm EST.

The Omega Speedmaster is the only watch to have been worn on the Moon and is still used by NASA to this day. It is extraordinary that the Speedmaster was not in fact specifically designed for this task. It started life in 1958 as a chronograph for racing drivers. In 1964 NASA needed a watch for space missions; they chose not to have one made but rather to test what was available; staff were dispatched to local jewellers to buy a selection of chronograph watches from six different manufacturers. These were put through a series of tests and were whittled down to three - Rolex, Longines and Omega. These were then further tested in extreme conditions, including pure oxygen atmosphere, 98 per cent humidity, temperatures ranging from - 180c to 930C, shock, sudden accelaration, constant low-pressure vibration, and so on.

Normal watches would not only be unable to tell the time in these conditions but also the hands would bend, the glass would break and moisture would form inside the case. The Omega Speedmaster survived all the tests and so was chosen to be the Moon mission watch. Today it is known as the Speedmaster Moon watch.

The Speedmaster is a three-dial manually wound chronograph. This means that as well as the normal hours, minutes and seconds it also has a stopwatch that counts hours, minutes and seconds. It also has a tachometer scale on the Bezel to measure speed up to 500 miles per hour. These functions proved useful on the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission. The astronauts had no computer functions and no radio contact with Earth as they were on the dark side of the Moon. Their only computing power was two Speedmaster watches which they used successfully to calculate when and how long to fire their rockets to get them back to Earth. Thus the Omega Speedmaster is not just a watch but rather is a part of Modern History.

Buying a Speedmaster
For collectors of watches the Omega Speedmaster, in one form or another, is a must-have watch. Today you can buy a new Moon watch (1861 movement) for £1,700 but collectors generally prefer to get an older model. This can be the original 1958 model - now called a Broad Arrow, because of it's large, arrow-shaped hands - or a 321 movement model (up to 1967 - as used on the Moon mission) or maybe the 861 (1968-95).

Of these the most valuable is the original, very rare Broad Arrow, with an auction value of up to £5,000. A 1964-67 321 is the next most expensive, reaching from £1,200 to £2,000. After this only the MkI Speedmaster - made just after the Moon landing with writing on the back stating that it was used on the Moon - is desirable at about £1,400 - £1,800. The later MkII had a different case, and one of these canbe bought for as little as £500.

Not only are these historically important watches that are functional and look good but they are an excelllent investment. I used to buy these ten years ago for £300 to £400 in good condition with original boxes. In november 1999 Christies London sold a 1965 321 for £632, while the same type of watch sold in Christie's New York in April 2006 for $2,280. At the moment there is one for sale at a London dealer with original box and papers for £2,500.

Michael Delage-Pandeli: 1st Jan 2006 12:00:00

 

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