1969 was a year of incredible achievements. We went to the Moon and back and invented the automatic chronograph movement. But much of the success of 1969 rested in fact on the achievements of 1957, a year that gave rise to one of the biggest watch icons of our era: the Omega Speedmaster.
The Speedmaster was originally envisioned as a motor racing sports chronograph, positioned as part of the ‘Professional’ series of watches with the diving focused Seamaster 300 and the Railmaster. It’s timekeeping abilities made it a great partner for the Olympics. It was in 1962 that it attracted NASA‘s attention. The Moon race was accelerating: Yuri Gagarin had taken the Soviets to pole position by becoming the first man in space.
When Wally Schirra went into space in 1962, he was wearing a Speedmaster of his own. Astronauts in the steadily developing space program had been advocating the organisation to have an official watch, one that had been tested to ensure it could handle the challenges of outer space – freezing temperatures, pressure differences, and much more. Personal items used by astronauts, while useful, were unproven. If a malfunction happened, it could result in lives and equipment lost or damaged, with no accounting for it.
After two years of discussions, the organisation made a procurement of several chronographs via James Ragan. Agents of Swiss brands were requested to provide quotes. Hamilton, Longines-Wittnauer, Rolex and Omega were the only four brands that replied to Ragan’s request. The final three selected were put through tests that would put the COSC and Chronofiable to shame. The Speedmaster was the only one that survived. It swiftly became known as the Moonwatch and the stuff of Armstrong legend.
This year, Omega is recalling the Speedmaster in its original form, but also taking a look back at the historical moments the watch has led in space. Through a series of video interviews, one narrated by Clooney and another with James Ragan speaking about the beginnings of NASA’s discovery of the watch, more can be expected to come. Check out the videos and recall the world’s pride when we took a man to the Moon. And don’t miss Walter Cronkite’s memorable news coverage of Armstrong’s landing below.