OMEGA has announced its latest offering: the Speedmaster Moonwatch 321 in stainless steel. It marks the second modern-day Moonwatch to be powered by the legendary calibre 321, which the Swiss brand faithfully reconstructed in line with the original specifications to mark last year’s 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing. The inaugural model was the Speedmaster Moonwatch 321 Platinum, whereas this year’s new non-limited example answers eager collectors’ hopes, being cast in more accessible stainless steel. The vintage-inspired watch borrows from the one famously worn by the astronaut Ed White when he became the first American to walk in space, but features some tech-forward updates to meet the requirements of the 21st century.
OMEGA has combined two historic elements to create the new Speedmaster 321 Moonwatch in stainless steel (£11,300). The design borrows from the ‘Ed White’ watch worn on the Moon in 1965, while, inside, ticks the brand’s famous calibre 321, which first appeared in the original Speedmaster in 1957.
Astronaut Ed White became the first American to walk in Space during the 1965 Gemini 4 mission, and he found the experience so exhilarating that, when ordered to return to the spacecraft, he said, ‘I’m coming back in… and it’s the saddest moment of my life.’ On his wrist was the OMEGA Speedmaster ST 105.003, which the brand has taken as inspiration for this latest steel watch. It features the familiar 39.7mm stainless-steel case, straight lugs and a distinctive absence of a crown guard.
The legendary calibre 321 first appeared in the original Speedmaster in 1957, and was the movement powering the Moonwatch worn by Buzz Aldrin in 1969
However, OMEGA has given its new model a number of contemporary touches to improve its resistance to wear and tear. These include a polished and hardwearing black ceramic bezel and a sapphire crystal protecting both the front and the back, the latter replacing the hesalite dial and steel case back of the original. NASA chose to retain hesalite acrylic for many of the early Speedmaster Moonwatch models due to the higher inclination of the sapphire crystal to shatter under pressure. The steel bracelet is also an updated version of the classic original.
Elsewhere, the bezel features a tachymeter scale in white enamel, in keeping with the classic monochromatic aesthetic. The watch also has a small seconds sub-dial, a 30-minute recorder and 12-hour recorder as well as a central chronograph hand.
Collectors will recognise the vintage OMEGA logos used throughout the design, including on the dial and on the 321 movement itself. Another authentic feature is the iconic ‘Dot over Ninety,’ borrowed from the early Speedmasters, as models produced after 1970 featured a dot next to the 90 instead.
The new Speedmaster Moonwatch 321 is cast in stainless steel and pays tribute to OMEGA’s remarkable Space heritage
Through time and space
The original OMEGA calibre 321 famously powered the first watch on the Moon – the Speedmaster Professional ST 105.012 that was strapped to the wrist of Buzz Aldrin as he followed Neil Armstrong to take that ‘one small step for a man’. The brand utilised this famous phrase by engraving it on the case back of its Speedmaster Apollo 11 timepiece. Armstrong also wore a stainless-steel Speedmaster Professional chronograph for the Space mission; however, for the lunar landing itself, he left the watch in the module to restore its broken timer.
Before these legendary steps were taken in 1969, the OMEGA Speedmaster, which launched in 1957, was the only watch to survive NASA’s rigorous tests for the likes of temperature, vibration and shock. These experiments were designed to simulate a space launch and test the durability of the mechanisms of various watches. The Speedy was declared ‘Flight Qualified for all Manned Space Missions’ in 1965 and, since then, the OMEGA Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch has been part of six lunar missions. NASA engineer James Ragan was the man who qualified it for this title – as he later explained: ‘The watch was a backup. If the astronauts lost the capability of talking to the ground, or the capability of their digital timers on the lunar surface, then the only thing they had to rely on was the OMEGA watch they had on their wrist. It needed to be there for them if they had a problem.’
A watch to watch
OMEGA used the Speedmaster that belonged to astronaut Eugene Cernan to reverse-engineer the new calibre 321. The watch was held by the brand on loan from NASA and was the very last to be worn on the Moon, during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. Commander Cernan was an OMEGA ambassador and the brand created the limited-edition Speedmaster Apollo 17 in his name to commemorate the 45th anniversary of that Space mission.
The reissued 321 has remained virtually identical to the original, as it was recreated in line with its original specifications. Eagle-eyed wearers will notice one of the only differences is the upgrade from a copper finish to that of Sedna™ gold, which has more chemically stable properties. OMEGA watchmakers also decided a system as intricate and iconic as the 321 deserved to be on full display, which is why the movement can now be viewed through a sapphire-crystal case back.
The reissued calibre 321 is near-identical to the original specifications, but features SednaTM gold, rather than a copper finish. It’s visible through the sapphire-crystal case back.
Extensive research and reconstruction in a dedicated workshop was required to bring the movement back to life. Each Speedmaster Moonwatch 321 timepiece is individually assembled, timed and regulated by a single watchmaker at the OMEGA factory in Switzerland, meaning its manufacture is more bespoke than that of modern production. The detail involved in recreating a chronograph movement with a column-wheel mechanism is remarkable, so be sure to drop into one of our stores to discover this model for yourself.
Listen to Nick Foulkes discussing the iconic OMEGA brand in our podcast at Calibre Online here.