50 years ago, Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module. The words, that then fell from his lips, will forever echo in eternity.
A classic topic of conversation when we watch buffs meet is which is the most iconic chronograph? Is it Zenith El Primero, one of the first automatic chronographs? Or Rolex Daytona, which got off to a slow start but is super hyped up these days? Maybe the classic aviator chronograph Breitling Navitimer, or why not Heuer Monaco or any of Heuer's racing chronographs? There are more candidates in this discussion. But if you ask me, there is only one winner: Omega Speedmaster Professional. Forget all the types, I mean the classic, the heir from CK2715 from 1957 to the current–and, to say the least–hard-to-remember reference 3126.96.36.199.01.005.
The Speedmaster with its manual movement, Hesalite glass and solid back case. A Daytona must have traveled a few laps around Le Mans on Paul Newman's wrist, an Heuer the same with Steve McQueen. A Speedmaster has been on a completely different journey. A journey several turns around the Earth. A journey to and from the moon, and as icing on the cake, several of visits to the lunar surface. Journeys with legends such as Ed White, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and many more.
Yes, you've all read the story and I won't delve deeper into it. Suffice to say that NASA tested a number of chronographs against tough requirements. The Speedmaster was the only one who met them, and became the watch used by the astronauts in the Gemini and Apollo programs. A few years later, when Omega's competitors realized the PR value, they pressured NASA to redo the tests, which it also did. The Speedmaster won again.
I belong to the generation that remembers the magic of the Apollo missions and the moon landings from my childhood and the astronauts' Speedmasters and their cameras from Swedish company Hasselblad. They both became iconic over the years. That's how I saw it when I got my first Omega Speedmaster Professional many years ago, and that's how I see it now.
My first one was a lightly used 3570.50 from the early 2000s which followed me for many years to great joy and accolades. But then it happened. As other watches came into my life, my Speedmaster got less and less time on the wrist. Why? It was still the nicest watch in my small collection; it was still the icon.
Then, a few years ago, I found the answer. I had started to enter vintage territory. So why, in that case, would I wear a Speedmaster from the 2000s? After some time, I realized that my personal favorites were among the so-called pre-moons, i.e. reference 145.022-69 and earlier. This is where you will find all the nice features like 321 movements, straight lugs, step dials, applied logos, double bevel case backs, alpha hands, flat foot crowns and so on.
These features vary based on reference and it's important to be on top of this if you're looking for a Speedmaster from this era. More specifically, I focused on the references that were the ones NASA used. ST105.003 is the reference used during the Gemini program and was given its nickname "Ed White" after this astronaut had performed the first American spacewalk. ST105.012 and ST145.012 became the references used during the Apollo program. Right now, I have an ST105.003 and an ST145.012 in my collection, and I use both regularly and with great pleasure.
There are more arguments for a Speedmaster than its history: its flexibility. Few watches fit on so many bands. Steel, of course– although not optimal for space travel, it was what the astronauts originally used. Mesh is perfect and even NASA's astronauts used mesh from Komfit Fostner and JB Champion as an alternative to the steel band. Velcro, of course, which quickly became the standard for the space program. Since a Speedmaster is basically a racing watch, it works great with racing leather–or why not REM's exquisite leather straps? This, provided that we stay on earth and aren't planning any space travel. There's really only one big no-no: rubber. A Speedmaster isn't a dive watch; there's no water in space and it just looks too damn awful...
So, now you're probably thinking: which Speedmaster should I choose? Of course, pre-moons are the ultimate for a true Speedmaster enthusiast, but it's a bit more difficult of an area and not so friendly to the wallet. However, you can still get plenty of vintage for the money if you focus on a Speedmaster from the mid-1970s until 1997. Then you can find watches with beautifully patinated tritium at a reasonable cost. In addition, these are a bit safer to buy, as many parts are shared with contemporary models.
Simplified, it's about checking so that the face, hands and bezel are all original. Those who like the space connection can find it here, as NASA also used the Speedmaster during the Space Shuttle era. For anyone who doesn't want, dare or care about vintage, it's possible to buy a new one or a newer used. Everything representing Speedmasters is also there and don't forget that it's still the only NASA-approved watch for space walks.