Watches: Once-in-a-lifetime encounter with Omega first gold Speedmaster

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on July 8, 2019.
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In case you somehow have not heard, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. And, as you would expect, Omega is pulling out all the stops to celebrate. The connection to Nasa through the Speedmaster, which is still the only watch ever qualified by Nasa for space flight, is one of the strongest ties between horology and popular culture, and that is not at all lost on the Biel-based watchmaker. The two big celebratory roll-outs so far this year are the Speedmaster Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Limited Edition and the similarly named but actually very different Speedmaster Apollo 11 Anniversary Limited Edition. The former is stainless steel with a few special engravings and visual nods to the famous mission, while the latter is a riff on the very first gold Speedmaster, which was made as a commemorative gift for those who first put man on the Moon.

While at Omega’s manufacture though for the Swatch Group’s Time To Move event, I got the opportunity to see something very, very special: Gold Omega Speedmaster #1. Like, actually the very first production watch to come off the line. This watch was intended as a gift for US President Richard Nixon, though he was not able to accept it due to the watch’s high value. So this watch, along with watch #2, intended for Vice President Spiro Agnew, made its way back to the Omega Museum, where it has sat for the last half-century in pristine mint condition.

Beyond the obvious fact that to hold this watch is to hold a genuine piece of history, the watch is also a perfect reference point for understanding what the original gold Speedy was like. Side by side with the original, you can see where Omega chose to stay faithful, and where they chose to make changes. The most obviously change is the slightly paler tone of the new Moonshine gold when compared with the pure yellow gold of the 1969 original. Then there are some really tiny things that the die-hard collectors will definitely notice, such as the seconds being divided into three units in the new watch rather than five, as on the original, and the addition of the “Au750” engraving above the centre post on the new watch. However, lots of the most distinctive details, like the dot over 90 on the burgundy bezel and the vertical brushing on the dial surface have been kept just as they were.

When I asked the Omega representatives showing us this museum piece if I could pop open the clasp, walk over to a window, and try it on myself in some clear Swiss sunshine, they shockingly said “of course.” I was not expecting that at all. Putting the watch on my wrist, it was impossible to not feel the historical heft and physical heft simultaneously. Remember, this is a 42mm chronograph in solid gold with a solid gold bracelet. It is no joke and it feels every bit as serious as it is. However, one of the things that struck me most was just how soft and comfortable the bracelet was. This is something I find with many vintage watches: Bracelets were slimmer in general back in the day, and as a result they often wear a bit more comfortably than modern counterparts. And that striped clasp with the Omega logo at one end — does it get any cooler than that?


The Speedmaster Apollo 11 Anniversary Limited Edition

While you have to visit the Omega Museum in Biel, Switzerland, to see the watches meant for Nixon and Agnew, the latest gold Speedmaster is a tad easier to get your hands on. If you have not had the opportunity to see one yet, I suggest you contact your local Omega retailer to see if they will be getting one in stock. This is a watch that you absolutely want to see in the metal to fully appreciate, even if you are not currently in the market for something like this. If that is still not possible, you are in luck: My colleague James wrote a great post introducing this watch back in March when it was released, and it is full of a tonne of great photos that do a nice job capturing the rich details that make this watch what it is. — Bloomberg

This article was first published on Hodinkee.