An Emotional Proposal

Earlier, on the 9th of January, when Omega announced that they were bringing back the fabled Caliber 321, enough was said about the effort it took to make the second coming of the movement a reality. But little was revealed about the exact specifications of the 2019 version of the Caliber 321. Those details are now on hand, but before we get there, a quick recap.

Omega for one knew that for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, creating a special timepiece would be incomplete without the movement within the watch that went to the moon. But first, the brand had to seek the blessings from the powers that be. Because reissuing a revered movement such as the cal. 321, is a task that requires the utmost precision. The slightest compromise and the entire effort would be for naught. Support would prove essential from all arms of the Swatch Group.

When the proposal was finally made, the sheer emotion that was contained within the plan that Omega had set out, it was enough to garner unanimous approval: from the head of ETA, Pierre-André Bühler, all the way to Marc Hayek, who sits on the Swatch Group’s management board and oversees several brands at the same time.

The preview of Omega's 2019 New Original Calibre 321
The preview of Omega's 2019 New Original Calibre 321

The Pursuit of Precision

With all systems go, for two years, a small group of people from Omega’s development department, watchmakers and historians worked under the project name “Alaska 11” to fabricate the most precise reconstruction of the 321.

Now, the thing to remember, is that while the original Omega caliber 321 was in production, the brand made several generations of the movement up until the point that it was replaced by the cal. 861, after 1969. The last references of the Speedmaster to be powered by the second — and last — generation of the cal. 321, which was made from 1964 to 1969, were the ST 105.003, the ST 105.012 and the ST 145.012. These were exactly the references that went to the moon, strapped to the wrists of NASA astronauts. And this is the specific version of the 321 that the Alaska 11 team chose to revive.

Once the version of the 321 was decided upon, the Alaska 11 team went out to Lemania (now a part of Breguet) and sought out technical drawings of the movement from the era to work from. The cal 321 was after all Omega’s own version of the Lemania 2310.

Next, Omega took examples of the movement from their own library to reverse engineer specifications for the 2019 version.

The last, and possibly the most impressive, step that Omega took was that they brought in Apollo 17 astronaut, Eugene “Gene” Cernan’s actual Speedmaster ST 105.003 (the actual one that went to the moon on his wrist), and performed an x-ray tomographic scan of the watch to create a slice-by-slice 3D image of the watch. This further served the Alaska 11 team’s reverse engineering effort.

Apollo 17 astronaut, Eugene “Gene” Cernan’s Speedmaster ST 105.003 (Image © Revolution)
Apollo 17 astronaut, Eugene “Gene” Cernan’s Speedmaster ST 105.003 (Image © Revolution)
Apollo 17 astronaut, Eugene “Gene” Cernan’s Speedmaster ST 105.003 (Image © Revolution)
Apollo 17 astronaut, Eugene “Gene” Cernan’s Speedmaster ST 105.003 (Image © Revolution)
NASA's asset number engraved on the side of the case of Apollo 17 astronaut, Eugene “Gene” Cernan’s Speedmaster ST 105.003 (Image © Revolution)
NASA's asset number engraved on the side of the case of Apollo 17 astronaut, Eugene “Gene” Cernan’s Speedmaster ST 105.003 (Image © Revolution)

The Level of Precision

Needless to say, a lot of time, labor, investment (the tomography alone cost 1 million Swiss Francs) and love was necessary to revive such an important piece of horological history to exacting specifications. But that was only the first milestone. Now they had to figure out a way to produce a movement that had been out of production for 50 years.

Thanks to partners from the Swatch Group, this was eventually managed, and the resulting movement could very well be a carbon copy of the 245 components that come together to form the cal. 321. Omega has chosen to name this new movement, the New Original 321.

So, here’s a sense of how far Omega went to revive the second-generation cal. 321. Take the guard pin of the pallet fork in the original cal. 321: Omega knew that the 2019 cal. 321 would need to have even this minuscule component accurate to specifications of the original. Again, we’re talking about a part that no one has produced in 50 years. Omega will tell you that many arguments were started simply because of this tiny little part. Because truth be told, if it’s your average Swiss lever escapement, the brand could very well have taken a current production escapement assembly and slapped it into the movement — who would have been able to tell the difference? Very few. It was Nivarox, the Swatch Group’s escapement parts production arm, that took up the challenge and gave the 2019 cal. 321 the very same pallet fork with the very same guard pin contained within the cal. 321 produced from 1964 to 1969. But there’s more.

The Original

An original Calibre 321 with galvanic treatment on the bridges and plates
An original Calibre 321 with galvanic treatment on the bridges and plates

The New Original

Omega's 2019 New Original Calibre 321 with PVD treated bridges and plates in the hue of Omega's Sedna™ Gold (Image © Revolution)
Omega's 2019 New Original Calibre 321 with PVD treated bridges and plates in the hue of Omega's Sedna™ Gold (Image © Revolution)
Omega's 2019 New Original Calibre 321 with PVD treated bridges and plates in the hue of Omega's Sedna™ Gold (Image © Revolution)

Have a close look at the clutch bridge. In the second generation version of the cal. 321, this bridge was made of untreated German silver. And while there is no record of why this specific bridge was made with such a particular metal, Omega remained true to even this detail and gave the 2019 cal. 321 a clutch bridge made of untreated German silver.

The Original

The clutch bridge on an original cal. 321 in untreated German silver
The clutch bridge on an original cal. 321 in untreated German silver

The New Original

The clutch bridge on the 2019 New Original Cal. 321 in untreated German silver (Image © Revolution)

Where to From Here

For all the faithfulness, there is, however, one massive physical difference in the 2019 cal. 321. The second generation cal. 321 had a galvanic treatment on its baseplate and bridges. Problem there is that the treatment is known to fade over time, causing bridges to age differently. To avoid this, a PVD treatment was opted for the New Original 321, in the hue of Omega’s Sedna Gold. This also serves to differentiate the new generation of the movement from its predecessors.

The watch that the New Generation 321 is destined for remains a mystery. Omega has now shared with Revolution that — while not limited — the scheduled production sees about 2,000 pieces being made. All of the movement will be assembled within a very dedicated Calibre 321 workshop at Omega’s Bienne facilities, with all processes involved in the production being performed by one, individual watchmaker. Further to that, even the watch head and bracelet assembly will be performed by the same watchmaker.

So, alas, we end yet again on a cliffhanger that we don’t know what watch will eventually be endowed with the New Generation 321. Omega has, however, said that this won’t be in THE watch meant to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. The brand has shared, though, that what is to come next is sure to excite any #SpeedyAddict.

Till then, happy #SpeedyTuesday to one and all.