This week is the big celebration of 50 years since Neil Armstrong took those important first steps on the moon. Horological history has ever since had the through-thread of significance that Armstrong was wearing an Omega Speedmaster, thus giving the sports chronograph the unique heritage of being the first watch worn on the moon. Can you think of a greater tagline to promote a watch? No, me neither. For a few weeks now, the celebrations of one of mankind’s greatest achievements have been building and not just in the watch world – the astronauts’ wrist wear is only a tiny part of the incredible story.
As the actual anniversary date approaches this week, Sotheby’s have curated a monothematic sale dedicated to the Speedmaster. The sale brings together a comprehensive and impressive 50 lots, interspersed with a few pieces of relevant memorabilia. As a side note, I always like to see these items of paraphernalia included in sales, as it truly allows everybody to bid for a piece of, in this case, the moon watch story. The sale is a very comprehensive overview of Speedmasters, which are their own microcosm of small details, reference variations and model iterations. Maybe unlike any other watch reference, the Speedmaster is all about the details. There are some very rare models included here such as the original Ultraman (Lot 33), a Pulsations-Scale 105.003-64 (Lot 34) and two Apollo XI yellow gold Speedmasters (Lots 13 and 49). What will also give collectors a certain peace of mind, is that the Omega Heritage Department have been involved in the curating of the sale. Genuine brand backing is always great for a sale such as this. Each piece is important in its own right and choosing a selection isn’t easy, but here are my picks from the sale…
The Broad Arrow Trinity
The Speedmaster story began in 1957 with the release of the reference 2915, known by collectors as the Broad Arrow due to the unusual shape of the hour hand with its oversize ‘arrow head’. Reference 2915 was made in three iterations – 2915-1, 2915-2 and 2915-3. Seeing one of these watches in an auction is a treat, but seeing all three is special. This sale, however, has six (is that a double trinity?) 2915s covering all three versions. In actual fact, the 1 and 2 are virtually identical except for the inner case back engraving. The 3 was a transitional watch where the aluminum bezel insert was introduced and also where alpha hands replaced the broad arrow hands; although it is accepted for 2915-3s to have either bezel or hands. Lots 10 and 40 are 2915-1s, either of which would be a joy to own, the first of the two lots being in slightly better condition to my eyes. The 2915 was the first chronograph to feature the tachymeter scale on the bezel, where previously it had resided on the outer edge of the dial, and in this case it was a BASE 1000 version.
Lot 20 is the only 2915-2 in this sale and the patina on the hands and hour markers is delightful. The black paint has all but entirely worn off the markers and numerals on the bezel (there are some tiny traces on the hash markings in a couple of places), which gives the watch a really clean look in my mind. The catalogue claims that some versions were released without any paint on the bezels. I’m unsure if this is true or not, but it certainly looks cool without to me!
Lots 4, 30 and 50 are all 2915-3s and all three watches have the second generation of tachymeter bezel in the form of an aluminum insert in a steel bezel ring. All three lots have the delightful alpha-shape small chronograph hands and lots 4 and 30 are examples with alpha minute and hour hands, too. Lot 50 features broad arrow hands, thus giving collectors the option of either version of the third execution. There really is a 2915 for everyone here!
Lot 3 – Speedmaster 2998-1
The successor to the 2915 was the reference 2998, which was introduced in 1959 and had eight iterations during its three-year run – remember what I said about the details? The 2998 retained the straight lugs, the aluminum bezel insert and alpha hands, the last two of which were introduced with the 2915-3. The bezel insert on Lot 3 has faded, as you might see on a Rolex Submariner or Seadweller, and this natural patina gives the watch charm. Lot 39 is a 2998-2, which is the second version of the 2998 which in this case features a straight chronograph hand, where as Lot 3 has the lollipop hand.
Lot 36 – Speedmaster Professional
Lot 36 is an example of a reference 105.012 and in this case a ‘-64’. This was an important reference for the Speedmaster for two reasons – the introduction of the word ‘PROFESSIONAL’ on the dial and the iconic asymmetrical case with its twisted lugs and integrated crown and pusher guards. Previous Speedies had been 38mm cased watches but now they were 42mm. I love these watches with their thin stick sub-dial hands and baton hour and minute hands and to me this is the archetypal vintage Speedy in a similar vein to the way that a reference 6263 is the archetypal vintage Daytona (in my opinion at least!).
Moon Watch Memorabilia
As I mentioned at the beginning, there are some nice non-watch items included, which are a good place for new collectors to start or the perfect option for the Speedy Collector who has everything. Lots 1 and 42 are what the catalogue refers to as a ‘vide poche’, what I would call a valet tray, that depict an astronaut and Speedmaster in Lot 1 and the Omega symbol and iconic tagline “FIRST WATCH ON THE MOON” on Lot 42. These would look cool on anybody’s desk or bedside. Or how about an ashtray? Whether as used for its original intention or as a repository for your cuff links and keys, these items are becoming highly sought after by collectors, as are original vintage shop displays (Lot 46).
Lot 45 – Moon Watch with Moon Phases
First unveiled in 1985, the reference 345.0809 was the first Speedmaster to feature moon phases. Lot 45 is one of the 1,300 total watches made and was produced in 1986. This model was driven by the caliber 866, which was an 861 with added module for the moon phase complication and date. It seems fitting to me that the official moon watch should have a moon phase indictor. Additionally, this watch comes with a ‘red dot’. This is essentially a dot of paint on the edge of the case back with the original purpose of indicating that a case had not been opened, important if your watch was still under warrantee. This watch is a great twist on the classic Speedmaster and I love it!
Lot 22 FAP-Issued Speedmaster
The Fuerza Aerea del Peru or FAP (Peruvian Air Force) began issuing their pilots with Omega Speedmasters originally with the reference 2915 (I recently talked about one such example here in the Monaco Legend Group Sale). Lot 22 is a later model Speedmaster, reference 105.002-62 dating to 1963, that was also supplied to the Peruvian Air Force as demonstrated by the ‘FAP’ engraving on the caseback. An Archive Extract from Omega confirming its delivery to Peru also supports this fact. The watch is very original too, featuring important original features such as the so-called ‘dot over 90’ bezel, small chrono pushers and alpha hands.