Aged Perfection

In 2004, Gibson issued a small batch of Les Paul guitars that were very faithful reproductions of Jimmy Page’s first 1959 Les Paul Standard; the one better known in the kingdom of rock ‘n’ roll simply as the Number 1. It’s said that, almost, everything that Page recorded after he bought the guitar of off the Clown Prince of Rock, Joe Walsh — from Led Zeppelin II (1969) onwards — was defined by the sound of this very instrument.

But how faithful can a reproduction possibly be? Gibson spent a substantial amount of time to get all of the specifications right. They even took on all of the modifications that Page had made to the guitar, to give it his own voicing. But here’s where things get really interesting.

Of the total number produced, Gibson handed over 180 pieces to a luthier by the name of Tom Murphy, whose sole task was to make these brand-new guitars look exactly like Page’s original. Which means to say that Murphy replicated every sign of aging, ding, scratch and scuff such that all 180 pieces looked like they’d all lived and toured with Led Zeppelin, all through the 70s and 80s.

Once Tom Murphy was done with the guitars, 30 of these were sent to Jimmy Page, to test, certify and sign. Page loved these so much that only 25 of these signed guitars were later availed for sale. Needless to say, the 25 signed pieces and the other 150 relic’d pieces, were snapped up in record time.

Jimmy Page playing his Number 1 (Gijsbert Hanekroot/Getty Images)a
#6 of 25 signed and relic'd Jimmy Page Number 1 Les Pauls issued by Gibson in 2004
#6 of 25 signed and relic'd Jimmy Page Number 1 Les Pauls issued by Gibson in 2004

Speedmasters in 1969

Switching gears over to the Speedmaster, 1969 was the year that the watch would find its defining moment in history, becoming the first watch worn on the Moon. On July 21st, 1969 Buzz Aldrin wearing the ST 105.012, Neil Armstrong, also, wearing the ST 105.012 and Michael Collins wearing the ST 145.012 successfully landed the Apollo 11 lunar module on the moon’s surface.

Thing is, while NASA had earlier declared the ST 105.003, ST 105.012 and ST 145.012 Flight Qualified for all Manned Space Missions, by 1968 Omega was already producing the next progressive reference, the ST 145.022. Now, the reason why this later reference was never considered by NASA for the Apollo missions, is because the ST 145.022 was fitted with a newer movement, the caliber 861, which had a shuttle cam chronograph mechanism instead of the column-wheel one used for the earlier caliber, the 321.

Within the timeframe between Omega producing the ST 145.022 and the first Apollo mission, there was simply not enough time to go through the process of qualifying the new reference for manned space missions.

So, while the ST 145.022 never went to the moon, the reference’s claim to fame is this: That Omega, after a decade of using the caliber 321, used the ST 145.022 to debut the next generation movement to power the Speedmaster. But there are further nuances about this watch that are sure to interest the geeky amongst us.

Without going into too much detail, — compiled by our friend, William Roberts — splits the ST 145.022 into several general categories: The Transitional 145.022, the 145.022-69, the 145.022 Straight Writing and, lastly, the 145.022-71, 74, 76, 78. Today’s watch of focus requires us to zoom in on the ST 145.022-69.

The Chocolate Speedmaster

The Chocolate Speedmaster ST 145.022-69 (© Revolution)
The Chocolate Speedmaster ST 145.022-69 (© Revolution)

This specific reference would’ve been produced from 1968, right through to 1970. They typically were stepped dial, Professional Speedmasters and had the twisted lug cases with black BASE 500, DON bezels. Pretty standard fair so far. But here’s where things take a turn.

Roberts suggests on his site that the 145.022-69 ran from serial numbers 2842 0xxx – 3162 9xxx. Of which, serials 2911 xxxx and 2960 xxxx bear dials that are known to develop a very consistent patina. It’s not to say that earlier, or other, references of the Speedmaster from the late 50s, 60s and 70s don’t. Roberts shows off some incredible tropical 2998s, 2915s on his site. But the specificity of the chocolate that the 145.022-69 develops, within serial numbers 2911 xxxx and 2960 xxxx, is really quite remarkable.

Look, at this point, no one is naive about what patina, really is. We understand that it is, technically, oxidization; an undesired effect from exposure to the elements over a prolonged time. This is not what Omega had intended for the 145.022-69, serial numbers 2911 xxxx through 2960 xxxx. But it is what it is. Watchmakers today take every possible precaution necessary in their production processes to protect their watches against this very effect of oxidization.

The Chocolate Speedmaster ST 145.022-69 (© Revolution)

This particular batch of dials that was used for the specific serial range of the 145.022-69 must’ve been of a particular composition that leads to the development of this chocolate shade. And while undesirable from a watchmaker’s perspective, the effect these timeworn pieces have on the human psyche, is undeniable. Their desirability, is undeniable.

Such is the appeal of vintage watches that develop patina, that in recent days many a watchmaker has taken to instilling the tropical look within their current collections. For Omega, they did this with the reference 311. introduced in 2007 (production ceased in 2013). Sure, unlike Gibson, no watchmaker is going to follow-through with the dings and scuffs on current production pieces. But the fact remains that the formula has proven to be a good one.

The Speedmaster reference 311. was introduced in 2007 and produced until 2013. The watch had a deep brown chocolate dial reminiscent of vintage tropical dial Speedmasters
The Speedmaster reference 311. was introduced in 2007 and produced until 2013. The watch had a deep brown chocolate dial reminiscent of vintage tropical dial Speedmasters

And here’s, maybe, why: Take for instance the Chocolate 145.022-69s. Vintage pieces like these are rare to begin with. And then add to that, that these are hard to come by in good condition. When you do come across the genuine article, in decent condition, they command high premiums. For example, this one Chocolate 145.022-69 that sold with Phillips in Hong Kong at their May 2018 sale, went for US$35,000 (approximate from sale figure of HK$275,000). And, of course, the price point is rising higher still.

Therefore, if you wish to own a Speedmaster with the charm of a tropical dial, then the 311. is your best bet right now. Particularly while the reference remains relatively unknown and prices are still soft.

Otherwise, if you’re hell bent on a Chocolate ST 145.022-69 and price is not a concern, then have patience. Unlike Jimmy Page’s Number 1, which there is only one of on this good earth, the ST 145.022-69 exists in a healthy serial range. But finding one that fits all of the little specific details that make up a genuine chocolate ST 145.022-69, now therein lies the true challenge.