In general terms, the origins of “traditional” watchmaking can be traced back some 500 years ago to the 16th century, when the first great monumental mechanical clocks began to emerge. But as watchmaking advanced and matured, it was defined by the great creations of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, from the marine chronometers, through to pocket watches, and up to the great icons of the modern era of 20th-century watchmaking. Most of the horological pillars that support this rich history are wristwatches dating from the last century and I think we can all agree that we can count on both hands the true standard-bearers, the cornerstones of watchmaking as we know it today. Without question, one of those watches is the Omega Speedmaster.

The Omega Speedmaster ref. CK2915

Racing At its Core

Since its birth in 1957, the legacy and importance of this chronograph has only grown. Before it became the watch that went to the Moon – and generally speaking, the “official” watch of the great space adventure – it was already proving itself as an innovative alternative in sports chronographs. Designed by Claude Baillod, the watch was intended to become an instrument for speed on the ground, a companion for the Grand Tourers of the 1950s. The detail of its recessed secondary dials is a feature that alludes to the dashboards of Italian sports cars, such as the mid-50s Ferrari 500 and 750, to mention two examples. But this “intention” of keeping the watch “grounded” did not last.

The Omega Speedmaster started its history as a racing chronograph
Vintage ads for the Omega Speedmaster

It is impossible not to mention the Omega Speedmaster’s association with NASA and the 1969 moon landing and other related space happenings, all of them very well documented. Its great collectability factor has made the Professional Speedmaster of the Apollo era (especially, the reference ST105.012) the “Speedy” to long for and possess. However, without the Ref. CK2915 that originated it all, the Moon Watch would not have existed and is, therefore, a bastion of Omega’s history.

The Omega Speedmaster is forever linked to Space exploration
Astronauts on their way to a Space shuttle

Since its inception in 1957, there have been numerous references of the Speedmaster. And it is precisely the models that pay tribute to the original “Speedy” that are some of the most revered and appreciated. To understand their relevance and their connection to the past – especially any edition that refers to the year “1957” or to the name “Broad Arrow” – we must know their origins. Naturally, the history of the Speedmaster is much richer and more extensive than we could cover in this space, but we can well focus on the references and particularities that gave rise to the watches here available to you.

In particular, let us look at these two terms: “1957” and “Broad Arrow”. Obviously, the number refers to the year the watch was first made, and the name to the style of hands that had a huge arrowhead on the hour hand. The thing is that the first 1957 Speedmaster – the universally known reference 2915-1 – wore that style of hand. So “Broad Arrow” is an element that inevitably brings us back to the original 1957 Speedmaster. Consequently, any reinterpretation, relaunch or homage watch that bears one or both of these concepts is inspired by the original 1957 Speedmaster.

The First Speedmaster: The CK2915

It is no surprise to anyone that all Speedmasters will always bear a very strong resemblance to each other, no matter what era they are from. And the beginning of this definition of style began in 1957 with Ref. 2915. The 2915 is the reference by which all others Speedies shall be judged; it is kind of the “Speedmaster to rule them all”.

The CK2915-1 sold by Phillips, at their Geneva Watch Auction on 12 May 2018, for CHF408,500 against an estimate of CHF 80,000-140,000 (Image: phillipswatches.com)

Ref. 2915 already shows the unmistakable features of the classic Omega chronograph: the dial and its design of recessed subdials in the 3-6-9 positions, the signature around 12 o’clock, the bezel printed with a tachymeter scale to calculate average speeds with a simple glance, and the solid screw-down caseback. As mentioned, the 2915 in particular also included the Broad Arrow hands, an element that has appeared sporadically throughout the recent history of the Speedies. By the way, that first Speedmaster 2915 came in a 38-millimeter diameter case.

A fundamental detail that separates the 2915 from its descendants is the bezel and its tachymeter scale. The original Speedmaster had a natural colored metal bezel, lacking the famous black insert that became so well known years later with the 2998 and later timepieces. Furthermore, the 2915’s tachymeter scale was a sort of “unique sales point” of the Speedmaster, since Omega called it a “Tacho-productometer scale”, being the first time that it was printed on the bezel and not on the periphery of the dial. This stylish solution was eventually copied by the rest of the industry – like the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona that would emerge in 1963 – making the first Speedmaster a source of watchmaking innovation that would be recognized forever.

The original Speedmaster had a natural colored metal bezel, lacking the famous black insert that became so well known years later with the 2998 and later timepieces.

The case of the 2915 had a significant degree of water resistance (200 meters) thanks to its triple seal and also had anti-magnetic protection for the movement provided by a soft iron case, further highlighting the genuine “instrumental” factor that Omega conferred to its chronograph. The short, slim, and sharp lugs on the case are yet another feature that helps to identify it – if the case face and hands were not enough!

Other features that define the Ref. 2915 are the details of its wording on the dial, with the “O” in “Omega” stretched to the sides and the tail of the “r” in “Speedmaster” more elongated and stylized. The screwed caseback is unadorned, except for a minimal ‘Speedmaster’ engraving on the bevel. The engraving of the seahorse, today so associated with the Speedmaster, would come just a few years later.

We cannot fail to mention the 2915 mechanical heart, another of the great legacies of Omega and the Speedmaster. The movement that used the first chronograph was the legendary caliber 321, an Omega execution of the legendary Lemania 2310, a manual wind column-wheel chronograph that was a genuine workhorse of watchmaking in the second half of the 20th century, as it was seen elsewhere, in different guises, such as Patek Philippe’s CH 27-70 or Vacheron Constantin’s 1141. The Lemania 2310 was forever engraved in the history of contemporary watchmaking and the Cal. 321 (18,000 bph, 44-hour power reserve) is one of its most worthy evolutions.

The movement that was used was the legendary caliber 321, an Omega execution of the legendary Lemania 2310.

Ref. 2915 was manufactured between 1957 and 1959. Three iterations of it are known, identified by the suffixes -1, -2, and -3. Simply because they are the first models, the 2915 is the most coveted Speedmaster by collectors. Although exact production totals are not known, estimates range from 3300 to 4200 units. This scarcity makes the 2915 a legitimate “Holy Grail” of watchmaking.

Ref. 2915-1 and -2 are essentially identical. Only a few tiny details in the bezel graphics separate them visually, but it is recognized that they were identical throughout. However, Ref. 2915-3 is a strange one because, being a transitional model, it had variations and aesthetic inconsistencies that make it difficult to establish a single official definition of how it “should” have been.

Omega Speedmaster Ref. 2915-1 (Image: phillipswatches.com)
Omega Speedmaster Ref. 2915-2 (Image: phillipswatches.com)

Some examples of the 2915-3 – built only during 1959 – show the typical elements of the 2915-1 and -2 (Broad Arrow hands, metal bezel) while others show features of the immediately later reference, the 2998 (Alpha-type hands in the shape of a long isosceles triangle, with the base joined to the axis by a thin stem and bezel with black insert), and still others wore a mixture of both. Another 2915-3 already had its caseback engraved with the seahorse. It is not unusual for a maison to use components from previous iterations to deplete its stock, and at the same time use the new components of the upcoming watches. The 2915-3 was a “victim”of this.

Additionally, these variations of course anticipated the arrival of the most excellent Ref. 2998, born in 1960 and worn by Wally Shirra in 1962 during his Mercury Sigma 7 mission, making it the first Omega worn in space and the archetype of the soon-to-be-born Speedmaster “Moonwatch”.

Omega Speedmaster Ref. 2915-3, a transitional model made only for one year in 1959 (Image: phillipswatches.com)

The “57” and “Broad Arrow” Homages

In recent years, several reinterpretations of the original Speedmaster 2915 have emerged. Interestingly, they are sometimes referred to as “Speedmaster ’57″ and sometimes as “Broad Arrow”. There is no specific rule behind the nomenclatures, other than that the inspiration is the same: the 2915 born in 1957.

Omega Speedmaster Ref. 3594.50, also called the "Replica"

The first Speedmaster to pay true tribute to the 2915 of 1957 was the 1997 Speedmaster (Omega officially designates it as the “Relaunch”). This chronograph (Ref. 3594.50) is also called the “Replica” because it is an extremely faithful but modern copy of the 2915-1. The watch was included in the 1997 “Missions” collection, consisting of a limited series of 23 historic Speedmasters, presented in an awesome carrying case. The 1997 Relaunch has the same 42 mm case size of the contemporary Moonwatch – and not the 38 mm of the original – but kept the metal tachymetric bezel, Broad Arrow hands, and dial design as in the 2915; it naturally used the modern 1861 hand-wound caliber.

Before going into further evolutions of the 2915 styling cues in newer watches, it merits mentioning that the Broad Arrow element – the big pointer triangular hour hand – has appeared here and there in a few watches, including the Speedmaster X-33 from 1998, which had a “skeletonized” Broad Arrow hour hand.

Omega Speedmaster ’57

In 2013, Omega launched the Speedmaster ’57 (basic steel-on-steel Ref. 331.10.42.51.01.001), yet another homage to the original 2915 only that, this time, it overhauled the mechanical concept of the earlier watch to bring it to the new era, by means of a self-winding Co-axial movement (the COSC-certified Cal. 9300). Its dual-register dial – running seconds at 9 and chronograph hours and minutes at 3 – also included a date window at 6, as a sign of the new times. The Speedmaster ’57 came in a very good 41.5 mm case size and included the metallic tachymeter bezel. Regular-production versions of this watch came with needle-type hands, and not the “Broad Arrow” type, although there was an exception in 2015.

Omega advertisement featuring the Speedmaster 57' and brand ambassador George Clooney.

With the help of a faithful ambassador of the brand, a guy named George Clooney, in 2015 the Speedmaster ’57 brought to light the two biggest styling cues of the original 2915, by keeping the metallic tachymetric bezel and adding the Broad Arrow hands. On top of that, there a retro-style (beige) coloring of the graphics, to give it a vintage look. This one is one of the best-looking modern Speedmasters there are and looks extremely well both with a bracelet (Ref. 331.10.42.51.01.002) of with a leather strap (Ref. 331.12.42.51.01.002).

Later editions of “Broad Arrows” somehow continue to pay tribute to the original Speedy 2915 and the legacy it has written over 60 years. Further examples of this are quite interesting Speedies wearing distinct clothing and innards.

Omega Speedmaster Broad Arrow

In 2002, Omega launched the “new” generation of Omega Speedmasters (base Ref. 3551.50.00), chronographs using self-winding Co-axial movements (Cal. 3303) but keeping the most important styling cues of the legend that is the CK2915.

These modern Speedmasters preserve the classic dial configuration, of recessed small registers at 3, 6 and 9 (30-minutes, 12 hours and running seconds, respectively) but add a small date window at 6 o’clock. The 42 mm case has the same diameter as the modern Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch. Notably, the metallic tachymetric bezel and the Broad Arrow hands pay the biggest tribute possible to the first Speedmaster of 1957, therefore representing, probably, the best contemporary execution of the 2915 there could be. The 18-year-old Speedmaster Broad Arrow 3551.50.00 offered by Watchfinder is a serious looker and a fitting, modern homage to the first Speedmaster.

Omega

Speedmaster Broad Arrow

42mm, in stainless steel, automatic

Omega Speedmaster Broad Arrow Rattrapante

Another nice example of a reinterpretation of the key design elements of the Speedmasters of yore is the Omega Speedmaster Broad Arrow. This watch – originally launched in 2006 – includes an interesting rattrapante (or split-seconds) chronograph, courtesy of the caliber 3612, yet another COSC-certified Co-axial automatic movement, based on the 3313, the automatic, column-wheel chronograph workhorse that drives most modern Speedmasters.

The Omega caliber 3612 is a split-second chronograph movement based on the high performance F.Piguet FP 1186 movement.

Here, the timepiece is powered by the Omega caliber 3612. The movement is based on the high-performance automatic F.Piguet 1186 caliber which features an integrated automatic split-seconds chronograph featuring double column-wheels, a vertical clutch, an isolator mechanism to eliminate rattrapante drag, and finally the famous Co-Axial escapement.

Designed by George Daniels more than 40 years ago, the Co-Axial escapement is now at the heart of the vast majority of Omega’s watches. Most of the watch industry uses the common Swiss lever escapement which has one fundamental issue; it requires oil. The Co-Axial escapement all but eliminates all sliding friction with a system of three pallets that separate the locking function from the impulse, with the pushing, of the lever escapement, resulting in greater mechanical efficiency. Eliminating frictions would also mean longer service intervals.

The addition pusher at 10 o’clock operates the dual column-wheel split-seconds feature. While the chronograph function is running, a first pressing of the 10 o’clock pusher stops the secondary seconds hand while letting the main chronograph seconds hand run free. A second pressing of the button makes the stopped hand “catch up” with the main seconds hand. The typical pushers at 2 and 4 operate the start-stop and reset functions as usual. This is further proof that mechanical chronographs are exceptional complications that should not be taken for granted just because they are all-too common. Add to that the iconic styling language of the Speedmaster Broad Arrow and you got yourself a watch that is not only a looker but also packs a punch inside it.

Omega

Speedmaster Broad Arrow Rattrapante

44mm, in stainless steel, automatic, rattrapante

The impressive 2017 Speedmaster Broad Arrow offered by Watchfinder (Ref. 3882.31.37) has a big, 44.25 mm case and a “panda style” color scheme. Aside from the metallic bezel, engraved with a Base 1000 tachymeter scale (like the first Speedmaster 2915 had), there is a second scale for pulsations, printed on the periphery of the dial. Especially notable are the Broad Arrow hands that fit quite well with the extreme and technical appearance of this timekeeping tool.