For some, it’s the most famous wristwatch in history, certainly the highest flying. Omega’s Speedmaster Professional is that rare creation so rich with history – one could say mythology – that it has inspired at least three books and played a key role in a Hollywood blockbuster. As far as collector themes go, it’s a killer: the number of special editions exceeds 100. There was even a special “flight case” containing 23 Speedmasters issued in 1997, each watch’s dial bearing a different NASA mission patch on one of the counters, issued in a series of 50.
Because Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space – he probably wore a Shturmanskie when he orbited the earth in 1961 – the Speedmaster Professional cannot claim to have been the first watch to leave our atmosphere. What is indisputable, however, is its pre-eminence in space travel ever since it earned its place in history as the first timepiece to pass NASA’s stringent testing for mission certification.
Before the Speedmaster (yet to acquire its “Professional” suffix) achieved this, in the wake of Gagarin, the recently-deceased John Glenn had used a Heuer stopwatch when he piloted the first manned US orbital mission and Walter Schirra took a Bulova Accutron, a pre-approval Omega Speedmaster and a Breitling Cosmonaute into space in 1962. The space race wasn’t solely a competition between Russia and the USA: there was a fight back on earth to be the watch that the astronauts would wear as official issue.