The Speedmaster is one of the most iconic designs in the watch industry. With the Omega Speedmaster Caliber 321 “Ed White” reference 3188.8.131.52.01.001, Omega has recreated the original Caliber 321 housed in astronaut Ed White’s Omega Speedmaster 105.003, once more putting the movement that catapulted this model into infamy on full display. Now enthusiasts of the Caliber 321 can get an exceptionally accurate reproduction with all the luxuries that a modern Omega affords.
The Omega Speedmaster is a watch that needs no introduction. For an in-depth overview of the Speedy’s comprehensive history, reference our past article here. The Omega Speedmaster redefined the history of Omega with Ed White’s famous spacewalk, changing the course of the brand forever. Contemporary Speedmaster Professional models utilize the caliber 1861, a substantial, well-engineered chronograph movement. While this movement is technically impressive and visually beautiful, a subset of enthusiasts have always requested a recreation of the original caliber 321.
In 2018, Omega recreated a 1913 movement using original vintage parts during a limited edition of the First Omega Wrist-Chronograph. Nonetheless, this represented only a reapplication of old parts in the Omega archive; Omega had not actually created a new production of the vintage caliber. In July of 2019, however, Omega released the very first recreation of the Caliber 321 featuring a completely modern reproduction of the movement. This Omega was fashioned from platinum with meteorite sub-dials. While this reference was groundbreaking in its unprecedented re-imagination of the Caliber 321 in the modern era, it remained broadly inaccessible. Additionally, the gem-like platinum and meteorite finishing touches are antithetical to the tool watch spirit of the reference’s heritage.
The broader collector pool was looking for a stainless steel version of the caliber 321 that would bring a closer replication of the original Omega Speedmaster. In 2020 Omega finally answered with the Omega Speedmaster Caliber 321 “Ed White” Chronograph, a stainless steel chronograph featuring a completely reissued, strikingly accurate replica of the original 3rd generation Omega Speedmaster worn by Ed White on the famous space walk that defined Omega’s brand identity in the 20th century.
The stainless steel Omega Speedmaster Caliber 321 “Ed White” Chronograph features several of the foundational attributes of early Speedmasters. The straight, slightly sloped lug profile is a defining characteristic of the most preliminary examples that distinguishes this model from more contemporary interpretations. Additionally, the bracelet fitted on the “Ed White” is in vintage styling with polished outer links and brushed center links. This theme is extended to the clasp, which flaunts polished bevels and a brushed main surface. Although the design of the bracelet is consistent with vintage references, it is far more robust than its predecessors. This allows the wearer to enjoy the visual inspiration of the moon era without sacrificing the long-term reliability.
Prior to 1969, Speedmasters featured a dot over the 90 of the tachymeter scale. With the “Ed White”, enthusiasts were delighted to find the “dot over 90” as consistent with historical precedent. Yet another improvement made to the bezel is the replacement of aluminum with black ceramic as the material of choice. The tachymeter scale is applied in white enamel, all contributing to greater reliability and long lasting strength. Aluminum, by contrast, tends to wear more easily and discolors more readily. The crystal on this Speedmaster is sapphire both on the dial side and movement display back, with anti reflective coating applied to the back side of the crystal and both sides of the display back.
The dial also features several defining characteristics designed to please collectors. Omega has chosen the famous “step dial” layout where a slight bevel (0.05mm) has been applied to differentiate between the main flat of the dial and the minutes track. This detail is often neglected on contemporary references, but Omega has included it here for historical accuracy. Unlike vintage references that received applied indices, the indices on the modern 321 dial are inset into slits cut in the dial surface with slight imitation patina applied to the luminous surfaces. The depth of these slits ensures a greater volume of material that increases the intensity of the lume’s glow. The handset is consistent with the baton-style hands found on the third generation of the Speedmaster, further adhering to the original aesthetics of the Ed White. Additionally, the applied Omega logo is based on the vintage logo rather than the updated aesthetic. Each detail of this timepiece’s execution clearly had the enthusiast collector in mind, one who really appreciates the original visual aesthetics of vintage references.
The true attraction of the “Ed White” Speedmaster is the caliber 321 housed within. The 321 is based on the Lemania 2310 with a lateral clutch column wheel and slower beat rate. The 2310 has served as the template from which many great brands have built their movements. Notably, the Patek Caliber CH27-70, Vacheron Constantin Caliber 1140 and Breguet 533.3. Omega’s application of the 2310 brought the impressive caliber to a utilitarian tool watch with the birth of the 321. Today, with the reproduction of the 321, Omega has set up specialty workshops where a single watchmaker assembles a single movement one at a time. This exclusivity has inherently capped Omega’s production at about 1000 pieces per year. The impressive manual winding movement features 55 hours of power reserve, 18000 vph and 17 jewels. Several elements of the movement further underscore the vintage influences, with a Breguet overcoil hairspring and black polished screws. The bridges flaunt a deep-grained texture and are fashioned from German silver just like the original.
The finishing quality on this movement appears to be slightly more refined than that of the modern 1861 calibers and the action of the pump pushers is exceptionally satisfying. This 321 affords the visual and technical advancements that come from modern manufacturing and long standing standards of quality and craftsmanship. Legendary historically and equally impressive by modern standards, the Caliber 321 is one of the most significant movements in the industry.
Versus the Competition
Alongside the Caliber 321 “Ed White” Chronograph, collectors should consider the original Omega ST 105.003 that the contemporary 321 was based on. This reference affords the opportunity to own a significant piece of Omega history at a similar price point. The only drawback to the vintage reference is that some vintage pieces can be more fragile with parts more difficult to source for servicing. For those that want a more robust piece, the contemporary 321 offers more stability and substantial construction.
The “First Omega In Space” represents another contemporary interpretation of early Speedmasters. Many of the defining attributes of the Speedmaster are shared by both models and the casual onlooker would consider them virtually indecipherable. The First Omega in Space is considerably less expensive, with higher production numbers and no dedicated movement workshop. For the extremely discerning collector seeking specific attributes such as the dot over 90, recreated 321 movement, increased exclusivity, however, the Ed White 321 is unparalleled. If all a collector is looking for is a historically tasteful reinterpretation of vintage Omega, the First Omega in Space is more than sufficient and represents an exceptional value for an everyday watch.
In addition to these references a whole host of vintage Speedmasters such as this one are available. Vintage Speedmasters have achieved a cult following in recent years for good reason. The beauty of the patinated dials and the three dimensionality of the subsidiary registers marry with a utilitarian design that borders on perfection. The more time one spends with vintage references, the more an appreciation for timeless design and respect for precedent is achieved.
In all likelihood, the Omega Caliber 321 “Ed White” Chronograph will not be the first Speedmaster a collector will purchase. The “Ed White” caters to a particular connoisseur that desires the intersection of specific hallmarks of vintage Omega with a modern execution. The display caseback allows the caliber 321 to be exhibited in all its beauty, a feature not found on vintage references. Additionally, the more substantial construction of the bracelet will provide greater security in use. Some collectors will appreciate having both a vintage Speedmaster and the modern 321 in order to better communicate the lineage of the model and complete a Speedmaster collection of pieces.
Regardless of the reason for ownership, the caliber 321 affords the opportunity to acquire one of the most exclusive Omegas of the modern age. Purchasing an “Ed White” Chronograph is broadly a personal decision. Most watch enthusiasts will not even know the difference between various models upon first glance. Thus, the collector that is willing to spend the extra money to own this model will care deeply about the rich heritage of the Speedmaster regardless of what others recognize when they see the watch on the wrist.
The Omega Speedmaster is easily one of the most recognizable watches in the industry. Having been to the moon and back, the Speedy has attained a legendary status that supersedes the watch industry. This particular “Ed White” caliber 321 is an incredibly special representation of Omega’s lineage of models. While Omega has tastefully reproduced this watch with special adherence to historical precedent, Omega has also not shied away from introducing improvements and modern materials. The choice of black ceramic and sapphire on this reference allows this 321 to stand in a league of its own as the ideal intersection of respect for tradition and embracing of innovation. It is this delicate balancing act that has made the Omega Speedmaster Caliber 321 “Ed White” one of the most sought after Omegas in the modern era.