NASA recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. This milestone was also significant for Swiss watchmaker Omega. Their Speedmaster watch was worn by Buzz Aldrin when he stepped out of the lunar module and onto the surface of the moon on July 16, 1969. To mark this watershed moment, in 2019 Omega released the Speedmaster Apollo XI 50th Anniversary Limited Series reference 310.60.42.50.99.001 for the price of $34,600. Only 1,014 examples of this timepiece were made available.
The Speedmaster Apollo XI 50th Anniversary is a tribute to an earlier version released by Omega in 1969: the Speedmaster Professional reference BA145.022. With this reference, for the first time the Speedmaster was rendered in yellow gold. Though difficult to track, it is said that Omega only made 1,014 examples of this original reference, hence the odd number for the reissue.
In the fall of 1969 two of these gold Speedmasters were gifted to the then-President and Vice President of the United States. Omega also supplied these Speedmasters to numerous astronauts and Swiss watch industry leaders. This history has cemented the prominent position of gold Speedmasters in the hearts and minds of current Swiss watch collectors, including the actor George Clooney (who owns the 2019 release).
The Speedmaster Apollo XI 50th Anniversary is offered in a gold case, bracelet, and dial. The modern reference is made from a recently invented “Moonshine” gold alloy specially engineered by the manufacturer. A 2019 patent assigned to Omega presents laboratory evidence that their novel 18k gold alloy is less prone to tarnishing and discoloring. Omega achieved this feat by substituting a small amount of palladium for some of the silver which is typically found in 18k gold. Palladium is a member of the platinum group of elements and, among this group, it is the most adjacent to silver. Moonshine gold has a brighter hue than traditional gold alloys. A subtle “Au750” marking is engraved at 12 o’clock on the watch, just above the central cannon pinion holding the hands.
This “hallmark” helps the careful observer differentiate between the 2019 and 1969 editions of the gold Speedmaster. It also signals that, in 18k gold alloys, 75% of the material is pure gold. Moonshine gold follows this standard. In order to further signal the gold content of the watch, the “Swiss Made” mark below the 6 o’clock index is bookended by two “OM” markings. This is an abbreviation for the French term “or massif” which translates into “solid gold” in English.
On the 2019 edition, the chronograph and seconds registers are decorated with turned concentric circular grooves. These contrast nicely with the vertical brushwork on the dial, a design which carries through to the bracelet and facets of the lugs. Omega carefully redesigned the numerical typeface on the chronograph and seconds sub-dials in order to enhance legibility. Hours are indicated by faceted black onyx applied markers. The black onyx colorway is carried through the large chronograph seconds hand, the hour and minute hands (black on gold), the subdial hands, and printing on the dial. The hour and minute indicators are pencil shaped while the large chronograph seconds hand is a unique triangular shape without the spade embellishment often found on Speedmasters.
The ceramic bezel is burgundy in color and alludes to the red in NASA’s logotype. The tachymeter scale on the bezel is matched in color to the gold dial and case (interestingly, the bezel tachymeter scale on the 1969 release introduced a fourth color: silver). This tachymeter scale also includes the “dot over 90” which is so loved by Speedmaster collectors.
The 42 mm case offers 50 meters of water resistance ensured, in part, by a domed scratch-resistant sapphire crystal with dual layers of antireflective coating. The caseback offers a window into the movement through a crystal display. Burgundy engravings on the caseback match the bezel and denote the number of the watch (out of 1,014) as well as “1969-2019.” On the caseback crystal there is a decorative ring marked “Apollo 11 – 50th Anniversary” and “The First Watch Worn on the Moon.” Between these two phrases are renderings of the Moon and the Earth in proper proportion to each other. The Earth decoration includes Florida, the launch site of the Apollo missions and many other NASA flights.
The words “Master Chronometer” are also engraved on the caseback ring, although not in burgundy. A watch achieves the master chronometer designation by passing various quality tests. The caliber 3861 movement within the Speedmaster Apollo XI 50th Anniversary passed METAS chronometer tests for accuracy, resistance to magnetism, and water resistance.
The METAS standard significantly differs from the more common COSC designation in that the entire watch is tested rather than the movement alone. The owner of a METAS certified timepiece can go online with a code to see the test results for their specific watch. The caliber 3861 movement in the Speedmaster Apollo XI 50th Anniversary is the first of the Speedmaster calibers to achieve chronometer certification.
The caliber 3861 is manually wound and offers a compelling 50 hour power reserve. The chronometer functions are controlled through a cam system. The first Speedmaster references relied upon the column wheel system in the legendary caliber 321 movement from Lemania. Watchmakers found that this system was less standardized and more time-consuming to adjust. Omega consequently replaced the column wheel with a cam system in the 861 caliber movement. The 3861 is the most recent descendant of the 861. Omega has beautifully adorned the 3861 movement with finishing flourishes such as Geneva stripes, brushwork, anglage and perlage.
In the Speedmaster Apollo XI 50th Anniversary Limited Series reference 310.60.42.50.99.001, Omega offers a number of compelling propositions to collectors. First, this timepiece is connected to a pivotal historical moment in human spaceflight: the first moon landing of 1969. Then and now, a gold Speedmaster evokes the celebration of an unsurpassed accomplishment of science and engineering. Second, the watch introduces important innovation in materials science that offers practical advantages to the owner. Third, the horology embodied in this timepiece presents collectors with an opportunity to enjoy an outstanding level of accuracy and aesthetics. The Speedmaster Apollo XI 50th Anniversary Limited Series will undoubtedly be sought-after by collectors for many years to come.