In 2015 Omega introduced the Speedmaster Professional Apollo 13 Silver Snoopy Award reference 322.214.171.124.04.003 in a limited run of 1,970 pieces in steel. The timepiece commemorates the 45th anniversary of NASA’s 1970 Apollo 13 mission to the moon and the 20th anniversary of the corresponding movie by Ron Howard. The watch was initially priced at $7,350 and it is highly sought after by collectors. Recent examples have seen five figure prices at auction.
This watch offers a number of design elements that differentiate it from other Speedmaster references. The most striking is the figure of Snoopy lying prone across the running seconds register located at the 9 o’clock position. It is perhaps surprising to see a cartoon character on a “serious” precision instrument such as a Speedmaster Professional. However, Snoopy has long been used by astronauts to acknowledge some of the most important contributions to spaceflight by the earthbound network of ground crew and contractors. In May, 1969, the Apollo 10 lunar module made a low pass above the moon to “snoop” out the lunar surface in support of the subsequently famous Apollo 11 moon landing. The astronauts nicknamed their module “Snoopy” as a result.
Coincidentally, Charles Schulz, Snoopy’s creator, was a spaceflight aficionado. In early 1969 he added an imaginary lunar trip to Snoopy’s previously imagined aeronautical exploits against the Red Baron. Schulz permitted NASA to use the Snoopy character, free of charge, to promote safety. Subsequently, NASA created the “Silver Snoopy Award.” Recipients are chosen by astronauts in acknowledgement of exceptional contributions to manned spaceflight safety. Award winners receive a sterling silver pin which has flown in space. The Speedmaster Professional Apollo 13 Silver Snoopy Award watch is accompanied by a collectable rendition of the pin.
During the Apollo 13 mission, an oxygen tank exploded on the third day of transit to the moon. NASA rapidly devised a flight plan abandoning the moon landing and the crew was returned to Earth as quickly as possible. During the emergency return, ground control discovered unexpected and anomalous course drift by the Apollo 13 spacecraft. Subsequently, NASA discovered that the craft was reacting to force exerted by unexpected venting of water. NASA calculated that this drift would ultimately cause the craft to “skip” out of the Earth’s atmosphere. The crew was required to execute a number of “mid-course corrections” (MCC) in order to maintain a trajectory which would return them safely to Earth. The navigation computer could not be calibrated because debris from the explosion made it difficult to determine the position of stars so the astronauts manually piloted the craft during a MCC.
One such correction, MCC-5, was portrayed in the movie Apollo 13. Two astronauts controlled the orientation of the craft. NASA wanted the correcting thrust to last 15 seconds so the rocket burn was planned to end after 14 seconds. It fell to command module pilot Jack Swigert to time the burn and he used his NASA-issued Speedmaster Professional to do so. Swigert could validate the chronograph’s elapsed seconds count by using the Speedmaster’s sweeping seconds register during the burn, the exact dial location Omega chose for Snoopy on the 2015 Speedmaster. NASA’s official mission timeline shows that 105 hours, 18 minutes, 28 seconds, and 0 tenths of a second into the flight the burn began. Exactly fourteen seconds later (down to a tenth of a second) the burn ended. For all intents and purposes the Speedmaster and Swigert timed the burn perfectly. Omega received a Silver Snoopy pin for their contributions to this amazing feat.
The mid-course correction burn explains other design elements. There are fourteen squares stretching in an arch on the dial between the applied indices for 12 and. These are designed to evoke a cartoon strip, another nod to Schulz’s oeuvre. Beneath these squares is the question “What Can You Do in Fourteen Seconds?,” a valuable reminder that three astronauts achieved a monumental life-saving task of physics and precision in exactly that amount of time.
On the 42mm dial, a cartoon “thought bubble” rises from Snoopy’s head and declares “Failure Is Not An Option!” In the movie Apollo 13, the lead flight director, Gene Kranz, tells his team that failure is not an option as they develop plans to save the astronauts. The movie script writers were inspired to give Ed Harris (the actor portraying Kranz) this line not because his character actually said it, but rather to convey a fundamental ethos held by ground control whenever a mission faced adversity.
Omega executed a white and black colorway on both the dial and nylon fabric strap of the Speedmaster Professional Apollo 13 Silver Snoopy Award. The Peanuts comic strip, featuring Snoopy and other characters, was ultimately carried by 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries. In most of those publications, Snoopy and his fellow characters were published in black and white. This provided the inspiration for Omega’s overarching color design. Snoopy did appear in color though, often on Sunday editions of newspapers. Collectors can find a splash of colorful blue enamel serving as a backdrop for a Snoopy figure on the caseback.
This depiction of Snoopy is actually a medallion rendered in sterling silver. The materials used for the medallion are suggestion by the inscription “Ag 925” on the box Snoopy carries: Ag corresponding to the periodic table entry for silver and 925 indicating that 92.5% of a sterling silver alloy is pure silver. The inscriptions “Apollo XIII,” “Silver Snoopy Award ‘Eyes on the Stars’,” and “45th Anniversary” are engraved on the caseback.
More color is found in the luminous material employed to enhance the watch’s visibility in low light conditions. The applied hour indices, hour hand, minute hand, and chronograph seconds hand all glow in a green hue. Collectors enjoy the additional surprise of seeing the indicators on the ceramic tachymeter bezel glow in the same hue. Cleverly, Snoopy also glows green in the dark.
The venerable caliber 1861 manual wind movement beats within this Speedmaster reference. The movement is rhodium coated and offers a 48 hour power reserve. The watch is secured to the wrist using a foldover clasp which can be adjusted to fit reinforced holes in the strap.
With the Speedmaster Professional Apollo 13 Silver Snoopy Award reference 3126.96.36.199.04.003, Omega created an incredibly desirable timepiece. It is rare that a watch brand can simultaneously celebrate high historical drama, engineering, precision timekeeping, spaceflight, and a pop culture icon. Robust collector interest in this limited edition reference of the Speedmaster is a testament to Omega’s success in executing resonant design from seemingly dissonant inspiration.