Aside from a well-placed marketing campaign with a conspicuous yet oddly successful UK based secret agent, there are two things that Omega is famous for amongst modern collectors: Speedmasters and limited editions. While often criticized for their reliance on special and limited editions as a marketing tool, the Speedmaster seems to always be successful for the brand. Additionally, special models often become favorites amongst collectors, as the variations supply fodder for fervent enthusiasts. With a unique dial that references a noteworthy bit of history, the Omega Speedmaster Professional Japan Racing Dial has become a desirable modern collectible.
Omega released the Speedmaster in 1957, with the focus of this model drawing on Omega’s history of timing sporting events, especially their role as the official timekeeper of the Olympic Games. With the rise in popularity of motorsports, a legible and reliable wrist worn chronograph was a necessary tool for race teams attempting to gain every second possible.
The first Omega Speedmaster in space was worn by Wally Schirra in 1962, wearing his personal reference CK 2998. It was not until 1965 that the Speedmaster was officially qualified by NASA to go on the Gemini 3 mission. Since then, the Speedmaster’s role in space flight has overshadowed its original racing intentions.
Not content with the success brought by their association with NASA, attempts to improve the original design occurred in the following years. In 1969, the Speedmaster Professional Mark II was released, with a cushion case design and anti-reflective crystal. The Mark III and IV Speedmaster started using automatic movements, along with the introduction of the Speedsonic Electronic Chronometer Chronograph.
With the launch of the Mark II shape, Omega made different dial designs available, including the “racing” dial, including the alternating seconds track to facilitate easy readability of split-second measurements, and an orange and red color scheme for the indications, seconds hand, and sub-dial hands. The dial on the Mark II is completely flat, while the Speedmaster Professional dial has stepped sub-dials. With that, the release of the Mark II overlaps with the release of a small number of lyre-lugged Speedmaster Professionals being released with racing dials. Additionally, there is the “Ultraman” which takes the orange seconds hand from the Mark II, but keeps the more familiar traditional dial and case. The period of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s was a period of experimentation for Omega. All of the original lyre-lugged case Speedmasters with racing dials from this time were delivered to Switzerland.
Fast forward to 2004, and Omega decided to make a re-edition of the Speedmaster Racing Dial as a limited edition of 2004 pieces for the Japanese market. With its unique dial and relative rarity, it has become a collector favorite.
The star of the Omega Speedster Professional Japan Racing Dial is, of course, the dial. With a grey dial instead of the traditional black, the addition of orange chronograph hands (chronograph seconds, hours, and minutes), and orange and red minute track make this Speedmaster stand out. The sub-dials are recessed, adding depth to the dial. The outer seconds track with alternating inside and outside markings for the sub-seconds aids in reading fourths of a second. The outer track being highlighted in red makes for greater contrast between these two tracks. The orange markers at every five seconds highlight the priority of making every chronograph element of the watch as legible as possible. As a bonus, the Omega logo at twelve o’clock is also in orange. Covering the dial is a Hesalite crystal, staying true to the original Speedmaster.
The 42mm wide by 14mm thick case is the standard asymmetrical Speedmaster case used for the 3570 generation of Speedmasters, with the right side being larger serving as protection for the crown and pushers. Because of the asymmetry, the watch does wear a bit smaller than its stated diameter. The outside of the lyre lugs are polished, flowing into a polished edge to the sides of the case. The inside of the lugs and the sides of the are brushed, providing contrast to the case lines. The black ion-plated bezel is another nod to vintage Speedmasters, being a “dot over ninety” bezel. The case back is solid steel, with the Omega seahorse on the back, along with the “Flight-qualified by NASA for manned space missions. The first watch worn on the Moon.”
The bracelet is the standard bracelet for the 3570 generation, consisting of large solid steel links, male end-links, and a milled deployant clasp. It is very much in line with the standard of modern bracelets, minus a quickly adjustable clasp. The male end-links and larger links do add presence to the watch that would be lacking from the late 1960’s originals.
Standard for this generation of Speedmaster is the Omega 1861 caliber. Adding a corrosion resistant rhodium coating to the 861 caliber before it, the 1861 was in production from 1996 to 2021. The caliber 1861 measures 27mm wide, 6.87mm thick, has 18 jewels, a 48-hour power reserve, and beats away at 21,600 bph. Inside is a Delrin chronograph brake, differentiating the movement from the 1863, which has a metal chronograph brake and more luxurious finishing to be displayed underneath a display caseback found in the “sapphire-sandwich” Speedmasters.
Often a neglected point, but the solid caseback Speedmasters have an anti-magnetic cage, which can be seen when removing the caseback. If you are someone who finds yourself often working around magnets, it may be worth considering a solid caseback model of pre-3861 caliber Speedmasters if older models are of interest.
Versus the Competition
If you are interested in collector grade Speedmasters, there likely is not a substitute except for other desirable Speedmasters.
If the orange color scheme is calling, the Omega Speedmaster “Speedy Tuesday” 2 Ultraman is a good option. The dial being the main difference, the “Ultraman” has a more traditional Speedmaster dial with an orange seconds hand, five minute markers, and “Speedmaster” in orange text. Additionally, there is a lumed Ultraman head in the running seconds sub-register, and the watch comes with a black and orange nylon strap. The watch also comes with some very cool Ultraman packaging, so be sure to look for an example with full box and papers.
For something considerably more modern regarding movement technology, there is the Omega Speedmaster Racing Co-Axial Master Chronometer Chrono 44mm. Staying with black and orange, along with having the alternating sub-seconds indications, this reference has orange hour and minute hands, five minute markers, and “Tachemètre” written in orange lettering on the ceramic bezel. Inside is the Omega 9900 Caliber, which includes all of their state of the art Co-Axial and Master Chronometer technology. The latter allows the watch to be anti-magnetic without a faraday cage.
The chronograph hours and minutes are displayed at the 3 o’clock register, allowing for a bi-compax layout. There is a date window at 6 o’clock as well. The 9900 Caliber has a function that allows the hour hand to be set independently without stopping the seconds, which is useful while traveling and adjusting for daylight savings time. The automatic winding caliber adds convenience, but also adds significant thickness to the watch, measuring 16mm thick. The Omega Speedmaster Racing Co-Axial Master Chronometer is also a bit larger than the traditional Speedmaster, measuring 44.25mm wide.
Departing from orange color schemes and racing dials, but still a desirable and limited modern Speedmaster, there is the Speedmaster Professional “Tokyo 2020” Limited Editions. The red bezel with white bezel featured is one of five special edition configurations, each limited to 2020 pieces. There was also a complete set offered in 55 examples. Similar to the Speedmaster Professional Japan Racing Dial, these watches were only available for the Japanese market. Add the fact that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics did not actually take place until 2021 due to the global pandemic, and the Tokyo 2020 Limited Edition Speedmasters have the makings of a future high-value collectible.
The Omega Speedmaster Professional Japan Racing Dial is not for new collectors. While it is completely possible that a new collector may be smitten with the color scheme, most people looking at this watch are either avid Speedmaster collectors, or long time watch enthusiasts.
For the avid Speedmaster collector, the Japan Racing Dial would likely be something added to the collection after a few vintage models have been acquired, likely a pre-Moon watch or two, and some other limited releases. After the greatest hits have been acquired, then unique dial variations would be the only way to satisfy a sense of novelty for the well seasoned Speedmaster collector.
In a similar vein, an experienced collector who has been around for a while may gravitate towards the Japan Racing Dial as their only Speedmaster for the same reason, to satisfy a sense of novelty. They may have wanted a Speedmaster for a long time, but never found the right one. With a reference to the Speedmaster’s past and a unique dial, this reference is definitely unique compared to even many other limited edition Speedmasters.
When it comes to Speedmasters, a dial variation can make a world of difference. The Omega Speedmaster Professional Japan Racing Dial is one of the more bold limited editions that still maintains close ties to the Speedmaster’s history. Offering the convenience of contemporary build quality, the combination of old and new brings this reference to the status of a modern classic. Whether you’re a seasoned Speedmaster enthusiast, or a collector looking for something unique, the Speedmaster Professional Japan Racing Dial is a compelling proposition.