In the pantheon of mechanical wristwatches, the Speedmaster holds a high place. Originally built in 1957 as a reaction to the first wrist-worn chronographs coming out of competing houses, the iconic design – white on black with bold, eminently readable chapter rings and pips – the Speedmaster cemented its place in history when Buzz Aldrin wore his on the moon in 1969. Omega has been flogging that relationship ever since, much to the brand’s benefit and Speedmaster fans rabidly hunt for new and old models like madmen intent on owning stars.
Decades later the Speedmaster has maintained this original styling and functionality and, barring a few odd turns taken in the 1970s and 80s, hasn’t strayed far from the white on black design. This new model, the Moonwatch Co-Axial, pays homage first to the watch’s importance in the space race and, second, to the contributions of one of the greatest modern watchmakers, George Daniels.
I wore this watch for a week in China, alternating it with another GMT watch I own, in order to assess the legibility and usability of the piece. I was initially taken aback for reasons that should be clear to any Speedmaster fan. The traditional Speedmaster, the Professional, has four registers – a running seconds hand at 9 o’clock, a minutes register at 3 o’clock, and an elapsed hours register, going up to 12, at six o’clock, as well as a main elapsed seconds hand. To be clear, the main, “long” seconds hand doesn’t register “running” seconds but is activated by the pushers on the right side of the watch. There is no date on the Professional and it has standard baton hands with lume running the length. The Professional looks like this:
The model I’m reviewing today looks like this:
To the average watch buyer, the difference is, at best, cosmetic. However, to the Speedmaster purist (and I hold myself in that esteemed aviary of nerds) the reaction is horror. “What wickedness is this?” you cry. “Where is the hours register?”
Surprisingly, the hours and minutes register are on the same dial. The minutes turns quickly around the dial at 3 o’clock while the hours hand, slightly shorted than the minutes, turns a bit more slowly. You’ll also notice a date window at six o’clock that replaces the original hour register.
This minor change introduces a great deal of skepticism in the average Speedmaster fan but I’m here to tell you not to fear: this Speedmaster is as good or better than any other Speedy you can own. The legibility is excellent and, once you get past the initial shock, the small register change is more than acceptable. I also loved the small date window, an addition that improves the Speedmaster immensely. Even the date font hearkens back to a simpler time, being in a sort of bold, Art Deco style that you rarely see on watches anymore.
Why do I like this watch?
First, the movement is accurate to a fault and the pushers are strikingly improved over the standard Speedmaster. The co-axial escapement by George Daniels reduces the necessity of maintenance considerably thanks to the reduction in lubricant necessary over the life of the piece. As the owner of a Speedmaster Automatic and a few Seamasters, Omega watches require regular maintenance to remain accurate. I expect this watch to offer years of excellent service, whether you’re travelling to space or not.
The watch comes on a steel bracelet or leather strap and is about 44.25mm in diameter – a bold size to be sure. It is water resistant to 100m but it doesn’t have a screw-down crown so I’d be slightly concerned with giving it much of a bath.
Now for the (relatively) bad news. This watch costs about 7,300 Swiss Francs or about $8,060 USD. You’ll notice that I rail against conspicuous consumption in other posts on this site, as is my prerogative, but I rail against consumption for consumption’s sake. This item is, in short, the epitome of modern horological engineering and mechanics, on par with a handmade Bugatti or, dare I say it, an artifact of equal importance to the lunar lander (at least in terms of horological manufacturing). Non-watch nuts can argue the negative, but the Speedy is a definitive timepiece and deserves at least some modicum of respect.
Where does that leave the beginning collector or, barring that, the fellow who wants a nice watch? Well, I can whole-heartedly recommend this particular Speedmaster without reservation as it takes the best of Omega’s past and future and compresses them into a watch that almost anyone would agree is handsome, bold, and mechanically superior. Watch collectors are an odd bunch, however, so you may want to look at the traditional Professional before diving headfirst into this improvement on the original.
Either way, Omega has, in this watch, remained true to the legacy of the Moonwatch and, more important, improved on their original design without alienating the purist. It’s a hard thing to do – and they haven’t always done it well (see their ridiculous Olympic collection) – and so this Speedmaster is definitely worth a second look.