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The Watch that Went to the Moon

There are a few things celebrating their 50th anniversary this year: Woodstock, the Stonewall Uprising, True Grit.

1969 was a hell of a year, but one of the events that defined the age was the Apollo 11 moon landing. It was the first time that man had set off to space and actually landed somewhere outside of the Earth. It was also when people began to realize that the future was coming, and that it lay beyond the atmosphere.

The Speedmaster’s career in space began in 1964 when NASA reached out to watchmakers, explaining that they needed an official watch that could go to space. The Speedmaster was chosen out of the few who did send their watches to NASA, and it’s the only watch that’s been officially sanctioned by the organization for space travel since.

By 1969, with the success of the lunar landing, everybody learned the names of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. And everybody knew what kind of watch they wore on their historic space outing: the Omega Speedmaster.

After the Apollo 11 mission, the Speedmaster Professional earned the nickname of “moonwatch,” and it was on all of NASA’s six manned moon landings since then. It even even helped saved the lives of the Apollo 13 astronauts when one of the ship’s oxygen tanks exploded, forcing them to return home. Jack Swigert, the pilot for Apollo 13, used the Speedmaster’s chronograph function to time his engine boosts in 14-second intervals, effectively reversing what could have been the worst marooning in history.

Clearly, this is a watch that has earned its place among the stars. And now, 50 years after it first made history, we’re again in the middle of a new Space Age, where companies like Spacex and Virgin Galactic are still pursuing the dream of space travel.

There’s never been a better time to revisit that history.

Photo credit: Omega

The limited-edition Speedmaster Apollo 11 50th anniversary takes a walk in the past. Only, it does so with a thoroughly modern movement. Powering the watch is the new Co-Axial Master Chronometer Calibre 3861, which took four years for the manufacture to design. Matching the dimensions of the Calibre 1861—the movement that went into the legendary moonwatches—the 3861 has managed to cram in hacking seconds (the seconds hand stops when you pull out the crown), a better accuracy rating, and Omega’s trademark co-axial escapement mechanism, which reduces friction by using a pushing motion instead of a sliding motion. (You can watch Omega’s explainer here.)

As for the looks, Omega hit it out of the park with this one.

The gray dial works well with the black sub-dials, and the black hour/minute track sits around it without looking busy. The multi-colored hour markers are also a nice touch, and somehow make the watch feel space-y. At the 9-hour mark, the black seconds sub-dial has an engraving of Buzz Aldrin descending onto the lunar surface, and the detailed image is eye candy even for people who aren’t fans of the moon landing. Astronauts on watches are always cool, and putting an astronaut on a watch that actually went to the moon is even cooler. Flipping to the case back, there’s no display crystal to see the 3861 at work, but you do get one of the most famous quotes from the Apollo 11 mission engraved on the metal: “That’s one small step for a man. One giant leap for mankind.”

Photo credit: Omega

Only 6,969 pieces of the Speedmaster Apollo 11 50th Anniversary will ever exist, so that makes them one of the most sought-after watches in an already popular line. It’s going to be a big year for Omega, and while there might be a few other watches that went to space, they all belong to a very small club. So, any opportunity to relive history on the wrist is always going to make a successful landing.