Omega Speedmaster Review

Co-review of The Omega Speedmaster Professional, Stainless Steel Hand-wind (of course). A.k.a. The Moonwatch.


Posted by Matwat and Jas on May 23, 1998 at 01:26:37

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This is a combined review of the Omega Speedmaster Professional. There is hardly a soul on the forum that doesn’t know of this watch, but this review should help field some of the re-occurring questions.


We are both relative newbies to watches – so this will give you an idea of our background and perspective when evaluating the Moonwatch.

Aside from the Speedmaster Professional with Stainless Steel back and Bracelet, “Jas” owns Omega Speedmaster Automatic, Rolex Submariner, Rolex Date and an IWC Mark XII.

Matwat” also possesses a Speedmaster Professional with Stainless Steel back and Bracelet, additionally he owns an Oris Big Crown (1/2 yr), Seiko Analog Q100 (8 yr), Seiko Digital Q100 (17 yr).

(Special thanks to Marshall Grosby “MG” who helped refine our first draft).


The movement’s design and development was begun in the 1940s by Albert Piguet and Jaques Reymond at Lemania. It was started as a project titled “27 CHRO C12″ (27 cm diameter, chronograph, with extra 12-hour totaliser).

Omega 321 Calibre. Note the column wheel at 12; and screwed balance wheel.

The very first Speedmaster model was released by Omega in 1957, and contained the 27 CHRO C12 movement (also called Lemania 2310, or Omega 321). Its unique case design is attributed to Claude Baillod. Omega made some external design changes to the watch in 1960 (black bezel, larger case 39 to 40 mm, dauphine hands replaced arrow-shaped hands).

In 1965 NASA purchased five reputable chronographs (one of which was the Speedmaster) from several jewellery stores in Houston. NASA then proceeded to abuse the watches with tests of extreme environmental conditions. Their aim was to determine if a suitable watch was available for their Space Program. The final three contenders for the “Official” NASA chronograph were a Rolex, Longines Wittnauer and the Omega. The reasons for the Rolex’s departure were that it stopped running on two occasions during the Relative Humidity Tests and subsequently failed during the High Temperature Test when the sweep hand warped and was binding against the other hands on the dial. No other tests were run with the Rolex Chronograph. As for the Longines Wittnauer: “The crystal warped and disengaged during the High Temperature Test. The same discrepancy occurred on a second Longines Wittnauer during the Decompression Test. No further tests were run….” (Japanese Speedmaster Book).

Although its opponents were clearly unsuitable, the Omega didn’t come out of the tests unscathed. The Speedmaster gained 21 minutes during the Decompression Tests and lost 15 minutes during the Acceleration Test. The luminescence on the dial was destroyed during testing, but despite these setbacks, it passed satisfactorily. Furthermore, NASA was going to modify the Omega with two changes: a) replace the bezel with a rotatable 24 hr bezel and b) add additional luminous markings to the elapsed time dials, but these changes didn’t take place due to time constraints.

NASA began using the watch. Omega only found out what NASA had been doing with their watches in April 1966, well after Edward White was the first American to “walk in space” (wearing a Speedmaster on the outside of his suit). To commemorate its success at NASA, Omega added the word “Professional” to the title of the Speedmaster in October 1966.

Meanwhile, since 1965 Lemania had been re-designing the movement. The chronograph function was simplified from column wheel (castle wheel) to a Shuttle/Cam system. And the balance wheel frequency was increased from 18,000 bph (2.5 HZ) to 21,600 bph (3 HZ) which enabled use of a flat balance spring (We also suspect the change from a screwed balance to a smooth balance wheel). This calibre was released in 1968 as Lemania 1873 (Omega 861).

Omega 861 Calibre.

NASA continued using the Speedmaster Professional for all its manned missions including those to the Moon (it is unclear whether they re-tested the new calibre). Then in 1978, prior to the start of the Space Shuttle Program, NASA ran another series of even more extreme tests – this time on 30 different watches. The Speedmaster Professional was the only watch which passed. Apparently the Speedmasters employed by NASA on their STS (Shuttle) flights are hardly ever seen. Most crew members are allowed to wear any timepiece within the Shuttle, but as soon as EVAs are initiated the Speedmaster must be worn. However, examination of Shuttle EVA photos does not show Speedmasters adorning astronauts’ wrists.


Calibre Omega 861 (Lemania 1873)

Hand-Winding Chronograph

17 Jewels


Shock Protection

Diameter 27 mm

Height 6.87mm

Power Reserve 50 hours

Frequency 3 HZ (21,600 bph)

Micrometer screw adjustment for upper and lower cam

Finishing: Polished wheels and pivots; Bevelled and smoothed levers; Bottom plate decorated with circular graining (Perlage); Côtes de Genève ornamentation on bridges and bars. (This is the finishing described in the Moonwatch book, and it is appropriate for the sapphire back models, but we suspect that standard SS back models have a plain finish.)


(Jas): I purchased the Speedmaster from a second-hand watch store. The watch dealer didn’t realise that it was a Special Edition, which came in a cherrywood inner box and cardboard outer box with papers – signed by General Tom Stafford (18 of 4000) and with a token velcro strap. To be honest I didn’t realise it was a Special Edition version until I saw an inscription on the side of the case, “Apollo XI 1969″. I posted an inquiry, which confirmed my suspicion. The Speedmaster isn’t in terrific condition, but maybe it rates eight out of ten. A few nics and scratches on the case and crystal. Altogether not too bad.

(Matwat): I confess that the Moonwatch wasn’t a serious contender for my next watch. I wanted to get a watch with a sapphire crystal. I was looking at uncomplicated watches, with a dressy finish (namely the JLeC Grand Taille). Jas convinced me to look more closely at a second hand Moonwatch available at a dealer he trusted. The watch was labelled at AUS$1600, but Jas got the quote to AUS$1400. It came with a box (which I am fairly sure isn’t the original box), and it didn’t have any papers. Since I purchased the watch my admiration for it has grown in leaps and bounds.


(Jas): The dial is your standard Speedmaster Professional dial, with the pie pan outer edge. It has the ubiquitous three registers chronograph layout: at 3 is your 30 minute counter, 6 is your 12 hour counter and 9 is your constant seconds subdial. Apart from this there are the minute and hour hand and the chronograph sweep seconds. The tritium is outstanding. After all these years, it is clearly brighter and more legible than my new Submariner in the dark. The Speedmaster is rated at 3 ATM (30 meters) Water Resistance, which is probably the minimum acceptable by todays standards. NASA has submerged the Speedmasters in 15 meters of water during tests and operations, but I did not buy the Speedmaster for diving or swimming – my Submariner would feel neglected. Aside from its low water resistancy, the Speedmaster can be worn everywhere with “reckless abandonment”.

(Matwat): This is definitely a practical watch. Matt-black dial with all white indicators (the tritium is actually an ivory colour). A watch doesn’t get much easier to read. All markers, hands, and writing are well proportioned. The sub-dials are indented like small saucers (older versions are simply indented without tapering), and have very fine concentric grooves which can only really be seen with a loupe. The case has a few nooks and grooves where dirt can collect and be difficult to clean, but when it’s clean it is very impressive. The whole watch sits quite high on the wrist. The lugs are rather sharp – with a polished bevelled edge contrasting with the brushed-satin finish. The case is manufactured independent of the movement by a specialist company. The acrylic crystal has a wonderful curve (it grows on you) which extends out from the flat black bezel, and encases the dial and indicators. In the centre of the crystal there is a very small Omega symbol (on the inside). The acrylic crystal scratches easily which is a negative for aesthetics, but it is a definite necessity for the integrity of this famous watch (the Speedmaster that passed the NASA tests had an acrylic crystal).


(Matwat): The crown is nice and large, but is set very far into the watch case (into the case and under the bezel). Earlier versions have a more prominent crown. Winding the crown on my watch was excessively stiff (variable stiffness) and even gave me a blister. A full service solved this trouble, and the winding is gradually becoming less stiff. Adjusting the time is trickier than with my Oris because there is no hack feature (the second hand doesn’t stop when the crown is pulled out), but you can improvise a hack by moving the hands backward a fraction (and keeping that minor pressure on) causing the second hand to halt or even move backwards.

(Jas): My Speedmaster is easy to wind, it is smooth and effortless, only slight pressure is needed.  I can even use one finger to wind it. The crown is signed with the Omega symbol and it is the standard Omega crown used in the Speedmaster Pros. From my experiences with chronographs The Speedmaster Pro is by far the most “accurate” of all Mechanical Chrono’s I’ve used. This is a bold statement, but the button for the start and stop at 2 is firm and sure. There is little or no  play or ride in the buttons, unlike my Speedmaster (auto) and Breitlings, Heuers which I’ve compared it to. Saying this, it is no wonder the Speedmaster Pro was chosen by NASA for space. It was also given the “Snoopy” award by the Apollo XIII crew, which used it for timing their thruster and re-entry burns – talk about putting your watch on the line (although Apollo XIII apparently overshot the landing zone). In my experience, the Speedmaster Chrono function, in NASA’s words, is the most “accurate, reliable and readable” Chrono I have came across.


(Matwat): My Speedmaster has the new bracelet – and it is amazing. Definitely get the new bracelet if you are going to wear it often. Thick oyster-ish links that have no sign of hair pulling. Link adjustment is with split-pins which are hammered into place (I recommend getting a professional to make adjustments). Solid lug-fillers (wont rattle or collect dirt). Curved buckle (very thick). Solid deployant metal segments which fit together – similar to the latest Seamaster clasp. The crisp snap of the clasp assures you that it wont pop undone – a flip-lock would be over-kill.

(Jas): This particular Speedmaster was released in 1989, thus it has the older style SS bracelet, similar to the Rolex President’s Bracelet. Not the nicer ones of today, which I prefer. The bracelet has stretched somewhat, how much I cannot be sure of, but maybe 10 – 15 %. It is signed on the clasp with the Omega logo and a Speedmaster signature. Apparently, they are known to be an irritation for hirsute wrists (fortunately mine aren’t too bad). In the future I will probably upgrade the bracelet for the newer SS Professional one, as on Matwat’s.


(Matwat): Before service the watch was very consistent, but always gaining time (around 9 seconds during the day, and an  additional 8 seconds overnight – regardless of the position that I left it in or if the chrono was running.) After service it appears that the watch gains about 6 seconds per day, or only 4 seconds if I keep it on my wrist overnight. I suspect that this is due to warmer temperatures on my wrist.

(Jas): Before taking it in for a service, it would gain approx. 8 – 10 seconds a day. After having it regulated it gains around 3 seconds a day. For a mechanical watch I hear this isn’t too bad, and in some cases exceptional.


(Matwat): Jas was kind enough to take my watch to Omega (SMH Australia) for a service. They quoted AUS$176 (inc. crystal replacement), and 3 weeks turnaround. Normally it is much quicker, but apparently they were overloaded. The service was completed a few days early. They gave me the old crystal, and the back o-ring gasket which they also replaced. The service is guaranteed for 12 months. SMH also provided me with the instruction booklet (no cost). As part of the Omega Service I must also mention their website. I emailed Omega with the serial number of the watch – asking for some information. They replied in 19 days – telling me that the watch was made in July 1997, and was shipped to Toronto, Canada. It was in this email that they recommended that I request the instruction booklet from SMH Australia.

(Jas): After purchasing the watch, I took it in for a service to SMH. They quoted me AUS$146 for an overhaul. I did this for three reasons. First, not that I didn’t trust the watch dealer, but I couldn’t be sure on the last time it was serviced. He told me it was recently serviced and gave a 12 month warranty on it (you have to remember I’ve never dealt with him before). Secondly, I wanted a second opinion. The service centre said it was mint – whew, but it needed a lubrication – so much for having it serviced recently. Finally, the serial number on this particular watch is listed on the inside case. As opposed to the normal issue Speedmasters which inscribes the number on the lower lug. Otherwise the watch was standard in every other way.


It is a big watch, 40 mm – comparable in size to the Submariner, but feels and looks larger – this is due to the smaller bezel width and the larger dial. Jas’s Speedmaster is lighter than the Submariner, but Matwat’s – with the newer Professional SS bracelet is heavier, hence the Professional bracelet is significantly heavier and “sturdier”. ”MG” has the sapphire back edition on a leather strap, and his watch is dramatically lighter. It is a hefty watch and I would probably wear a leather strap with it if you have a small wrist. It may dwarf your wrist a bit, but it has a nice “technical” presence, and a re-assuring weight. As long as the ends of the lugs don’t extend out past the edges of your wrist you should be okay.


(Jas): I wanted a Moonwatch from the very first time that I learnt about it. It isn’t just the fact that it is a damn fine watch with an excellent pedigree and history – it is the kudos of owning a Speedmaster pro.  As Men in general we are driven to extremes. The fastest, the smallest, the biggest etc… and this carries on to our watches. Look at the Rolex Sea Dweller – 1220 meters, or any watch with a 100 meter water resistance.

Like a friend of mine said once, “It’s not the fact that I’m going to go 1220 meters, it’s the fact that I know I can!” This said, the Speedmaster is the extreme of any watch and one that has been tested and proven – as Omega’s marketing department has so obviously exploited. MG asked a question when he was kind enough to review this article. Would we have bought the watch if it hadn’t been “flight qualified by NASA” and gone to the Moon? The Speedmaster Professional’s main “kudos” is the fact that it has been to the Moon, thus, if this wasn’t a fact, in all frankness I probably wouldn’t have purchased it. But I’m glad it did make it to the Moon.

(Matwat): I have no regrets about spending that amount of money (which is a lot considering that my previous watch was less than half the cost and brand new). However, I feel bad because I know that I have a huge bias toward the Speedy. It looks fine with my suits (my opinion), so I won’t even feel the need to wear the Oris on more formal occasions. The attentions that I use to bestow on the Oris have dropped so low that it has already stopped twice.

Compared to my Oris: The Oris has a feeling and appearance of a gyroscopic toy (elegant and well presented) compared to the Speedy’s feeling of a technical instrument.

The Speedmaster has a history which is indisputable. ”The whole design…you just can’t argue with it.”.


The Moon Watch, Translated by Michael Johnson (from original German text by Ignaz Miller), Omega SA, 1994

Speedmaster Book, Kesaharu Imai (ed.), World Photo Press, Tokyo, Japan, 1997 (JAPANESE)