The history of the Omega Speedmaster begins in 1943 when Omega launched the movement “27 CHRO C12”; CHRO for Chronograph, 27 for the movements diameter in mm and C12 for the 12-hour totalizer. The movement was designed by Albert Piguet. From 1946 it was available with a shock protection system and antimagnetic balance spring. Omega’s name for the “27 CHRO C12” was “321”. The movement was available in a number of cases ranging from 32,5 to 37,5 mm. The case for the Speedmaster was designed by Claude Baillod and in January 1959 Lemania started production. In 1958 began the sales of what was to be THE most well known chronograph. In 1960 the bezel was replaced with a black one, the hands were changed from arrow shaped to “dauphine” and the case diameter grew from 39 to 40 mm. 1965 began the work of designing a new movement and in August 1968 began the assembly of the first “861- calibre” movements. The new movement meant increased frequency from 18,000 (2,5Hz) to 21,600 (3Hz) vibrations per hour. By now the Speedmaster was well into the space program and in April 1966 the addition “Professional” was made to the dial of the Speedmaster to commemorate the debut in space.
The Speedmaster in space
In 1964 NASA sent two employes out to “incognito” purchase five reputable chronographs to be tested for possible use in space. The Mercury program was almost complete and the coming Gemini program with scheduled “space-walks” would require a watch that could withstand the extreme conditions in space. After the first round of tests two of thw five brands were disqualified and after the second round there was only one left… On September 29 1964 NASA ordered twelve Speedmasters from the US Omega importer. They paid retail price, $ 82.50 for the watches and wanted them delivered by October 21. Meanwhile NASA arranged for a series of test to finally determine what watch to use in space. The watches had to cope with:
High temperature: 48 hours at 71º C followed by 30 minutes at 93º C. This under a pressure of 0,35atm and relative humidity not over 15%.
Low temperature: Four hours at -18º C.
Temperature-pressure: 0,000001atm and temperature raised to 71º C. Temperature then lowered to -18º C in 45 minutes and again raised to 71º C in 45 minutes. This cycle was repeated fifteen times.
Relative humidity: 240 hours in relative humidity of at least 95% and at temperatures varying between 20º C and 71º C. The steam had a pH value of between 6,5 and 7,5.
Oxygen atmosphere: Exposure to 100% oxygen atmosphere at a pressure of 0,35atm and a temperature of 71º C for 48 hours.
Shock: Six 11 millisecond shocks of 40g each in six different directions.
Acceleration: Linear acceleration from 1g to 7,25g within 333 seconds.
Decompression: 90 minutes in a vacuum of 0,000001atm and a temperature of 71º C and 30 minutes in the same vacuum but at a temperature of 93ºC.
High pressure: Exposure to 1,6atm for one hour.
Vibration: Three cycles of 30 minutes (lateral, horizontal and vertical), the frequency varying from 5 to 2000cps and back to 5cps in 15 minutes. Average acceleration per impulse 8,8g.
Acoustic noise: 130db over a frequency range from 40 to 10000Hz for 30 minutes.
The tests were completed on March 1, 1965. Three chronographs from different manufacturers were still running, but only the Speedmaster had passed without any of the serious troubles that had occurred with the two others (twisted hands, warped crystals…). NASA stated: “Operational and environmental tests ot the three selected chronographs have been completed, and, as a result of the test, Omega chronographs have been calibrated and issued to three members of the GT-3 crews.” The “GT-3” (Gemini-Titan III) took of 04.52 March 23, 1964 with the astronauts John Young and Virgil Grissom on board. On the next Gemini flight (IV) Edward White left the capsule and became the first American to walk in space. On his wrist was the Speedmaster.
Omega became aware of the Speedmaster being used in space as late as April 1966. The advertising of the Speedmaster changed to “space-watch” and Omega added the word Professional to the dial of the Speedmaster. The biggest moment came when Neil Armstrong on July 21 at 02.56 GMT set foot on the moon. Once again the Speedmaster was a part of history. In fact Armstrong wore Edwin Aldrin’s watch because he had left his own back in the capsule with Michael Collins. During the dramatic flight of Apollo XIII the Speedmaster helped the commander James Lovell to time the firing of the secondary rockets that would take the ship out of lunar orbit and back to earth. For this Omega was awarded the “Snoopy award” by the astronauts. When the americans met the soviets in space in the Apollo-Soyuz “rendez-vouz”, both crews were equipped with Speedmasters. In September 1978 NASA arranged a new series of tests to establish what watch to use for the upcoming Space Shuttle missions and the Speedmaster was again the only watch that that stood up to the test.
TEXT FROM: Omega S.A, “THE MOON WATCH” book