Breaking News: Apollo 13 Astronaut Jack Swigert’s Speedmaster Up For Auction
The Apollo 13 story is very famous, and it has even led to problem-solving strategies and processes across different industries. In 2015, I attended a Speedmaster event in Houston, and astronauts Jim Lovell, Tom Stafford, and Eugene Cernan were also present. Jim Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13, told us that day in Houston that the Apollo 13 movie from 1995 tells the story of the nearly fatal mission perfectly.
Jack Swigert timing the crucial 14 seconds during Apollo 13
Also aboard the Apollo 13 mission was command module pilot Jack Swigert. Swigert was known to wear the Omega Speedmaster Professional 105.012 and Rolex GMT-Master 1675 on board the Apollo 13 spacecraft. It was Swigert who timed the 14 crucial seconds during the return flight home (you can read more about this here in an in-depth Apollo 13 article we published). As you likely know, the crew returned home safely, and Omega received NASA’s Silver Snoopy Award. For this award, a certificate and a flown Silver Snoopy lapel pin were presented to contractors and staff personnel who had a significant contribution to a space mission.
Jack Swigert’s Omega Speedmaster Professional BA145.022-69
Omega presented many active NASA astronauts with an 18K gold Speedmaster Professional BA145.022-69 as a token of appreciation. We covered them here on Fratello many times, and we recently touched upon the auction of three astronaut-owned Speedmaster Professional “Tribute to Astronauts” watches from Alan Bean, Gus Grissom, and Ron Evans (read about it here). We also reported on the auctions of Apollo 11 Michael Collins’s gold Speedmaster as well as Wally Schirra’s. The latter fetched a whopping US$1.9 million (including buyer’s premium).
A numbered edition without a number
In total, Omega produced 1,014 of these gold Speedmaster Professional BA145.022-69 watches. It was not a limited edition but a numbered edition, and the watches were engraved with a number on the case back. Omega presented #1 and #2 to President Nixon and Vice President Agnew, who both declined them (astronaut Schmitt also declined his gift). To present the watches, Omega invited several astronauts to a special banquet dinner in Houston, Texas on November 25th, 1969. As you can see below, Jack Swigert did not attend as Apollo 13 took place in 1970. You can read all about this Speedmaster in our Ultimate Guide To The 1969 Omega Speedmaster Apollo 11 Gold BA145.022.
What I find interesting and didn’t know previously is that certain astronauts’ watches, including those of Apollo 13’s Jack Swigert and Fred Haise, did not have an engraved number. As you can see on the picture of the case back, there’s only “Apollo XIII” engraved at the bottom. On those with an engraved number, you can find it below the mission name (or “President/Vice President of the United States” for the first two numbered pieces).
A Speedmaster and Apollo 13 memorabilia
A coincidence, I guess, is the production date of this gold Omega Speedmaster Professional “Tribute to Astronauts” for Jack Swigert. According to Omega’s archives (an Extract from the Archives is included in this auction), this Speedy was produced on April 9th, 1970. That was just a few days before the launch of the Apollo 13 mission on April 11th. This auction also includes memorabilia from Jack Swigert’s private collection. There’s the NASA invitation to the launch of Apollo 13, four NASA US printed color images showing the lift-off, views from space, and Swigert’s Apollo XIII mail envelopes, a telegram from his neighbors, a colorful type-written account of that day’s events from Jack’s sister who was called for comment by media in the ongoing frenzy of those seven fateful days, a mission patch, a commemorative coin, a matchbox, and a pin (see below).
From the Swigert family
Most other astronaut-owned 18K gold Speedmaster Professional “Tribute to Astronauts” watches were already in the hands of collectors or dealers. Jack Swigert’s watch, however, has remained in the family since he received it from Omega. And that’s quite special since this also allowed the auction house to talk to Swigert’s nephew, the owner of the watch. He recalls that Jack Swigert had already passed away in 1982 at the early age of 51, but that he went through his stuff when visiting the Swigert family. He found a cool personalized flight helmet with Swigert’s name on it, but there were no watches as far as he remembers. Those only came later when his grandmother indicated that there were indeed two of Jack Swigert’s wristwatches in the family.
Janet Tham, Specialist of Sotheby’s Watches Department in New York, says:
“More than fifty years have passed since the first successful human spaceflight, and in that time, only a select few have earned the privilege of seeing Earth from outer space. The Apollo 13 mission, like no other, reminds us of what mankind can accomplish against all odds, and this watch — coming to auction for the very first time directly from the family of Jack Swigert — is a memorial of one of the greatest moments in human history. While the watch is a treasure in its own right, the plethora of effects and memorabilia are rarely seen today and represent a new collecting category that excites both collectors of Space exploration, and traditional categories such as Contemporary and Modern Art, Books, and Watches.”
A Rolex and an Omega
You will find plenty of photographs of Jack Swigert wearing his Rolex GMT-Master 1675, even under his space suit. Swigert’s nephew recalls that the GMT-Master was pretty worn and scuffed up. To him, it was clear that the Omega was too precious for daily wear for Jack Swigert. He was impressed by the weight of the watch compared to the Rolex but also because it was a meaningful watch as “it’s certainly no small thing to have been a NASA astronaut!” Swigert’s nephew always stressed to his mother that if she had a choice, she should take the Omega Speedmaster in gold. At some point, she had the choice and went for Jack Swigert’s Omega, so it stayed safely in the family. Until now, that is.
Up for auction via Sotheby’s on June 9, 2023
I have never seen one of the “Tribute to Astronauts” watches in such good condition. I cannot imagine it received much wear if any at all. There’s a bit of patina on the gold, which can easily be removed by the (new) owner. The dial is crisp, and so is the burgundy bezel insert. Often, you will find some damage on these, but that’s not the case with Swigert’s watch. The condition of the case and bracelet (look at that clasp!) reveals that Swigert’s family took good care of this special timepiece. The additional memorabilia makes it interesting, especially because it comes from Jack Swigert’s private collection. However, it’s all about the watch to me.
Sotheby’s estimate of Jack Swigert’s gold Speedmaster is set to US$120,000–180,000. Gus Grissom’s gold Speedmaster recently sold for $375,000, Collins’s Speedy fetched $765,000, and as mentioned earlier on, Schirra’s Speedmaster BA145.022-69 fetched $1.9 million in 2022.
The fact that it was Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert’s watch will probably already give the value quite a boost. Besides Apollo 11, Apollo 13 is the most covered and talked-about NASA mission. The additional curated memorabilia will probably also help. I am no auction expert, but I would guess that this watch fetches at least seven figures.
You can find more information about the Sotheby’s Important Watches auction taking place on June 9th here.