RJ’s Best Tips For Starting An Omega Speedmaster Collection
For Collector’s Week here on Fratello, I thought it would be nice to tell you about collecting Speedmasters. I’ve been doing so since 1999. Even though that still doesn’t make me an expert, I do have some advice for the beginning collector of Speedmaster watches.
There are not that many watches that truly deserve the label “iconic” and, on top of that, are still somewhat affordable. The Omega Speedmaster Professional, however, belongs in that category. You can buy interesting Speedmaster models for a very acceptable amount below €4,000 or go as crazy as you’d like.
Starting a Speedmaster collection
I am amazed that there are still some “undiscovered” beauties out there that can be had for a very decent price. But this article is not about getting the most affordable Speedmaster or finding the very best bargains out there. Rather, it’s about starting a Speedmaster collection.
What makes this watch so interesting to me is that every Speedmaster owner seems to have a story to share. When my Fratello colleague Gerard had his pre-owned watch shop here in The Hague, there was a display in the center of his boutique packed with Speedmasters. Quite often, when entering the shop (it was kind of a hang-out for watch enthusiasts in the pre-social media era) there would be someone in front, above, or under the display to observe the Speedmaster watches inside the glass box.
But even today, I receive a lot of messages from Speedmaster owners who share their personal stories of what this watch means to them. Sometimes it is rather straightforward. It is simply about the association with the Moon landing or about the design of the Speedmaster. But besides the aesthetics or the Moonwatch story, there’s often an even more interesting reason behind owning the Speedmaster. Some inherit a Speedmaster from a father or grandfather. Others commemorate a special life event with one. Then there are people who buy a Speedmaster with the idea of passing it on to a son or daughter.
I have played a role in acquiring some of the Speedmasters that were meant to celebrate special occasions. I’ve helped with a special project that had a very personal and important meaning (which I can’t disclose). I have even been involved in bringing very special astronauts’ Speedmasters home. Some of the stories that came to me have been very emotional, whereas other stories are a bit more product-focused. But what all had in common was the love for the Speedmaster. Even when the reason or event was of greater importance than the watch, the choice of the Speedmaster was a deliberate one.
How I started my Speedmaster collection
My own Speedmaster collection started in 1999 simply by buying one at a local shop. I was still a student but had a huge interest in mechanical watches. The Omega Speedmaster Professional was my grail and one that was achievable. On the one hand, I consider myself lucky for being able to start with a caliber 321-powered Speedmaster Professional. On the other hand, it might have been better to start with a more modern variation.
Back then, Speedmasters with the 321 movement weren’t as sought-after as they are today. Prices were still low, so I wore that watch to bars, clubs, you name it. To me, it was a watch. A nice one, yes, but not something I would keep as a safe queen. So, it also doesn’t look like one. If I had to start over today, I’d buy something I’d be able to wear without too much worry. A big part of the fun of collecting watches is wearing them, right?
Studying the references and history
For quite a while, that was my only Speedmaster watch. I started buying other watches as well, but they were just watches that I liked. I bought some vintage Omega Constellations and Seamasters but also watches from other brands like IWC, Breitling, Panerai, Rolex, Audemars Piguet, et cetera. There was not really a theme governing my collection. I was just buying the watches I liked best. And that works fine, but I also noticed that I enjoyed studying the Speedmaster the most. I liked losing myself in finding out the differences between certain Speedmaster references numbers, the differences between movements, and reading up on the history of the watch. And, of course, I enjoyed reading about the connection between Omega and NASA during the 1960s.
Whereas some people collect military watches, pilot’s watches, or specific movements, I started to focus on the Omega Speedmaster. I guess you can also focus on other brands, but the Speedmaster just speaks to me the most. Compared to watches from Rolex or Audemars Piguet, for example, I also feel you can still develop a nice collection of Omega Speedmasters without spending a fortune.
Speedmasters — Do you go vintage or modern?
Perhaps you already decided to start collecting Speedmasters. Or at least you decided to buy one (and it won’t be your last!). It might be wise to determine whether you just want to have a modern Speedmaster Professional, like the current Moonwatch Master Chronometer, or if you’d like to have a vintage Speedmaster model. As you probably know, the Speedmaster was introduced in 1957. That first model trickled down to the current Speedmaster Professional via many iterations. Those first Speedmaster generations have seen quite an increase in demand by serious collectors. The CK2915 and CK2998 and all of their sub-iterations are fetching very impressive prices at auction. Therefore, I will categorize them as only for the lucky few and very serious Speedmaster collectors. Unless, of course, you were able to source one of those early Speedmasters 10 or 20 years ago.
However, collecting vintage doesn’t always need to break the bank. Some of the pieces of the 1970s are still affordable and obtainable, especially when you go off the beaten path. See what else is out there besides the Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch. As I recently wrote here, the Speedmaster Mark II is still underappreciated. Nevertheless, it has an interesting story to tell; it’s a descendent of the original “Alaska Project” that Omega did for NASA, after all. But in addition, the Speedmaster 125, Speedmaster Mark III, IV, and the like are interesting vintage variations to check out.
The cool thing about vintage is that these watches already had a life. Because of that, they have each aged differently. One can still have a crisp-looking dial with white markers, while others turned brown-ish (tropical) with the tritium having turned creamy or yellow. You can basically hunt for the one that is perfect in your opinion. I always find it interesting to think of what has happened to these vintage pieces. Who owned them, why did they buy them, and what have they experienced? You could say there’s a bit of romanticism to collecting vintage pieces.
Speedmaster Limited Editions — A category of their own
You can also buy modern Speedmaster watches. One could even say you can buy a modern Speedmaster and you’re done. And that’s virtually enough, to be honest. Yes, the modern Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch Master Chronometer is that good. Personally, I like to create my own (hi)story with a watch. I prefer to do that with a new watch than with one that already has someone else’s story.
But what if you want to start a collection, and you don’t want to go down the vintage route? That’s where all the variations come in. Some people complain about all the limited edition Speedmasters that Omega has produced over the years (the first ones being the gold Apollo XI from 1969 and the Apollo-Soyuz from 1975, for example). I really don’t mind all the limited, numbered, or special editions. I have the feeling that those who complain wouldn’t buy them anyway, even as non-limited models. And, honestly, why should they care?
If you like the standard Moonwatch best, buy one, wear it and enjoy it. Let others enjoy collecting the limited editions. As long as the LEs are not copies of other LEs or special editions, I am fine with them popping up once in a while. And it doesn’t mean you need to collect them all. Just buy the ones you like best. I can imagine you’d want to focus on Apollo 13/Snoopy models, or only commemorative Apollo 11 editions, or just all the gold models, for example. You can even come up with a theme within a theme, right? Anyway, Omega stopped producing limited editions (unfortunately), so it will become tougher to obtain them in the future. Some Speedmaster models have already gone nuts, but there are so many that there are still interesting ones left to acquire.
The pitfalls when collecting Omega Speedmaster watches
There are many mistakes to be made when buying or collecting Omega Speedmaster watches. Especially when talking vintage, these mistakes can become incredibly expensive. In the past, buying a Speedmaster with an incorrect set of hands, dial, or case back was somewhat forgivable. But with today’s fanaticism in the collecting world, it simply isn’t OK anymore. It can cost you quite a few bucks to correct those mistakes, as parts aren’t that widely available anymore.
For vintage Speedmaster watches, the boxes and papers are nice to have. But as they usually end up in the attic anyway, I’d rather buy the condition of the watch. And not only aesthetically, but mechanically too; the watch definitely needs to be properly functioning. People often disregard this when they’re too swept away by the beautiful color of the hour markers or a discolored dial.
When buying limited or special editions, I would say it is the opposite as with vintage Speedmasters. Part of the “package” of an Omega Speedmaster limited edition is the box, papers, and certificate of authenticity. When we co-designed the Speedmaster Speedy Tuesday 2 “Ultraman”, the box was a big deal during the project. It’s part of the fun in buying and owning those Speedy limited editions, having the special box and papers as well. Another interesting box is the one from the Apollo 11 50th anniversary models. The steel version comes with a box with a lunar lander-looking watch stand and the Moonshine Gold edition comes with a box that has a Moon crater texture.
Service records and Extracts of the Archives
When collecting and buying Speedmasters, it’s important to keep in mind that when the seller claims it has been serviced, there should be an invoice for that. An overhaul or service is never cheap, so it would be logical to keep the invoice for such an expensive task. If there’s no invoice, the watch has not been serviced. That’s a rule I maintain when buying pre-owned and vintage watches. Keep in mind to include the cost of a service in your budget as well. Omega is very transparent about service costs on its website.
I also often see those sellers of vintage and pre-owned Speedmasters advertise them with the Extract of the Archives. It’s as if it is some kind of proof the watch is all authentic. It’s not. It is exactly what it says it is — an Extract of the Archives. It’s a document that indicates based on the serial number when the watch was produced and/or shipped to a specific country. It doesn’t indicate that the watch you are looking at is in the same condition as it was when it left the Omega factory in Biel.
An Extract of the Archives is a nice document to have. You can see if the movement (that’s where the serial number is located on vintage pieces) belongs to the right case reference or watch reference in general. You can also see when and where the watch was delivered. In some cases, the document includes whether it was a special delivery or that it was a specific model (“Ultraman” or a military piece, for example). However, this document holds no value to the watch when you buy it. You can request it yourself for 120 Swiss francs.
A little help from your friends
“Buy the seller” is a popular one-liner or piece of advice from many watch collectors. But that doesn’t give you any guarantees, in my opinion. It is surely important to be able to trust the seller of vintage or pre-owned watches, but it doesn’t dismiss you from doing your own homework. In the end, no one can claim they’re the expert, as new facts come to the surface all the time and because there are simply too many variations (new or vintage) to claim to know all about them.
To lend you a helping hand when collecting Speedmaster watches, you might want to have a look at the Speedmaster reference page we created. We’ve been covering Speedmaster watches here on Fratello nearly every Tuesday for the last 10 years. We’ve covered an incredible number of references and special versions, packed with as much information as we could possibly find on them. But also have a look at the Speedmaster buying guides we’ve written. Some are generic, while others are for specific reference numbers.
The best reference materials
I can also wholeheartedly advise you to purchase a copy of the book Moonwatch Only. It is a wonderful resource that gives you a lot of information on the details of each and every Moonwatch reference. Then there are books like Magister, showing large, detailed photos of different Speedmaster references. Basically, the more references you have to Speedmaster watches, the better you will be able to compare and study all the differences. A very well-documented website on the Speedmaster is Speedmaster101.com, mainly aimed at collectors of vintage Speedmasters. Finally, aside from useful Facebook groups on the topic, there are the Omegaforums that contain a ton of knowledge in one place.
Click here for our Speedmaster Reference page, and here for all our Speedy Tuesday articles. We wish you luck in collecting Speedmasters, and we hope you enjoy the rest of Fratello Collector’s Week 2022!