You might think that cooperation between Omega and NASA stopped after the Apollo program. But that isn’t the case. In fact, the Moonwatch was re-certified for the Space Shuttle missions in 1978. Again, after a tender and some rigid testing procedures, the Omega Speedmaster Professional was chosen again for all manned space flights.
56 Pieces For NASA – Alaska Project III
When NASA certified the Speedmaster again for the Space Shuttle missions, they ordered 56 pieces, of which we’ve found one in the past (in this article of 2012). These watches were slightly different from the regular caliber 861 Speedmaster Professional (145.022) models, as they had a radial dial (we dive into the radial dials in this article). These models were made under the Alaska III project code name. We explained in a previous article about the Alaska projects, which were done by Omega for NASA purposes.
Now, it is quite difficult to obtain one of these radial dial models, as they were officially made for NASA. The regular Speedmaster Professional reference 145.022 continued into the 1980s and later on received a new reference number due to another coding system that Omega started to use. The Speedmaster Professional was (and still is today) the only watch certified for use during EVA by astronauts.
“EVA is a commonly used acronym for Extravehicular Activity, which describes any activity for which a crewmember must go outside the protected “shirtsleeve” environment of the orbiter’s crew cabin.” – NASA.
Besides the Speedmaster Professional ‘Moonwatch’ with hand-wound caliber, astronauts also demanded for a watch with more functionality for use on-board the spacecraft. In 1997/1998, the digital Omega Speedmaster Professional X-33 was a fact. Even today, these watches are still being used by astronauts. The X-33 (‘Skywalker’) today is the 3rd generation and has new functions, developed with the input from ESA (European Space Agency) astronauts.
Gold Speedmasters – Reference 345.0802
Back to 1980. In that year, Omega introduced two gold Speedmasters. A yellow gold Speedmaster and a white gold Speedmaster. Exact numbers aren’t confirmed, but assumed is that there are approximately 300 of these watches in total. 20 in white gold and about 280 in yellow gold.
So what has this to do with the Space Shuttle missions? Well, for quite some time, it was assumed that – because of the Apollo XI 1969 engraving on the back – these gold Speedmasters were some kind of follow-up of the gold 1969 Speedmaster Professional BA145.022 with the burgundy bezel. That would have made sense, if this watch was actually introduced in 1979 and be the 10th anniversary model. But they weren’t.
It wasn’t until recently that we bumped into this white gold Speedmaster Professional BC345.0802 with box and papers. Reading the certificate of authenticity that came with the watch, cleared up a bit of mystery around these gold Speedmasters from 1980. The German text on the black certificate clearly reads that the renewed ‘Flight Qualification’ by NASA for the Speedmaster was the reason for Omega to come up with this limited and numbered edition of the Speedmaster Professional in 18 carat gold.
To our best knowledge, this is the only Speedmaster that we know of that is connected to the Space Shuttle (recertification) other than the 56 Alaska III project pieces, that were clearly not for the public.
When we sat down with Omega at BaselWorld 2016, I actually asked one of their staff members whether this would be the year of a 35th anniversary of the first Space Shuttle mission (first mission was in 1981, April 12th). The response was that there wasn’t going to be one for sure. It seems that the Space Shuttle missions do not speak to one’s imagination as the Apollo missions did, perhaps. At the time, I wasn’t aware of the fact that these gold Speedmasters were in fact connected to the Space Shuttle missions.
Space Shuttle Columbia
A few months later, in June, I noticed a yellow gold Speedmaster Professional BA345.0802 for sale, complete with box and papers. Besides the official paperwork (warranty booklets) and the box, there was also a letter by Omega, written by General Thomas P. Stafford who was chairman of the board at Omega back in those days, about the Omega and NASA connection. Further more, the package contained a picture of the Space Shuttle Columbia and booklet or sleeve with the Columbia STS-1 mission patch with astronaut names Young and Crippen on there. At that time, I thought it was very interesting to see this complete package, but it wasn’t really proof that this was an original package as delivered to the customers of these gold Speedmasters. It could have been something ‘curated’ by the seller of this watch.
Complete White Gold Speedmaster Package
The real evidence that Omega produced the white and yellow gold Speedmasters in 1980 as a tribute to the recertification for the Space Shuttle missions is with the white gold model that we stumble upon. Supposedly only 20 pieces were made of this watch, all for the German market. Of the approximately 280 remaining pieces in 18 carat yellow gold, about half of them are for the German market.
The white gold Speedmaster Professional BC345.0802 we see here comes with the original box (only used for this specific model as far as we know) and a black certification of authenticity, in German. It tells the story of the Speedmaster and NASA, all the way back to 1965. It ends with describing this 18 carat gold Speedmaster Professional with its sapphire caseback and visible chronograph movement being a valuable reminder of its history as well as its future (with the Space Shuttle).
Thomas Stafford’s Gold Speedmaster
An interesting note is perhaps that astronaut General Thomas P. Stafford, who wore the 1969 gold edition of the Speedmaster Professional on board of the Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975, also has this 1980s version of the gold Speedmaster Professional BA345.0802. I talked to him about it in 2014, and he didn’t exactly recall when he received it, but it was somewhere during the 1980s. Later on, in 2015, I met him again while I was wearing the exact same gold Speedmaster Professional BA345.0802, and he recognized it as the same model he has (at that time, he was wearing the meteorite Apollo-Soyuz limited edition Speedmaster). As written earlier, he served as chairman of the board for Omega Watch Corp in the 1980s.
White Gold Speedmaster BC345.0802
Of these gold Speedmasters from the 1980s (they were in production – or at least in the catalog – between 1980 and 1988), the white gold version is the rarest with only about 20 pieces. According to the book Moonwatch Only, it was available with a leather strap and with a white gold bracelet. The one we have here is with the white gold bracelet, which definitely adds a punch to it.
Specification wise, this watch is exactly identical to the yellow gold edition. This means they have a hand-wound caliber 861L movement. The L stands for “Luxe” and refers to the finish of the movement (rhodium plated) and 19 jewels instead of 17 jewels of the standard 861. In fact, the movement is a lot like the much later caliber 1861, introduced in 1997 (and still being used).
The caseback of the watch has a sapphire crystal, that enables the owner to have a glance at the movement. Also, the caseback isn’t the usual screw-down type, but a snap-on. This white gold BC345.0802 was actually the first white gold Speedmaster, ever.
Also, what’s important to know is that these watches are a numbered edition, starting with an A(xxx). However, there are no Bs or Cs. The first 20 numbers should be white gold versions, like this A004. This would mean that a yellow gold A060 for example, is about the 40th yellow gold watch of 60 gold pieces in total. Although the book Moonwatch Only states that this white gold watch was sold to the German market until February 1981, I have a 1984 catalog that still has this model pictured inside. However, it makes sense that this watch was sold out much quicker than the remaining 280 yellow gold watches.
The cool thing about Speedmasters is that we keep on learning and discovering new facts about them. This commemorative edition in gold for the achievements of the Speedmaster Professional with the Apollo program and the (then) upcoming adventure with the Space Shuttle is like a bridge between the 1960s and the 19980s. It is much rarer than the Speedmaster Professional BA145.022 Apollo XI with burgundy bezel from 1969, yet it gets less recognition. Perhaps because the 1969 gold edition has a clearer link with the astronauts (as most of the Apollo astronauts received one, or at least were offered one) and even with the US President at the time.
The yellow gold edition is being offered once in a while. It occurs to me that it has been offered more in the last two years than it was in the years before. Perhaps because this version has been talked about a bit more in recent years. The white gold version is as rare as it gets, especially a full set like the no. A004 that is featured in this article. Having a full set with box and papers (and in this case, all service papers!) definitely adds value to the package (and story).
A big thank you to Roy and Sacha Davidoff for letting us photograph the rare white gold Speedmaster Professional BC345.0802, which belonged to them or might still belong to them. The yellow gold BA345.0802 pictured in the article is my own.
Speedmaster 345.0802 Gallery