Being a kid in the 1980s, I can vividly remember the early Space Shuttle missions. Because one of the astronauts on board of the 1985 mission was fellow Dutchman Wubbo Ockels, it was extremely well covered in the news here at the time. And in schools, there was a lot of attention on these flights. So besides playing with my Transformers, I absorbed everything that had to do with the Space Shuttle flights at the time. Little did I know about watches, let alone the role of the Speedmaster. A few years later, when I was 12 years old or so, my dad told me that Omega (he wore a Constellation and a Geneve at the time) was the first watch worn on the Moon. It didn’t really mean much to me at the time, yet I remember even where we were when he told me. In October 1999, I bought my first Speedmaster, being a 22 y/o student in The Hague. I spent a lot of time reading about the watch, but there wasn’t much out there on the subject yet. And what was available, turned out not to be correct as we know today. The full story on how the Speedmaster became the Moonwatch, verified by Omega (who has access to NASA archives), can be read in our print magazine that we published last year. You can download a (digital) copy here.
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-qualified (not certified!) for the Space Shuttle missions in 1978. After a tender and some rigid testing procedures, the Omega Speedmaster Professional was chosen again for all manned space flights.
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. The Alaska III with its radial dial has inspired us (and Omega) in 2017 to come up with the Speedmaster Speedy Tuesday limited edition, added with a reverse panda colour scheme.
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 145.022/145.0022 continued into the 1980s and later on received a new reference number due to another coding system that Omega started to use (3590.50). The Speedmaster Professional was (and still is today) the only watch qualified 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 a watch with more functionality for use onboard the spacecraft. In 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.
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 300 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 2016 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.
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. Furthermore, 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.
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 300 pieces in 18-carat yellow gold, about half of them are for the German market. Our photographer Bert and myself, we both own a yellow gold 345.0802 Speedmaster Professional with relatively low numbers, both were delivered in the same week to Germany at the end of 1980.
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).
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.
Of these gold Speedmasters from the 1980s (they were in production – or at least in the catalogue – 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. Unlike I earlier stated, the white gold watches start with 1 and so does the yellow gold version. They are both separately numbered editions. Although the book Moonwatch Only states that this white gold watch was sold to the German market until February 1981, I have a 1984 catalogue that still has this model pictured inside. However, it makes sense that this watch was sold out much quicker than all of the 300 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 a burgundy red 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, but still it is a rare watch. It occurs to me that it has been offered more in the last few 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 hen’s teeth, 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.
*This article was first published on December 20th, 2016. The text has been updated/photos have been added or changed since then.
Ever since he was a young child, Robert-Jan was drawn to watches, even though it were digital Casio and quartz Swatch models at the time. In the mid-1990s, his interest increased when he started to read about mechanical watches in... read more