Speedmaster Mysteries Unraveled! What Have We Learned During The Past Decade?
Are you about to get sucked into one of those shows about a lost artifact? Will it be an episode that plods on until the last minute to inform you that the lost city of “X” still hasn’t been found? Of course not! This is Speedy Tuesday, after all, and we’re here for you. Today, though, we thought we’d recap some of the Speedmaster mysteries that have been solved since the beginning of this series. (A special thanks to teammate Lex for his participation in our cover shot — he looks as though he’s unfurling the Dead Sea Scrolls!)
Balazs and I were recently podcasting, and we commented about the Speedmaster mysteries that have been solved since Speedy Tuesday first came to light in 2012. We then received a comment about this and decided to write about some of the facts that have surfaced over the past decade. For sure, there’s still plenty to learn, so the “gumshoeing” will continue!
Speedy Tuesday at a glance
Our podcast listener wasn’t necessarily asking solely about uncovered Speedmaster mysteries. The comment referred to how Speedmaster lore has been documented since 2012. For certain, week in and week out, this column serves as a reference point for all topics related to one of the coolest chronographs in the galaxy. Yes, this column does support yet another query we addressed on a recent podcast about whether Speedy fans are the most fanatical in the watch world. Like it or not, we’ve covered the Speedy exhaustively and will continue to do so. Along the way, some rather interesting details have come to light.
The Moonwatch contenders and the real McCoy
One of my favorite resolved Speedmaster mysteries involves the Speedy and some Speedy-adjacent news. Until January 2019 in Biel/Bienne, most felt that the lyre-lugged Speedmasters were the first intended Moonwatches. In actuality, the watch that passed the initial NASA tests was none other than the 105.003 (RJ has penned an incredibly concise story on how this occurred). The 105.012 and 145.012 models came later.
Also, the true identity of the other NASA-tested wristwatches was not public knowledge. We knew that a Rolex and a Wittnauer were in the hunt, but the exact models were a guess. While I don’t recall much speculation about the tested Rolex reference, the Wittnauer was often a topic of discussion. Collectors assumed that NASA tried the spacey reference 242T perhaps because of its all-black dial. However, it was actually the white-dialed 235T that attempted and failed to make it to a spacesuit. For good measure, we also learned that a Rolex 6238 “Pre-Daytona” also got a (moon)shot.
The gold BA345.0802 was limited to 300 pieces
In 2014, RJ met astronaut Thomas Stafford and had the opportunity to photograph his gold BA345.0802. This was a curious watch because it debuted in 1980 as an Apollo 11 commemorative edition. That’s 11 years after the Moon landing, which is an odd birthday. It turns out that it was also a celebration of Omega’s caliber 861 gaining NASA certification for use in the Space Shuttle program. Nearly 10 years ago, many believed the production run to be around 300 units. By 2019, this exact number was confirmed. This is one of those Speedmaster mysteries that hinges upon a small detail, but that’s why we love watches. Oh, and Omega also produced a white gold variant in a truly rare quantity of 20 pieces.
The First Omega in Space (FOiS) uses a new case
The discontinued First Omega in Space is one of the more popular modern Speedmaster watches. Fittingly, the watch debuted at Basel in 2012 for the 50th anniversary of Wally Schirra’s Mercury-Atlas 8 mission. This was an important mission because — you guessed it — Schirra wore his very own Speedmaster CK2998, and it became the first Omega in space. These numbered but not limited watches were beloved during their eight-year production run. Despite the use of a sapphire crystal, the “FOiS” features many vintage touches.
The key detail that fans loved was the use and return of a smaller 39.7mm case with straight lugs. This alone was enough to cause excitement, but many fans didn’t stop to realize that Omega wasn’t offering a 1:1 copy of Schirra’s CK2998. The lugs have bevels or chamfers, and unless they’ve been added to a vintage reference by an overzealous restorer, they’re not “correct.” Does that detract from the FOiS? Not at all, but it’s certainly worth mentioning!
The Apollo-Soyuz quantity confirmed
Back in 2016, RJ wrote about the reference 145.022 Apollo-Soyuz commemorative model that was produced in 1976. Omega produced this curious piece on behalf of Italian distributor De Marchi, and the run supposedly consisted of 500 pieces. However, there was rampant speculation that only 400 pieces saw the light of day. That may not seem like a huge difference, but these watches now easily crest €50K at auction, so facts are important. By 2022, though, RJ had spoken to enough experts, and the number of Apollo-Soyuz models now stands at 500. Per this article, confirmation of the larger run still didn’t hurt auction results. Perhaps it’s because this model is one of the earliest limited-edition Speedmasters. It also represents peace and happens to be quite attractive! Here again, this is one of those Speedmaster mysteries that is all about the details.
The Speedmaster X-33 (still) has real space chops
The Speedmaster X-33 debuted in 1998, and this watch was not some nod to modern trends around digital watches. No, the X-33 was tailor-made for space use, and astronaut Thomas Stafford was involved in its development. It had a titanium case and provided analog as well as digital information — local time, a perpetual calendar, a programmable alarm, a mission timer, a mission alarm, universal time (GMT), a universal alarm, a countdown timer (with alarm), and a chronograph. In other words, this wasn’t your astronaut grandfather’s Speedmaster!
It was certified for use by NASA on shuttle missions but was replaced in 2001 by the second-generation X-33. This watch contained some improvements that you can read about here, which also led to its NASA qualification. NASA still uses it for missions even though it was discontinued in 2010! What’s more, the third-generation X-33 Skywalker is the official equipment of all astronauts and cosmonauts who leave Earth via Russia. Perhaps knowledge about the X-33 doesn’t qualify as one of the Speedmaster mysteries, but I’d guess that few know that these watches actually see action as official equipment.
Speedmaster mysteries still go unsolved
Has the watch community (or even Omega) solved all of the Speedmaster mysteries that exist? Of course not, and there are two topics that we (and countless others)would love to obtain answers on. First (and this would make international news) is the whereabouts of Buzz Aldrin’s Moonwatch from the Apollo 11 Moon landing. Apparently, Aldrin sent the watch to the Smithsonian after the mission, and it was lost on the way. This is, arguably, the most important wristwatch in history, and no one knows where it is. Is Elvis roaming around with it somewhere in Montana?
The second mystery is far more nerdy and would definitely not make international news. However, it would end a lot of speculation from Speedy collectors. Simply put, we want to know how many Speedmaster “Tintins” are floating around within Earth’s orbit! This quiet release from 2013 took a long time to catch on with collectors, but it has achieved a cult-like status. If you read my 2016 article on this watch, note the statistical approach that one person took when trying to unlock the true number of Tintins. Fun stuff!
Only the beginning
If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Speedy fan, today’s article wasn’t news. However, we have new Speedmaster admirers joining the fray every single day, and this can hopefully serve as a small primer on some of the information that has come to light since 2012. It may even inspire some to start detective work of their own to help the cause. After all, there’s always something to learn. With that in mind, what else would you like to know about our site’s favorite watch? Let us know in the comments!