The current Speedmaster Professional X-33 Skywalker distinguishes itself from its predecessors by two useful functions for space exploration: mission elapsed time (MET) and phase elapsed time (PET). It also has an extra time zone compared to the first two generations. PET is based on a patented design by ESA astronaut Jean-François Clervoy and addresses a true astronaut’s timing needs, making the watch an interesting tool for those who work in space exploration.
The Speedmaster Professional X-33 Skywalker (reference 318.104.22.168.01.001) has a large titanium case in the same interesting design as the former Speedmaster X-33 models, featuring the typical Speedmaster lugs. The case diameter is 45mm and the case and bracelet have been crafted out of grade-2 titanium, like the older models. Grade-2 titanium tends to become darker over time, which will give it an interesting look. The bezel of this watch has a ceramic ring with a chromium-nitride scale, coated with white Super-LumiNova. The bracelet is a combination of grade-2 and grade-5 titanium. Grade 5 titanium has a high polished finish. The case back is engraved with ‘Tested and qualified by ESA,’ hence the collaboration with eSa astronaut Clervoy. (The case of the 1st generation 3290.50 had only the Seahorse logo, 2nd generation 3291.50 had ‘Flight-qualified by NASA for Space missions,’ the same inscription as the normal Speedmaster Professional 3570.50 family).
The most striking change in the 3rd generation is the completely new look: a more ‘cut-out’ dial in black that exactly fits the horizontal digital printing and information lines. its looks have become a bit more standard in ways of aesthetics (previous generations had a large aperture for the round digital display, in which digital information was provided in round shapes), but the more horizontal information concept connects better to human reading. The X-33 Skywalker provides a complete set of functions: hours, minutes and seconds up to three different time zones; three alarms with different sounds; chronograph and countdown functions and a perpetual calendar with day, date, month, year and week number indications. The digital information is displayed brightly and beautifully illuminated, while the first two generations had a classical LCD with the possibility of backlight. The duration of the lighting is a point of attention, being too short to operate the watch under dark circumstances. The illumination duration cannot be set and it would be better to have another pusher to switch the lights on in order not to interfere with certain actions (as if the car cabin light switch is in the same button as turning on the radio – with the radio turned on, you cannot put on the lights: it will put off the radio instead).
The most important difference between generation 2 and 3 is a function called PET: phased elapsed time. PET combines the traditional function of the timer and alarms and makes it much easier to set them (without troublesome calculations) in different time scales. PET enables automatic initiation of timer (countdown function) and chronograph (elapsed time function). With- out PET, all timers and chronographs are manually triggered. That is a problem if you want a countdown to end at a specified future point in time. PET has an alarm with a built-in countdown function with elapsed time going forward. The profit of PET maybe unclear for the commuting civilian or even a frequent flyer, but then imagine the pilot of a spaceship who has to deal with a series of minutely timed and controlled events. orbital corrections, interplanetary insertions or vehicle rendezvous – timing is of essence. PET can set an accurate time or date for such events, counting down the remaining time to, or recording the elapsed time from that point.
Another use of PET is combining it with Mission Elapsed Time (MET) to calculate the setting of an alarm. This can be very useful in the stressful circumstances of an astronaut, because it replaces thorough calculations. for example: you want to set an alarm for a future point in time. You know the duration, but you don’t know the end point. if the start point is or was at 09:29 and the duration is 1 day, 5 hours and 17 minutes, you can calculate the alarm timer, but under stressful circumstances – tired, in a hurry, overloaded with other tasks and aware of serious consequences of miscalculation – you might prefer PET to set it, using only two settings that need to be made for the alarm to be set at precisely the right time: Mission Elapsed Time (MET) to the start point and PET as duration required.
Most Speedmaster X-33 owners will never make it into space, so this spaceman’s instrument, with its PET and MET may seem useless for the common man. If that would be the case, any smart watch would be useless, too. The personal profit is in applying their functionality. and while timing and planning are crucial in our daily lives, full of demanding schedules and events, the X-33 Skywalker can be a very helpful instrument navigating our distinctive travels through daily lives. naturally, being a second too late in orbit has other consequences than being too late at the barber shop, but as a wise man once said: timing is everything. Within the 24-hour global business activity, operating some- times in several time zones, the X-33 keeps us right on time – and down-to-earth.
The first Speedmaster Professional X-33 (reference 3290.50) was launched on March 25, 1998 at the Houston Space Centre as ‘Marswatch.’ It was a giant leap in design and functions, from the classic Moon- watch to the Marswatch, the latter being the second Speedmaster version approved by NASA for Shuttle missions. It had a titanium case and provided analogue as well as digital information (local time, perpetual calendar, programmable alarm, mission timer, mission alarm, universal time (GMT), universal alarm, count- down timer with alarm and a chronograph). At the time, the X-33 was embedded in military storytelling: it had been developed and tested with ESA and NASA astronauts and elite fighter pilots from the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds. Early prototypes from about 1995 had titanium Seamaster Professional 300M Chronograph cases with four pushers and a large digital display. Some of the early prototype dials showed the name ‘Flightmaster.’
The Omega X-33 had to be operable with gloves. Therefore, the crown had become a pusher, instead of a turner. Pushing it allowed browsing through the several functions, while the other buttons stop, start and correct, activate the light of the display (8 lux) or swap between the current function of the dial (for example date or chronograph) and the mission timer. One of the most remarkable novelties was the very loud alarm (80 dB!), in order to be perceivable in noisy circumstances such as in jet cockpits and space modules. X-33 also had an interesting low-battery indicator: ‘dancing hands’ indicated an almost empty battery. The commercial watch had a red or black Kevlar strap. During the 2000s, Omega released a modified version (3291.50) with a brushed finished bezel (with Luminova dot), satin finished pusher instead of shiny ones, and a new crown design. A titanium bracelet was available and the case back had the “Qualified by NASA …” inscription. The watch was discontinued in the early 2000s until Omega introduced the 3rd generation in 2014. Note that the X-33 was not the first digital-screen Speedmaster. There had been digital quartz watches in the late 1970s: a Speedmaster Professional (ST 1860004) and a non-professional Speedmaster (ST 3860809). Today, these watches have become collectable with prices creeping up a bit.
More information via Omegawatches.com
Paul Dezentjé (The Netherlands) is guest contributor for Fratello Watches and has a special interest in vintage Omega. He used to write for various magazines (print), including a watch magazine. read more