Sunday Morning Showdown: Speed Demons — Rolex Vs. Omega
In this Sunday morning column, two of our writers go head-to-head in an epic showdown for the ages. Strong opinions and hysterical hyperbole are welcome (so feel free to join in with the fun in the comments section below). And don’t forget to let us know which watches you’d like to see torn to shreds/effusively exalted next week. We’ll try and feature as many of our readers’ choices as we can. This week, I feel the need — the need for speed! In a clash of the chronographs, the Daytona 116500LN takes on the Omega Calibre 321 “Ed White”.
But before we race ahead of ourselves, let’s turn our minds back to last week’s brouhaha. I have to say; I was a little surprised to take home the Regatta Trophy. As much as I made an impassioned plea for the Panerai Flyback, turning the tides on the mighty Rolex is a brutal ask. Thankfully, our readers saw past the coronet, recognizing the genuine benefits and usability of the PAM01038 to the tune of 66%. Oh, Rob, how the mighty have fallen.
Omega Vs. Rolex
In last week’s Showdown, I even managed to shoe-horn in my personal and beaten-up Rolex Daytona. This week, I am taking it a step further and pitting the latest Daytona against what is arguably the original racing chronograph — the new-for-2020 Omega Speedmaster Calibre 321 “Ed White”. While these watches differ on specs, for the first time, a steel Omega Speedmaster’s price tag of CHF 13,000 is comparable to that of a steel Rolex Daytona. Yes, I know we are talking sticker price here (which for both pieces is wishful thinking), but if you’re a regular client of Omega and Rolex, and find yourself spoilt for choice, let Jorg and me duke it out on your behalf to split these demons of speed.
Ben — Rolex Daytona
Going up against the Speedmaster on Fratello sounds like a death sentence. Even the zaniest Speedmaster out there, the X-33, condemned Rob to the gallows with a 68% loss. If I were taking on the Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch, then it would be game over. But somehow I feel confident in my Daytona grid spot.
The Speedmaster “Ed White” hit the headlines on the first #SpeedyTuesday of 2020. A great start to what was supposed to be a great year — the less said about that the better. The “Ed White” is a combination of the Calibre 321 movement revival from 2019 with dial and case configuration resembling reference 105.003-63. This 1965 reference takes its nickname from the Astronaut who sported two of these watches during the first-ever NASA spacewalk. It was a surprise to have such a significant release so early in 2020. But even more surprising was the price tag. Especially for those who click on our articles and scroll past the content to check the price first — you know who you are.
Let me spell this out: Thirteen-thousand Swiss Francs. That extra “teen” pushes the Speedmaster onto the racing line of the venerable Rolex Daytona. Why is this momentous? Well, at this point I’m tempted to launch into a loquacious sales pitch, on how great the Rolex Daytona is. But instead, here is an anecdote from British racing driver, Anthony Davidson.
As with any beat-down is the dramatic fight-back.
Davidson drove for the Toyota Gazoo Racing team in the World Endurance Championship from 2012 to 2017. His best result at Le Mans — the most famous race of the calendar — was second place. Toyota fought tooth and nail with Audi and Porsche but somehow lost out in Le Mans each season. But the most brutal beat-downs sometimes result in the sweetest fight-backs. Determined, Davidson pushed himself and the team to improve results. They eventually won the championship in 2014 — albeit without the prestigious Le Mans victory.
But in 2018, Formula One legend, Fernando Alonso, took his seat in pursuit of the “Triple Crown”. The Triple Crown consists of three victories in three disciplines at three prestigious circuits: The Monaco Grand Prix, the 24 hours of Le Mans, and the Indianapolis 500. Toyota saw the benefit of an F1 ace helming their machine. Not only with his raw talent but also the publicity that Alonso brings. Alonso took the chequered flag at Le Mans in 2018 and 2019, alongside teammates Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima.
Perhaps the biggest blow was not for the reason you may think.
These victories checked off the second of the three crowns, accompanying Alonso’s win at the Monaco Grand Prix in 2006. Alonso will also compete at the Indianapolis 500 later this year. As you can imagine, it must have been tough on Davidson to watch his opportunity to win Le Mans slip through his racing gloves. Davidson spoke about his disappointment during the 2018 French Grand Prix as part of the commentary team for Sky Sports F1. But perhaps the biggest blow was not for the reason you may think.
Winning a Rolex Daytona
Upon winning the Rolex 24 hours of Le Mans, all class winners are given a trophy and a Rolex Daytona (no waiting list!). Not just any Rolex Daytona, however, as the watch comes with a special case back inscription marking the success. Missing out on this horological trophy was a sore spot for Davidson. Even though he rarely wears a wristwatch and could easily afford multiple Rolex timepieces Davidson’s attitude demonstrates that a Rolex Daytona is coveted amongst the top athletes in the world. The achievement of earning one the hard way could even outweigh the win itself.
While the Calibre 321 is only just hitting the showrooms now, I cannot foresee how it can match the emotional value of the Rolex Daytona. Jorg, my friend, help me out here.
Jorg — Omega Speedmaster
I have to say it’s a great honor, Ben. You and I are finally facing off in a Sunday Morning Showdown. And we start by taking on one of the most significant discussions enraging the watch community this year. While Rob is off on a week full of “Ostsee fun”, he leaves us battling it out over two of the biggest watches in the game. My guess is he’s chuckling when he thinks of us going at it.
Rob-on-a-boat: Bingo. My sides are close to splitting…
Jorg: But I’ll gladly take up the task of explaining the Omega Speedmaster 321 “Ed White” and why it is a lot more interesting to me than the current Rolex Daytona. Come to think of it, I have been going after Rolex a few times in our series of Sunday Morning Showdowns. You might think I don’t like Rolex. Which is not true, I can assure you. The Daytona Paul Newman ref. 6239 has been a long-time favorite of mine.
The power of a great story
But back to the current Daytona. I love that you have come up with a great anecdote explaining the emotional value of the Daytona. And I love that story! I appreciate we’re not focusing on the Daytona’s design as Robert-Jan and you already discussed at length in a previous edition of our Sunday Morning Showdown. But I’m afraid it’s a slippery slope as the emotional connection people have to the Speedmaster story surpasses the people’s emotional attachment to a Daytona all day every day and twice on Sundays. If there is one thing people love about the Speedmaster, it’s the legacy with all its fabulous stories.
Its connection to humanity’s greatest achievements in the space program and personal stories from Astronauts that wore (and still wear) their Speedmasters is unmatched. This connection is the greatest watch legacy there is. And being able to buy a piece of that legacy and feel an association with space, is as powerful as it gets.
It will spark an emotional connection that the modern Daytona will never have.
And it’s precisely what makes the Speedmaster “Ed White” more interesting to me. Even coming with the same price tag as the current Daytona. While you state you cannot see the new Speedmaster “Ed White” matching the emotional value of the Daytona, I beg to differ. All the excitement, anticipation, and orders placed by enthusiasts are proof of the union they have to the Speedmaster’s legacy and the Speedmaster “Ed White” in particular. Before it is even released! I have no doubts when people experience the new Speedmaster 321, they will not be disappointed. It will spark emotions that the modern Daytona cannot compete with.
Why buy a Daytona?
My question to you in return would be whether you think the majority of people buy the Daytona because of stories like yours? Or is it because the Daytona is an excellent timepiece with street cred and one hell of an investment?
Ben: I cannot speak for everyone, but in the time before social media posers, I believe it was the motorsports connection that drove demand for the Daytona. The ref. 16520 was the first automatic Daytona and came in a bulkier case with crown guards. Paul Newman may have been famous for the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona ref. 6239 with the “exotic” dial that you mention above. But in his later racing years, Newman wore a ref. 16520 from 1995 until his death. The ref. 116500LN I am advocating has the closest resemblance to that sporty 16520 with racing connotations.
Jorg: While I do not disagree that the Daytona has a link to motorsports, I do not think it has been the reason why people buy it for a long time. Even way before social media influenced people. Rolex has been the most prestigious luxury watch brand for decades, and that’s why people will buy a Daytona. And while Paul Newman was racing cars — putting the Daytona in the context where it historically belongs — the spin-off for Rolex was likely more based on his celebrity status than on people’s intentions of actually using it as a sports chronograph.
Ben: With that logic, all Speedmaster owners need to break through the stratosphere to enjoy their watch, no?
A modern recreation
Jorg: Allow me to take it back to the story of the Speedmaster “Ed White”. Omega has based the new Speedmaster on the legendary Speedmaster 105.003 nicknamed after American astronaut Ed White. As Robert-Jan explained in his article about the latest Speedmaster “Ed White”: “He was the first Astronaut using the 105.003 during an EVA on June 3rd, 1965 (Gemini IV mission). The spacewalk took 23 minutes and, on his wrist, the Speedmaster 105.003.” But it gets even better. As you might have read above, he actually wore two 105.003’s on the outside of his spacesuit!
The 105.003 holds an extraordinary place in Speedmaster history.
But the fact that the 105.003 was an active part of such a significant event in history is not the only reason why the release of the new Speedmaster “Ed White” has created such a buzz. As Mike explained in his article, it is also because the Speedmaster 105.003 was the last of the straight lug cases that were produced only from 1963-65, it holds an extraordinary place in Speedmaster history. Taking those two stories and combining them with the use of the legendary Omega Calibre 321 as an inspiration for the new Speedmaster “Ed White” and you have a pretty significant story to tell.
A modern Speedmaster
Bringing that piece of history to life using today’s manufacturing standards has resulted in a simply exceptional product. The new Speedmaster “Ed White” is very much a modern watch. It is a steel Speedmaster with straight-lugs, sapphire crystal, ceramic bezel, see-through case back, and that awesome steel bracelet. And let’s not forget the iconic Calibre 321.
After seeing the new movement in real life and getting a glimpse of the production process, I can only say that the iconic movement has returned in style. Omega has put a lot of effort into creating a modern version of the Calibre 321. By using Sedna gold instead of the original copper plating and giving it a stunning, yet authentic finish. The legendary movement is a feast for the eyes when looking through the exhibition glass.
The Daytona lacks the heart and the soul I love so much with the Speedmaster
That’s what it’s about for me with the Speedmaster “Ed White”. You get to enjoy a modern timepiece that taps straight into the heart, one of watchmaking’s greatest stories. At the same time, Rolex has perfected the Daytona generation after generation, making it the ultimate modern sports chronograph. Although I much appreciate the Daytona’s technical brilliance, it lacks the heart and the soul I love so much with the Speedmaster.
Ben: You spin a good yarn. But, taking all you have said on board, I still cannot get my head around that price hike. Why is this Speedmaster triple the cost of the regular Speedy?
Jorg: I had a feeling this was coming and it’s a fair point. While many people complain about the price of the new Speedmaster “Ed White’, in my opinion, the real “issue” here is actually the price of the current Speedmaster Professional. Basically the Speedmaster Pro is a bargain. For a long time now the price of the Speedy Pro has been too low. It’s weird to say as a consumer but what legendary chronograph can you buy for under €5k? And as Robert-Jan mentioned in his article about the Speedmaster “Ed White” this will change. We can expect to see an increase in price once the Calibre 3861 will be introduced in the regular Speedy Pro.
Not a limited edition
Another point that is good to mention is that Omega is not mass producing the Speedmaster “Ed White”. In a separate production facility, one watchmaker is responsible for the assembly of one watch. Although the new watch is not a limited edition, it will be limited in production. A total of 1,000-2,000 watches will be produced annually. All that attention to detail and craftsmanship does come at a price.
Personally, my first thought about the price was the same as yours. But putting it in writing for this Sunday Morning Showdown has only strengthened my belief that the new Speedmaster “Ed White” is a great watch with an amazing story. And that is why I don’t have a problem with the price.
But after such a long story I think it’s time that our readers will have the final say in what the winner of this battle of the giants will be. So go ahead and tell us if Ben takes the grand prize for a second week in a row or if you agree with the Speedmaster’s great legacy!