Today on #TBT, I’ll take a look at one of my favorite watches: the Omega Speedmaster 105.003 Ed White. Yes, I know, this is two weeks in a row for me with a Speedmaster, but I figured that any time is a good time to speak about a straight-lugged Speedy. And…this one has somewhat of an interesting background that’s worth a listen.
A Straight-Lugged Speedmaster
A few years back, I decided it was time to get serious about tracking down a “premoon” Speedmaster. At that time, vintage Speedmasters were nowhere near as expensive as today, but they were still not easy to find and, much like today, were often filled with replacement or incorrect parts. Still, I hadn’t decided on what watch I wanted and I presumed it would be a lyre-lugged piece like the 105.012 or the 145.012 (which I later ended up buying). Then, I started reading about earlier models with straight lugs and stumbled upon the still-affordable Speedmaster 105.003 Ed White and I was hooked.
The Speedmaster 105.003 Ed White
Produced from 1963-65, although deliveries seem to exist up to as late as 1969, the Speedmaster 105.003 Ed White was the last of the straight lug cases before the arrival of the twisted lug 105.012. (A nice write-up exists here.) In actuality, the two were offered side by side for a period (I’ve placed mine next to a 145.012 above), but the addition of the word “Professional” on the newly introduced and larger twisted cases likely stymied any further success of the Ed. The nickname of the watch, as is often recounted, was given because the astronaut of the same name wore a 105.003 on the first ever spacewalk. You can read more about the history here on one of Robert-Jan’s earlier Speedy Tuesday articles.
I turned my attention to finding a Speedmaster 105.003 Ed White because of the simplicity of its case and also for the fact that it more closely resembles the original 1950’s Speedmasters intended for drivers. So, I ultimately found an example out of the UK and while I was happy with its dial, hands, and bezel, I was unimpressed with a heavily polished upper left lug. Still, I kept the watch and wore it semi-regularly. However, I thought, why not keep an eye out for a case that could be fitted to this otherwise lovely example.
The Unloved Premoon…Until Now
The Speedmaster 105.003 Ed White has always been a bit of an oddity in the Speedy timeline. It has bona fide NASA chops, was used during missions, and was supposedly tested and approved alongside the 105.012 and 145.012’s that were designated as premoons. Still, compared to its predecessors such as the 105.002 and 2998’s, the Ed White was always a laggard as far as value. Credit its long production time as the major contributor or the fact that it seems a little like a transition model from the old dauphine hand straight lugged pieces to the later twisted lug models. Either way, the market now seems to be all over these watches. The days of bargain Ed Whites are over as values have truly risen over the past 12 months.
A “Ratty” Ed White Emerges
So, I watched the market for quite awhile until, right after this past Christmas, I stumbled upon a bit of a mess of a Speedmaster 105.003 Ed White on eBay. Actually a -65 model with a serial number that seems correct but quite late in the series (25.4M). In fact, the watch you see before you was almost universally panned on Omegaforums. I say almost because a few felt the watch could be nurtured back to shape and that there were good bones there. The watch was featured in some pretty bad pictures, had a crown from another brand, and the hands looked rough. Plus, it was selling out of Venezuela, which is not really a place known for vintage watches. The case, though, looked surprisingly decent, and the Omega cal.321 movement looked pretty clean. It had a Dot Over Ninety bezel and the correct hands, so I figured I could at least “part out” the watch after using the case. Then, a week later, the watch was relisted on eBay, but using a Florida address, I figured I’d take a shot at it and hit the “buy it now” button. What was the worst that could happen…after all, I was PayPal protected…
Two days later, I stood on the driveway of my parent’s house eagerly awaiting the arrival of the FedEx truck. I had a real time crunch as New Year’s was coming and I’d soon be on a plane headed across the Atlantic. Thankfully, in the late afternoon, the familiar white truck rolled down the street and the box was in my hands. Some frantic opening occurred and then, standing in the hot Florida sun, I laid my eyes on this wild Speedmaster 105.003 Ed White and I immediately knew that a case swap wasn’t going to happen.
A Gamble Pays Off…
The ratty Speedmaster 105.003 Ed White in the sun was a heck of a lot prettier in person. It was just too good to tear apart and split the pieces up as a donor. The bezel had turned a grey that goes a little blue in the right lighting and the dial had taken on a nice smoky patina. The hands? Well, I like them very much and the corrosion that has afflicted the center chrono hand actually lends the watch a decent dose of character. A safe queen this was not, but nicely worn? Yes. From a “repairs needed” perspective, the two things that stuck out were the fact that the non-factory crystal contained a silver inner ring that should be black and that the movement needed a service. It was keeping great time, but there was some slight creep on the hours register. Off to the Netherlands it went…but you can see how it looked before I sent it above…
A Service is a Good Idea on a 321
In the Netherlands, our communal Fratello watchmaker, Paul, went to work on the Speedmaster 105.003 Ed White. He fitted a correct crystal and serviced the movement. He’s also now on the lookout for a vintage crown (the seller actually actually put a modern logo Speedy crown on the watch, which was a nice bonus). Amazingly, this rough and rugged Omega endeared itself to Paul as he called it one of the prettiest Speedmasters he’s ever worked on – and he’s worked on a lot. So, the ratty Speedy gained an admirer.
Straight Lug Cases are a Lovely Addition to One’s Collection
I received the Speedmaster 105.003 Ed White back from service about a month ago and it’s become a constant wrist companion. A straight-lugged Speedy contains the dial and bezel aesthetics of a later curved lug model, but it’s in a far more rudimentary case. The case actually reminds me of something like an Autavia, however; in this case, the Omega wears larger as it contains a 39.5mm case. Versus its later counterpart, the Ed has 19mm lugs and as you can clearly see, there are no crown guards on the case. I’d certainly love to find a nice 1039 bracelet for it, but it currently does time on a brown Giuliano rally strap.
Ed White’s are Hot
The Omega Speedmaster 105.003 Ed White has truly become a hot commodity. Correct watches undergo fierce bidding on places like eBay and well-priced watches sell quickly on forums. They’re not easy to find with good solid cases that still hold some of their light chamfering and then you still need to ensure that the rest of the pieces (hands, bezel, etc) are original. Depending on what you’re looking for, new OEM crystals, pushers, and super luminova hands may be fitted to watches, but these parts are looked at as replacements. Finding original parts is tough and increasingly expensive. Good Ed Whites now seem to have crested the $10,000 mark and they sell pretty well that that price level or above for great examples. Omegaforums is a good place to ask questions, as you’ll get quick answers. The 321 inside this Speedmaster is a real gem, but these movements don’t appear to reward an owner who is lazy about having their watches serviced. Find a good watchmaker and get it done and you’ll be left with a wonderful runner.
Just a real quick note – I actually saw pictures of my watch recently being used on eBay by an Eastern European seller. I actually went to report the fraudulent listing but it was already down. So, watch out!
Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder
A word on condition… When reading through Omegaforums, you’ll see a real tendency to point out all the imperfections on a watch. While some might find this a bit over the top, it’s probably the right approach to take if you’re truly attempting to pull together a museum quality collection that will stand the best chance of appreciating in value. That being said, one should still consider buying a watch that they’re personally comfortable with wearing or owning. For me, this Speedmaster 105.003 Ed White ticks the right sensory boxes as far as patina and condition. I don’t mind the corrosion, the dents on the bezel and the missing lume on the main hands. The watch all seems to be there and it looks like it has lived a full life. It may not work for you, or for the general collector crowd, though and that’s ok. My point is, as always; buy what you like and as long as you’re not getting duped, feel ok about the purchase!
The Speedmaster 105.003 Ed White now qualifies as “big game” due to its price tag. It’s certainly deserving of its late breaking following but it sure makes me wish I had pounced on a primo example 4 years back or so (of course, we could say that about a pile of different watches). The Ed is a great watch that could stand on its own without the Speedmaster name. The fact that the moniker is on the dial makes it all that much more compelling.