The Fast And The Fratelli — Semi-Finals: Speedmaster Calibre 321 Vs. Speedmaster ST2 Ultraman
We just entered the semi-finals of this The Fast And The Fratelli contest, with a wonderful Traxxas Bandit RC car (scale 1:10) at stake. Now it is getting tough, with two Speedmasters racing each other in this round. The Omega Speedmaster Calibre 321 meets “our own” Speedmaster Speedy Tuesday “Ultraman” edition. RJ’s Speedmaster Calibre 321 is in the left lane, Balazs’s Speedy Tuesday “Ultraman” is in the right. Start your engines.
RJ: I was wearing the Speedmaster Calibre 321 yesterday during the F1 GP in Abu Dhabi. It just felt like an appropriate thing to do. I enjoyed watching F1 this season, although some of the decisions were highly questionable. But the racing has become more interesting, for sure. Mercedes really had to work for it this season.
Anyway, although I have a few Rolex watches (not a Daytona), I decided to go with the Speedmaster anyway, as although labeled “Moonwatch”, it is perfectly suitable for racing as well. It is what the Speedmaster was intended to be used for in the first place when it came out in 1957. It wasn’t until the third generation (reference 105.003) that it became the watch officially used by NASA in 1965. This Speedmaster Calibre 321 was based on that 105.003, and it found its way to (and on) the moon several times. The last time was in 1972, on the wrist of Gene Cernan.
Omega Speedmaster Calibre 321
But, we’re not here for the race for the Moon, but racing on the track. Since the Speedmaster didn’t change very much over time, it is still capable to do what it was made for! Now, the Speedmaster Calibre 321 finds itself in a race against the Ultraman. And man, this feels a bit awkward. The Ultraman was a collaboration project between Omega and us, so it feels a bit like having to compete against one of my own children. So this is not going to be easy.
The right stuff
As I’ve written before, I think the only reason why Omega could do this Speedmaster Calibre 321 watch is because of a few important things. For starters, the possibility for Omega to use the caliber 321 again. For a long time, the only brand that could use this specific Lemania based movement was Breguet. It has been used by Patek Philippe, as well as some others. In the end, though, it was Breguet that had the “rights”. Due to the increasing popularity of the Speedmaster in recent years, Omega was able to build up momentum for this watch to happen, and for this movement to be used again.
Omega had done “re-editions” of vintage models a few times, starting in 1997 with the “Broad Arrow”, and a more accurate version again in 2017, for the 60th anniversary of the Speedmaster. The straight-lug Speedmaster case was re-introduced for the CK2998 models, but it was always with a modern twist. But also the popularity of other Speedmaster variations, including the Ultraman, helped to build up that perfect moment to introduce the perfect Speedmaster. So I firmly believe this watch is here due to a careful build-up, by Omega, but also by the Speedmaster community and fans around the globe.
The Speedmaster Calibre 321 is based on the actual watch worn on the Moon by Gene Cernan. Using modern technology, a scan was made of the watch case and its movement, to make an exact reproduction of both. The caliber 321 inside is nearly identical to the original 321 used in the 1960s, with the exception of the finishing. Whereas the original movement had copper-plated bridges and parts, they’re now plated with Sedna Gold. Side-by-side, it looks nearly identical though. The watch itself is a 39.7mm straight-lug case that is an exact reproduction of Cernan’s Moonwatch, with the exception of the crystal and bezel.
Sapphire and ceramic are used to make it suitable for daily use, and perhaps also (but this is not confirmed officially) because it prevented the Speedmaster Calibre 321 to become an exact replica of the original 105.003. In the end, I wouldn’t have minded a Hesalite crystal and aluminum bezel on this watch, but I am also happy the way it is. It allows me to wear it without worrying about scratching the crystal or bezel insert, which is, given its hefty price tag, a reassuring feeling.
In a different league
I recently wore my Speedmaster Calibre 321 on a leather strap (the one from the Speedmaster ’57 60th Anniversary from 2017, which perfectly fits). This underlined the vintage look & feel of the watch. But, the stainless bracelet that comes with the Speedmaster Calibre 321 is so well made, that I switched back to it quickly again. I’ve had a number of people coming up to me asking if I was wearing a vintage Speedmaster 105.003, but upon closer inspection, it becomes clear it isn’t, of course. The see-through case back, the sapphire crystal, and the clasp are easy giveaways.
This Speedmaster Calibre 321 could easily be the only Speedmaster I’d need (if I weren’t collecting them) in my life. It is, perhaps, the best Omega has done so far. I know I wrote that the new Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch Master Chronometer (caliber 3861) is the best you can get, and I still stand by it, but that’s also because I took the price tag into consideration.
The €14,000 price tag for the Speedmaster Calibre 321 makes it inaccessible to many fans, but that’s applicable to many things in life. The good thing is that Omega has enough alternatives to choose from that are accessible. This Speedmaster Calibre 321 is what the M badge is for BMW, or if we stick to F1, what AMG is to Mercedes. Granted, it doesn’t have all the technological innovations we see in the Master Chronometer movements from Omega. But when it comes to the manufacturing, finishing, and details of the Speedmaster Calibre 321, it is in a different league than the other Speedmaster watches.
Balazs — Speedmaster Ultraman
I’m not Dutch, and neither do I follow F1 like I used to, so Max’s win meant nothing to me. Granted, I’m happy to see yet another new face finishing on top, but that’s about it. Still, I know you guys don’t care about what I think about this motorsport, nor is it important for this tournament. Well, maybe a bit since The Fast And The Fratelli is a motosport-themed contest after all. OK, let’s move on to some more intriguing topics, shall we?
A 321 love story
Man, this is going to be a tough one. The Speedmaster 321 re-ed against the Ultraman. If the pattern I have seen so far continues, this is going to be a close win (yet, still a win) for the 321. I mean, out of the two, it is the cooler watch for many of you. And I have to admit, I’m a sucker for that caliber too. I have a vintage Omega chronograph as well as a Lemania (that I featured here) both housing the legendary 27 CHRO caliber. It is the predecessor of Omega’s iconic 321, the movement that first went to the Moon.
Around 12 or so years ago, I was on the market for a vintage Speedy Pro. I could not decide between a 321 and a Transitional 861. I went with the latter and always regretted that my collection lacks the 321, so last year I finally picked one up. The transitional and the 321 look exactly the same. They are only one year apart as well. However, to me, they could not be more different. Sorry for rambling this long about the 321. At the end of the day, my job is to defend the Ultraman, not to boost the 321 even more.
Let’s get things straight
I wanted to make you understand that I have a genuine love for the 321. I was in Biel when Omega announced the rebirth of the 321. Hell, I even tried on Cernan’s 105.003, the very watch the company used to model the 321 after. Yet, I felt that something was missing. The new 321 is just as great as the vintage one, even better in some technical aspects. Yet, it is lacking the pizzaz each and every vintage 321 possesses, in my opinion. In a way, the new 321 is too sterile, and for a vintage chronograph nut like me, that is somewhat unacceptable. So while I’m happy this contest came to this — a Speedy against another Speedy (I know, I know, some of you might find this boring) — I’m also glad that the Ultraman is in my corner.
The Ultraman might not have a fancy 321 caliber inside, just a “simple” 1861, but that’s all good. After all, you know I use the term “simple” very lightly here as the 1861 is a marvelous movement. At the time when the Ultraman was born, it was THE caliber for modern Speedmasters. Those days are gone and 3861 has taken over that spot, albeit, you could still snag a regular Speedy Pro with a 1861 and the Speedmaster box. Just like I did last year. Yes, I could have gone for the new thing, but I chose the Speedmaster with the “boring” bracelet, the big box, and yes, the 1861. I don’t wear that watch too often, unlike my Ultraman.
A long time ago Mike gifted me a black strap. It’s something he does not do often since his wrist size is equal to that of my 12-year-old nephew. Nevertheless, I love that strap to bits. It’s a simple black leather strap with beige side stitching that matches the Ultraman just perfectly.
Ultraman or nothing
A fine watch with a great strap. What else do I need? Nothing. I don’t need to explain how cool the Ultraman feels on the wrist. I’m sure you all know the awesome feeling when you start the 1861’s chronograph by pushing the top pusher. Maybe the Ultraman is not the perfect racing chronograph, but man, neither is the 321. But it is a modern classic with a ton of character that deserves your attention against a Goliath like the 321 re-edition.
I want to show that behind the “gimmicky helmet on the dial”, or the “artificial hype thanks to Speedy Tuesday” (you said these things, not me) there lies an awesome timepiece. It’s a versatile watch that you can wear both to the office or to the movies. But it’s something that is perfectly capable of being your wrist companion when go-kart racing with friends or timing your child’s laps at swim practice. And when you want to start a conversation about cool but different watches, just show them the helmet or tell the story of the Ultraman TV show. Can the 321 do that?