The Moonwatch? Fortis And Omega Want To Be The Mars Watch
Timekeeping has been an integral part of space exploration since long before the first manned rocket flight. To watch lovers, nothing better represents the union of time and space than the watches of the explorers who dared to set out into the great unknown. Until now, the focus — both for the missions and watches — was limited to Earth’s orbit and the Moon. But with missions to Mars on the horizon, watch companies are jockeying to become the brand for Mars that Omega has been for the Moon.
Omega isn’t sitting this one out either. If the Omega Speedmaster Professional was good enough for the Moon, it can go to Mars, right? Fortis believes its Official Cosmonauts Chronograph will win out. The brand is even putting it through its paces to make sure. Then there’s a whole host of other watches that may — intentionally or accidentally — find themselves on the Red Planet.
Humans are (probably) going to Mars. Elon Musk, at least, certainly thinks so, and he is working tirelessly towards making it happen. When it does, the first person to set foot on the Red Planet will certainly have a watch strapped to their wrist. Which watch that will be has a lot to do with the political jockeying that’s working itself out in real-time. Fortis has been doing “field tests” with slightly modified Official Cosmonauts Chronographs in the Amadee Mars simulation missions, and with our very own Dave Sergeant and Rob Nudds, who accompanied the brand 145km north of the Arctic circle last November, on the first of many planned missions to test watches in the Stratosphere and Space beyond.
Many Space watches for many missions
Not to be forgotten or left behind, Omega is riding the wave of its immense space legacy, and the Speedmaster Professional will undoubtedly be a contender for those first Martian expeditions.
What makes predicting the “Mars Watch” so difficult is the independent nature space exploration has taken in recent years. Rigidly controlled (and controlling) governmental bodies wrote the first chapter in humanity’s adventures to Space and the Moon. However, it is primarily private enterprise that will usher in the next era of exploration. This leaves the door wide open for unorthodox preferences.
Jeff Bezos famously wore cowboy boots in his company Blue Origin’s first manned flight to space. Think of the rogue Seiko Pogue, the Glycine Airman, and a few others that unofficially found themselves in space. Sure, there will still undoubtedly be weight limits. But there will be hardly any other official oversight for personal belongings/equipment for private-enterprise missions to Mars. As such, the “Mars Watch” could be whatever piece is on the wrist of the lucky (and privately funded) person who sets foot on the Red Planet.
The Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional will go to Mars
Unlike Fortis and some other brands perhaps less serious about actually going to Mars but definitely riding the hype, Omega has done very little to promote itself as a candidate for the Red Planet. Omega has the advantage of being the “home team” of sorts. The open nature of future private space exploration combined with Omega’s Moonwatch history and extensive marketing almost ensures it will be one of the first watches on Mars, if not the first. But Omega hasn’t completely remained coy pertaining to its interest in Mars.
Omega Mars Watch in name only
Back in 2004 — long before Mars seemed like a serious endeavor for government space programs or companies alike — Omega released the rather understated and underwhelming Speedmaster “From the Moon to Mars”, reference 3577.50. It came in a standard box, with no additional papers or press material, unlike some of Omega’s other special editions. But it was a nod to Mars, and the future Omega will undoubtedly have with it. The only differences to the standard Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional reference of the time were an altered case back and the images of Earth, the Moon, and Mars printed within the three sub-dials.
What makes the 3577.50 truly interesting isn’t its unique design or mysterious lack of explanation from Omega. It’s that the watch has, in fact, actually been to space. Sōichi Noguchi, a Japanese astronaut, wore it on his inaugural space flight upon the Discovery space shuttle in 2005.
Even if Omega hasn’t pushed the Mars Watch narrative, some astronauts are looking forward to it. Buzz Aldrin, American astronaut and one of the first two men on the Moon, announced in 2016 that he was working with Omega to design a watch for Mars. I haven’t heard anything about that since but never say never. There may one day be a true Omega Marswatch Professional.
The Moonwatch can survive Mars
The Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional has been good enough to operate in the harsh conditions of space all these years. Is there any reason to believe it can’t adequately survive the harsh Martian landscape? At most, the apocalyptic dust storms that occur on Mars may require more robust seals. But if the movie The Martian has taught us anything, the last place anything from Earth should be — equipment or person — is caught in a Martian dust storm. By the way, Matt Damon’s character Mark Watney wears a Hamilton Khaki Navy BeLOWZERO. Hamilton hasn’t made any official bid to go to Mars for real, though.
But the key fact is, the Omega Speedmaster was not actually built for Space. The clue is in the name and barely required Tachymeter scale that remains a hangover from its racetrack days. Even though history remembers the Omega Speedmaster as the only watch to meet NASA’s criteria, it too failed to pass all the tests to which it was subjected with flying colors.
In fact, no watch has ever really been designed for deep Space travel. A lot of that has to do with the fact that we don’t (and certainly didn’t) know what to expect. That’s why Fortis is taking the conversation beck to the true beginning it never had. On the back of a massive investment and a refreshingly long-term strategy, the brand is working hard with a group of engineers, Space professionals, and my colleagues at Fratello, to properly define a test that could one day be used to accredit watches for Mars missions and deep space exploration.
Fortis really wants Mars
The Fortis Official Cosmonauts Chronograph is already — you guessed it — the official chronograph of the Russian Cosmonauts. It has been to Space, the International Space Station, and on numerous spacewalks. It’s an incredibly robust tool that has proved its merit in Space. Its only downfall may be that it remains under the immense shadow of Omega’s Moonwatch. It’s a poorly dealt hand of history that Fortis aims to correct. With it’s current experimentation in the space beyond our atmosphere.
Amadee as serious testing grounds
Fortis has recently partnered with the Austrian Space Forum for two earthbound endeavors to experiment on what may make human habitation of Mars possible. These partnerships resulted in two radical limited-edition versions of the Official Cosmonauts Chronograph. These were worn by the “Martians” operating within the simulated Mars environments. The Amadee-18 edition was the first, and it saw few updates to the original besides a handsome jet-black coating and mission emblem in the 9-o’clock subdial.
The Amadee-20 model took real steps towards modifying the watch for use on Mars. The case received an upgraded titanium construction. The bezel configuration changed to a countdown type with a ten-minute marking to record the lag in communication between Earth and Mars. The Amadee-20 interestingly forgoes the 12-hour chronograph counter that would be present at 6 o’clock in exchange for a more prominent 30-minute counter at 12 o’clock.
The Fortis Official Cosmonauts Chronograph is ready for Mars
You might think the fact that these watches have seen the best simulation of Martian conditions that Earth can provide and also survived the vacuum of space, a watch company would feel confident claiming its products could make it to Mars without a problem. But that’s not the Fortis way. Under the dynamic leadership of CEO Jupp Philippe, the brand aims to go beyond the bare minimum required for a marketing angle. Instead, the brand is doing real work. Best of all for Fratello (and you guys), is that we’re there with them on the front line.
As the watch industry’s Space authority, the pairing is a natural one. But beyond the obvious match on paper, it is the personalities of the men and women behind this endeavor, at both Fortis and the SSC (Swedish Space Corporation), that makes Fratello the right fit. These are passionate people, whose eyes widen with childlike excitement at the prospect of effecting real change in the future of manned Spaceflight. It is that shared wonder that we can understand. It is that shared wonder that makes you believe change is possible.
If I ever actually entertain the idea that I’ll go to space, so far, a Fortis (or Sinn) will be the watch I’d choose to accompany me. Call me a rebel, but at this point, I revel in being Fratello’s resident Speedmaster poo-pooer. (I actually love the Speedmaster.) Realistically, I’m not going to space, and that’s okay.
TAG Heuer has already been to Mars?
But all this talk of the first watch on Mars is pointless if one has already been there. Back in 2016, TAG Heuer, led by Jean-Claude Biver, and the China National Space Administration announced that China’s future Mars rover would carry a TAG Heuer timepiece to the surface of Mars. The mission was slated for 2020. And we all know what happened then. But after the initial setback of the pandemic, China did get its rover to Mars. The Tianwen-1 successfully landed on May 14th, 2021.
Considering how quiet TAG Heuer has been about the event suggests to me that the partnership was more about marketing than actual results. In the brand’s defense, I imagine a lot changed when Biver retired from the industry in 2018. And to any of these companies’ credit, maintaining interest and allure about Mars and the watches that might go there is difficult when Earth is going through such a rough time.
A different kind of watch pride
People will always be drawn to the watches making history. That’s especially the case when excellent marketing gets involved. But perhaps the pride and joy people will feel with the potentially many different Mars watches will be in seeing the watches they already own surviving the rigors of space and an alien planet to serve those intrepid explorers (or the very rich) in their new Martian lives. So, I guess the trick is to buy the watch you want now. Perhaps that’s one of these likely candidates. Then all you’ve got to do is sit back, with your eyes on the stars, and wait and see. Will your watch become the industry’s next big success story? And if it’s not going to be one of these brands mentioned here, which brand could it be? Let us know in the comments below.