When Neil Armstrong stepped out of the lunar module on July 20, 1969, hundreds of millions of people around the world were squinting at the grainy black-and-white images on their television sets. Once the 38-year-old commander of the historic Apollo 11 mission had descended the ladder and set the first human foot on the moon, they heard him radio back to mission control on Earth, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
After 19 minutes of tentative tests, which included assessing the firmness of the lunar surface and his ability to move about in his bulky spacesuit in the weak lunar gravity, Armstrong’s co-pilot, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, joined him. They set up a television camera, planted an American flag and scooped up rock samples during a moonwalk that lasted just two-and-a-half hours. Their exploits left an indelible footprint in the history of space exploration—and in that of watchmaker Omega, as the mission saw the Omega Speedmaster Professional become the first watch to be worn on the moon.
James Ragan, the NASA engineer responsible for testing the Speedmaster in 1965 before its journey into history, has spoken about the Omega’s importance on the Apollo 11 mission. “The watch was a backup,” he said. “If the astronauts lost the capability of talking to the ground, or the capability of their digital timers on the lunar surface, then the only thing they had to rely on was the Omega watch they had on their wrist. It needed to be there for them if they had a problem.”
It’s half a century since the Omega Speedmaster, conceived as the chronograph of choice for motorsport enthusiasts, became universally known as the Moonwatch. To celebrate, Omega has unveiled a classic Speedmaster in 18-karat gold with onyx hour markers and a burgundy bezel. The Omega Speedmaster Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Limited Edition, which is restricted to 1,014 pieces, comes with a new in-house movement. The manually wound caliber 3861 is an advanced version of the brand’s tried-and proven calibre 861 movement, which is found in many previous Speedmaster chronograph watches. The new movement’s most defining feature is that it uses antimagnetic parts that have passed Omega’s demanding Metas testing regime, which was introduced in 2015 to ensure the utmost precision.
The 18-karat gold from which the 42mm 50th Anniversary Limited Edition is fashioned, an exclusive Omega metal dubbed Moonshine, is slightly paler than traditional yellow gold. The outer ring of the caseback is engraved with “1969–2019” and the inner decorative ring depicts a partial world map of the Americas. A matte-finish black background reads “Apollo 11—50th Anniversary” and “The first watch worn on the moon.”
Although inspired by the Moonwatch, this anniversary piece is based on a commemorative model created for an “astronaut appreciation dinner” that took place in Houston, Texas, in 1969 to celebrate the success of the Apollo 11 mission. Also made from 18-karat gold, the Omega Speedmaster BA145.022 was the brand’s first commemorative numbered edition, with only 1,014 produced between 1969 and 1973. The first two were destined for then-President Richard Nixon and his deputy, Spiro Agnew, but they were returned to Omega as it’s improper for government officials to accept gifts made for marketing purposes. Others were given to NASA astronauts, administrators and a few Swiss industry figures, and the rest were made available to the public.
It goes without saying that the predecessors of the 50th Anniversary Limited Edition have witnessed events that have tested the limits of physical endurance. The Speedmaster has an unrivalled legacy in space exploration, and the latest addition to the line pays homage to an era dominated by daring innovation, another shining example of Omega’s adventurous spirit.