The Omega Speedmaster Turns 60

Regardless of industry, companies that make products are always trying to create that perfect product that can translate not only to great sales, but that can actually become an icon.

In computers, think of the iPhone. The first true Smartphone and it literally changed how every single human who has ever held a mobile phone sees mobile telephony forever.

In the automotive world, think of what it must have been like when in the early 70’s Ferrari introduced the 308 GTB. In an era where most cars were the size of small boats, here comes this sleek, wedge inspired design that literally sliced through the air standing still. It defined Ferrari for a new generation and defined what an exotic sports car is supposed to be, having influenced hundreds of designs afterward.

And in the watch world, while there are many icons, few can compete or compare with the Omega Speedmaster.

But this wasn’t just because it was a cool watch. NASA and their certification process the Speedmaster went through is a big part of the story.

This year, 2017, marks the 60th anniversary of the model that was released in 1957. It was named “Speedmaster” because its dial design was inspired by the speedometers of the various Italian sports car of the day. That's a kind of interesting irony since it’s the relationship with the NASA Space Program of the 60’s that legitimized it as an icon, having put it through a series of tests that Omega, nor any other watch company would have put their watches through.

In fact, the notion that no one really knew how a watch of the day would perform in these tests, and therefore couldn’t really prepare for the testing, in part, adds to the mystique. Plus, we’re talking about space exploration, which is at a whole other level to anything that can be done here on Earth.

When testing began, 4 brands submitted watches, but one was eliminated right away because it wasn’t a watch that could be worn on the wrist. The other three, which needed to be chronographs, were the Omega Speedmaster, a Rolex (most likely the pre-Daytona 6238), and a Longines (most likely with their amazing 13Z movement).

The watches were to be tested in exactly 10 different environments, and the watches had to pass all 10 in order to be certified. If a watch failed a particular test, that failure automatically failed the watch. The reason for this is because the tests were performed starting with the least extreme first, working their way up to the most extreme. This meant there was literally no chance a watch could pass a subsequent test beyond the one it just failed. A pretty efficient and severe way to test. Furthermore, the environments were designed to test hardware that was specifically made for space exploration, thus making these the most extreme tests one could perform on a piece of hardware. As a result, no one at NASA thought any watch could actually get through all 10 tests.

The first test, and therefore the least extreme (easiest) test of the 10 was a thermal vacuum test. If you believe the NASA engineers, it was no surprise then that both the Rolex and Longines failed that test and were therefore eliminated right there and then. The Speedmaster, however, did surprise as it passed the first test with flying colors and went on to pass all 10 tests without issue.

A testament to the very real gap in quality and durability between the Omega and the other two watches.

From Omega's perspective, who knew those tests would actually prevent their demise once the effects of the Quartz crisis set in? In other words, there is no doubt in my mind that if it were not for the manual-wound Speedmaster, and its now iconic status thanks to the NASA certification, Omega would not be around today. At best, Omega would have become another Longines. A mid-tier brand within the Swatch Group heirachy, which is a far cry from what Omega (and Longines for that matter) was pre-1970s.

As a consumer, lets be clear on one specific thing: there is no other contemporary Omega worth owning. All the other models of the Speedmaster, and all the other product lines of Omega are just your regular overpriced, overhyped watches like countless others.

In fact, the Speedmaster, with its Lemania-based manual chronograph movement, which is still used today in 6-figure chronographs by Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin to name just 2 top-of-the-line brands, is Omega’s only example of true Haute Horologie, and is easily the least expensive way into the world of true Haute Horologie.

To that end, if you don't have one yet, what are you waiting for?