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Omega Moonwatch

James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Entourage, July/August 2009

Do you remember where you were on July 21, 1969 at 02:56 GMT? Neil Armstrong was becoming the first man to step on the surface of the moon. Nineteen minutes later a watch—an Omega Speedmaster—could make a similar claim, strapped to the wrist of fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin. The reason the Omega wasn't part of Armstrong's "one giant leap for mankind"? The mission commander had left his watch on the lunar module as a trusty backup to the Eagle's own electronic timing system, which was malfunctioning.

Hence the legend was born of the ultrareliable, black-bezeled watch that could handle seemingly any extreme. To honor that moment, Omega has issued a special Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch Apollo 11 "40th Anniversary" Limited Edition watch in two configurations—7,969 pieces in stainless and sterling silver and 69 in platinum and yellow gold. The commemorative watches mimic the standard issue Speedmaster, but place a medallion resembling the Apollo 11's eagle-with-olive-branch mission patch behind one of the subdials.

Apollo 11 was not the first space trip for the Omega Speedmaster. Starting with Gordon Cooper's Faith 7 flight, in 1963, it had become NASA's only mission-approved watch. To join the space race, the watch had undergone a series of rigorous tests that proved it could operate in temperature extremes from 160° to 0° F, withstand shocks of 40 Gs, and endure abject decompression and high pressure as well as humidity up to 95 percent.

A distinctive feature common to both the space-bound watches and the commemorative pieces is a Hesalite crystal fashioned from a shatterproof acrylic (etched inside with a small Omega logo on the anniversary edition). At the Basel watch fair, Aldrin revealed that while the crystals didn't shatter on the moon mission, they did pop off once they entered the low-pressure atmosphere of outer space. Nevertheless, the astronaut reported, "the watches worked just fine." Updates to the original moon watch include Omega's Caliber 1861 movement. Both editions are stamped on the case back with the words the first watch worn on the moon as well the limited-edition number of the watch, and the date of the moonwalk. The time is printed on the dial.

Both watches come in presentation boxes with certificates of authenticity. The stainless edition package includes a sterling silver medal engraved with the mission patch on one side and information about the mission on the other. The platinum edition comes in a wooden box with ornamental marquetry. The limited-edition number is embossed on the lid along with the Apollo 11 mission patch.

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