Collecting the Omega Speedmaster is All About the Details

A Professional model Omega Speedmaster, with spearpoint second hand. The Speedmaster is one of the most challenging modern watches to collect because the number of changes made to the line over the last 50 years.

A Professional model Omega Speedmaster, with spearpoint second hand. The Speedmaster is one of the most challenging modern watches to collect because the number of changes made to the line over the last 50 years.

I have been a collector and a dealer in watches for more than 35 years. It is said that collecting watches is about the details. While this statement may hold some truth for most collectible watches, they’re nothing compared to the pertinent details of the Omega Speedmaster!

The year 2007 marked the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the renowned and historic Omega Speedmaster. No other chronograph watch has been in continuous production for such a length of time. The vast depth and breadth of the models and variations of Speedmasters produced since the introduction of the first Speedmaster, in 1957, is beyond the scope of a single article. The minute and detailed changes Omega has made to the Speedmaster since its birth 50-odd years ago defines the “drastic” distinctions between otherwise very similar models. Instead, what this article hopes to accomplish is a reasonable overview of the early years and the main variations one would see in vintage Speedmasters today.

When the Speedmaster was first produced in 1957, and on subsequent models, changes were often made quickly, with little or no distinction being noted, and with little to no consideration that a couple of decades down the road collectors would have any interest as to when a hand was changed, or a subtle difference in the shape of a letter on a dial, or why some watches would seem to have attributes of either the previous or successor models.

The managers of the production lines in their offices in the late 1950s and ’60s likely weren’t considering the interest their products would be fetching decades later. Just as dinosaurs lived their lives with little regard for today’s paleontologists, Swiss craftsmen in this epoch did their work without much concern for our quest to make sense of it today. They were more concerned with quality, meeting demand, remaining profitable and viable against the competition. As a result, the further one goes back into history, the more blurred the story gets, making it one of the most challenging watches to collect today. The “bugger” is in the details!

The original Omega Speedmaster, produced in 1957.

The original Omega Speedmaster, produced in 1957.

The Speedmaster story begins with the CK2915, also known as “The Original 1957 Speedmaster” and sometimes (inaccurately) as the “Broad Arrow.” Pierre Moinat, the creative director of Omega, developed the main idea for the design. Among his goals: a rugged, more waterproof chronograph with a large, easily read dial. The intended market was professionals and enthusiasts in the aviation, automotive and sporting fields, where ease of reading and usage would be of utmost utility. The design was entrusted to Claude Baillad, while Georges Hartmann crafted the first prototype. The CK2915 was produced in three different series from 1957 through 1958, as officially denoted by the caseback designations: CK2915-1, CK2915-2 and CK2915-3.

The CK2915 model Speedmaster, because it was the first produced, is among the most avidly sought, and pricey to obtain. Omega started to transition to a new case reference standard in late 1962. I’ve been studying Omega Speedmasters for many years, and have yet to find any books or documents that lay out the subtle distinctions between these models. Some Speedmasters were produced with a unique chronograph second hand with a “lollipop” luminous circle located at the end of the hand. These “Lollipop Speedmasters” are very uncommon and fetch high prices when listed for sale. Later Speedmasters adopted a different chronograph seconds hand, which would be used for several years. This new hand had a spearpoint luminous shape, as well as a “spearpoint” counterbalance, as opposed to the original needle shaped hand. Because the early Speedmasters have the unique Dauphine hands, these watches attract more interest and hence higher prices than later Speedmasters.

This series of watches also has the distinction of being the model of Speedmaster that Wally Schirra wore during his Sigma 7 Mercury mission, making it the first Speedmaster to reach orbit. Later on, NASA would purchase Speedmasters for evaluation and testing, and as a result of those tests, made the Speedmaster the standard-issue Astronaut wristwatch.

Rare model

Early 1960s German advertisement.

Early 1960s German advertisement.

Next up is the 105.002. By now, the Speedmaster had moved away from many of the features that made the early Speedmasters unique and unlike the later models. Long gone were the Balane hands, silver bezel, the smaller crown and distinctive caseback marking of those early editions. Most of these changes were made to improve the usability of the Speedmaster: The earlier Balane hands covered up far too much of the dial and often the subdials of the chronograph, diluting the watch’s ability to be used for one of it’s intended functions.

The silver bezel was discarded because pilots and drivers were frequently in bright, sunny conditions and the chance the bezel could reflect the sun’s blinding glare into the wearer’s eyes was very real. Balane hands, as well as newly adopted white painted stick hands, were both produced for this model. The dauphine hands, which were unpainted save for the Tritium luminous inserts, were often difficult to read in certain lighting conditions. So Omega switched to white stick hand. The 105.002 was only in production for a few short months in 1962 and possibly 1963 before Omega formalized the change to white stick hands for the 105.003 model. So this transition model was not produced in high numbers, is exceedingly rare, and hence commands a good price when offered.

Most of the unique differences between the original Speedmaster and the modern Speedmaster had been evolved out of the Speedmaster line after 1963. The 105.003 incorporates most of these changes, though a few differences remain. The “quiet” Speedmaster, as the 105.003 is often called, has the most plain and elegant appearance when compared to models produced prior or after its production.

After Schirra and Gordon Cooper wore the Speedmaster on their Mercury missions (Cooper wore both a Speedmaster and a Bulova Accutron Astronaut), NASA decided that the utility of having its astronauts equipped with a standardized wrist chronograph was beneficial. It began testing candidate chronographs. During the break between Mercury and Gemini, NASA tested chronographs for astronaut use. The eventual winner of the testing was the Speedmaster.

The Omega community has not been able to assemble a full list of the chronographs obtained by NASA, but a partial list has been assembled by Omega and is in collectors’ hands. A few months after Ed White’s Gemini IV spacewalk, NASA photos of the EVA were published in National Geographic. Omega has said that this was the first indication they had that NASA had been issuing the Speedmaster to astronauts. To signify this, Omega decided to rename the model the Omega Speedmaster Professional. Soon, in the fall of 1965, Speedmasters started being produced with dials bearing “PROFESSIONAL” in all caps below the script “Speedmaster” on the dial.

To the Moon

The watch worn to the moon.

The watch worn to the moon.

Over the years there has been much discussion and even debate in the Omega collecting community as to which model Speedmasters actually made it to the moon. The answer is an open one. We can confirm that at least three different Speedmaster case references made it to the moon (along with a Waltham Chronograph). While we can exclude any models made after 1972, we can’t confirm or repudiate other models made before then.

In summation, the Omega Speedmaster is probably the most challenging and confounding wrist watch to collect. On the one hand, since Omega produced many thousands of these watches, they are not hard to find. On the other hand, so many collectors have “taken up the gauntlet” that demand has exceeded supply. Not to mention the near impossible task of acquiring one of each variation. One thing is very clear: few of the other collectible watches in the marketplace today has garnered such interest, historic importance, or consistently retained it’s value.

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My thanks for photographs and Omega info to the late Chuck Maddox, a self proclaimed Omegamaniac.

David Mycko is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in antique and vintage watches.

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  1. lisa hedalen says:

    I have been collecting watches for years now. Watches are very complicated in looking up the values. I believe that I have a few Omega’s at least 1-speedmaster. Would you mind helping me identifying if mine are of value? and if someone you know might be interested in purchasing. I collected these watches at estate sales and small town thrift stores, as well as the garbage during city clean up days. I just can’t believe what people throw out.

    Thanks,
    Lisa Hedalen