Some refer to it by its full name, Speedmaster, while many others already endeared to this icon of horology prefer the shortened “Speedy” diminutive.
…And this is without considering all of the other versions out there like the “Silver Snoopy”, “Golden Panda” or “Sapphire Sandwich” that have themselves earned unique nicknames (as you can see).
Whichever way you put it, and in any of its widely varied iterations, the Speedmaster remains an essential component of even the most elaborate wristwatch collections.
In this guide, we’ll be tracing back to its earliest days, exploring the evolution of the Moonwatch through to the modern day.
We’ve also covered some exceptional non-Moonwatch watches which, although they may not have traveled into space, are noteworthy Speedmasters nonetheless.
History Of The Omega Speedmaster
The history of the Omega Speedmaster is not only extensive but also quite nuanced, so much so that breaking down model-by-model could quickly become dull. For this reason, we’ve divided this guide into two sections: the Moonwatch and the non-Moonwatch Speedies.
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The Early “Pre-Moon” Speedmasters
If the Omega Speedmaster watch of the modern day is known for anything, it’s for being the first watch worn on the moon. Yet upon its release in 1957, ironically enough, the first ever Omega Speedmaster CK2915 was marketed to scientists, engineers, directors, and athletes (or their coaches).
Therefore, nowhere was it advertised as the astronaut’s watch.
It’s often difficult to assimilate that, in that time period, a chronograph was considered a professional tool and an uncommon function in a wristwatch. This is what made that first ’57 Speedmaster so revolutionary and what sparked the cult-like following that exists today.
The 1957 Speedy wasn’t alone at inception, though. The model was introduced to the public as part of a trilogy of professional Omega watches. Accompanying it were the first ever Omega Seamaster 300 (CK 2913) and the Omega Railmaster (CK2914).
A commemorative edition to this historic trilogy was released in 2017. We’ve reviewed it in detail if you want to peruse our rich selection of photos.
Nevertheless, the Omega Speedmaster stood out among its peers. Not only was it the first ever chronograph with a tachymetric bezel, it also boasted a sturdy Lemania 321 caliber, a 60m depth rating, anti-magnetic components, and shock-proof technology.
Also of note on the first Speedies was the presence of what are now known as “Broad Arrow hands” accompanying a lumed tri-register dial. The subregisters, of course, boasting the 3-6-9 conformation that we all know and love.
Interestingly enough, these two simple design choices in the early years would go on to permeate essentially all of Omega’s watch collections, not just the Speedmasters, for decades to come.
The CK 2915 performed well but the model was only in production for a few short years. The Swiss watchmaker understood that they had something special at hand, and subsequently began to build on that foundation.
The Speedmaster CK 2998
Little time (if any at all) was allowed to pass between the sunset of the CK 2915 and the introduction of the CK 2998, the second generation of Speedy. In fact, both events occurred simultaneously in 1959.
The 2998 was a clear step in the direction of the Speedmaster of the present day. And while the overarching design remained unchanged, small adjustments were made.
Beginning with the bezel, which now featured a black tachymetric insert that has become a hallmark of the Speedmaster. Omega also started testing new hands, both at center axis and in the subdials.
The First Omega In Space (FOIS)
Perhaps the most important aspect of the CK 2998 deals not with its looks but with those who chose to wear it. Wally Schirra, an American astronaut, would be the one to give rise to one of Omega’s most important claims to fame and one of the horology world’s most popular legends.
On October 3rd, 1962, Schirra launched into space and completed 6 orbits of the Earth on NASA’s Mercury-Atlas 8 space mission. Yet perhaps most memorable of all, at least for watch nerds, is the fact that he did it with an Omega Speedmaster ref. CK 2998 strapped to his wrist. He may not have intended it – the Speedy was a personal possession – but it was on that day that the Speedmaster Moonwatch was born.
The “Modern Vintage” Speedmasters
Between 1962 and 1963, Omega stopped using the “CK” reference style and moved into the six-digit era with two parallel models. Naturally, with this change also came some adjustments to the design of the Speedmaster.
Differentiated from each other only by case size, the ref. 105.002 and 105.003 would bring with them additional progress toward the modern Speedy. For example, these two early ’60s Speedmasters were marked by the use of white stick hands, very similar to the contemporary ones. They were also the last references to use what are known as “straight lugs” that, as we’ll discuss later, were redesigned down the line.
The 105.00X were also one of the few Speedmaster to be offered with different types of bezel inserts. The traditional tachy option was still available, but telemetric and pulsometric bezel scales, among others, were also offered.
These Speedmaster references, more specifically the 105.003, would go on to become the first Speedies to be tested by NASA for space flight certification. Yet the highest glory, that of the moon landing, was to come with the subsequent reference.
The First Speedmaster Moonwatch
The 1963 reference ST105.012 was the first time the public caught a glimpse of the Speedmaster aesthetic that persists today.
It is in this reference that the lugs, known as Lyre lugs, take on a horizontal slant at their ends and a sharp angle on top. The case has also increased in size, now 42mm in diameter from 40mm. This allowed for recesses on the case flank that act as integrated crown and pusher guards in the middle case itself.
But it wasn’t the design that earned the ST105.012 the Moonwatch moniker. It was the fact that both Armstrong and Aldrin wore one on their historic mission to the Moon’s surface.
Powering the ST105.012 was a Lemania/Omega calibre 321, the same movement used in Speedies since the beginning. It was also the workhorse movement that allowed the Speedmaster to excel in NASA’s certification tests (1965) and grant the dial the trademark “Professional” text.
Unfortunately, this movement would soon be changed.
The following Speedmaster reference, the 145.012, would be the last version to use the 321 movement (until 2019). This would, in turn, serve as a clear line in the sand for modern collectors between a “true” Moonwatch, one with the exact same movement that went to the moon, and all the rest.
A New Movement For The Moonwatch
The year 1968 saw Omega release a Speedmaster reference that would stand the test of time longer than any before it. This was the reference 145.022, a Speedmaster produced for 20 years, or until 1988.
The biggest variation in the 145.022 was not external but internal; the movement had been changed to an Omega calibre 861 from the previous 321. The main difference between these two being that the 321 was a column-wheel chronograph, where the 861 was cam-operated.
For those not familiar with the difference, the column-wheel chronograph is characterized by a “smooth start”, where a cam-operated variety often causes the seconds hand to “jump” when it is actuated.
This potential change in pedigree of the movement is attributed to cost-reduction measures, possibly due to the quartz watches that were first coming to market the same year. Nevertheless, the 145.022 would go down in history as the Speedmaster reference with the most lunar missions under its belt.
The All-Gold BA145.022
Not too long after the debut of the 145.022, humans would take their first steps on the lunar surface and, most importantly, they’d do it with a Speedmaster on the wrist.
And while the reference on the moon wasn’t actually the 145.022, this did not deter Omega from denoting the achievement on all Moonwatches produced thereafter. NASA’s official certification, “Flight Qualified By NASA For All Manned Space Missions,” would also work its way onto Speedy casebacks.
The brand went even further, releasing the commemorative BA145.022, a 1014-piece limited edition. It was a Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional constructed completely of 18K yellow gold with a burgundy bezel, both design aspects being a first for the model.
Fast-forward to 2019 and Omega released what is essentially a re-edition of that historic gold Speedmaster, this time to mark 5 decades since the lunar landing. Similar only in design, the modern version features all of the latest Omega technology along with their new proprietary gold alloy, Moonshine gold. Like the original, it is also limited to 1014 numbered pieces.
The Birth Of The Modern Speedmaster
As mentioned above, the 145.022 ran until 1988, though before it was discontinued it would earn NASA’s certification once more, this time for use in the Space Shuttle Program, in 1978.
Replacing the 145.022 was a more modern Speedmaster with reference 3590.50. In this instance, Omega upgraded the luminous on the dial to Tritium and changed the design of the bracelet slightly. Other than this, not many other changes were made.
The 3590.50 lasted from 1989 until 1997 when the 3570.50 came along with more changes. This time, the long-standing Omega 861 movement received some upgrades, namely rhodium-plating, and was re-introduced at the 1861.
Omega marketed the calibre 1861 as “the famous manual-winding movement that was worn on the Moon” which can create a bit of confusion. While it is true that the movement was worn on the Moon, it wasn’t the first movement worn on the lunar surface.
As we alluded to earlier, this can appear like a small difference to the uninitiated, but is actually a huge factor for collectors. Similarly, this characteristic can make for significant price fluctuations in vintage watch auctions.
The Present-Day Speedmaster
The 3570.50 remained a staple of the Omega catalog until 2014, when it was finally replaced by the current Speedmaster Moonwatch model, the 3188.8.131.52.01.005.
In the same year, Omega also introduced an “upscale” version of the Moonwatch under the reference 3184.108.40.206.01.006. This version features the same exact design, with the exception of a sapphire crystal and sapphire caseback that earned it the nickname “Sapphire Sandwich”.
Since the movement was to be exposed via the see-through caseback, Omega also chose to refine the finishing of the movement which in this iteration is called the Omega calibre 1863.
And so we’ve arrived to the modern Speedmaster offerings which, as you can see, are surprisingly similar to the original watch first envisioned in the ’50s.
Of course, in this recap we’ve skipped over a lot of special editions and ‘spin-offs’ that originated from the Speedmaster ethos but are not Moonwatches per se. So, in the following section we’ll be noting the most popular of these special editions, though not before taking a look back at where these modified Speedmasters got their start.
The Non-Moonwatch Speedmasters
While the name Speedmaster is tied most directly to the Moonwatch, there is a whole ‘nother side of the Speedy family that begets mention; we’re loosely calling these the non-Moonwatch Speedmasters.
By non-Moonwatch, we’re referring to models that are a step away from the original hand-wound, chrono-only, hesalite-crystal, full-bracelet Speedy. And though taking a step away from the successful “OG” Moonwatch seems like poor choice, the design of the Speedmaster resulted in such a versatile and timeless aesthetic that it continued to produce hit after hit for the brand.
The Omega Speedmaster Alaska Project
During the early years in which Omega supplied Speedmaster Chronographs to astronauts, there also happened to be some additional projects taking place below the fold. These initiatives were completed in conjunction with NASA and in complete secrecy, earning the code name “Alaska Project.”
The goal of the Alaska Project, which began around 1967 (previous to the Moon landing), was to bring about a timepiece that could withstand extreme temperatures and while maintaining its physical integrity and accuracy during space missions.
To achieve this, Omega designed a red anodized aluminum shroud that encased the watch and purportedly provided the specified durability. The case shape was also altered, with the bezel being removed and instead replaced by a graduated scale printed on the inside of the watch face. The dial was white, a color chosen for its reflective virtues, and was marked by red chronograph subregister hands in the shape of rockets.
The Alaska Project watch pictured above was the first of four different prototypes which Omega produced, all of which were tested by NASA and some even made it into space. Nevertheless, the ongoing search for the ultimate space watch was eventually scrapped.
Not all was lost, though. The knowledge gained by the Swiss brand in the Alaska Project trials was promptly implemented in production pieces throughout the decades, ultimately elevating the quality and specification of the Omega timepieces that made it on to customer’s wrists.
These Alaska Project prototypes also went on to inspire the 2008 limited edition Speedy “Alaska Project” ref. 3220.127.116.11.04.001, one of the most eye-catching Speedmasters ever, as well as a new sibling to the Speedmaster Moonwatch, the Speedmaster Mark Series.
The Speedmaster Mark Series
The Mark series first made its debut in 1969 as the Mark II ref. 145.014. The watch featured the tall “egg” shaped case that was similar to the Alaska prototype’s shape, although it was in steel as opposed to the Alaska’s titanium case. Beating inside, as with the Moonwatches and the Alaska Project watch, was an Omega calibre 861.
The Mark II also boasted the integrated bezel, which was not an external component but essentially part of the dial itself. The case possessed no lugs and, like the Moonwatch, used recesses in the case flank as guards for the crown and pushers. Lastly, the domed Hesalite crystal was replaced with a flat mineral variety that offered increased scratch-resistance.
The Mark II proved successful and gave way for a different style of Speedmaster that thrived alongside the beloved Moonwatch. It can also be said that, as the first ‘spin-off’ of the Moonwatch, it lay the foundation for an entire generation of Speedies to come in the following decades. Omega evidently acknowledges its importance, too, having released a nearly identical re-edition of the Mark II in 2014.
The First Automatic Chronometer Chronograph
The Omega Speedmaster 125 ref. 378.0801 was released in 1973 to celebrate Omega’s 125th anniversary. It’s no surprise that the brand chose their Speedmaster platform to commemorate the date, but a simple Speedy special edition just wouldn’t cut it.
For this 2000-piece limited edition, the Speedmaster received not only a new case and look, but also a date function. Most importantly, the Omega calibre 1041 inside imparted chronometer performance, marking the first time an automatic chronograph met the strict COSC specifications.
The Speedmaster 125 also boasts a modular construction allowing for the movement to be switched out and placed in another case if necessary, again a first for the Speedmaster. Moreover, it’s equipped with an integrated bracelet, a feature not encountered in the Moonwatch or Mark series and which had proved quite successful in the AP Royal Oak released just one year earlier.
While strangely shaped and perhaps oversized (even by modern standards), the Speedmaster 125 remains significant not only in the Omega brand realm but in the history of horology as a whole. And with a limited number of them out in the wild, it seems only a matter of time before the 378.0801 becomes the next ‘unobtainium’ timepiece.
The Speedmaster Reduced
While Omega briefly offered an Automatic Speedmaster in the ’80s, it wasn’t until the Speedmaster Reduced ref. 3510.50 that a self-winding version of the famed Moonwatch was regularly available for purchase.
The Reduced was quite similar to the standard Speedmaster in most ways except size. The aesthetic, a black dial and black bezel on steel, was very familiar except it was accompanied by a 39mm case. The movement, a self-winding Omega calibre 3320, was not as traditional though it was a great benefit for Speedy fans who treasured convenience.
The 3510.50 was produced from 1988 until 2010 when it was discontinued. Omega has yet to introduce a direct replacement, though judging by the success of the first generation, it’s highly likely to make a comeback down the line.
The Sides Of The Moon Editions
Prior to 2013, the Speedmaster had been produced in many different metal options, yet never in ceramic. The “Dark Side of the Moon” changed that.
The reference 318.104.22.168.01.003 was crafted entirely from ceramic including the case, bezel, crown/pushers, dial, and even buckle. And housed within the 44.25 zirconium oxide case was a another recent novelty in the Speedmaster line: the Omega Co-Axial calibre 9300.
Aside from imparting the brand’s latest movement technology, the new self-winding calibre also brought about a more notable change to the face of the watch; the classic 3, 6, 9 subregisters were now gone, replaced instead with two subdials at 3 and 9 along with a date at 6.
In this manner, Omega concretely marked a new era for the Speedmaster, one where the traditional is less sacred and more open to modern interpretations. Evidently, watch collectors responded positively, as the 2013 release was only the beginning for the “… Side of the Moon” series.
Later versions have included the Grey Side of the Moon, White Side of the Moon, Blue Side of the Moon and more. All in ceramic, and all making for the ideal timepiece for the watch collector who treasures both timeless design and the latest materials science.
Speedmaster CK 2998 Re-Issues
Beginning in 2018, Omega introduced the first of a new series of Speedmaster limited editions named the CK 2998.
Inspired by the original 1959 Omega Speedmaster CK 2998, also known as the First Omega In Space, the 2018 CK 2998 features many similarities as well as some significant differences.
The overall design of the 2018 CK 2998 is quite directly influenced by the 1959 original. Of course, essentially all components and in particular the steel metal itself have been upgraded in the recent release, but the essence is clearly there.
The dials, though different in color scheme, are quite similar in layout. The same triple register display is there, as are the alpha-style hands at center and in the subdials. The hour indices are baton-style in both with plenty of minute calibrations accompanying as well.
The modern CK 2998 also has some contemporary features that set it apart. Most notably, its bezel is composed of ceramic and enamel, two materials which were definitely not present in the FOIS model. Likewise, the bezel scale itself correspond to pulsations as opposed to the original tachy scale.
Only a year later, in 2019, Omega made clear their intentions to continue the contemporary CK 2998 offerings when they released another CK 2998, this time in a blue theme. Markedly, the bezel was changed to a tachy scale, though the ceramic/enamel construction remained. This slight change has set watch fans ablaze, as it seems only a matter of time before other CK 2998 varieties are released with different bezel scales and in new color schemes.
These new CK 2998 re-editions have proved quite successful. On their own, they’re beautiful, modern, versatile timepiece. With the history behind them, they’re escalated to a new level, one where they’re essentially assured to sell out, unlike many of the limited edition Speedies Omega has offered over the years.
Closing Thoughts & More Watch Guides
We hope you’ve found this recap of the Speedmaster’s history informative and, while it is not all-encompassing, it will do a great job of getting you up to speed on the basics.
If you’ve got a favorite Speedy which we may have missed on this page, make sure to let us know in the comments as we’ll be building on this content with the passing of time and the continuous evolution of one of the most beloved chronographs of all time.
On the other hand, if you’d like to continue learning about other Omega model families or watch content in general, make sure to check out some of our popular watch guides below:
- Omega Seamaster’s Heritage Overview
- Browse Certified Omega Speedmasters On Bob’s Watches
- Shop Omega Speedmaster On Amazon
- The History Of The Omega Constellation
- How Do Chronograph Watches Work?
- Review Of The 2017 Omega Trilogy Set
- The Best Swiss Watch Brands
"There are many stories of big watch collectors getting started with a Speedy, and it's not difficult to see why. It's a classically beautiful design that only gets better with age."Rating: 5.0★★★★★