On the first “Speedy Tuesday” of the year, Omega announced a major upgrade to the Speedmaster Professional “Moonwatch.” This is a watch that Omega doesn’t update often, and this particular update was the biggest in decades. Most notably, the new reference 310.30.42.50.01.001 has a Master Chronometer certified Co-Axial movement, a new bracelet, and some great nods to vintage Speedmaster references. Overall, I love it. They’ve taken a great watch and made it significantly better. That said, I have a few gripes with this timepiece. There is ambiguity around its qualification for manned space missions, and I think Omega misstepped in focusing so hard on pleasing the enthusiast watch segment.
I’ll get into my grievances in a second, but first, the goods. The biggest upgrade is, of course, the movement. Omega has upgraded from the long adored caliber 1861 to the OMEGA Co-Axial Master Chronometer Calibre 3861. Being a Master Chronometer means not only can this watch endure more than its predecessor, but it’s also one of the toughest and most accurate watch movements on the market. Architecturally the 3861 is very similar to the 1861, like the 1861 was to the 861 and the 861 was to the 321. It’s still a manual winding—with 50 hours of power reserve—lever and cam switching chronograph, and the general structure is unchanged. But now, it has a co-axial escapement and the silicon balance spring and is highly resistant to magnetism. For the average wearer, this just means a more accurate, tough, and reliable watch.
The watch’s inside was not the only thing upgraded as there is a handful of conservative but meaningful design changes. The bracelet is now five links instead of three and is finished differently depending on if you get the Hesalite or Sapphire crystal model. The move from three to five links means this bracelet should be more adjustable and comfortable on the wrist, but it also gives the watch a more vintage and slightly more dressy vibe. The Hesalite version is fully brushed, while the sapphire model has an alternating polished and brushed finishing. While I like the new bracelets, the clasp overshadows them.
The twin-trigger clasp has a gorgeous vintage design inspired by the clasp on the first gold Speedmaster reference BA145.022-69. It’s my favorite detail on the new model. Other vintage inspired queues added to the watch include the coveted dot over 90 on the bezel and the pie pan style stepped dial. The stepped dial for me is a significant visual improvement, the dot over 90 I couldn’t care less about, but I get that many other enthusiasts will love it. The sapphire model now comes with an applied logo, while the Hesalit models’ are still painted on. The logo difference further delineates the two and, in my mind, draws a clear line in the sand. The sapphire is now more of a vintage reissue, and the Hesalite is the purist model.
All of these updates I love, and I should. I’m a watch guy, after all. Now we get to my grievances. Before this update, a Speedmaster Professional cost $5,300 and was arguably the best value proposition in watches. Not only was it a fantastic entry into the Omega brand but luxury watches in general. Few if any watches could compete with the Speedmaster Professional’s story and legendary design and movement. It had everything you could want in a great watch for most people, and at $5300, most people could aspire to own one should they choose.
With this new model and its litany of upgrades, Omega saw fit—justifiably—to increase the watch’s price to $6300. I know this is not an insane price increase, and I still consider this watch a good value for the money. But again, I’m a watch guy. All of the updates to this watch matter to me, and I’m the minority. The Speedmaster transcends the watch enthusiast world and is one of Omega’s most popular watches. Increasing the price one thousand dollars higher when most people who would buy it won’t notice or care about the updates seems like a dangerous move. The watch is now in Rolex Explorer territory at this price, which I consider a very similar watch in spirit. Omega had such a killer advantage with the previous model. Their flagship, their most legendary watch, was less than essentially any Rolex, and I’m sure that fact alone gained them many buyers. That advantage is now gone because of a lot of details that only enthusiasts will love. Case in point the picture below shows the previous model on the left and the new updated model on the right. Pretty similar even for a watch nerd.
Now to the issue of the flight qualification. On the back of this watch, Omega has conspicuously changed the engraving from “Flight Qualified by NASA for all Manned Space Missions.” to “Flight Qualified by NASA in 1965 for all Manned Space Missions.” This might seem like a small detail, but the former indicates the watch is currently flight-qualified, and the latter seems to imply it once was. I’m not sure if this is why Omega added the qualifier of “in 1965” or not, but I consider this a key detail of this timepiece. Per Fratello watches, the two previous Moonwatch generations with the 861 and 1861 movements were not actually tested by NASA but rather Omega according to NASA’s parameters, and those still received the qualification from NASA. With this model, Omega says they’ve tested these new watches accordingly, but there doesn’t seem to be any official word that NASA recognizes them as qualified for spaceflight. For now, we’ll have to wait to see whether Omega clears things up or wait and see if it ends up on an astronaut’s wrist—hopefully, both.
Again, I love this watch. I’ve been waiting for it to get a Co-Axial METAS movement for a few years now. I love the new dial, I love the new bracelet, I love all of it. I’ll probably buy one in the near future. But I’m also exactly who this watch was made for, and for every watch nerd like me, there are thousands of people who just want a nice watch, people who will now be cross-shopping this Speedy with some steeper competition than it’s used to. Time will tell if the Speedmaster is up to the task like it has been so many times before.
All images from omega.com