Omega Speedmaster 50th Anniversary event

Trip Report: Celebrating The 50th Anniversary Of The Moon Landing With Omega

2019 marks 50 years since Apollo 11 touched down on the moon's surface. To celebrate, Omega and NASA brought together an all-star cast and a very special watch.

By Josh Shanks

On July 21, 1969, an estimated 500 million people tuned their televisions in to watch Neil Armstrong step onto the moon. Apollo 11 was the mission, and the entire world watched in awe as man stood on the moon for the first time. As Armstrong said on that fateful day, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." As it turns out, Armstrong was wearing a NASA issued Omega Speedmaster ST 145.022. when he stepped onto the moon. Watchonista was honored to recently be invited by Omega to Cape Canaveral, Florida to celebrate 50 years of the Speedmaster.

Omega and NASA have enjoyed a long working relationship dating back to 1965 when NASA Program Manager and Aerospace Engineer James Ragan began his testing of the watches that would eventually go to the moon.  Of the five watches selected, Omega's Speedmaster ultimately prevailed. At Omega's 50th Anniversary event, Ragan was asked "Why the Speedmaster?" to which he replied, "Longines and Rolex failed in the first test – and they were out – so all I had was Omega and I was saying please I gotta have one!" Since then, the Omega Speedmaster and now Speedmaster X-33 'Skywalker' has been “Flight Qualified By NASA For All Manned Space Missions.”

Apollo 11

It's been 50 years since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first men to step foot on the moon. Armstrong passed away in 2012 and Aldrin is an energetic 89-year-old Omega Ambassador. Both men are true American heroes who have inspired generations. As US Navy and Air Force men, they shared a certain sense of humility about their journey. While the Apollo 11 crew was never boastful, the American people did their fair share of heralding the crew of Apollo 11 as American Royalty. The moment the crew left the NASA-required quartine, a ticker tape parade was organized in their honor and President Richard Nixon threw them a black tie gala on August 1969.

At the Gala, Omega and NASA presented President Nixon and 25 Apollo astronauts with a specially engraved solid gold Speedmaster. Unfortunately, government regulations prevented Nixon from keeping the watch. His watch has been in Omega's archives for decades. The brand's 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing celebration was dubbed "Golden Moments" not just because of the gold Speedmaster, but thanks to the golden moment Apollo meant to civilization.

The celebration

Nestled deep within a restricted area of the Kennedy Space Center sits the Saturn V center. The expansive 100,000 sq foot facility houses an actual Saturn V rocket, which is the same rocket that took the Apollo 11 crew to space. For Omega's Golden Moments Gala, guests were treated to performance art, a beautiful dinner underneath the Saturn V, and the unique opportunity to mingle with space and Hollywood royalty.

At most parties, George Clooney would be crowned the man of the hour. The two-time Oscar-winning Omega ambassador really needs no introduction and during the Gala, he shied away from the spotlight and instead kept the focus on the legendary astronauts in attendance. Joining us that evening were Space Shuttle and ISS (International Space Station) astronauts and two legends of the Apollo program, Thomas Stafford (Commander of Apollo 10) and Charlie Duke (Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 16). 

Thomas Stafford is well known for for his endeavors in the Apollo and Gemini programs, but at 88 years old, he's still regarded as the fastest man alive, due to his 28,547 mph (45,942 km/h) speed achieved during Apollo 10's touchdown is still a world record to this day. During our interview, Stafford fondly recalled using an Omega Speedmaster during his career in space, "When you go into space you're in a circle course and the Earth turns underneath you. You can predict your trajectory a week in advance. It's all based on time. This is why you want a reliable timepiece. We had an internal computer too. But when we were outside we used Omegas, the only watch that met all the tough specifications. 

Charlie Duke is one of only 12 men to have walked on the moon. And at the age of 37, he was also the youngest person to ever walk on the moon. Notably, Duke served as CAPCOM (capsule communicator) on the Apollo 11 mission. Upon touching down on the moon, Duke's calm message to the crew, "We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again," will live on in space folklore for eternity.
Make sure you watch the video of George Clooney and Charlie Duke (below) to better understand this special moment.

An unforgettable experience

As a child, I was one of the many millions of kids who dreamed of becoming an astronaut. To this day, only 536 people have flown in space (most of them wearing Omega watches). So it's always a special opportunity when you get to meet an astronaut. However, the crew which Omega and NASA assembled for this 50th Anniversary was something extra special.

We wouldn't be experiencing this special moment without Omega, and Omega has James Ragan to thank for the priceless privilege of being the only NASA space-qualified watch. The ever-humble Ragan gave a bit of back story on how this came to be, "I graduated from college with a degree in physics, Deke Slayton hired me to do flight crew equipment. The first job he gave me was to go get some watches because the astronauts were not provided any watches in the Mercury days. There were at least two (astronauts) that I know of, maybe a third, who went to buy watches because they didn't like the digital timer they had up there. Wally Schirra was one of them, Deke Slayton was one of them, and I'm not divulging the third. They bought them (the watches) themselves, flew them themselves, and they were private property and did not belong to the government at that time."

Ragan was personally responsible for testing and acquiring the watches that would be worn by Apollo astronauts. While there are many legends of how the Speedmaster ended up on the wrists of Apollo astronauts, Ragan's no-nonsense approach to testing under harsh conditions is what solidified Omega's place in space lore, "(Testing was) plus or minus 250 degrees Fahrenheit. That's tough on a watch! The thermal vacuum was tough on a watch. Omega made it through all the testing and when that happened, before I announced who made it, I went back to the astronauts and said, which one of these (Rolex, Longines, and Omega) do you like and thank goodness, they all liked the Omegas the best as well, so that made it real easy for me to go out and buy the watches." Ragan eventually purchased that first batch of Omega Speedmasters from a local retailer. 

The fact that the Omega Speedmaster "Moon Watch" hasn't changed much since 1969 is remarkable. Purists will point out that the days of the Speedmasters with the 321 and 861 movements are gone, but it's incredible to think that to this day, astronauts aboard the ISS are still issued two Omega timepieces: The mechanical "Moon Watch" (reference 311. and the digital/analog X-33 "Skywalker."

Video: George Clooney and Charlie Duke talk Apollo 11

On the occasion of Omega's 50th Anniversary event, the brand released a special YouTube video. The video features an interview between Charlie Duke and George Clooney in NASA's Apollo mission control room. Duke's firsthand account of serving as CAPCON on Apollo 11 is a worthy watch. We've included the video below.

The Omega Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Speedmaster

Finally, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, Omega has released the Omega Speedmaster Apollo 11 50th Anniversary in Moonshine Gold. This limited edition (of 1,014 pieces) pays tribute to the gold Speedmasters given to Richard Nixon and the Apollo 11 astronauts. While the re-issue draws a lot of inspiration from the original piece, it also brings modern refinements which will surely make this an instant classic.

While the original was set in 18k Yellow Gold, this new edition is set in Omega's proprietary Moonshine Gold alloy. This new material is made from approx. 70% yellow gold, 15% silver, 8% copper, and 7% palladium (the exact mixture isn't disclosed). This new alloy has a paler tone than yellow gold and Omega claims the material is less resistant to fading. Furthermore, the dial is crafted from Moonshine gold and the black onyx markers lend a luxurious yet outright cool look.

The watch is fitted with a burgundy ceramic bezel and sapphire crystal caseback that allows the wearer to view the manually wound Calibre 3861 movement. Omega has gone a step further by finishing and adding a small piece of a meteorite on the case back ring which looks almost identical to the moon. Price at $34,600 USD this limited edition faithfully pays tribute to one of watchmaking's (and man's) greatest achievements, the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. 

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