Some Burning Omega Speedmaster Questions Answered

 In Omega Speedmaster

During all the time I’ve spent at watch forums, I’ve seen a lot of Omega Speedmaster questions.

Most keep repeating, so I’ve decided to create a short guide to them (well, to some of them).

  • Can you hack the running seconds on a Speedmaster Pro?
  • What’s the deal with NASA’s approval for the Speedmaster’s use for space flights and EVA (extravehicular activity)?
  • Can you swim with a Speedmaster?
  • Where to service a vintage Speedmaster, at Omega or an independent watchmaker?
  • Which is a better choice, the sapphire crystal version, or the hesalite?
  • Is it OK to pay more than the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for a limited edition?

Can you hack the running seconds on a Speedmaster Pro?

Which Speedmaster Pro, with a cal. 321 or 861/1861?

On the former, better don’t try it, because parts are expensive, and on the latter, theoretically yes – Omega mentions that in the instructions manuals.

You can stop the seconds hand by wiggling the crown in the position for setting and turning the hands back.

Now, is this a good thing to do? There’s this old wives’ tale that turning the hands back shouldn’t be done on a non-hacking movement. Here, Omega seems to believe otherwise.

If you don’t feel like you want to use this method and need to have a seconds indication synchronized with something, use the chronograph function.

What’s the deal with NASA’s approval for the Speedmaster’s use for space flights and EVA (extravehicular activity)?

Technically, this concerns a few models; the Professional is one of them.

Speedmasters were used for both these things. Walter Schirra used the privately-owned ref. 2998 on his space flight. Ed White’s 105.003 was used on his spacewalk and so, before tests and – ultimately – approval from the NASA.

NASA approved the Speedmaster as official equipment in 1965. The watch tested was a 105.012, equipped with the cal. 321.

Omega Speedmaster 105.012

Omega Speedmaster 105.012. Photo credit: Bulang&Sons

Only three watches that were tested made it to the last round of mistreatment at NASA – a chronograph by Wittnauer, a Rolex Daytona, and the Speedmaster.

The Omega Speedmaster, ultimately, survived the tests. The word is that the Wittnauer and the Rolex didn’t withstand exposure to humidity and massive shifts in pressure.

The only Speedmasters approved for space flights are the ones equipped with a hesalite crystal, which, unlike sapphire, doesn’t shatter. When it cracks, it doesn’t fall apart, and you don’t have shattered sapphire all over the place in a zero-gravity environment.

Also, this only seems to be the case with hand-wound and quartz models. The efficiency of an automatic movement in space is a disputable case. I’m not a physicist, so I won’t even pretend to know the scientific side of that.

Not that automatic watches weren’t used in space, they were – notably, the Seiko “Pogue” chronograph, Fortis chronographs used by Russian cosmonauts, and the Rolex GMT-Master.

If you can manually wind an automatic movement, it’s OK. Most – if not all – automatic Speedmasters have a sapphire crystal, which automatically rules them out.

Can you swim with a Speedmaster?

Just like most non-diver, yet water-resistant chronographs, theoretically yes.

In practice, better not put too much faith in the pusher gaskets (the Achilles’ heel of most chronographs).

It can withstand submersion, but when you swim, larger forces act on the gaskets.

Besides, saltwater or swimming pool water with tons of chlorine-based compounds in it wreaks havoc on the gaskets, which makes it necessary to change them sooner than usual.

Where to service a vintage Speedmaster, at Omega or an independent watchmaker?

That one’s easy. Independent watchmaker.

The factory service focusses on a “better safe than sorry” approach. Although it will ensure that the watch is water-resistant and has no scratches or worn parts, this doesn’t mean that the result will be good.

It will result in a watch without any collectible value, because of all the replaced or excessively polished case parts. Not to mention, the DON bezel (if it originally had a DON) replaced with a DNN, and that lovely, patinated dial replaced with a service dial identical to the one found on modern Speedmasters.

Omega Speedmaster 2998

Omega Speedmaster 2998. Imagine getting it back with a service dial and DNN bezel. Photo credit: Bulang&Sons

In the end, this watch won’t look even close to the one you handed over.

This might be practical, but collecting vintage watches isn’t about the practical aspects. Just assume that either it’s vintage, or it’s functional. It’s rarely both.

Which is a better choice, the sapphire crystal version, or the hesalite?

That depends on what you think is “better.” If you want to keep it looking pretty, sapphire, but keep in mind that the “scratch-resistant” capability of these crystals is an illusion. While the sapphire alone is hard to scratch, that’s not the case with the external anti-reflective coating.

Sapphire does chip and shatter, so the stories about it being “almost indestructible” are exaggerated. When it’s sapphire crystal versus a pavement slab or a brick wall, the slab or the wall always wins.

If you want it to be practical, go with hesalite. Hesalite can have cracks and scratches, but unless it’s loose, it still protects the dial. At least it will protect against dust, and – slightly – against humidity. When it breaks, however, you’d better have it replaced as soon as possible.

When it comes to the looks, hesalite is often the preferred choice, because the anti-reflective coating on the sapphire crystal causes a “milky ring effect” around the dial. It looks terrible on photos, but it looks better in person.

The effect that the bezel appears to be an extension of the dial will be gone with the sapphire crystal, so it’s no “perfectionist’s paradise.”

Is it OK to pay more than the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for a limited edition?

Nope. Not with a Speedmaster, not with a limited edition, not with an Omega, and not with any watch with a fixed price at official retailers and boutiques.

Why would you want to support the speculators? Just don’t.

Do you have some other questions about the Omega Speedmaster? Let me know in the comments below.

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