During all the time I’ve spent at watch forums, I’ve encountered quite a lot of questions concerning the Speedmaster.

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

  • Can the running seconds be hacked on a Speedmaster Pro?
  • What’s the deal with the NASA’s approval for the Speedmaster’s use for space flights and EVA (extravehicular activity)?
  • Can a Speedmaster be taken swimming?
  • 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 the running seconds be hacked on a Speedmaster Pro?

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

On the former, better don’t try it, as parts are costly, and on the latter, theoretically yes – Omega does mention that in the instructions manuals.
The hands can be turned back, and by wiggling the crown in the position for setting, the seconds hand can be stopped.

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

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

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

Technically, this concerns a few models, the Professional among them.

Quite obviously, Speedmasters were used for both these things. The privately owned ref. 2998 was used by Walter Schirra on his space flight. The 105.003 worn by Ed White was used on his spacewalk and so, prior to tests and – ultimately – approval from the NASA.

The Speedmaster has been approved as official equipment by the NASA in 1965. The watch tested was a 105.012, equipped with the cal. 321 (obviously).

Omega Speedmaster 105.012

Omega Speedmaster 105.012. Photo credit: Bulang&Sons

Of a number of watches tested, only three made it to the last round of a rather heavy mistreatment at NASA – a chronograph by Wittnauer, a Rolex Daytona, and the Speedmaster.

The Omega Speedmaster, ultimately, survived the tests. It is said that the Wittnauer and the Rolex did not withstand exposure to humidity and massive shifts in pressure.
Apparently, 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 something of 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, as they were – notably, the Seiko “Pogue” chronograph, Fortis chronographs used by Russian cosmonauts, and the
Rolex GMT-Master.

Obviously, if an automatic movement can be wound manually, it’s OK. Most – if not all – automatic Speedmasters feature a sapphire crystal, which automatically would rule them out.

Can a Speedmaster be taken swimming?

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

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

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

Besides, salt water or swimming pool water with tons of chlorine-based compounds in it wreaks havoc on the gaskets, making it necessary to change them sooner than normal.

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

Independent watchmaker, obviously.

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

It will result in a watch of hardly 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 will not look even close to the one you handed over.

While this might be practical, collecting vintage watches is hardly about the practical aspects.

Just assume that either it’s vintage, or it’s practical. Rarely can it be both.

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

Define “better.” If you intend to keep it looking pretty, sapphire, but keep in mind, that the “scratch-resistant” capability of these crystals is a bit of 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 all the stories about it being “almost indestructible” belong to the realm of fairy tales. When it’s sapphire crystal versus a pavement slab or a brick wall, the slab or the wall will obviously win.

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

When it comes to aesthetics, hesalite is often the preferred choice, as the anti-reflective coating on the sapphire crystal tends to cause a “milky ring effect” around the dial. It looks bad on photos, looks better in person, some won’t mind it, but if you suffer from even the lightest form of OCD, then it will likely bother you.

The effect of the bezel appearing to be almost an extension of the dial will no longer be there 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?

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.