The Speedmaster instantly changed the face of the chronograph wristwatch. Introduced as part of the Seamaster line, this watch was the first to have the now standard layout of three counters and the timing scale on the bezel, thus ensuring the Speedmaster's place not only as the most iconic chronograph ever created, but also the most famous. Its story is detailed on the Space Exploration page.
Designed as part of a project between OMEGA and Lemania, one of OMEGA's subsidiaries at the time, the team's brief was to create a sturdy high precision waterproof watch that was easy to read, reliable and easy to use. These characteristics have come to define not only the Speedmaster but the entire "sports chronograph” genus which was born following its launch. The result of this original briefing was a prototype which was ready at the end of 1956 and shown to the public in 1957.
The first Speedmaster was the reference 2915 and is today known by collectors as the “Broad Arrow” due to its distinctive hour hand with large luminous arrow tip. This watch had a very clean dial devoid of anything which could compromise its legibility. The dial with luminous hours on a black background was inspired by the clocks found in Italian sports cars of the period. The bezel was stainless steel engraved with a tachymeter with a matt finish and the case was water-resistant to 200 feet. Certain details of the watch which are often overlooked are the very things that made this watch stand out from the crowd including, notably, the fact that the chronograph seconds hand was poised at exactly the same level as the bezel.
The next evolution would be the reference 2998 which replaced the Broad Arrow hands with Alpha hands; the matt steel bezel was replaced by one with a blackened aluminium insert that improved legibility. The next change came with the introduction of the 105.002 in 1962 which featured the now-standard baton hands. The final evolution of the “round-” or symmetrical-cased Speedmasters came a year later in 1963 with the introduction of the reference 105.003 which would remain in production until the last 50 pieces were delivered in the spring of 1969.
1963 also saw the launch of the 105.012 with its asymmetric case that afforded a certain amount of protection to the crown and pushers in case of an impact. This design went on to become the standard for the so-called “Moonwatch” which remains, little changed, in production today. At this point OMEGA also began to capitalize on the fact the bezel with its timing scale could easily be changed without compromising the waterproof properties of the watch and as such, offered optional bezels with different scales such as pulsometers and telemeters to meet the needs of individual clients.
In 1965 the line was divided into two products, the Speedmaster with round case and the Speedmaster Professional with asymmetric case. This differentiation came as the result of the Speedmaster 's selection by NASA for all manned space flights and the decision by NASA at the end of 1965 that though the 105.003 was the watch tested it would adopt the 105.012 as the astronaut chronograph due to its more robust case.
1968 was to see the change of the movement from the 321 to the more robust 861 with the launch of the 145.022. This watch is essentially the same as the model currently available in OMEGA retailers.
1969 was historic for the Speedmaster not only because it was the first watch on the Moon with the Apollo 11 astronauts but because the year also saw the introduction of the all-gold Speedmaster Professional Deluxe and the Mark II.
The Speedmaster Professional Deluxe was created to celebrate the Apollo 11 Moon landing with the first examples being given to all the astronauts active in the US space program as well as other prominent individuals, including President Nixon, who politely refused the watch due to its high value.
The Mark II was the first of five Mark watches and began what was to become true diversification in the Speedmaster range. It was at this point that the Speedmaster became a line in its own right.
Throughout the 1970s, this diversification would continue with the addition of more complicated models including automatic winding, calendar functions, central minute counters and the first series-produced self-winding chronograph to be a certified chronometer the “Speedmaster 125” which was introduced in 1973 to mark OMEGA's 125thanniversary.
The 1970s were also the era of electronic watches and this applied equally to the Speedmaster with the addition of the “Speedsonic” with its tuning fork movement and the Speedmaster Quartz and Speedmaster Professional Quartz which were both multi-function digital watches.
The 1980s saw much of the same diversification with the last of the Mark watches, the Mark V introduced in 1984 and the Speedmaster Automatic “Reduced” introduced in 1988.
In the following decade the diversification grew at an exponential rate with the introduction of highly complicated models, comprising perpetual calendars, watches with moon phase and even a split-second version. The luxury aspect was fully embraced with skeletonised and diamond-set versions being introduced. This was also the era of the limited edition with watches being introduced to commemorate OMEGA's history in space exploration as well as the many successes of its ambassador at the time, Michael Schumacher.
The decade saw the launch of the X-33, the first watch in history to be designed with the active participation of the astronauts and pilots of the world’s space agencies and militaries.
The new millennium saw the continuation of diversification with the introduction of ladies' models aimed as well as the continuation of limited editions. However, one part of this story which could fill volumes, has remained the same: today's Speedmaster Professional looks little different to the watch selected by NASA in 1963, proving that you can't improve on perfection.