Speedy Tuesday – Houston Speedmaster Event Report
Written by Robert-Jan Broer on May 19, 2015
Last week, on the 12th of May, Omega hosted the Houston Speedmaster Event to celebrate and introduce the new collection of Speedmaster watches together with astronauts Jim Lovell, Tom Stafford and Eugene Cernan. Oh and George Clooney. His relationship with the Speedmaster and the Apollo program? Keep on reading.
I heard about my invitation for this Houston Speedmaster Event during BaselWorld, but the official invitation followed in May via regular mail. A beautiful card with Moon relief on one side and the invitation text on the other side. It with a short NASA-like coded message about the event, as shown below.
Together with about 300 guests, including Omega staff, retailers, boutique managers and some of their clients and members of the press I was invited to this Houston Speedmaster Event and was really psyched about it. The Omega Speedmaster – as you know – is such an iconic watch and to host an event that celebrates basically the entire history as well as the future of the watch, must be good. I can only imagine the level of stress the organization must have had to get everything done in the right way.
I landed at Houston Airport on the 11th of May, so 1 day in advance. To get things ready and adjust a bit to the different time zone (7 hours difference), that extra day was perfect. In the evening I was invited to a diner together with Blake from Hodinkee, James from aBlogtoWatch and Alexander from Watch-Insider in company of Jean-Claude Monachon (Head of Product Development) as well as the Omega museum director. Some wonderful pieces from the museum were brought to the table, pieces that were used the next day at the venue of the Houston Speedmaster Event.
Omega brought this Speedmaster CK2915 from 1957. The first reference Speedmaster that was actually put in the market as a sports chronograph. There was no sign of becoming the choice of NASA. This CK2915 reference is difficult to find these days, even if you have the budget for one of those, it will take quite a bit of patience to find one in original condition. The model above shows a bit of brown on the dial, a process that’s being triggered by the layer of nitro-cellulose varnish that’s disappearing due to humidity or long exposure to UV light. Not all dials will turn brown though, as it heavily depends on the quality of the nitro-cellulose varnish that was used by the supplier. If this was the case, the electro-plated dials would be affected by oxidation and change color (brown, ranging from light brown to dark brown, depending on the oxidizing process).
Next was the CK2998 reference, the second generation of the Omega Speedmaster. The broad arrow hands were replaced by alpha hands and the bezel had became black (although the later CK2915 models also came with a black bezel). There are a number of CK2998 variations (-1 to -4 and -61 and -62 indicators after the reference number) that will show different configurations, mainly regarding hands. Omega took this watch with them on a JB Champion bracelet. These bracelets were bought and used by NASA out of safety percussions. The original Omega bracelet, although looking thin and feeling flimsy today, was quite solid and strong. This JB Champion bracelet would easily snap off the watch if astronauts would be stuck behind something (in space) with their watch. Instead of injuring or even losing a hand, the bracelet and watch would simply snap off. Whether this ever happened during a mission or even in training is not known. In any case, the CK2998 is the reference that was (privately) bought by Wally Schirra and Gordo Cooper and used in space for the first time during the 1962 Mercury-Atlas 8 (Sigma 7) mission. It is the first Omega Speedmaster in space, commemorated by the later 2012 FOiS model and this year’s gold FOiS watch.
The Speedmaster reference 105.003 was actually the watch that was sent to NASA in 1964 after they requested it in October that year. This is the reference that was tried and tested using incredibly high standards. Astronaut Ed White used this watch during his space walk in 1965, as part of the Gemini 4 mission (which has its own commemorative Speedmaster model).
Put on a velcro strap is this Speedmaster reference 105.012 or 145.012 (both are very similar). This was the watch that eventually was delivered to the NASA by Omega. The 105.012 was succeeded in 1967 by the 145.012, with only a few changes (especially the pusher construction was technically improved). These are the references used by NASA for their Apollo missions up till the 17th Apollo mission in 1972. It might be the case that it was also used during the 1975 Apollo – Soyuz mission by the NASA astronauts but I am not entirely certain (yet). The Omega Speedmaster Professional 145.012 is the last reference that used the caliber 321 movement.
Looks can be very deceiving, but this is actually a Speedmaster 145.022. You might have expected a printed white Omega logo and a newer type of bracelet, but this is the so-called transitional model from 1968 that used the dial with the applied logo and the flat flexible link bracelet (reference 1039). It was the first model with the new type Lemania based movement, caliber 861. A movement that is still being used today, in a slightly more upgraded version (1861). In the basis, this is the same movement though.
If you are a Speedy Tuesday regular, you should recognize this watch as we covered it quite a bit (here, here, here and here). It is the first Speedmaster in gold, and the first 28 pieces were offered on November 25th 1969 to the President and Vice-President of the USA and to all astronauts that had flown with the Apollo program. Astronauts that were assigned to Apollo missions after that date, received one as well. There are a couple of tables on the internet (and mentioned on this site as well) with all the individual numbers and the names of the astronauts they went to. You will notice that the Apollo 13 crew is missing. From what I’ve understood, they received them later on anyway. So rest assured, they were offered to all Apollo astronauts. Omega also decided to deliver them to the consumer market, with a slightly different engraving in the case back. In total, 1014 pieces were made of this gold Speedmaster Professional BA145.022.
We did a write-up on most models in our weekly Speedy Tuesday feature (click it in the navigation menu) and our Speedmaster Buyer’s Guide also includes most of them.
Above a little group shot of the watches that Omega brought along from their museum in Biel, Switzerland. In the image above on the lower right is a 1969 Speedmaster Professional Mark II with racing dial. The “Pilot’s Line” case of this watch, also referred to as barrel-shaped case, has its roots in one of the secret (at that time at least) projects by Omega for the NASA, code name “Alaska”. We will get back to this subject in another Speedy Tuesday.
The diner and companion was awesome that first evening in Houston. Unfortunately the jet lag kicked in and I was dead tired around 10pm. Next day, 12th of May and happening to be a Speedy Tuesday, we gathered at 8am in the lobby of the hotel to head to the Houston NASA Johnson space center.
About an hour later we arrived at the Johnson Space Center and were joined by a guide from NASA. First stop was a huge building where NASA kept one of the Saturn V rockets. These Saturn V rockets were used for the Apollo missions. It is incredible how big these things are, bigger than the later Space Shuttle.
Next stop was something that really excited me, the Apollo mission control center. Of course, the mission control center changed through the years, but NASA decided to restore the one they used for the Apollo missions into its original condition as if it was the 20th of July 1969 again. On the other floors in the same building you will find the misson control center for the space shuttle missions (discontinued) and the International Space Station. On some screens you could actually see staff working in the ISS mission control center.
Above the mission control center how it looked during the Apollo missions. I assume you’ve watched the Apollo 13 movie with Tom Hanks (if you didn’t, please do) or perhaps you witnessed the actual Apollo missions on TV in the late 1960s and early 1970s and recognize this room. As you can see, the red phone (on the right) was used to update the White House on the Apollo mission(s). It is unknown whether the phone in the White House was also red.
We were actually in the VIP room behind the mission control center. See below. At first I wondered whether they didn’t go too far to make it a bit too ‘museum’-ish with a big window behind the control center. However, it seems that this VIP room was always there and was meant for the family of the astronauts, politicians and even the British Queen was in this room long time ago. Note the little ashtrays at the back of each seat. NASA restored this room to the original state again as well.
After that we went to see a place where they develop and test the new (lunar) rovers, ISS capsules and robonauts. It was interesting to see that NASA is showing a lot of their work (also being in progress) to the public.
Below the new rover that is able to drive in all directions, as the ‘all-drive’ wheels can turn 360 degrees. We were told that this vehicle was just recently introduced.
Above you see one of the robonauts. It is developed to perform tasks such as cleaning and simple repair operations. This to free-up the capacity of astronauts in space, whose time is very precious. I read in ESA astronaut’s André Kuipers’ book about his time in the ISS in space, that they have a very very tight schedule. They have to perform all sorts of tasks, from simple cleaning tasks to performing complex tests on board of the ISS. Everything is meticulously planned and timed. So, a robonaut would make life a bit easier on board of the ISS (or other space crafts).
Below, the actual Orion crew module from NASA. This Orion space craft will bring astronauts further than they have ever been, including to Mars. Again, I found it quite interesting that NASA is so open about the things they do and (want to) show. The Orion crew module will be able to have 4 people on board.
Above the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility where they (staff and astronauts) perform tests in the modules for the ISS. There were actually some astronauts performing some work in one of the modules there. The modules there were from various participants of the ISS, including from Russia and Japan.
After a quick lunch and walk around in the Houston space center (a visitor expo) we were invited into this large theater room where Mr Urquhart (CEO of Omega), Jim Lovell (Apollo 13 astronaut) and Tom Stafford (Apollo-Soyuz) were already waiting for us on stage.
I couldn’t see what watch Lovell was wearing here, but Stafford was clearly wearing his Omega Speedmaster Pro Apollo-Soyuz with meteorite dial. Last time I met him was early 2014 and then he showed me his gold Speedmaster Professional 345.0802.
There was a little Q&A-session planned for the Omega guests, which led to some interesting anecdotes and stories. One of the questions was about the future of NASA and its missions. Tom Stafford answered that President Bush Sr set a good direction for NASA in 1989 but when Clinton became President it was killed right away. Bush Jr again set direction for NASA but Obama killed it again. What the space program needs according to Tom Stafford, is a goal and a vision. At the time of the Space Shuttle and the development of the ISS there was always support from Reagan and later on Bush. That support is no longer there at this moment.
Jim Lovell added that perhaps the best thing to do is to go to the Moon again, to inspire people. Then decide on the next steps. With regards to Mars, there are still some serious challenges according to Lovell. Radiation is one of them.
One of the people in the audience asked whether a next President should be republican or democrat in order to get the best support for the space program where Stafford answered: A spacecrat.
I noticed that some colleagues shot the entire Q&A session on video and since we were split up in a number of groups (due to the high number of guests), others might have done so as well. Keep an eye open for them as I’ve found it to be mighty interesting to hear these guys talk.
After buying some stuff in NASA’s space trader shop, we left the Space Center and head back to the Westin Oaks hotel in Houston. In the hotel, Jean-Claude Monachon gave a presentation of the BaselWorld Speedmaster novelties once more. He brought all new model Speedmaster watches. Although we covered most of them here on Fratello Watches already, I went to see the presentation and took some photos of two of my favorite new models.
To start with the Apollo 13 commemorative model, the Omega Speedmaster Professional Silver Snoopy Award (an in-depth review can be found here). The watch the entire Fratello Watches team (well, except Michael) has on order. A beautiful white dial Speedmaster with the sleeping Snoopy located at 9 o’clock. The texts on the dial might look a bit gimmicky, but they are not that ‘in your face’ when actually wearing the watch. The case back is brilliant though.
The case back is enamelled and has a sterling silver Snoopy emblem attached to it. The enamel case back is partially made by hand, so there are no two alike. The initial Snoopy medallion was crafted out of steel, by Huguenin in Le Locle, Switzerland. From this piece, the 1970 silver Snoopy medallions are reproduced. Each silver Snoopy gets a chemical bath that speeds up the oxidation process to give it that unique patina.
For the enamelling, dark powder is combined with water and applied to a silver base. Several layers of enamel are added (heated in a kiln between 750 and 850 degrees) to get that black and blue appearance. The stars are actually sprinkled silver powder and receive a final enamel layer that is completely transparent. All done by hand. The final touch is of course the silver Snoopy medallion being attached to the case back. The images below will give an idea about the process of creating the case back for the Omega Speedmaster Silver Snoopy Award.
Although all new Dark Side of the Moon variations were also present, and I am starting to warm up to the one with the Sedna gold bezel, the Speedmaster ’57 ‘Vintage’ gets my vote for next-best Speedmaster of 2015. This broad arrow hand model with stainless steel bezel and no crown guards is clearly inspired by the CK2915 I showed you at the beginning of this article.
Below, the Dark Side of the Moon with some faux patina on there. The watch comes on a leather strap with some artificial wear on it, giving the watch that vintage look & feel. The folding clasp was something I hadn’t seen before. It is a clasp made of titanium (as some parts need to bend a bit, in order to close or open it) and has a black ceramic ‘cap’ and pushers as you can see below.
After I left the presentation there was some free time that I spent wisely in the Galleria mall next to the Westin Oaks hotel. I’ve found – probably one of the last ones – an available Omega Speedmaster Pro Apollo XI 45th Anniversary for sale in the Tourbillon Boutique there. So if there are any takers, contact them (here).
I had to get ready for the final event though. A black-tie evening somewhere in Houston, with astronauts Stafford, Cernan and Lovell as honorary guests as well as actor George Clooney. I was not convinced that Clooney should become ambassador of the Speedmaster family to be honest. He can be seen wearing many different Omega watches, and although his ambassadorship might work in some regions of the world, I am pretty sure there hasn’t been anyone (up to now) that went to a boutique or retailer to ask about Clooney’s watch. I do believe he is someone that will stick to you when thinking of a certain brand, like the Nespresso commercial he does. I also admit that it is difficult to get any better ambassadors than astronauts and James Bond to be honest. Let me get back to this later on.
So, after I got myself into my tuxedo and strapped on my gold Speedmaster Professional it was time to join the others. We were taken to the Sugar Land Airport in the Houston area where everything was Omega’d up, completely in style. After a photo on the red carpet with Blake and Mr Aeschlimann of Omega we headed to the main entrance.
Guided by spacy looking ladies we were directed to the entrance of something that looked like a space ship. An incredibly nice white environment where we received drinks in space packs and had the chance to mingle a bit in the crowd. I wish there was more time to connect and talk about our mutual Speedmaster passion, especially with some avid Speedy Tuesday readers that were also present and some instagram followers. But after a few drinks something happened. Lights were dimmed and screens (everywhere) started to show the launch and landing of the Apollo. Well, since I was only carrying an iPhone, let’s have a look at the video that Omega shot.
As you can see, we went from the ‘space ship’ on to the Moon. Omega created a beautiful Moon landscape on location where the diner would take place and where the guests of honor would share some stories with us. Long tables that were beautifully set (including a Moon-like plate) were placed in such way, that everyone had a good view to the main stage. I was seated next to Thomas Stafford, things could be worse. The entire evening was packed with great speeches from Urquhart, but also from astronauts Cernan, Stafford and Lovell. A night to remember for sure. Cernan for instance, showed his 50 year old Speedmaster watch that he wore during missions, that lost its bezel and didn’t look like new anymore, but still kept time.
Then, George Clooney entered the Moon landscape and entered the main stage. My question about his ambassadorship was about to be answered actually. Below is the official Omega video on George Clooney and the Moonwatch, as part of a new campaign. However, George Clooney actually told something about his personal Speedmaster during the evening in Houston. His father used to wear a Speedmaster and when George Clooney asked him about it, he received it as a gift. Besides that, he – as a kid – was following the space program with the rest of family and friends. It seems to me that he was well aware of the connection between the Omega Speedmaster and the Apollo missions. So in the end, Clooney might not be such a bad ambassador for the Omega Speedmaster afterall. It might also address a younger or different audience to the Moonwatch and its variations of course.
On stage and in the movie, George Clooney is wearing the new Speedmaster Professional Silver Snoopy Award timepiece, that has not been delivered to boutiques and retailers yet. As soon as they do, we will update you.
The Houston Speedmaster Event ended with some after-diner drinks. Since I was dead-tired due to the different time zone, I made it to the hotel at a decent time. Next day was the day all guests returned after having breakfast with some friends and colleagues.
Omega did a tremendous job to host the Houston Speedmaster Event for so many people, from all over the world. The setting was amazing and the trip to NASA’s space center in Houston was very impressive. It made the connection between NASA’s space program and the Omega Speedmaster even more alive for guests.
I am happy that the Speedmaster gets so much attention this year from Omega and the new 2015 line-up seems a really strong one. Purists prefer the original Moonwatch, which is still in the collection (and will probably never leave) and die-hards might go vintage only. Whatever you choose, you can’t go wrong with any model Moonwatch. There seems to be a nice story or reason behind every Moonwatch you’ll see on someone’s wrist, like we featured here so often. From the Speedmasters that belonged to astronauts at some point to YOU, our reader, that wants to share your story why you wear this iconic timepiece. Keep the stories coming! We will have a couple of great Speedy Tuesday stories in the future for you!
A big THANK YOU to Omega for the invitation and wonderful Houston Speedmaster Event.