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Object of Desire: Omega’s Speedmaster Moonwatch

By Alex Williams

An Omega Speedmaster Professional from 1969.
Wind Vintage
An Omega Speedmaster Professional from 1969.

It’s a big summer for 50th anniversaries: there’s Woodstock, the Stonewall riots and the Manson murders. But for watch geeks, only one matters: the Omega Speedmaster and its journey to the moon.

Sure, three astronauts tagged along. And as every watch lover knows, they were outfitted with Omega’s storied Speedmaster Professional, known, forever after, as the Moonwatch.

As nostalgia for the Apollo 11 mission builds, prices for the most sought-after vintage Speedmasters have taken a trip into orbit, fueled by a booming market for vintage watches and a cult following on social media (see #SpeedyTuesday).

At a Phillips Geneva auction last year, a first-generation Speedmaster from 1958 sold for nearly $410,000, a price typically associated with the finer vintage Rolex Daytonas.

“If you had told me five years ago that we’d see a $400,000 Speedmaster that hadn’t been to the moon, I would have rolled my eyes,” said Stephen Pulvirent, the managing editor of the watch site Hodinkee. “Now, we’re seeing all manner of Speedies from the 1950s and ’60s pulling big numbers. To me, this feels like the market maturing.”

NASABuzz Aldrin, wearing an Omega Speedmaster Professional during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.
Buzz Aldrin, wearing an Omega Speedmaster Professional during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.

Part of the draw is Speedmaster’s no-nonsense, action-watch heritage. With its minimalist black dial recalling an old Porsche speedometer, the chronograph oozes stealth-wealth allure.

No wonder the watch has particular appeal among Silicon Valley deal makers, said Eric Wind, vintage watch dealer in Florida. “It shows that they care about craftsmanship and history, but are responsible, and aren’t flaunting six-figure Patek Philippe or Richard Mille watches,” he said.

Not all Speedies, however, are created equal. The Speedmaster has been in production since the tail-fin era, and Omega has spun out numerous variations: a moon phase dialdials carved from meteorites, even one featuring Snoopy.

Newcomers may want to stick with Apollo-era watches from the late 1950s to the early 1970s featuring either the .321 or .861 caliber movements, said James Lamdin, the founder of Analog/Shift, a vintage watch dealer in New York.

Even with the vintage watch market reaching absurd heights, those models may offer a relative deal.

“It’s like with cars,” Mr. Lamdin said. “There are plenty of sporty roadsters, but when weighing options for a beautiful value proposition that is sure to leave you with a smile on your face, the answer is always the Mazda Miata.”

“And with watches, for a storied chronograph built tough as nails, with an iconic design,” he added, “the answer is always the Speedmaster.”