As many watch enthusiasts are aware, The Omega Speedmaster, originally released in 1957, went on to become the timepiece of choice for racecar drivers, astronauts, and various other adventurous types. But the line did not become iconic overnight: it was through years of tedious research, development, and field-testing that the Speedmaster series foiund its way onto the wrists of the people who needed them most. One instance of this testing was in the late 1960s, as part of a secret research project, conducted jointly by Omega and NASA, called “The Alaska Project.” Omega, looking to continue to improve its space-ready watches, worked with NASA to produce a number of prototypes to replace what would later be called the Moonwatch.
the wide-ranging Omega Speedmaster series — with its Moonwatches and auto-racing legends — has become one of the most popular and iconic series of watches available today. Each of the collection’s modern pieces, and subsequent “sub-series” like the Moonwatch, Speedmaster ’57, and Mark II families, have all built individual stories around themselves, attracting plenty of appreciation, for both the modern and historical versions, from connoisseurs and collectors of horology.
But in 1969, after about a million Swiss francs (approximately $7 million when adjusted for inflation) had been spent, and several years’ worth of man-hours had been worked, in trying to produce the perfect space watch, NASA ultimately decided the original Omega Moonwatch was sufficient for its mission to exploring the great beyond. Thus it happened that Omega, rather than creating the ultimate watch for space, used its findings from the project and began applying them to other models that would be available to the general public.
From this was born the Mark series, originally the Mark II Ref. 145.014, easily recognizable as an example of the funky, 1970s style of watches characterized by thick cases, hidden lugs, and unusual colors. This series, while not as recognizable as the Moonwatch or George Clooney’s 1957-inspired Speedmaster, has nevertheless over the years developed its own well-deserved following, and still today represents a distinct watchmaking era in Omega’s history. Thus, in 2014, Omega revived the original 1969 piece in a largely faithful re-interpretation for modern consumers. It produced two interesting models to pay homage to ‘70s classic (which we will be looking at today), and one with a unique dial and case variant in honor of the 2016 Summer Olympics.
These modern watches (References 322.214.171.124.01.001 and 3126.96.36.199.06.001) have each been designed to reflect the maximum amount of “vintage flair,” while still offering excellent modern attributes. With a 42.4-mm brushed steel case and accompanying Omega link bracelet, the modern piece is no longer the wide behemoth it might have been viewed as a few decades ago, but still sits rather thick upon the wrist as a result of its unusual, ovular-shaped case. There are two dial options — either the grey “Racing” style with its eye-catching orange accents or the classic black dial more reminiscent of other Speedmaster sub-series. Both feature a black outer tachymeter scale; an outer minute ring (a signature of the Mark series); three subdials to measure running seconds, chronograph minutes, and chronograph hours; and a date window at the 6 o’clock mark.
Also note the utilitarian, swordlike hour and minute hands, and the central chronograph seconds hand that is unique to the Speedmaster. Within the case resides the automatic Caliber Omega 3330, an in-house movement that incorporates some of brand’s best modern technical innovations, such as the co-axial escapement and the silicon balance spring, which gives the piece an approximately 52-hour power reserve of extremely accurate timekeeping. If you are currently searching for this piece, you’ll be able to find starting at $3,700 depending on the dealer.
The Omega brand, to its credit, has devoted quite a bit of effort to produce some very interesting historical re-interpretation watches in the past few years. Of course, it helps that the brand has some of the most historically iconic pieces of the past century in its lineup. With this said, the modern Mark II re-interpretation is a solid example of a well-developed historical model. Many of the original watch’s features are unchanged in the modern version, right down to the two dial options. Also, the case proportions and ‘70s styling are more or less the same, as are many of the less obvious features, such as the black outer tachymeter scale and subdial hands.
Of course, as with any modern re-interpretation of a vintage watch, Omega has made a few minor adjustments for the benefit of the contemporary consumer. These include a modern automatic chronograph movement, which replaces the 1969-era, hand-wound Caliber 861; more indented subdials; the modern Speedmaster chronograph seconds counter; and, perhaps most obviously, the 6 o’clock date window. Other subtle changes include the tachymeter scale being slightly thinner to increase the visibility of the dial, as well as a slight coloring on the outermost edges of the minute ring, which are most noticeable on the “Racing” dial variant.
The Omega Speedmaster line will continue its status as a legend within the world of horology, an honor well-earned after the watch’s trip to the moon, not to mention the millions of dollars spent in research, development, and advertising. As such, it is to the brand’s benefit to continue producing modern watches with much of the flair of their historical predecessors. Furthermore, it is to its benefit to continue catering to that growing base of educated consumers looking to own a modern watch heavily based on a lesser known historical model—such as today’s contemporary Speedmaster Mark II.
For our most recent article, in which I compare the modern Longines Legend Diver Watch to its vintage counterpart, click here.
Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer for various publications. Since first learning about horology, he has garnered extensive knowledge on vintage watches, and spends much of his time sharing his opinions within the field. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on many topics, and a casual runner.