Omega

A new launch for the astro­nauts’ choice.

Esquire (Singapore) - - Contents - Words by Robin Swith­in­bank

Happy an­niver­sary!

Oh,

the ef­forts brands go to in search of the per­fect link be­tween the stuff they make and the peo­ple they want to sell that stuff to (syn­er­gies, yeah?). It must be agony know­ing the great­est mar­ket­ing story has already been told; that of Apollo 11 astro­nauts walk­ing on the moon wear­ing Omega Speed­mas­ters. Can’t beat that; un­til we go to Mars. And I’d wa­ger Omega have got that one sewn up already.

What we for­get about the Speed­mas­ter, though, is that it was never de­signed to go to the moon and that it ar­rived be­fore mar­ket­ing was re­ally a thing. It was in­tro­duced in 1957 as the pre­vail­ing mood turned away from the as­cetic norms of the post-WWII pe­riod, to­wards a more buoy­ant age in which men had more money and more free­dom. It was a sports watch for a mo­tor-rac­ing mad pub­lic rev­el­ling in sto­ries of Juan Manuel Fan­gio and Stir­ling Moss. It was func­tional and ro­bust, con­fi­dent and mas­cu­line. And it broke new ground, be­com­ing the first chrono­graph with a tachymeter (for cal­cu­lat­ing speed) on its bezel.

Men loved it. In­clud­ing men who worked for the Na­tional Aero­nau­tics and Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion. In 1962, Project Mer­cury astro­nauts Wally Schirra and Gor­don Cooper bought Speed­mas­ters pri­vately. They were so taken by the watches they per­suaded Nasa to let them wear them into space. It’s of­ten thought it was this that led Nasa to send the Apollo astro­nauts to the moon wear­ing Speed­mas­ters, but it wasn’t.

In 1964, when the Mer­cury pro­gramme was over, Nasa di­rec­tor of flight crew op­er­a­tions Deke Slay­ton issued a memo stat­ing the need for a “highly durable and ac­cu­rate chrono- graph to be used by Gemini and Apollo flight crews”. It landed on the desk of Nasa sys­tems en­gi­neer James H Ra­gan, who sent re­quests for a quo­ta­tion on 12 watches to six watch man­u­fac­tur­ers.

Un­be­liev­ably, only four came back to him. Nasa’s ar­chives record Omega, Rolex, Longines and Hamil­ton sub­mit­ted watches, but the only one that passed a se­ries of bru­tal shock, noise, pres­sure, hu­mid­ity and tem­per­a­ture tests was Omega’s Speed­mas­ter. On March 1, 1965, Nasa de­clared the Speed­mas­ter ref­er­ence ST105.003: “Flight qual­i­fied for all manned space mis­sions”. Three weeks later, Vir­gil I “Gus” Gris­som and John W Young wore them aboard Gemini III.

The mo­ment that de­fined the Speed­mas­ter came in July 1969, when Buzz Aldrin stepped out of the lu­nar land­ing mod­ule Ea­gle onto the sur­face of the moon wear­ing his Omega Speed­mas­ter Pro­fes­sional (Pro­fes­sional was added in 1965 af­ter the first US space walk on June 3 that year). Neil Arm­strong had left his be­hind as backup to a faulty in-cabin timer. That day, “the Moon­watch” floated into the his­tory books and scored Omega the kind of prod­uct place­ment money can­not buy.

It’s even more ex­tra­or­di­nary to con­sider that at its peak Nasa em­ployed 400,000 peo­ple, cre­at­ing ma­chines that could send men to the moon, keep them alive on its sur­face and bring them back alive. Yet, none of them de­signed a space watch. They didn’t need to: Omega had already done it.

“Omega cre­ated the Speed­mas­ter mostly for mo­torists,” ad­mits Pet­ros Pro­topa­pas, Omega in­ter­na­tional brand her­itage man­ager. “The space pro­gramme and the ‘space race’ be- tween the then world’s su­per­pow­ers had yet to be­gin, so the Speed­mas­ter was cre­ated for earth­bound ad­ven­tures and the quest for speed.” Pro­topa­pas says Nasa pur­chased around 90 Speed­mas­ters for the Gemini and Apollo pro­grammes, at least 12 went on moon mis­sions.

This year marks 60 years since the launch of the orig­i­nal Speed­mas­ter, cel­e­brated with an event at the Tate Mod­ern’s Tur­bine Hall where the guests of hon­our were brand am­bas­sadors Ge­orge Clooney and Buzz Aldrin him­self, and the re­lease of the Speed­mas­ter 60th An­niver­sary, a lim­ited edi­tion with a run of 3,557 pieces.

It’s the spit of the first. Draw­ings of the orig­i­nal have been lost over time, so Omega’s boffins scanned an archive piece us­ing a so­phis­ti­cated X-ray­ing tech­nique called to­mog­ra­phy to recre­ate it in 3D. Still there are the “broad ar­row” hour hand, the triple-reg­is­ter chrono­graph and the tachymeter on the bezel. One of de­signer Di­eter Rams’ 10 prin­ci­ples is, “Good de­sign is long-last­ing”. If ev­i­dence were needed of the Speedy’s suc­cess as a piece of de­sign, the fact it still looks good six decades later is ev­i­dence enough.

So good, in fact, we’d still re­vere it, moon vis­its or not. “It’s hard to think of a more com­pelling ad­ver­tis­ing mes­sage than ‘here is the first watch worn on the moon, and we made it’,” says Ray­nald Aeschli­mann, Omega pres­i­dent and CEO. “Al­most ev­ery­one has looked up at the stars in won­der, so the Speed­mas­ter has given us the chance to tell a story peo­ple from all over the world can re­late to, one filled with courage, ad­ven­ture and ro­mance. It’s an op­por­tu­nity most brands would envy.”

Most? Surely all.

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