Watches

At 60, Omega’s iconic Speedmaster’s still got it

Buzz Aldrin and George Clooney on hand as (probably) the world’s most important watch notches up six decades in service

Words by
Robin Swithinbank

I’ve been to some parties in my time (all in the name of luxury journalism, you understand). One time, TAG Heuer took me to New York and to Muhammad Ali’s gym where I got a very blurry selfie with Evander Holyfield. Then there was the time Breitling held a battle reenactment in the spirit of the Napoleonic Wars on my – and my fellow journalists’ – behalf. Can’t remember why. And there was the IWC party in a hangar in Geneva where Nico Rosberg did doughnuts in a Mercedes Formula 1 car, while Orlando Bloom and Ewan McGregor looked on. People you know and yet never know.

Last night it was Omega’s turn to turn on the razzle dazzle. It’s 60 years since the launch of the Speedmaster, the humble sports chronograph that ended up going to the Moon, and the Swiss icon chose London and the Tate Modern as the place to mark the date. And turn it on they did.

First there was George Clooney. In a tux, and looking and sounding as Gorgeous George as ever. Then there was Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon and the first to wear a Speedmaster on it. Buzz is 87 now, but gamely agreed to arrive at the event dressed in what looked a reasonably cumbersome space suit – expensive fancy dress rather than NASA-approved. (He’s also gamely agreed to be interviewed for the next issue of The Jackal, incidentally – catch it on the evening of May 24, date for your diary.)

The two of them, prompted by a clearly awed Prof Brian Cox, used some stage time to talk about space, showbiz and the Speedmaster. And what they said reminded me just how important the Speedmaster is, and indeed that there’s little argument against it being the most important watch in history.

Clooney revealed that as a child he had drawn himself a Speedmaster he could wear to emulate his space-travelling heroes – ‘it was right two times a day’. His father later gave him one as a graduation present. The Speedy, as it’s now affectionately known, was the watch the young generation dreamed about, just, I suppose, as in the 80s I dreamed about a Lamborghini Countach and a relationship with Samantha Fox.

For Aldrin, the Speedmaster was the back-up he and the crew of Apollo 11 could rely on if ever their onboard systems went down. The idea of floating through the vacuum of space with nothing but a hand-wound wristwatch as a guide becomes only more terrifying with the passing of time, and yet of course, it was back-up – to the crew of Apollo 13, who famously used their Speedies to aid their return to Earth during their aborted lunar mission of April 1970. ‘Thankfully, we got ‘em home,’ said Aldrin.

James H ‘Jim’ Ragan was there, too. Ragan was the man who in 1965 tested the Speedmaster – and three other contestants – to destruction to see whether they’d make it in space. Of the quartet, only the Speedy passed. NASA qualified it as space-ready the same year and it became forevermore known as the Moonwatch. Even before that, Mercury and Gemini astronauts had bought them privately and taken them into space off-spec. Incredible when you think about it. At its 1960s peak, NASA employed 400,000 people, none of them tasked with producing a watch, because Omega had already made one good enough. What a legacy.

Anyway, back to the party. The stars – let’s say the pun was unintended – came out. Liv Tyler, Gemma Arterton and thinking man’s favourite Clémence Poésy joined George and Buzz, as did David Gandy, David Haye and Marcus Wareing. Testimony to the greatness of one of, if not the greatest watch ever made; and one of, if not the greatest story ever told.

Find out more about the Speedmaster here.

Omega, Baselworld, The Jackal

The Omega Speedmaster 60th Anniversary Limited Edition, released to celebrate 60 years of the 'Moonwatch'