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Omega Speedmaster in space: A brief history of the Moonwatch and Moonphase, with actor George Clooney

In celebration of Omega Speedmaster’s 60th Anniversary, we look back on the legendary watch’s biggest achievements – with its ambassador George Clooney, no less

Mar 20, 2017 | By Crystal Lee

One of the greatest achievements of the 60s is, undoubtedly, mankind’s very first moon landing. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their historic first steps on the moon, and explored the lunar surface for two and a half hours, collecting samples and taking photographs. The Omega Speedmaster was there with the astronauts through the historic Apollo 11 mission. The first watch worn on the moon, it passed NASA’s rigorous testing for flight qualification, and served the crew with the utmost precision and reliability. 

George Clooney was eight when Apollo 11 touched down on the moon. At his backyard with his father – who wore an Omega at the time – and looking up at the moon, he felt a new sense of hope as his childhood heroes as they set foot upon a new world. “It felt like the ultimate in optimism, the ultimate in forward thinking,” says Clooney. “It made us feel like anything could be done.”

The Omega that his father wore is still with Clooney today. Clooney Senior had gifted the old timepiece to his son when he heard that George Clooney was working with the watch brand. “He brought it down from the attic, after putting it away for 20 years,” says Clooney, “and he wound it and it started running again. It was a special moment. I grew up with that watch on his arm.”

The unchanging Moonwatch

As its name suggests, the Speedmaster was built for speed – not for rocket ships, but for racing cars. It was an instant hit with professional drivers, thanks to its sturdy construction and precision time. The tachymetric scale on its bezel also allows drivers to time their laps more easily than before. These high-performance, revolutionary features would later survive the extreme temperatures, vibrations, hard shocks and unforgiving vacuums of the NASA’s testings of watches.

Sixty years on, the Speedmaster remains as the watch for all manned space missions and a permanent piece of equipment on the International Space Station. The Moonwatch, which accompanied the Apollo 11 astronauts on their mission in 1969, also retained the same design and features ‘til today – making it a true classic. The now-legendary timepiece still takes 14 months to prepare for assembly by hand, and the base plate alone requires 80 manual operations.

“Some things are classic, and when they’re classic, you will always want them,” says Clooney. “You’d be really upset if they changed. We want modern technology – like our cell phones – but there is something about having certain classic things, that if they changed, it would break your heart.”

2016: Moonphase, the first Speedmaster Master Chronometer

Never one to rest on its laurels, Omega went on to conquer new heights in the watch world year after year with many variations of the Speedmaster. In 2016, the brand hit another important milestone in its star-studded watchmaking history with the release of Moonphase, the first Speedmaster approved by METAS and certified as a Master Chronometer.

The timepiece follows the phases of the moon, which is to say it moves according to a lunar month of slightly more than 29.5 days. Not an easy time-span to manage for a standard gear train, but the Moonphase boasts a highly-accurate mechanism that only requires adjusting after 10 years – and all it takes is a few turns of the crown.

One feature that would most certainly please space and watch enthusiasts is the image of the moon on stainless steel models. Imprinted using a special microstructuring technique on a metallic crystal disc, the moon is as detailed as a NASA photograph, and you can even see Neil Armstrong’s footprint if you look very closely.

60 years of Speedmaster

See the various forms of the Omega Speedmaster in the gallery below and discover the stories of each timepiece:

This article is sponsored by Omega.