Keeping an eye on the time: new releases in the watch world
By Richard Holt
If man was going to get to the moon by the end of the Sixties, he needed a watch capable of accompanying him. Over a number of months in the middle of the decade, NASA subjected chronographs by Rolex, Longines and Omega to a series of punishing trials involving extremes of temperature, pressure and humidity. They were shaken, shocked and magnetised to see which was tough enough to cope with whatever the cosmos might throw at it.
The only one to survive with all its functions intact was the Omega Speedmaster. This came as no surprise to some, as there had already been Omegas in space – the first belonging to astronaut Wally Schirra, who had taken his personal Speedmaster onboard Mercury Atlas 8 in 1962. But in 1965, NASA certification made it official: the space watch was born.
Making the Omega standard issue meant it was with the astronauts every step of the way. Well, almost every step. Both Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were wearing Speedmasters on Apollo 11 in 1969, but Armstrong left his watch in the landing module while he took the giant leap for mankind. It wasn’t an oversight, he left it behind as a back-up for the module’s electronic timer in case the walk into the unknown inflicted some damage that the NASA testing hadn’t anticipated.
So while Armstrong may have been first man out of the module, Aldrin’s Speedmaster was the first watch on the moon. It worked perfectly, timing the astronauts to make sure they didn’t moonwalk for too long.
The remarkable thing is that the watch wasn’t some beefed-up special edition. The astronauts just used off-the-shelf Speedmaster Professionals. And that was a watch intended for a very different purpose. The first edition had come out in 1957 and was designed as a cutting-edge stopwatch for motor racing and other sports where precision timing is crucial. The dial design was based on sports car dashboards of the era and featured the world’s first tachymeter bezel, a device that allowed the user to measure average speed over a set distance.
That basic dial layout has remained largely unchanged and continues to be a big seller for the Swiss firm. The Dark Side of the Moon collection pays tribute to Apollo 8, the first mission to leave the earth’s orbit and go around the moon. The watches are made from highly durable, scratch resistant ceramic and feature silicon balance springs and the co-axial escapement – a revolutionary feature invented by the British watchmaking genius George Daniels.
Four new black additions to the collection were among the most striking watches unveiled at this year’s Baselworld watch fair. The Vintage Black (pictured) in laser-engraved brushed ceramic on a retro brown leather strap perfectly captures what the Omega Speedmaster is about: celebrating the past, but not living in it.
The small Saxony town of Glashütte is known as the birthplace of German watchmaking and is home to brands such as A Lange & Söhne and Glashütte Original. Mühle Glashütte traces its origins to the late 19th century, when a company founded by Robert Mühle began making precision measuring instruments for the town’s watchmakers. In the 1920s the firm expanded into making clocks and car speedometers, but with war and the subsequent occupation of East Germany the company was dismantled. In 1994 Robert Mühle’s great-grandson Hans-Jürgen formed Mühle Glashütte. The company built on the family’s reputation for precision with a series of marine chronometers and wristwatches. A distinguished new addition to the range is the Teutonia II Big Date Chronometer, which is limited to 500 pieces.
The extravagantly titled Watch Art Grand Exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London promises to be a spectacular end to the year-long celebration of Patek Philippe’s 175th anniversary. As well as plenty of historical pieces and interactive experiences, Patek will be displaying some astounding anniversary creations such as the Grandmaster Chime (pictured).
This twin-faced watch is a technological marvel assembled from more than 1500 parts and featuring 20 complications such as a chiming minute and date repeater, a four-digit date display and dual time zones. Just seven will be produced, six going to loyal collectors with a couple of million pounds to spare, and the seventh going to the Patek Museum in Geneva.
The Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 5175 will be on display at the Patek Philippe Watch Art Grand Exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London from May 27-June 7