The 2021 Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch is here, and I’m ready to share my impression of the most important Omega watch of the year.
Swatch’s mid-market luxury brand approached the relaunch of its legend with a combination of conservative style evolution and a revolutionary movement swap. After weighing the triumphs and shortfalls of the Omega design team, I’ve found the new Speedy Pro to be an appealing – but not perfect – companion for astronauts and their – many – ground-bound admirers.
New Omega Moonwatches are rare. More than any Rolex or Breitling watch model, the Speedmaster Professional trades on its sheer lack of flux since the first “Pro” model debuted in late 1964. NASA’s own chronograph equipment specifications have changed little since 1978, and this has given Omega further license to freeze development of its signature watch. After all, the Speedmaster Pro sells largely because of Omega’s success at offering customers the EXACT same watch used in space.
For that reason, 2021 brings genuine surprise in the engine room. Omega’s new caliber 3861 represents the greatest change in Speedmaster mechanics since the retirement of caliber 321 in 1968. While still technically based on the historic Lemania 1873 ebauche – a selling point – the new movement embodies a huge break with the past.
Caliber 3861 first surfaced in 2019 on the “Apollo XI 50th Anniversary” model. Although not visible under the commemorative caseback, the upgrades remained startling by Moonwatch standards.
New Omega technology including an antimagnetic silicon hairspring, a co-axial escapement, and a “Master Chronometer” certification brought the Speedy Pro in line with Omega’s other model ranges and all automatic Speedmasters. The arrival of hacking seconds – stop seconds – represents an historic first for the series. Small changes such as a free-sprung balance, two additional hours of power reserve for 50 even, and eight extra jewels round out the refinement.
Mechanically, Omega misses the mark on two counts. The first is water resistance.
Omegas’s true NASA-specification Moonwatches feature a minimal water resistance of 50 meters in order to prevent explosive disparities in external and internal pressure when transitioning between spacecraft living quarters and the vacuum outside. As with the shatter-resistant-but-scratch-prone thermoplastic crystal, this is an engineering choice made with space in mind. Since Omega will sell many Earth-bound Speedmaster Professionals with sapphire crystals and display backs, it makes sense to include the 100-meter water resistance seen on other Omega watches with sapphire backs and push-down crowns.
Second, Omega seems to have abandoned its previous distinctions between display-caseback movement finish and solid-caseback finish. Previously, calibers 863 and later 1863 included special aesthetic refinements not featured on calibers 861 and 1861. While the new caliber 3861 is handsome enough, it has been designed for use in either display or solid back Speedmasters in a single specification. While the 3861 doesn’t include the old 1861’s eyesore Delrin chronograph break, the new movement also forgoes caliber 1863’s gorgeous and mirrored bevels on all bridges. The loss of those lovely chamfers will be felt by those who can remember older models, but new customers are unlikely to mind.
Omega’s aesthetic changes to the 2021 Speedmaster Professional are as subtle as the movement is radical. Designers in Bienne sought to preserve as much of the outgoing model as possible while refining the dial, tachymeter, and bracelet.
Vintage Speedmaster reference 105.012, which was used on the Moon, was the touchstone for dial-side remodeling. The bezel now includes a period-inspired “dot-over-ninety” and a “diagonal dot” at numeral seventy-five on the tachymeter. Small alterations to the dial arrive in minutely altered hour indices that appear somewhat countersunk into slots. Also featured are gentle contour refinements that morph the sub-registers from angled depressions to bowl-shaped recesses. Moonwatch models equipped with sapphire crystals gain an applied Omega logo as featured on the 105.012.
Omega understands that vintage bracelets are period-cool but frighteningly fragile, so the new Moonwatch cops the look with modern construction. There are impressions of late 1960s reference 1506 and 1039 bracelets, but 1171 feels like the spiritual forebear of the new band. And all of the new hardware is stoutly built with screw-fixed removable links. The trigger-clasp is properly narrow to communicate vintage intent, but it is miles removed from the crude snap-tight closure system of the Apollo era.
Short link profiles create something approaching the feel of a Rolex President, albeit in steel. Comfort is excellent, and I never experienced the lug-chafing or “sharp” lugs that some early 2021 Speedmaster customers have reported. In any case, such a phenomenon more likely stems from a bad batch of cases than an endemic design weakness.
Watch aside, there are a few shortcomings regarding the ownership experience. Previous Omega Moonwatches included lavish boxed sets comprised of a watch, a loupe for display back models, a commemorative medallion, a strap tool, two – two! – NASA-style accessory straps, and a steamer trunk to store all that treasure. The new Speedmaster Professional box includes only a watch. Concurrent with the new model launch, Omega announced that it will begin offering space inspired Speedmaster accessory straps for $200 apiece.
Price is another shortfall of the new Moonwatch purchase experience. Given Swatch’s economies of scale and the undoubted hundreds of thousands of these watches that will be delivered, price hikes between $500 and $1,000 seem steep. Given that these $5,950-$7,150 watches cost hundreds – not thousands – of dollars to produce, it’s safe to assume that Omega raised its profit margin compared to the outgoing model. In light of that development, the newly impoverished boxed sets appear more egregious.
Don’t get me wrong; I like the new Omega Speedmaster. Pricing, despite the hikes, remains reasonable for the engineering offered and the fun story furnished by the NASA connection. Unlike a certain chronograph named after Florida Man’s motorsports Mecca, the Moonwatch is available to buy without selling an organ or risking delivery at geological pace. Ultimately, the 2021 Omega Speedmaster Professional is a better Moonwatch, and that’s good news for watch collectors on Earth and beyond.