Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Omega Speedmaster - 50 years in the making

Omega has created timepieces since 1912. However the Omega Speedmaster history begins quietly in 1943 when Omega launched the movement "27 CHRO C12" or “321” as the official nickname. The CHRO stood for Chronograph, 27 for the movements diameter in millimeters and C12 for the 12-hour totalizer. The movement was designed by Albert Piguet of the now famous Piguet line of watches.
This model was available to the public from 1946 with a shock protection system and antimagnetic balance spring. In January 1959 Lemania started production of the Speedmaster. In 1958, Omega began preselling what was to be THE most well known chronograph. In 1960 the bezel was replaced with a black one, the hands were changed from arrow shaped to "dauphine" and the case diameter grew by one mm. In 1965 they began the work of creating a new movement and in August 1965 began the assembly of the first "861- calibre" movements. The new movement meant increased frequency from 18,000 (2,5Hz) to 21,600 (3Hz) vibrations per hour. By now the Speedmaster was well into the space program and in April 1966 the addition "Professional" was made to the dial of the Speedmaster to commemorate it’s debut in space.
How did this watch become known as the moon watch/space watch? Well, NASA indiscreetly sent two employees out to purchase five reputable chronographs in the Houston, TX area to be tested for possible use in space in 1964 (this included Corrigan’s, which at the time was the city’s best-known watch and jewelry retailer). The Mercury program was nearing completion and the coming Gemini program would require a watch that could withstand the extreme conditions in space, including space walking. After the first round of tests 2 of the 5 brands were disqualified. By the second round there was only one left.
On 09/29/1964 NASA ordered 12 Speedmasters from the US Omega importer. They paid full retail price, $82.50 (Considering inflation that’s $566.83 in 2008 dollars) for the watches and wanted them delivered by 10/21/1964. Meanwhile NASA arranged for a series of test to finally determine what watch to use in space. The watches had to cope with:
• Extremely high temperatures: 48 hours at 71º C followed by 30 minutes at 93º C. This under a pressure of 0,35atm and relative humidity not over 15%. (this replicates Phoenix, AZ)
• Sub Freezing temperatures: 4 hours at -18º C. (like your ex-wife’s mother-in-law)
• Temperature-pressure: 0,000001atm and temperature raised to 71º C. Temperature then lowered to -18º C in 45 minutes and again raised to 71º C in 45 minutes. This cycle was repeated fifteen times.
• Relative humidity: 240 hours in relative humidity of at least 95% and at temperatures varying between 20º C and 71º C (similar to Miami, FL). The steam had a pH value of between 6,5 and 7,5.
• Oxygen atmosphere: Exposure to 100% oxygen atmosphere at a pressure of 0,35atm and a temperature of 71º C for 48 hours. (almost like an asthma attack while skiing downhill at 60mph)
• Shock: Six 11 millisecond shocks of 40g each in six different directions. (reminds you of when your teenager told you she was pregnant from her boyfriend)
• Acceleration: Linear acceleration from 1g to 7,25g within 333 seconds. (like when your girlfriend throws your watch out of the car window into oncoming traffic)
• Decompression: 90 minutes in a vacuum of 0,000001atm and a temperature of 71º C and 30 minutes in the same vacuum but at a temperature of 93ºC. (replicates what happens when the cleaning lady at work vacuums up your watch)
• High pressure: Exposure to 1,6atm for one hour. (like a high pressure sales call)
• Vibration: Three cycles of 30 minutes (lateral, horizontal and vertical), the frequency varying from 5 to 2000cps and back to 5cps in 15 minutes. Average acceleration per impulse 8,8g. (similar to flying a small plane in a third world country)
• Acoustic noise: 130db over a frequency range from 40 to 10000Hz for 30 minutes. (similar to children screaming in a daycare facility)
The tests were completed on 03/01/1965. Three chronographs from different manufacturers were still running, but only the Speedmaster had passed without any of the serious troubles that had occurred with the two others (twisted hands, warped crystals, etc.). NASA stated: "Operational and environmental tests ot the three selected chronographs have been completed, and, as a result of the test, Omega chronographs have been calibrated and issued to three members of the GT-3 crews." The "GT-3" (Gemini-Titan III) took of 04.52 March 23, 1964 with the astronauts John Young and Virgil Grissom on board. On the next Gemini flight (IV) Edward White left the capsule and became the first American to walk in space. On his wrist was the Speedmaster.
Omega ironically only learned about the Speedmaster’s journey into space after seeing a photograph of Ed White taken during America’s first spacewalk as part of the Gemini 4 mission in June of 1965. This is how the Omega Speedmaster earned a place in American history & now you know the rest of the story.



Blogger watchcowboy said...

Have worn a Speedmaster for over thirty years. Love it. Here are a couple of other sites I have found useful:

How to care for a watch.
Watch terminology
Rolex serial numbers

September 15, 2009 12:39 AM  
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September 28, 2009 7:47 AM  

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