Owner’s Review: the Omega Speedmaster Automatic Day-Date 3520.50.00

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As a watch collector, it’s only natural to create lists, whether physical or mental, of the timepieces we wish to acquire. On one end of the list might be new and noteworthy watches you just have to try, while on the other are watches you wish you could have but know are unlikely to obtain. For me, somewhere in there is an offshoot of watches I’ve stumbled upon that intrigue me, but don’t have a pressing need to be bought. Perhaps they are odd or obscure but not highly valuable, relieving purchase pressure. Or they have some feature I want to experience, but not so urgently as to force me to spend the cash. The Speedmaster 3520.50.00 was one such watch. For years it lived on this limbo-list, occasionally prompting an inquiry on the forums, a trade offer here and there. However, thanks to a mix of flipping, being slightly disappointed in some purchases, and having too much time on my hands during the lockdown, this Speedie moved off the list and into my collection in mid-2020.

Ever since picking up the criminally underrated Speedmaster Mk 4.5 some years ago (which since left my collection, but I feel will make a return) I gained an appreciation for off-the-beaten-path Speedmasters. Speedmasters that might only resemble their kin thanks to the word “Speedmaster” being printed on their dials. Models that feature different case shapes and styles, not to mention wholly different movements and dial designs. While these models might not be what normally comes to mind when one says “Speedmaster” they take their namesake seriously, and are ultimately great expressions of my favorite type of watch, the chronograph, made by one of the great Swiss brands.

the Omega Speedmaster Automatic Day-Date 3520.50.00

As such, I’ve always kept a keen eye on the so-called “reduced” models. A shockingly large catalog of models with 39mm, and later 40mm cases, in the style of the iconic twisted-lug Speedmaster Professional case, they offer a quirky and typically less expensive Speedmaster experience. In addition to being smaller, they are also all automatic, which unto itself is a major departure from the Speedy Pro (in-fact, “reduced” is the nick-name, Speedmaster Automatic is the official).

With a multi-decade run, it should be of no surprise that there are many, many references in this sub-genre. The most Speedy-esque, and best known, are the 3510 and 3539 refs, the former of which Brad Homes discusses in his article Affordable Classics: Omega Speedmaster Automatic “Reduced” Ref. 3510.50. From there, one can delve into the racing and Schumacher refs, the date models, chronometers, and the sub-sub-genre the 3520 belongs to, the Day-Dates. A misleading title used on Omega’s own site, one might picture a classic day/date window on a Speedy, but these are in fact triple calendar chronographs with their own distinct personality, earning them the nick-name Mk40, spiritually aligning them with the mark series of Speedies.

Just me and my Speedy (reduced triple-date)

It is with this stage set that I will review a watch that has been out of production for nearly 20 years. This watch has taken me by surprise and represents a fantastic value at this moment, and likely into the near future as well. With Omega having just released the newest generation of Speedmaster, ushering in the era of the Master Co-Axial 3861 caliber, and pushing the Speedy Pro further into luxury territory, the 3520 is a refreshing alternative with a true tool watch spirit.

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$2000

Owner’s Review: the Omega Speedmaster Automatic Day-Date 3520.50.00

Case
Stainless Steel
Movement
Omega 1151 / Valjoux 7751
Dial
Black
Lume
Yes
Lens
Sapphire
Strap
Steel Bracelet
Water Resistance
50m
Dimensions
39 x 44.75mm
Thickness
14mm
Lug Width
18mm
Crown
push-pull
Warranty
NA
Price
$2000

Dial

Typically I review from the outside in, but given that the dial of the 3520 departs so greatly from the traditional Speedy, it’s the best place to start. Step one, reject mentally what you expect a Speedmaster to look like. That impossibly balanced and remarkably minimalist three-register dial is not here. It might not have even been allowed in the room when the 3520 was designed. Equipped with the Omega 1151, a Valjoux 7751 triple-date automatic chronograph with in-house branding, the 3520 simply requires more. More hands, more windows, more indexes, more… everything. The result borders on chaotic, and it’s certainly busy, yet works so well in its own way.

Before even getting into it, it’s worth saying that if this watch were to come out today, I’m not so sure it would receive the most positive reception. There are elements that are crowded and there are design decisions that are bizarre and counterintuitive. But since this watch already ran its course, it now represents something odd, and eccentric. A watch from a slightly bygone era, when social media and – ahem – online watch media, weren’t scrutinizing every line and numeral. The customer was what mattered, and if they bought it, it got to exist – for a time.

Eight hands worth of information in a small space

On to the dial. Starting with the premise that this is a “reduced” model, dial real estate is not abundant, yet Omega had to cram in three sub-registers (technically four if you count the stacked sub-dial as two), eight hands, two windows, a full date index, not to mention your typical hour, minute and second marks. Starting with the latter, you’ll find large, lumed rectangles at the hour positions that aren’t covered by sub-dials, counting an awkward total of nine. Between these are long white lines for the minutes/seconds and short white marks at 1/5th second, once again as allowed by the sub-dials.

At 12 is the 30-minute totalizer, with marks per minute, numerals every five minutes, and nestled within its bounds, the day and month windows. While typical for the 1151/7751, the dimensions of the sub-dial are quite small, just barely containing the windows, which along with the marks and numerals creates a lot of density at the top of the watch. Oddly contrasting this, at six is the 12-hour totalizer, with marks per hour, and numerals only every three, echoing the classic Speedmaster design. Both pressed into the dial and with the same diameter, one is crowded while the other sparse. It’s odd and unbalanced but somehow adds charm. If I could change one thing, it would be to add small dashes at half-hour intervals, but I can live without them.

Cramped sub-dials

Part of what accounts for the spacious hour totalizer is that Omega, by some miracle, actually left out a complication. As 7751 fans are likely aware, there should be a little moon peaking it’s pale face out between nine and three. While I would welcome a Speedymoon ref. 345.0809 into my collection should the winds of fortune and a pile of cash blow one my way, I believe Omega was right to leave this complication off. Besides the added visual complexity, it would take away from the otherwise utilitarian functionality of a triple date chrono. Nothing against the moon, but knowing whether today is a waning crescent or a waxing gibbon won’t make much of a difference in my life.

Crammed into a slightly smaller sub-dial at nine is a combination of active seconds and 24-hour time. The tightly packed index includes marks per hour, bolder at the even hours with even numerals as well. Though the size of the numerals matches that found on the other subdials, there are simply more, and in less space. In fact, the 20, 22, and 24 numerals are nearly touching, and would definitely count as “crowded” by any graphic standard. In addition, there are two hands at play, one a stick for the seconds, the other a stubby sort of arrow pointing at the hours. Once again, this isn’t a detail that feels terribly well thought out, yet in the context of this retired design, just adds to its idiosyncratic charms.

no room to spare

A strange outcome of the design of the sub-dials at 9 and 12 is that most of the weight of the dial is in the top left quadrant. While this has no functional effect, it does give the dial an odd balance, that is, for lack of a better word, unique. Across at three you’ll find the Omega logo, that delightful Speedmaster script, and “automatic” in an awkwardly blocky text. Though a decent amount of verbiage in a small space, it’s one of the calmer moments on the dial

Around the edge of the dial, outside of the ghostly white bounds of the minute/seconds index, is the date track with all 31 numerals. The largest type on the dial, they create an imposing border and add pressure to the dense inner dial with all its features. One of several elements not found on a classic Speedy, or any Speedy not from this series for that matter, it has a dramatic effect on the overall look, giving it an appealing instrument-like quality. Which is to say, at times it looks more like a calendrical-instrument than a watch meant for wearing.

Pointer date

One of the aspects of the 3520 that specifically drew me to it versus other reduced or triple-date references is the handset. The hour, minute, and chrono-seconds hand are visually the same as that of Speedy Pros of the era. While the fence-post hour and minutes are fairly standard on the reduced models, the lumed diamond seconds is less so. Refs like the 3510 have rather wispy sticks that while not uncommon to chronographs offer just a bit less Speedy charm. And, as I’ve found on my 3594 (a Speedy for a different article on a different day) with its polished broad arrow handset, the chronograph feels a bit extraneous, while on the 3520 it beckons to be used.

Additionally, there is the pointer date hand, which consists of a black shaft and narrow tip with wings in white, giving it the appearance of floating. As mentioned earlier, I was once an owner of the Omega 1045 / Lemania 5100 powered Mk 4.5, which features a central minute chronograph hand with a similar design, giving the 3520 a little bit of nostalgic charm as well. Then, of course, is its ever so slight similarity to the mega-rare “holy grail” ref 376.0822, which also featured the caliber 1045, but in the classic twisted lug case. Not just holy, it’s a personal grail, and one I imagine I won’t be acquiring.

A resemblance to the Holy Grail

At a glance, one is overwhelmed by the amount of information on display on the 3520. Information, which seemingly has no hierarchy of importance, is pushed at the eye all at once. Everything is sharp, bold, and equally weighted. Yet, after some initial shock, you get used to it. What I love about it is that in such a small space I have everything I need. Time, date, day, month (not that I typically lose track of the latter), and a stopwatch, which I’ve become more accustomed to using for small cooking tasks and the like. And for some reason, with the 3520 more than other chronographs I own, I feel the need to actually use the chronograph. Perhaps it’s just to splay the eight-hands out to get the full effect, but I think it goes back to this watch feeling like a tool or instrument. It just has an air of purpose to it beyond that of a wrist-accessory, like its functions call to be used.

Case

When I first pulled the 3520 out of its rapidly decaying red vinyl Omega box, what struck me wasn’t the complexities of the dial, it was how remarkably compact the whole thing was. Sure, I knew this was a “reduced” model, but I didn’t expect it to seem small in my hands. I mean, this is a Valjoux 7751 powered chronograph, and if we all know anything about 775X chronographs (and Sellita equivalents) from releases over the last few years, is that they are rarely under 15mm tall, and tend to be 40mm and up. They are generally slabby, often feeling even larger than their dimensions indicate. Well, the 3520 isn’t actually that much thinner at 14mm, but it is smaller at 39mm (though 37.6mm at the bezel), and uses some very clever design tricks to look and wear thinner than it should, going to show that with a little more finesse, “automatic chronograph” doesn’t have to equal “wrist puck.”

Measuring 39 x 44.75 x 14mm, including a domed sapphire crystal, the 3520, as is expected, features a twisted lug design that immediately makes it recognizable as a Speedmaster. As the nickname “reduced” well-describes, it has just been scaled down in various dimensions and proportions. The bevels aren’t as thick, the asymmetrical “hump” on the right side is less exaggerated, the lug width dropped from 20mm to 18mm, and so on. It’s less imposing than the Speedy Pro, yet still gets across the exotic and aggressive appeal that make the Speedmaster case so successful. Oddly, the pushers stay 5mm in diameter, making them appealingly oversized on the smaller case.

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The famous Speedmaster curves
A gorgeous, albeit scratched up, bevel
The sunken pusher
One of my favorite angles

While similar in many ways, there is a significant difference that goes towards the design’s clever management of its height. The bezel of a Speedmaster sits atop the curved-lug mid-case flaring out from a reduced diameter before flattening out entirely, allowing the insert to sit perpendicular to the crystal. From the side, this creates a strong break in the mid-case, as the two parts are clearly separate, which always works towards a thinner appearance. What’s different with the 3520 is that rather than flattening out before hitting the crystal, it slopes up, leading to a domed crystal that flows out of the angle of the insert, more or less. This effectively makes the bezel thicker, though the crystal less tall, negating the difference.

Why this is clever is because mentally one assumes the movement is housed within the mid-case of a watch, with perhaps some room for the rotor allowed by a domed case-back. The 1151/7751 is a thick movement, coming in at 7.9mm. In order to accommodate this, some of the movement is actually hidden behind the bezel, which is essentially covering up part of the mid-case. In other words, rather than on top of the mid-case, it sits around a portion. The result is that visually the mid-case does not appear thick at all, making for a watch that reads much thinner than seems possible.

The angled bezel and lightly domed sapphire

A downside for some might be the loss of the box crystal, which you can find on the more classically styled reduced models. This hasn’t been an issue for me. While a departure for sure, it modernizes the overall look a bit, which given the radically different dial doesn’t feel inappropriate. Also, it’s a sapphire Speedy with no halo, which is a plus in my book.

Movement

At this point of the review, the features of the Omega 1151 / Valjoux 7751 should be pretty clear. In terms of basic stats, it’s a 25-jewel automatic with 54 hours of power reserve and a frequency of 28,800 bph. Obviously, the triple-calendar complication sets it apart from other Speedies, particularly when it was released, but it also stands out for having a 6, 9, 12 sub-dial arrangement, and for being an integrated automatic chronograph. Speedmaster reduced models with 3, 6, 9 layouts feature modular chronographs, which you can read about here.

With calendars come complications – to setting the watch, that is. Luckily, one doesn’t need a manual or watchmaker at your disposal to set it, though there are some finicky aspects and some pitfalls to be aware of. The pointer date is set via the crown pulled out to first position. It can only be set forwards. The month is then progressed by advancing the date past the 31st. Logically sound, but this comes with an issue. Should you go past your desired date you are left with three options. The first is to simply ignore having the wrong date. Not my cup of tea. The second is to accept defeat, and put on a different watch until the 3520 has run out of juice, allowing you to catch up with the wrong date. Acceptable, but not ideal.

Easier to set than you’d expect

The third is to correct the date by advancing it… by a full year. As you sit there, watching time literally fly before your eyes, you have a rare opportunity to reflect on how you are spending, or perhaps wasting, your life, and how one little mistake like over-eagerly setting the date on your watch can cost you. Just kidding, but it’s a pain in the ass and I always feel it can cause unwanted stress on the movement. It’s also surprisingly easy to do as the date itself requires only the slightest turn of the crown to change. Lastly, the day is set via a sunken pusher on the side of the case by 10. No issues there.

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Straps and Wearability

The 3520 did come on a bracelet, which was included with the example I acquired as well. It’s a late ‘90s / early aughts Speedmaster bracelet, so it’s five links with two thinner ones between three wide. Going by Omega’s site, it appears the thinner links should be polished, though on mine they are brushed, making me believe there could have been different bracelets at different times. It tapers slightly from the 18mm lug to 16mm and features a hidden clasp with a single button release. This is probably the best feature as it lacks one of Omega’s signature over-sized clasps. Also, an interesting feature of the clasp is that it actually extends, but only when open to allow for it to slip off your wrist more easily, I presume. A less interesting and more annoying feature of the bracelet is that it requires abnormally thin spring bars, ones I had to special order to try the bracelet out. I’m not a huge fan of this era Speedy-bracelet, and I generally prefer Speedies on straps (don’t hate), so having it is more about completing the set than wear.

Hidden clasp

Rather, I’ve worn the 3520 on various leather and nylon straps and have been hard-pressed to find a bad combination. Nylon is great for the summer and bright colors work surprisingly well against the black and white dial, while leather gives it that rugged charm that Speedies do so well. My preferred combo is on one of my old Sage High-Craft Vintage straps (discontinued, sorry), which has a 4mm taper, exaggerating the curve of the lugs.

You know that feeling when you first put a watch on and it instantly clicks? Basically the opposite of what I described here? That’s what happened with the 3520. It’s perfectly sized for my seven-inch wrist. The diameter and lug-to-lug are ideal, and the height is not an issue on the wrist. It’s compact, sturdy, and has more personality per square millimeter than most objects I can imagine. From the twisted lugs to the overly-complex dial, there isn’t a dead moment on this watch, making it endlessly appealing to gaze at.

A perfect fit
Not bad on the bracelet either
The new Speedmaster Professional, for comparison

Compared to a Speedmaster Pro the 3520 definitely wears differently but doesn’t feel like it was designed for smaller wrists, even if it might work better on them. The dial is narrower, though barely looks like it as it goes further to the edge and has more going on. The difference in thickness is negligible. If anything, rather than truly smaller it looks and feels more stripped down. The removal of material from the lugs, thinner bevels, and 18mm lug width cut it down and lighten it up, making it less dominating. Not that one is better than the other, I’m a big fan of how the Speedy Pro wears too, rather considering both as aggressive racing chronographs, one is nimble while the other muscular.

Conclusion

If the Speedmaster Professional represents a platonic-ideal of the perfect chronograph, at least in my eyes, the Speedmaster Automatic Triple-Date 3520.50.00 represents one that is charmingly flawed. A quirky mishap, a fun error that was let through. It goes to show that “perfect” and “personality” don’t need to coexist and that the latter can outweigh the former. As a watch to review and own posthumously to its lifecycle, it offers so much. It disproves that automatic chronographs have to be big and bulky. That Speedmasters have to just be Moonwatches. And that dials have to be well-balanced, so long as they are ultimately legible.

Small but mighty

It also offers a rare chance to get a triple-calendar chronograph, a type of movement few brands currently use (Sinn and Longines come to mind), that are typically in expensive and larger watches. And to that end, the 3520 really is a good value. Averaging around $2k (mine was under, but is a bit beat up), it’s a lot of watch for the money. Sure, they got a little boost a couple of years ago when Hodinkee based their limited edition Speedmaster on the 3520.53, an exotic-dialed variant of this watch, but in the scheme of watches in general, let alone Omegas and Speedmasters, they are still solid.

To wrap this review up, finally (thanks for sticking around), the 3520 has proven to me to trust my instincts regarding watches I want, more than before. New and shiny is always fun and tempting, though I rarely find they have the staying power as something unique and interesting (unless they happen to be both). If there are watches that have been lingering on your limbo-list, quirky, odd-ball, under-valued, or appreciated timepieces, give them a chance. I did, and now I have what is easily one of my favorite watches I have owned, and a definite “keeper” for the long-term.

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Zach is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of Worn & Wound. Before diving headfirst into the world of watches, he spent his days as a product and graphic designer. Zach views watches as the perfect synergy of 2D and 3D design: the place where form, function, fashion and mechanical wonderment come together.
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