One of the reasons we love vintage watches is for the stories they tell. Yes, that’s a bit of a cliche, but every so often a watch comes to our attention that is truly historic, and really drives the point home. There are watches that hold personal meaning to their owners (family heirlooms passed down through the generations, for example), and watches that hold special and often outsize significance to small groups of collectors (like a Tiffany stamp on a vintage Rolex). But a watch like the Speedmaster Eric Wind listed for sale recently falls into another category altogether. This watch, worn by astronaut Scott Carpenter, exists at the place where watchmaking history and American history meet. It wouldn’t be out of place in a museum, but if you have the cash, it can be yours.
First, a little background on Carpenter, because the fact that this watch was his personal Speedmaster is a huge part of what makes it special, particularly to hardcore vintage watch enthusiasts. Carpenter was an American naval officer and test pilot who was selected as one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts 1959. After John Glenn, Carpenter was the second American to orbit the earth, and was a key figure in the early days of the space program when it both captured the imagination of the world and was arguably at its most dangerous. Carpenter’s space flights did not go off without a hitch – his Aurora 7 spacecraft that flew in the Mercury-Atlas 7 mission famously splashed down 250 miles off course from the intended target.
In addition to space exploration, Carpenter also played a key role in the Navy’s SEALAB project and was one of the first aquanauts. He spent 28 days living on the ocean floor in the SEALAB II habitat in 1965, and would later become Director of Aquanautic Operations for SEALAB III. Watch enthusiasts with an interest in Rolex are probably aware of SEALAB’s link to that brand’s advances in engineering as they relate to dive watches, which could frankly be the subject of a lengthy article of its own. Suffice it to say, Carpenter was a true explorer, and throughout his career found himself linked to a handful of iconic watches from a multitude of watch brands.
And that’s part of what makes this Speedmaster special. Carpenter seems to have had a genuine interest in watches, specifically in using them in the high stress environments he frequently found himself in during the course of his career. Last year, Blake brought you this story about Breitling’s reissue of a watch that Carpenter wore aboard Aurora 7, which featured modifications made to his own specs. He clearly thought about these things as practical tools, and had the experience and know-how to understand how to make them more effective for him specifically. That’s the kind of practical application of watch enthusiasm that we love discussing so much in these pages.
Now, the watch being sold by Wind Vintage is not exactly in the “practical tool” category, but is well understood by the collector community as one of the more historically important Speedmasters ever made. The solid gold reference 145.022-69 BA “Tribute to Astronauts” Speedmaster was presented to Carpenter along with other early astronauts (and Richard Nixon) in 1969 after the success of the Apollo 11 moon landing. These Speedmasters are a whole different breed of rare, being that they were gifts made to individuals directly from Omega on a very special occasion. The yellow gold Speedy with a complementary red bezel has become something of an icon in its own right, aided in part by the release of this 50th anniversary edition, the first hand wound co-axial Speedmaster, to no small amount of acclaim back in 2019.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time an original “Tribute to Astronauts” Speedmaster has come up for public sale. Wally Schirra’s watch sold for about $1.9 million at auction last year, so Wind’s asking price of $1.5 million feels like a relative bargain, particularly when one considers the unique place Carpenter holds as a “watch guy” in the collector community.
According to Wind, Carpenter’s Speedmaster is in unpolished condition, and as the photos seen here indicate, is in great shape overall. The personalized inscription on the back is clearly visible, and the watch comes directly from Carpenter’s family.
In a way, any Speedmaster is an historic object, even the mass produced Moonwatch you can go out and buy today at any Omega boutique. They all carry a story with them that is far bigger than watches, but vintage Speedmasters can be special in an entirely different way. In the realm of watches worn by astronauts, it’s hard to imagine a watch more special than this, given that flight worn Speedys are NASA property and, by law, can’t be put up for sale. For those who live in the middle of the Venn Diagram covering watch collectors and NASA nerds, this might be the ultimate collectible. Wind Vintage
All images courtesy Wind Vintage