Up For Auction: The Story of Nikolai Budarin’s Flown Omega Speedmaster Professional X-33 

Share this story:

There’s always something rather cool about having a watch that’s capable of doing more than just going to the office, sitting in a pub, and maybe even enduring a tough game of golf. It’s one of the reasons people like Submariners; if it can survive to 660ft, the rigors of the the swim-up bar on holiday shouldn’t be too much of a bother, should it?

So how about a watch that’s not only capable of space flight, but has been there, done that and bought the space suit?  Here’s your chance to get your mitts on Cosmonaut Nikolai Budarin’s space-flown X-33 Speedmaster Professional.

As you’re reading this, you probably already know the story of Walter Schirra’s personal Omega Speedmaster ref. CK 2998 being the first Omega in space on the Sigma 7 mission of the 1962 Mercury Programme. You’ll know about the first watch in space; Yuri Gagarin’s rather more humble Sturmanskie in 1962. But here’s an ana-digi member of the rather exclusive club of watches that have made it up and back again — the Omega X-33.

Whilst everyone in Watchworld knows the traditional wind-it-yourself mech Speedie, most people don’t realize there are actually more digital or ana-digi variants of the Speedmaster, from the wonderful mid-1970s LCD 1620 series with their round, square, and rectangular cases through to the modern Skywalker X-33.  

Advertisement

The X-33 had echoes of the earlier cal.1665 multi-function quartz movement with a circular, circumferential digital display that had found a home in the Seamaster series. Budarin’s is a flown example of the Gen 1 X-33, the so-called “Mars Watch” even though it was never intended for missions to the red planet.

You can spot this version by its shiny — rather than matte — bezel and buttons and its longitudinally ridged, traditional crown. The later Gen 2 (the ref. 3291.50) had matte buttons and bezel and Omega changed the crown design to make it simpler to use if you were wearing gloves. Not a concern for most of us, but in space’s 2.7 Kelvin (that’s -455 Fahrenheit in real money), you don’t really want to be tugging your glove off your hand to adjust your watch.

It really does show that Omega co-developed the X-33 with the help of serious military pilots and NASA — and they were determined to reinforce the fact in the model’s early days. They launched the new watch as the ref. 3290.50 in March 1998 simultaneously at the Houston Space Center and in orbit on the Russian MIR space station.

The watch on the block at Boston’s RR Auction would know all about this as it flew with Cosmonaut Nikolai Budarin on Space Shuttle Endeavour on the 14-day mission STS-113. STS-113 was still in space when the ill-fated Columbia disintegrated as it re-entered the atmosphere in February 2003.  As NASA immediately suspended Shuttle flights, Budarin returned to Earth in the Russian Soyuz TMA-1 under his command. It was his final spaceflight.

The auction house is offering Cosmonaut Budarin’s watch along with a couple of other X-33s from The Spaceflight America Museum and Science Center.

As you can imagine, Budarin’s Gen 1 X-33 looks as though it’s seen some action. The auction report describes it as “In very good to fine cosmetic condition, with light scratches to the face and bezel, and heavy wear to the upper half of the watchband where it attaches to the body; function untested.”

Being picky, one might point out the missing light activation pusher at 8 o’clock (the X-33 has a rather neat way of stopping the second hand as you activate the light — which kicks out a bright 8 Lux).  The never terribly robust original Coramide strap hasn’t walked away unscathed either, looking pretty rough around the edges. RR have this listed as a “black leather Omega bracelet,” but as the Coramide’s leather-backed, it seems churlish to fuss. But far from devaluing the watch, those signs of proper, authentic space-wear surely add to it?

“Yeah, that’s where my watch took a knock on re-entry…”  The only better bragging rights belong to Cosmonaut Budarin himself.

Advertisement

Mind you, Budarin wasn’t the only space traveller to lose an X-33 button. US Astronaut Don Pettit had the same problem and even posted a video to YouTube of the distinctly warranty-busting repair job he did with his Leatherman.

Pettit’s light activator pusher ended up sticking to a filter on a cabin ventilator. Budarin wasn’t so lucky. Seems quite a coincidence both men lost the same pusher though, doesn’t it? Given that a Polish fighter pilot managed to stuff his MiG whilst wearing his prototype X-33 (which survived, fully functioning), there probably aren’t too many durability worries around Budarin’s X-33 even if you did decide to wear it.

The auction record doesn’t mention whether one of the X-33’s most effective characteristics still works — its 80dB alarm, but one doubts anyone buying this plans to use it as a daily wearer. The alarm and the light both kick out some serious power, so they put quite a drain on the X-33’s battery. It’s easy enough to replace, though, simply by unscrewing the nine caseback screws and popping the battery out.

Like every other Gen 1 X-33, the case is Grade 2 satin titanium, has a unidirectional bezel and that winding crown that doubles as a pusher.  And, like every other X, the watch has the same functions of mission timing, chronograph, UTC, and a timer. But unlike every other Gen 1 X-33, the case-back is marked “Not For Sale,” “13/A,” and NASA part numbers: “528-20991-1” and “1035.”  Ah, the value of those few letters. And the watch comes with photos of Cosmonaut Budarin wearing his watch while writing and signing a letter of authentication.

RR have set an estimate of $20,000 for Cosmonaut Baudarin’s X-33. Space watches — particularly models that have flown — are necessarily rare with prices to match. The Speedmaster astronaut Ron Evans used on the Apollo 17 mission sold back to Omega for $245,000 in 2016, and Alan Bean’s 18k gold Omega Speedmaster, though it never flew in space, sold for $50,000 back in 2015.

RR certainly have form when it comes to selling space watches. They were the auction house behind the sale of Dave Scott’s Bulova for $1.6m (the estimate had been a rather pessimistic $50,000). If the price flies the same way, we could be looking at nearly $650,000 for this watch. Admittedly, although it’s been flown, unlike Scott’s, it’s not reached the moon so it’s perhaps not quite so desirable. But space collectors are determined people and the number of flown watches is about as limited as it gets. RR Auctions

Advertisement
Mark developed a passion for watches at a young age. At 9, he was gifted an Omega Time Computer manual from a local watch maker and he finagled Rolex brochures from a local dealer. Today, residing in the Oxfordshire village of Bampton, Mark brings his technical expertise and robust watch knowledge to worn&wound.
markchristie mark_mcarthur_christie
Categories:
Article / Featured

From the Archives: Summer Reading with the Omega Speedmaster

By
With summer winding down to a sad close, we imagine …

Omega Speedmaster: Present Day

By
Speedys in the movies (and TV). Speedmaster, the early years. …