Weirdmaster: A Guide to Unusual Speedmasters

Share this story:

The Omega Speedmaster is ubiquitous. Easily one of the most recognizable watches, its black dial, 3, 6, 9 chronograph layout, and tachymeter bezel are so well known and easily understood as the Moonwatch, you could accuse the Speedy of being a bit boring. I say this as a full fledged admirer, fan, and owner of a Speedmaster. It’s a lot of things: history on your wrist, charming to the core, a fantastic value in a landscape of luxury watches that ultimately disappoint. But it’s not a watch I’d ever think of as unusual in a meaningful way, and the run of the mill Speedy Pro is certainly not rare or uncommon by any definition. 

But since the Speedmaster was introduced in 1957 we’ve seen many, many different variations on the somewhat common theme of a sports chronograph that the Speedy in many ways has defined throughout the decades. And I’m not just talking about the well known variants, like the many limited editions made to commemorate the various Apollo missions, the tech forward ceramic cased Speedmasters with (mostly) automatic movements, and the modern Speedmaster X-33 multi-function quartz pieces. Those are still fairly common, even pedestrian. The weird stuff, though, is out there. If you thought the Speedmaster was just a boring old hand wound chronograph that happened to get to the moon, once upon a time, you might be surprised by some of the legitimately strange Speedys that have come and gone through the years. 

With this guide, we attempt to chronicle some of the stranger Speedmasters that have come to market. This, of course, is subjective, but in a general way we’re looking for Speedmasters that are well outside the mainstream, perhaps not particularly prized by collectors, and certainly not the typical alternative Speedmasters that you often see mentioned on the forums. Hopefully there are a few here that you’re not familiar with and will make you do a double take. And, as always, we’d love to see your picks for the most unusual Speedmasters, so be sure to drop your favorites in the comments section below. 

And with that, let’s get weird.


Speedmaster Panda 1957, 323.30.40.40.02.001

The Speedmaster, with its NASA history, seems like a watch obsession that’s somehow uniquely American. Obviously, it’s a Swiss watch to its core. Omega is one of the most Swiss of the big Swiss brands in a lot of ways, but so much Speedmaster imagery includes astronauts with American flag patches on their space suits that it’s a bit strange for this American to think about Speedmasters that are made expressly for foreign markets, but we’ll talk about a few such watches in this guide. 

Of all the far flung places where the Speedmaster has taken hold as a favorite, Japan stands out. In fact, we produced a guide that focused exclusively on JDM Speedmasters back in 2017, which you can read right here. That guide included the well known  “Mitsukoshi” 3570.31, a black and white Speedmaster made for a short time for Japanese collectors, that has since become a favorite among inspired Speedy modders.

Image courtesy Sotheby’s
Advertisement

The watch seen here, at a glance, is similar to the Mitsukoshi, but less well known. This is reference 323.30.40.40.02.001, and was a limited edition produced for the Japanese market in 2015. Judging by the dial text, it was intended as a tribute to the first Speedmaster from 1957, and has the same black sub dials against a white backdrop that makes the Mitsukoshi so nice looking. But unlike the Mitsukoshi, this isn’t a Moonwatch – the 323.30.40.40.02.001 uses an automatic chronograph movement with a date at 4:30. 

With an automatic movement and a case size of 40mm versus the Moonwatch’s 42mm, this is a wearable and practical limited edition. A total of 2009 were made, and they come up for sale from time to time, and seem to trade for a little less than $5,000, which is less than a Mitsukoshi at the time of this writing. A more widely available, non-limited reference 323.30.40.40.04.001 is also an option with a similar colorway, but doesn’t include the “1957” text on the dial, adds a bunch of red accents, and doesn’t carry the interesting history of the Japanese LE.


Speedmaster ‘Golf’ ST 175.0043

The Speedmaster is often the subject of (mostly) good natured ribbing as Omega has turned it into a kind of perpetual canvas for limited editions. We’re long past the point of “limited to however many they sell” jokes, and I think at this point even the most devoted among us might have a level of limited Speedmaster fatigue. But it wasn’t always this way – in the 90s, when Omega made a limited edition, it was at times actually limited, and this watch is so rare, uncommon, and niche that many don’t know it exists. 

Image courtesy Carousell

The Speedmaster “Golf” was made for French customers in 1993, to celebrate the Omega Master Cup. With a dial in a now extremely trendy shade of green, and white subdials for a Panda-like impact, the Golf has a colorful and playful aesthetic that’s uncommon in Speedmasters. Reportedly, only 300 examples of this Speedmaster were made, making it a true limited edition, and genuinely rare. It has the 12, 9, 6 chronograph layout, plus date at 3:00, which was par for the course with Valjoux 7750 derived automatic Speedmasters of the period.


Omega Speedmaster 176.0014 MK 4.5 “TV Dial”

We all know the 70s was a period where watch design went in some truly bizarre directions, with case shapes and color combinations that make the often used “70s funk” descriptor well earned. The Speedmaster was not immune to these trends. The Mark II Speedmaster, with its large cushion case, is perhaps the most well known example of the Speedmaster taking on some of the design characteristics that were so prevalent throughout the disco era (even though technically the Mark II was introduced in 1969, we still think of it as a prime example of this era’s unique design qualities). 

Image courtesy Luxuwrist
Advertisement

The reference seen here, number 176.0014, is perhaps an even better distillation of 70s design characteristics as applied to the Speedmaster. While the Mark II was ostensibly designed as a next generation Speedmaster Professional, and thus a practical tool with a burly case that was purpose built, the so-called “TV Dial” Speedy (also referred to as the MK 4.5) is more of an exercise in the style of the time, and has a level of refinement that the Mark II lacks. It’s functional, to be sure. The automatic caliber 1045 ticking away inside is a revamped Lemania 5100 with a central minutes counting chronograph and a day-date display, making this one highly desirable to a certain type of chronograph nerd who also digs the funky TV shaped case and integrated bracelet design. At 40mm, this watch is sized similarly to other MK Speedmasters and Omega divers, but is still somewhat uncharacteristically large for its day (particularly with a square-ish case shape), so it would likely wear like a modern sports watch for many.


Omega Speedmaster Rattrapante Co-Axial

For me, a big part of the Speedmaster Professional’s charm is in its relative simplicity. It’s a black dialed chronograph with a simple hand wound movement that has stood the test of time. It isn’t cluttered with date windows or too much extraneous text, and it’s versatile enough to dress up or down, on exotic leathers, a simple bracelet, or fabric. If you’re after something a little more complex, however, Omega’s got you covered. We’ve already seen Speedmasters with automatic movements, calendars, and a central minute counter, so how about adding a rattrapante into the mix? 

The Speedmaster Rattrapante Co-Axial, reference 3582.51.00, is among the most complex of contemporary Speedmasters. As the name of the watch suggests, it employs a rattrapante, or split seconds, chronograph that’s capable of timing two events in rapid succession (it’s useful for lap splits in a race, for example). You’ll notice a pusher on the left side of the case that engages the split seconds mechanism, immediately starting a second timed event while the first is in progress. 

Aesthetically, the Rattrapante Co-Axial borrows equally from heritage Speedmasters (the broad arrow hour hand) and more general trends in contemporary chronograph design (this watch came in panda and reverse-panda incarnations, which call to mind classic Rolex Daytonas, and Omega’s own Schumacher edition Speedmasters). The red accents throughout are sporty and give the watch some added flair. It also features a pulsation scale and a tachymeter scale, which is possibly unique among Speedmasters. 

The movement, Calibre 3612 is truly a feat. Based on the F. Piguet caliber 1286 it’s an automatic movement with over 50 hours of power reserve and Omega’s proprietary co-axial escapement, a George Daniels design meant to increase efficiency over a longer period of time than a traditional Swiss lever escapement. The star though is the rattrapante mechanism, which features its own dedicated column wheel, making this caliber a dual column wheel, co-axial, rattrapante chronometer (because of course it’s COSC certified). It’s interesting to note that while this movement was used in several watches in Omega’s De Ville line, it only appeared in the Speedmaster in the versions seen here, and an even rarer limited edition introduced in 2010, limited to just 357 examples and clad in a black and grey dial with ceramic tachymeter bezel. 

As you’d expect, the Rattrapante Co-Axial is a bit of a bruiser. It’s 44.25mm in diameter, and 16mm thick. That’s “big dive watch” sizing in most applications, and downright humongous for a racing oriented chronograph, which you’d expect to have at least a modicum of sleekness. While it might be tough to wear for most, the Rattrapante Co-Axial’s rarity makes this something of a moot point. I expect this watch is owned primarily by collectors who are interested in its novelty, which is significant, and not necessarily its qualities as a daily wearer.


Speedmaster Reduced 3210.51.00

A lot of Speedmaster fans flock to the so-called “Reduced” automatic references for their convenient automatic movements and a trimmer and more wearable case. There’s a ton of variety in automatic Speedmasters, and they’re a staple of enthusiast forums and a perennial value proposition, even as they’re now beginning to climb ever so slightly in price. 

Photo by @dirtyharrie
Advertisement

This automatic Speedmaster takes a spot in our guide for a few reasons. First, it’s a variation on a theme that’s emerging here, with its black/white/red racing dial. It turns out, this is an expression of the Speedmaster that seems to be available in nearly every Speedy footprint, and could be a worthy collecting pursuit on its own. 

The other reason it lands here is to highlight the case size. The Speedy Reduced is almost always thought of as a sub 40mm watch. While we haven’t counted them all, it seems likely that the vast majority of automatic Speedmasters produced in the 90s and 00s were 38 or 39mm. But a handful were just a bit bigger, like this one at 40mm. This reference has a 19mm lug width that is just a millimeter wider than most Speedys under 40mm that we’ve seen, so it’s likely that the slightly larger case would wear extremely well, likely maintaining the wrist feel of a 38 or 39mm watch, with a visual wrist presence that’s closer to the Speedmaster Professional.


Broad Arrow Co‑Axial GMT Chronograph

It’s a little surprising, but Omega doesn’t often incorporate a GMT complication into the Speedmaster. I think because it’s so iconic as the key chronograph in a historical sense for so many, Omega is perhaps a bit reluctant to turn the Speedmaster into a platform for a bunch of other complications. But multiple timezone functionality isn’t unheard of in Speedmasters. Omega still produces the Solar Impulse HB-SIA, for instance, a strange watch in its own right with a niche aviation appeal. The X-33, Omega’s multi-function quartz Speedy and the watch of choice for many astronauts in recent years, can give you the time in multiple places. And then we have this Broad Arrow Co-Axial GMT Chronograph, a truly unusual design that borrows from Omega’s history and features some modern attributes as well, in a form factor that is almost jarring for Speedy traditionalists. 

Like the Rattrapante, this one’s big, and seems inspired by the same maximalist sensibility. Reference 3581.50.00 is a 44.25mm hunk of steel with a utilitarian but busy dial with a 3, 6, 9 chrono layout with a 24 hour scale integrated between the traditional Speedmaster stick indices. It’s a lot to take in – the extra complication requires additional information throughout the entire dial. Unlike adding a moonphase, or a simple calendar, a GMT complication like this is a full dial commitment and dramatically alters the character of the piece. Stylistically, this watch sits between a Speedy Pro and a Seamaster, which in recent years has been a much more suitable platform for complication expansion, with plenty of GMTs and chronographs coming to market under the umbrella of Omega’s flagship diver. With 100 meters of water resistance, this Speedmaster GMT Chronograph is robust enough for almost anyone who’s likely to get this wet, anyway.


Speedmaster Reduced “Golden”

Some in the watch community have been claiming that two-tone is back for as long as a trend typically lasts. It makes me wonder if it came and went, or if we’re still waiting for its arrival. It also makes me wonder if some might have investments tied up in precious metals, and are hoping for a spike in the commodities markets. In any case, the Speedmaster has dabbled in two-tone, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering the longevity of the Speedmaster as a canvas for whatever watch design trend is happening at the moment. Speedmasters, as much as any watch, are a reflection of their era, which is one of the things that makes them so exciting to collect and learn about. 

Image courtesy Della Rocca Watches
Advertisement

Two-tone watches, like everything else, have experienced ups and downs in popularity, and for a time in the 90s Omega was getting in on the action by way of a series of gold and steel Speedmaster Reduced models. Reference 175.0033 is a white dialed Speedmaster with gold tone subdials and a gold tachymeter bezel, along with a bracelet with steel and gold links, but there are other variations, including a black dial and gold dial, always with the gold tone subdials. A luxurious and flashy expression of the Speedmaster is certainly a strange sight, but gold Speedys are of course not unheard of (see this anniversary Speedmaster released in 2019).

It’s very, very 90s, but these interesting Speedmasters represent a somewhat affordable way to get into the two-tone craze, which we may or may not be in the midst of, or ever happen at all.


Speedmaster Perpetual Calendar 

Speaking of gold, we’d be remiss not to point out this ultra complicated Speedmaster, which could be considered the ultimate Speedy Reduced. Reference 175.0037 is a solid gold perpetual calendar in a 39mm case. The watch was produced in limited quantities for the Japanese market in 1991, and celebrates the 700th anniversary of the nation of Switzerland. So, it’s unusual on a number of fronts: the case material, the level of complexity, the rarity (only 50 were made), and the strangeness of a watch celebrating Switzerland itself that was produced for Japanese collectors. (For even more detail on this watch’s movement, production, and sales history, be sure to check out Robert-Jan Broer’s account of the Speedmaster Perpetual on Fratello right here). 

Image courtesy Fratello Watches

These days, complicated sports watches are fairly common, and extremely desirable at the highest end (think about the complicated expressions of the Royal Oak and Nautilus, for example). But in the early 90s, a complicated, solid gold sports watch would have been fairly novel. What we have in the reference 175.0037 could be seen as a precursor to the sporty luxury watches that are so popular today, but this Speedmaster has been somewhat lost to time, so it doesn’t feel like much like an influential landmark. Still, it’s a handsome watch, and the perpetual calendar layout mates surprisingly well with the familiar Speedmaster case.


LCD Speedmaster 186.0005

Last on the list is quartz Speedmaster that you could say predicted the next generation X-33 of today. There have been a bunch of quartz Speedy’s with LCD displays, but this one from the mid 70s stands out as an early example of a burgeoning watch technology. 

To me, this Speedmaster and other LCD Speedys are interesting because unlike the complicated and precious metal watches that we’ve highlighted so far in this guide, the LCD version really doesn’t resemble a Speedmaster at all. The case doesn’t have the trademark lug design, and there’s no attempt to mimic the familiar dial layout or tachymeter scale by way of the LCD screen. Omega called this a Speedmaster simply on the basis of the inclusion of a chronograph as part of the multi-function capability. Notably, it also includes a calendar, and a split timer, just like the Rattrapante discussed above. 

Image courtesy Omegaforums

In a way, there’s something endearing about a watch like this when looked at in the context of the Speedmaster environment we find ourselves in today. We lament the constant introduction of “new” Speedmasters that potentially dilute the market. They often are simply slightly different executions of a common style. This watch obviously precedes that period in Speedmaster history, and was given the title of “Speedmaster” based purely on its technical merits, which in the 1970s were significant. We take it for granted now, and think of LCD watches as cheap throwbacks, but there was a period of time when this was the state of the art, and desired as a status symbol. In that sense, it’s even more interesting as a time capsule that looks back at a different era of watchmaking and watch enthusiasm that is markedly different from our own. 

Advertisement
Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.
Categories:
Article / Featured

From the Archives: Summer Reading with the Omega Speedmaster

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

The Coolest (and Strangest) Omega Speedmasters From Japan

By
Hipsters in Japan are a special breed. You’re not a …