collectors, Novelty 2021, Omega, watches
The OMEGA Speedmaster Moonwatch Cal. 3861 – an icon made fit for the future
The Porsche 911, the Leica M or the OMEGA Speedmaster – the crux for such timeless industrial designs is how to keep them up to date. With the new Speedmaster Moonwatch Cal. 3861 there’s something for the Rationalist, the Purist and the Maximalist
What would a student, a factory worker and a manager likely have in common? The attraction to objects that defy any association to a certain income bracket, social segment or educational achievement. At least in Europe, a Volkswagen Golf is considered ‘the classless car’ that all of above groups might drive. IKEA furniture would be another example. In the world of watches, an OMEGA Speedmaster certainly comes close to such classless status.
(The OMEGA Speedmaster Moonwatch 2021, clockwise from left: SednaTM gold, stainless steel (sapphire), stainless steel (hesalite))
It’s no-nonsense, straightforward design, the demonstrated functionality, reliability and (at least for a long time) affordability ensured that the watch gained a cult following, which was fostered by the numerous, small upgrades and improvements OMEGA implemented over the decades. This year, the brand pushed out the most substantial upgrade since the switch from the Cal. 321 to 861 with a new generation that is powered by the recent Cal. 3861, the co-axial, Master Chronometer compatible version of the legendary Lemania-derived chronograph movement.
‘the eclecticum’ had three versions of the OMEGA Speedmaster Moonwatch (2021) at hand: two times stainless steel (with hesalite acrylic and sapphire crystals), and a SednaTM gold version.
Subtle and not so subtle changes
The headline news of course is the new Cal. 3861, which we will tackle a bit below. Besides this OMEGA also carefully modified case, hands and dial, with the aim to bring the new watch as close to the famous Ref. ST 105.021, the very watch which flew aboard the Apollo 11 mission in 1969:
On the face, we find a new matt ‘step dial’ with sunken subdials, and some fine modifications on tachometer scale and hands.
(Stainless steel, sapphire crystal)
The ‘step dial’ is named not for the sunken subdials, but for the recessed outer minute section:
(Stainless steel, hesalite crystal)
Technically oriented readers might have noticed that the subseconds indices now correctly correspond with the 3Hz (21,600 A/h) frequency of the movement – a welcome change for the better.
Lume is there, but more in line of what a Speedmaster always featured: legible dials, not like some of the ‘floodlights’ we see frequently:
All this is housed in a new 42mm case* with slightly higher case sides as previously, but with an overall reduced thickness mostly thanks to a new caseback which now has two bevels instead of one.
(Case band, sapphire, dial)
(Caseback with double bezels, stainless steel, hesalite crystal)
Finally, OMEGA also introduced a new**, a bit more solid 3-link bracelet tapering from 20mm (lugs) to 15mm (clasp) with a new, slimmer yet still sturdy clasp that offers some fine adjustment.
The bracelet differs a bit between watch version, and we come to this a bit later.
The new Cal. 3861 – a (conservative) quantum leap
OMEGA’s handwound chronograph movement is as legendary as the Speedmaster itself – and was equally in need of an update. And here we are – with the new Cal. 3861, now with co-axial escapement, silicon hairspring and with a gain in performance and antimagnetic properties. As the last mechanical watch in OMEGA’s stable it now also qualifies for the Master Chronometer certification:
On a passing view almost, everything has been retained from the erstwhile Cal. 861, and this includes the cam/lever-controlled chronograph setup. The escapement now combines a large, freesprung balance wheel with a very small silicon hairspring. A hacking seconds has been added, and small efficiency improvements increase the power reserve from 48 to 50 hours.
OMEGA though says that 60% of all parts have been made anew, including a finer (albeit still machine-made) decoration with Geneva stripes, satin brushing and anglage.
(Diamond-cut anglage on the chronograph bridge)
Overall, a mostly welcome update to a classic. OMEGA now has a consistent line of entirely Master Chronometer certified watches, all with co-axial escapement and silicon hairsprings (with the sole exception being the Cal. 321, but this is an exotic movement made by a dedicated (& small) workshop within the company).
Given the ‘professional’ designation of the Speedmaster, the update was overdue in view of the competitive landscape, and also in view of what ‘professional’ means in a contemporary context. For the romantics amongst us, is means to bid ‘goodbye’ to the very movement that has seen deployment in outer space and on the moon. For OMEGA, the new consistency means more efficient production (and troubleshooting), less handwork in assembly and reglage, and (likely) less warranty work and more streamlined service processes.
If you’d like to dig deep into the changes and how they relate to direct and indirect predecessors, we’d encourage you to pay a visit over to Fratello and read Robert-Jan’s excellent comparison.
Here at ‘the eclecticum’, we’ll see how the new watches feel for us as collectors, and how they all fit into the context of the watch landscape and the Speedmaster in particular. As watches are entirely multidimensional objects, we’d like to summarise our impressions on the three version with a short video:
With all this settled – let’s look at how OMEGA fine-tuned their offerings in an intelligent way, and discuss how we interpret the three versions we had at hand one by one, separately:
The Rationalist’s Choice: stainless steel with sapphire crystal
Essentially, the most everyday-ready version that offers the most ‘interesting’ features: boxed sapphire crystal, display back, and an applied ‘Ω’ logo:
For this version, OMEGA opted for a bracelet with mainly matt brushed elements, but added polishing of the flanks towards the centre elements as added spice:
The reference 310.30.42.50.01.002 certainly ticks a lot of boxes – and is precisely designed to do so. It will be the main offering, and likely appeal most to those who just want to have a modern Speedmaster.
With a price of € 7000, this watch will face fierce competition, but a Speedmaster is a Speedmaster, and for those who prefer an even more modern version (e.g. automatic), OMEGA has you covered as well.
The Purist’s Choice: stainless steel with hesalite crystal
Much to our delight OMEGA decided to retain a version with an acrylic (‘hesalite’) crystal, the ref. 310.30.42.50.01.001.
(OMEGA Speedmaster with Hesalith crystal)
An acrylic crystal has a specific vintage charm: it reminds on the ‘good old days’ of watchmaking, the history of the Speedmaster itself (more to that in a second), but with the disadvantage of not being as scratch-proof as sapphire.
This version is easily (but not only) recognisable by the small embossed ‘Ω’ symbol in the centre:
A second identifier for the acrylic crystal comes from a side view:
(The OMEGA Speedmaster Moonwatch 2021 in stainless steel: left, sapphire; right, hesalite crystal)
Aesthetically, acrylic crystals lend a ‘fluid’ impression to the dial, the way they guide the light in and around the dial is mesmerising, and they also convey a bit more spice to the dial compared to one under sapphire – despite being 99% identical:
(The OMEGA Speedmaster Moonwatch 2021 in stainless steel: left, hesalite; right, sapphire crystal)
From above image you’ll notice the fully brushed bracelet on the acrylic version versus the one with polished elements on the sapphire Speedy, but there’s more: the caseback is closed with an embossed Speedmaster logo (see images further above) and the dial is fully printed:
In terms of price, the hesalite Speedmaster continues to serve as the entry level option to the line at € 6200. But (once more) there is more to it: it is the essential version, the one which is closest to the original, officially space flight certified & tested one, the one which retains all the functional elements of the improved version (save for the crystal), and this now even includes the movement (in all previous versions those with solid caseback had the lesser finished Cal. 1861 instead of the decoratively more elaborate Cal. 1863).
It is thus the one for the seasoned purists among us. For those who accept air as engine coolant and nothing else…
The Maximalist’s Choice: 18kt SednaTM rose gold
OMEGA has always made upmarket variants of the Speedmaster, and also now they presented watches in 18kt rose (SednaTM) or white (CanopusTM) gold – for € 34,300 and € 44,700, respectively.
It was an interesting adventure handling the former, SednaTM gold, version for an extended time. This watch brings the ‘Speedmaster experience’ at an unusual heft: the watch weights (including bracelet) 215g, that is 80g more than the steel versions (between 132 (hesalite) and 136g (sapphire), a fascinating small difference, isn’t it?).
There are a number of tiny details which OMEGA tweaked further: the dial is sunray-brushed, the hour indices are applied SednaTM gold, as are the (relief) inscriptions on the dial:
That is a surprising twist to the Speedmaster for sure, but when we think of the overall package, and the price one has to pay for the watch, some conflicting thoughts come to our mind: on the one hand, and here we can speak for us as purist collectors only, we would rather spend our money on something which has more watchmaking art and artisanry inside …
Also, we feel that somehow the haptic impression of the watch is not reflected in the aesthetics – despite the small tweaks, the watch somehow lacks a balance between heft and look. It does not ‘pop’ like the steel Speedmasters, especially the hesalite one, do. Also, for our taste the colour hue of SednaTM gold is just too close to copper.
On the other hand, this is a luxurious package and might apply to those who are attracted to the Speedmaster legacy but prefer to ‘go all in’ with precious metals and the like. And here we see a lot of analogies to the beforementioned classics like Porsche 911, VW Golf or the Leica M – you can buy the ‘essential’ base models – or you can upgrade and specify race-track versions or opt for luxurious upholsteries and even strictly limited exclusive editions. Luxury without the hassles of truly bespoke options, that may characterise it.
There will be a market for the gold versions – it is just not us …
Wait, maybe that is only true for now. Personal context and means may change and so do collections and collectors’ targets. In the world of ´being eclectic` we can easily imagine someone who asks for more and has no problem to be a ´rationalist`, a ´purist` and a ´maximalist` at the same time. On top being keen on dedicated vintage pieces … and hey that´s fine. It´s called passion!
Damn if you do, damn if you don’t – the pitfalls of updating an icon
Icons of industrial design, there are a number who have survived and thrived over long time – the Porsche 911 or the Leica M rangefinder camera, just as examples (and the Rolex Submariner in the world of watches, to complete the picture). All of them in production, one way or the other, for decades, and all of them have weathered the turmoil, chances and abysses of changing tastes, shifts of technological paradigms or economic upheavals.
Yet, they retained relevance and desirability because they were ‘perfect’ for those who seek the pure, they served an eclectic purpose – and their makers carefully updated them. The draw to such products spans all social levels with some people able to acquire them with the flick of a finger, whereas others manage only after years of saving. The key is an unsurmountable a ‘I want!’ instinct.
Here, ‘updating’ is not automatically welcome, and does not pass without debate and controversy – take the Porsche 911 as example: emission regulations worldwide required the switch from air-cooled to water-cooled engines, accident protection requirements brought electronic driver assistance technology, and even the gearstick today is electronic. Yet, it’s still an icon, despite a few ‘purists’ who would only accept one of the air-cooled versions … but Porsche has factories to be kept busy, thus cars need to be designed such that they are attractive to a large audience (hence also the Panameras and the Cayennes, but that’s another story…).
This then brings us back to the Speedmaster!
OMEGA does not operate in isolation. The industry constantly advances, aesthetically and technologically, and no brand of the size, capability and ambition such as OMEGA can allow itself to stand still.
The new iteration of the Speedmaster is a perfect example for this: Retaining a lot more than what marketing people would call the ‘DNA’ of the watch, OMEGA stroke a fine balance between retaining the essence of the watch, implementing current state-of-the-art watchmaking, and also considering their balance sheet – just like Porsche did with the 911 (from 911 T to 911 R or even 911 GT3 RS), and Leica (from the ‘pure’ M10 to the M Monochrom “Drifter” Set by Kravitz Design). That’s what we call a super smart and solid business case!
The original Cal. 1861 has been upgraded – and not made anew: the entire layout is retained, the operating principle as well, such that on surface only the escapement has been brought up to date.
(OMEGA Cal. 1861 (left) and Cal. 3861 (right). Images © OMEGA)
This brings not only the numerous advantages we laid out above already, it is in a way also a reflection of necessity: a firm not only needs to offer something new to attract increased sales (even more so if a veritable icon is concerned), it also has to consider what the competition is doing. And here we firmly have Zenith with their equally legendary El Primero movement in mind, which very recently enjoyed a similar upgrade – the two developments go hand-in-hand, and we would not be surprised if the one influenced the other (after all, rumours of both were spreading for some time…)***.
Much of the other advancements brought the watch closer to its origin, namely the sought-after ‘Apollo 11’ version, a brilliant move given the recent fondness of collectors for re-edition (not necessary here, OMEGA has the ‘original’ in continuous production)!
Back to the future – one might say!
*) the case was first used in the Speedmaster ‘Silver Snoopy Award’ 50th Anniversary presented in late 2020
**) the bracelet made its first appearance with the Speedmaster Apollo 11 50th Anniversary in MoonshineTM gold from 2019
***) coincidence or not, both movements enjoyed technically comparable updates, and recently also improvements in their practicality: the OMEGA Speedmaster got correct 3 subsecond indices, and the El Primero got rid of the widely overlapping subdials which previously prevented reading the counted minutes over a long interval.
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