Timepiece Chronicle

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First the moon, now the Sun: Omega's new limited edition Speedmaster Skywalker Solar Impulse

First the moon, now the Sun: Omega's new limited edition Speedmaster Skywalker Solar Impulse

The Omega Speedmaster Skywalker X-33 Solar Impulse, limited to 1924 pieces. © OMEGA Ltd

The Omega Speedmaster Skywalker X-33 Solar Impulse, limited to 1924 pieces. © OMEGA Ltd

On Tuesday Omega announced the new limited edition Speedmaster Skywalker X-33 Solar Impulse limited Edition, a slight variant of the new X-33 Skywalker that was announced at Baselworld last year.  Both models share a lot of the same features, both with a 45mm case made from Grade 2 Titanium with a liquid crystal display dial showing a multitude of functions alongside traditional analogue hands. They both make use of the new Omega multi-function quartz chronograph calibre 5619 which was developed under a European Space Agency (ESA) patent license filed by French Astronaut Jean Francois Clervoy, who had several ideas on how to improve the watches he wore on missions.

The X-33 Skywalker was designed from the ground up to aid astronauts in tracking their mission events. The Solar Impulse has three different adjustable time zones, three alarms (with different pitches), a chronograph and countdown function, a perpetual calendar with the day, date, month, year and week number indications and two features designed for pilots and astronauts: total mission elapsed time (MET) and phase elapsed time (PET). The dial is far more legible than the original X-33 that Omega released in 1998 with light grey digital markers on a black background. Unlike the standard X-33, the Solar Impulse has a blue ceramic bezel coated with Super-LumiNova and several blue and green highlights running throughout the watch. The design of the green second hand is reminiscent of the 1970’s Seamaster 145.023, nicknamed the Anakin Skywalker. Omega is certainly taking advantage of the current trend in NATO straps, with the Solar Impulse only available on a blue NATO with green trim. I like the addition of colour throughout the Solar Impulse, as it adds a bit of personality compared to the standard X-33. 

© OMEGA Ltd

© OMEGA Ltd

Doctor, psychiatrist, explorer and aeronaut Bertrand Piccard announced in 2003 the start of the Solar Impulse Project, with the end goal being a completely solar-powered, long range aircraft to circumnavigate the world. Piccard is no stranger to adventure, coming from a long line of adventurers and balloonists. In 1999 alongside Brian Jones, he was the first to circumnavigate the world non-stop in a balloon, the Breitling Orbiter 3. In addition to the aim of completing the first solar powered flight round the world, Piccard and his co-pilot “want to demonstrate that the actual alternative energy sources and new technologies can achieve what some consider impossible”. Omega is one of the main partners of the project and aside from investing capital it has also aided in the design and production of some of the instruments used on the flight including a dash instrument to indicate flight path and wing angle, a variety of pilot warning systems and an energy dispatcher used to transfer energy produced by the solar cells throughout the plane. Recently in Monaco, the first mission control centre for the flight, the Solar Impulse team announced their planned route for the flight which will start sometime in late February/beginning of March.

On the one hand it, does seem a little strange that the aim of Solar Impulse Project is to advance reusable fuel and solar technology and then for Omega to create a watch which requires battery replacements every two years. However the time of the traditional Speedmaster’s use in space is at an end, and to still be called “Professional” it needs to meet certain practical requirements. The Skywalker Solar Impulse has been tested and qualified for flight by the ESA after having undergone strict tests at their technical facility in Noordwijk, Netherlands. The watch was placed in a shaker to simulate the vibrations of a launch, was spun in a centrifuge reaching seven times the gravity felt on earth; after that its performance was analysed in a vacuum chamber with temperatures ranging from -45C to +75C and blasted with radiation to mimic the changes in temperature and effects of natural space radiation that could affect the watch. After all these these tests, the ESA were satisfied that the Skywalker met their standards.

© OMEGA Ltd

© OMEGA Ltd

The Skywalker Solar Impulse will be limited to 1924 pieces, the year in which the United States Army Air Service flew around the world. There has been no announcement in regards to availability but I imagine that it may coincide with the planned end date of the flight which is around August, giving Omega the opportunity to showcase the piece at Baselworld in about a month.

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