One More Bold Step: Omega's new Speedmaster Master Chronometer Moonphase and the Grey Side of the Moon Meteorite
This year at Baselworld, Omega treated us to several new Speedmasters including the Master Chronometer Chronograph Moonphase, the first Master Chronometer rated chronograph, and the new Grey Side of the Moon Meteorite which puts a piece of space right on your wrist.
When Omega first launched the Speedmaster in 1957 as a racing timer inspired by Italian race cars, they had no idea just how much of an impact it would have on the world and their company. The natural ebb and flow of a brand's collection always means that no single family is forever at the crest of the wave for too long as attention is inevitably focused elsewhere yet 59 years later it is impossible to think of an Omega catalogue without picturing the Speedmaster. Whilst the "Moon watch" has remained in Omega's collection with only a handful changes since its maiden space flight, the collection as a whole has been the testing ground for every horological advancement that has risen since it's creation; Automatic chronographs, digital displays, quartz movements, Super-quartz complications designed for long-term space flight and Co-Axial Calibre movements have all graced the Speedmaster with some experiments better remembered than others.
It was in 2013 when Omega released the Dark Side of the Moon, an all black Speedmaster in a ceramic case that instantly became the Speedmaster to have. I remember desperately trying to source one for a client a few years back with branches lucky enough to have one using one hand to swat me away and the other to hold onto their stock for dear life. At the time the process of creating a one-piece ceramic case was incredibly slow so availability was scarce, making the desirability of the DSOTM even greater. In 2014 Omega released the Grey Side of the Moon, a light grey ceramic case with a sandblasted platinum dial which never found as much popularity as it's older brother perhaps because the name "Grey Side of the Moon" doesn't inspire much passion. The original name for the piece, the Lunar Dust, was unfortunately unavailable to use because of an existing product. 2015 saw the biggest expansion of the X Side of the Moon to date with four new DSOTMs (The Black Black, Pitch Black, Vintage Black, Sedna Black) and the utterly hideous White Side of the Moon.
In the same year as the release of the Dark Side of the Moon Omega launched their first Master Co-Axial piece, an evolution of their Co-Axial Calibre movements. Starting off as the brainchild of Master Watchmaker George Daniels, it first saw serialized commonplace production as a modified ETA movement then to a series of purpose built movements (the 8500s and 9300s. To me the Co-Axial Calibres mark the biggest divergence from the traditional Swiss Lever Escapement in the last hundred years. In 2014 Omega released their first Master Co-Axial movement which saw pride of place in the Seamaster 300 and one of my personal favourites, the now mostly forgotten about, De Ville Tresor. What seemed like an end point for the development of the Co-Axial Calibres was actually just a stepping stone as in 2015 Omega released the Master Chronometer rated Globemaster, the first piece to be tested under new chronometric requirements developed by both Omega and METAS.
A few weeks before Baselworld 2016 Omega teased us with images of the new Speedmaster which not only would be the first Master Chronometer rated chronograph but a moonphase at that. There will be eight different versions of this Master Chronometer rated Chronograph Moonphase (Quite a mouthful) in a variety of colors and metals with a special limited edition in platinum with a red ceramic bezel. The subdials have been redesigned to accommodate the inclusion of the moonphase at six o'clock with more graduation marks at 3 o'clock than usual and a date pointer added to nine o'clock alongside the running seconds. On the limited edition you'll find a small magnifying circlet of glass that allows the date to be more easily read. Rather than a more traditional moonphase showing a flat disc or smiling lunar face as a representation, Omega chose to utilize a photo-realistic disc that shows the moon's crater in exquisite detail along with an enlarged footprint of Dr. Buzz Aldrin taken from the NASA archives. Whilst the relative size of the foot to the moon implies Dr. Aldrin is actually several hundred feet tall, it's a really lovely inclusion that honors one of the greatest living adventurers.
The addition of the red ceramic bezel and red moonphase skyline in the platinum limited edition is jarring at first and certainly won't be everyone's favorite however the technical achievement of achieving a red ceramic is not to be underplayed. In 2014 Omega released a limited edition Seamaster Planet Ocean, the first orange ceramic seen in the range yet it's high price and low availability (Eight pieces I believe) meant that it got very little coverage. Reds and oranges are very hard to achieve as these brighter color tend to dissipate during the baking process. The intricate complexities of developing a red ceramic does mean that this bezel has aluminum numbers rather than the liquid metal inserts seen in the rest of the line which is both disappointing and completely understandable in equal measure. The technical craftsmanship and research needed to create a Master Chronometer rated Co-Axial Calibre chronograph moonphase movement is no small feat and whilst they might not be for everyone, these newest Speedmasters really do mark a significant moment in Omega's history. Whilst this Baselworld isn't even over yet I'll predict that next year (the 60th Anniversary of the Speedmaster) we will see a "standard' two dial Master Chronometer Chronograph in the Speedmaster collection with a more universal design and potentially lower price.
Speaking of universal design, the Grey Side of the Moon Meteorite is easily one of my favorite pieces to have come out of Omega this year. I've said before that I feel meteorite dials are best used in watches that have some connection with space such as a moonphase or in this instance the iconic Moon Watch. The dial is made from pieces of the Gibeon meteorite that landed in Namibia sometime between three million to three thousand years BCE (Not exactly a narrow range) and in the late 1830s English Colonialist and explorer Captain J.E. Alexander claimed as much of the meteorite as he could find for Queen and Country and started excavating and shipping it back to England. Rather than being simply stone, the Gibeon meteorite is actually 90% iron which after careful hours of polishing reveals the unique ribbon texture known as the Widdmanstatten pattern. Each ribbon is a different strand of iron and the light plays and highlights each strand differently. It is the high iron content which prevents the GSOTM-M from also sharing the Moon Phases Master Chronometer movement as the metal interferes with the amagnetic and anti-magnetic properties of that movement.
The same grey ceramic case is still present but this time the hour markers, hands and tachy scale are made from Sedna gold, a unique red gold alloy of Omega's that resists tarnishing over time. This is the first time Omega have used Sedna Gold in a tachymeter bezel and the effect is truly striking as the color really plays well off the grey case and the meteorite dial. I'm not usually a fan of two-tone watches, let alone in red gold but there is something intensely captivating about the GSTOM-M. An otherworldly appeal perhaps? Priced at approximately $13,400 (13,000 CHF) it is now one of the more expensive X Side of the Moons and whilst this isn't a limited edition the nature of the Widdmanstatten pattern each dial will be completely unique. Some might diminish the GSOTM-M by calling it simply a deviant of the GSTOM-M but I think it's unique dial and the tasteful addition of Sedna Gold will gradually win over fans over time.