Maybe you’ve heard, but July 20 marked the 50th anniversary of mankind first stepping foot on the moon. From NASA’s Instagram:
Today, at 10:56 p.m. EDT 50 years ago, Apollo 11 took that one giant leap – making history for all of mankind. 🌔👨🚀 On the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing, we salute the heroes, visionaries and explorers who made the seemingly impossible, possible.
Pretty cool. People have been “celebrating” by posting wrist shots of their Speedmasters all week. After all, is there a more American way to celebrate one of the great achievements of this country than flaunting our blatant consumerism and a Swiss company’s opportunistic profiting off such an achievement?
Well, perhaps one: An auction where those who own the same watch the astronauts wore on that fateful day can resell their timepieces at heavily inflated prices because of a bubble fueled by the consumerist habit of buying and flaunting said watches mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Anyway, let’s take a look at some of the best Omega Speedmasters that sold at Sotheby’s “To the Moon and Back | Celebrating 50 years since Apollo 11” auction form July 19.
Sure, the steel Speedmasters are the ones that went to space, landed on the moon, etc. etc. But, the gold Reference 145.022 “Apollo XI 1969”, produced to commemorate the successful moon landing is certainly the most luxurious of Speedamasters. Omega produced just 1,014 pieces: Numbers 1 and 2 were presented to President Richard Nixon and his Vice President Spiro Agnew, who couldn’t accept because it’s illegal for Presidents to accept dope gifts like this. Thirty-four pieces were given to astronauts, including Ed White (no. 10), Neil Armstrong (no. 17),and Buzz Aldrin (no. 21). A few early references after that were given to Swiss politicians and Omega and Lemania managers, while the rest were sold to the public.
The watch uses the caliber 861, the Lemania-based successor to the caliber 321. Instead of a column wheel chronograph, it uses a cam / shuttle system for the chronograph operation, and this watch has the added benefit of a sapphire caseback. It’s truly a watch that’s meant to show off and celebrate everything about landing on the moon, and you can’t fault it for that.
The example here is case number 432, and the bezel is still a super rich maroon, with that dot-over-90 you love to see from early-generation Speedmasters.
Lot 13 sold: $68,750
Sotheby’s auction also sold case number 669 of the Reference 145.022 for $47,500. This lot was slightly more worn in the case and dial, though overall still a nice example of the celebratory reference. Put another way, I’d be happy to have either.
In pretty much all things, I have an irrational belief that the original is the best. Air Jordan or Air Max 1s, Rolex pre-Daytonas (I’m typing this on an original iMac), and for our purposes, Omega Speedmasters. Listen, we all know the story, so I’ll spend just this sentence on it: The CK 2915 was first released in 1957 alongside the Seamster 300 and Railmaster, a truly original big three. The CK 2915 was produced for just two years, during which time Omega produced three sub-references: the 2915-1, -2, and -3 (the -3 was a more transitional reference). In total, less than 4,000 of these original Speedmasters were produced. The CK 2915 was the first chronograph with a tachymeter on the bezel, which you can just barely make out on this example.
The Speedmaster Reference 2915-1 here is today’s most coveted iteration for many reasons. First and foremost, its manufacturing era lasted slightly more than a year between 1957 and 1958, making this scarce reference genuinely difficult to find in today’s market. Its straight lug case measures 38mm in diameter, encasing the classic black Singer dial. Top it off with the broad arrow that gives the watch its nickname and you’ve got an instantly recognizable classic.
Bukowskis sold a CK 2915-1 for about $275,000 back in October 2017, which was a record for the reference, until Phillips came along and sold one for CHF 408,500 last year. This one settled in a bit behind, that hammering at $250,000. While this is a nice reference, it’s not perfect (if we’re being picky, and we better be). Hands have been relumed (though they match nicely) and there’s some polishing. That said, the dial is in nice condition overall.
While the case has been polished, the lugs seem thick and retain much of their shape. The caseback has been polished, but, still retains the 'Speedmaster' signature along the outermost part.
Lot 40 sold: $250,000
Compare this lot 40 to lot 10, which seems to have not sold after not hitting a reserve price (? — its estimate was $150,000 to $200,000, already a slight stretch). It’s not a bad example, but has been polished a bit more — I imagine those bevels are just a bit rounded for the taste of many. Add in a few more bumps and bruises on the case, and lume that isn’t quite the warm, even patina that collectors go crazy for, and you’ve got an example that collectors are reluctant to shell out big bucks for. It’s just another example of the widening gulf between the high, record-setting prices that good, honest examples of highly desirable vintage references achieve, and the lower prices that less-than-perfect examples receive.
I’m highlighting this Reference 2915-3 Speedmaster mainly to illustrate the difference in demand between the highly covetable 2915-1 above and the later -3 sub-reference, here.
While the earlier 2915-1 and 2915-2 were almost identical, the -3 was a “transitional reference”, setting the stage for the more modern Speedmasters to come, starting with the 2998. We start to see the black aluminum bezel along with the “alpha” hands (as opposed to the broad arrow hands seen in the 2915-1 above).
The example on offer here is notable because it came directly from the original owner, who held it in his possession for 60 years. It’s got all the original Omega collateral to boot. There’s nothing but good, honest patina on this watch: a few scratches, nice creamy lume, and just light polishing. Even with that, it went for just a fraction of the price of the 2915-1 above.
Lot 30 sold: $50,000
Another fan-favorite Speedmaster, the 145.012-67 “Ultraman” got its name due to its appearance in the Japanese television show of the same name. It’s pretty similar to other Speedmaster references of the time: caliber 321, asymmetric case, black tachymeter with a dot-over-90 bezel. But the orange chronograph hand pops off the dial and gives the Ultraman a distinct character that’s made it a beloved reference around the world.
These were among the final reference to contain the caliber 321, as Omega would soon move to the caliber 861 (e.g. in the gold 145.022 above).
Lot 33 sold: $30,000