There are so many versions and variations of the iconic Omega Speedmaster that it takes a truly special example to stand out, and honestly, this solid gold reference BA 145.022 stands out. Not just because it’s gold, but because it’s the first gold Speedmaster, as well as the first numbered edition. — and one intimately tied to the golden era of space exploration.
It is impossible to overstate the extraordinary achievements of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when on July 21st, in the year of our Lord 1969, at O-two-hundred- and-fifty-six Universal Time, they set foot on the surface of the Moon, fulfilling a promise made by John F. Kennedy a mere eight years before.
To place this in context, that same year the Concord’s first test flight was considered a technical revolution. Flashback a decade before to 1957 and witness America scrambling at the terrifying news that the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik 1 and thus claimed dominion over the heavens.
A few months after that momentous achievement, on November 25th, 1969, a dinner took place in Houston, Texas. Omega presented NASA’s astronauts with a very special token to celebrate the profound courage of these men. The watch, housed inside a very special box that replicated the cratered surface of the Moon, was something that Omega had never created before: the brand’s first gold Speedmaster and also its first numbered series.
The BA 145.022 is something of a grail for watch collectors today, with prices for one of the 1,014 examples made ascending with aptly, rocket-like trajectory, to just under the one hundred-thousand-dollar mark at auctions. Says Aurel Bacs, the master of all vintage watches and auctioneer extraordinaire, “People often ask me what the next Paul Newman Daytona is. I would say this yellow gold Speedmaster from 1969 has some potential to capture the imagination, both because of its totally unique and stunning looks and also the incredible mythology related to it.”
Of the watches made the first two were allocated as gifts to Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, who were both compelled to turn them down due to their rather substantial value, a mistake the estates of both men probably regret today.
The Omega Speedmaster model 145.022–69 was a milestone model for the brand as it would forge the underpinning for all Speedmaster Professional watches that would come after, in ceaseless chain of production all the way to the present day.
Indeed, the faithfulness with which Omega has adhered to the iconic blue print of the 145.022 is certainly one of the reasons that a vintage-crazy new generation has become obsessed, because the modern watch is in essence the same watch as the original from 1969.
It is the same case, the same dial (with a change in luminescent material) and the same calibre 861 movement, the cam-operated successor to the legendary column wheel calibre 321.
But with the gold version of this watch, Omega pulled out all of the stops. First the case of the watch is a massive hulking hunk of solid yellow gold. The dial, which is unique in Omega lore, features the letters “OM” on either side of the “Swiss Made” hallmark which represents the words “Or Massif” or solid gold in English.
The markers on the watch are also unique in the Speedmaster visual lexicon in that they are square and onyx. The bracelet of the watch is also solid gold, the deployant clasp characterised by stripes running along its length and its links can only be removed and re-attached by a goldsmith. In many vintage watches the bracelet has been swapped for a more modern version, which while more practical is not strictly original. I’ve also seen collectors rocking the watch head on a gold-plated JB Champion though I would have concerns about scratching the inner lugs of the gold case.
The bezel of this Speedmaster was equally unique in that it was burgundy coloured and features a “DON” or Dot over Ninety configuration as fits a pre-1970 watch. The iconic tome Moon Watch sheds insightful Promethean light as to how these watches were distributed.
As mentioned, watches’ 1′ and ‘2’ were destined for, but declined by the now infamous White House habitués. ‘3’ through to ’29’ were given to NASA’s astronauts, including Alan Shepard (number 3), Wally Schirra (number 8) and Neil Armstrong (number 17).
’29’ to ’32’ were given to Swiss politicians and watch industry leaders, ’33’ to ‘1,000’ were put on sale for the public, ‘1,001’ to ‘1,008’ were presented in ’72 and ’73 to astronauts who had yet to complete their missions back in ’69. ‘1,009’ to ‘1,014’ were given to “personalities”.
There were two types of dials used for the BA 145.022. Those with an oval “O” in Omega are believed to belong to early production watches and those with a round “O” used in later production watches.
Casebacks have four different types of engraving. All watches given to astronauts as well as watches’ 1′ and ‘2’ feature the owner’s name along with the words, “to mark man’s conquest of space with time, through time, on time.” The engraving on these watches were filled with burgundy paint.
Watches offered to civilians featured three different caseback engravings. The first generation casebacks had thin engraving, second generations had thick engraving and the third had thick engraving filled with burgundy paint.
And while now precious metal and limited edition Speedmasters are much more common, it doesn’t take away from the special lustre ofd the very first limited edition, precious metal Speedy, the Tribute to Apollo XI Ref. BA 145.022.