Watch collector, author and founder of leading horology online magazine Fratello Watches speaks with Wei Koh about finding his place in the world, his love of watches and collaborating on the internet-busting #SpeedyTuesday.
Is it true that you sold your car to buy your first Speedmaster? What were the circumstances and why?
It was 1999 and I was a university student in The Hague. One evening, I was cycling through the city with some friends and suddenly I noticed this shop with a couple of watches in the window. There were two Speedmasters – a modern one from about 1994 and a vintage ref. 145.012-67. I gave the shop owner a call and asked about the prices. I decided to go for it, but needed some funds. Being a student, I didn’t have much money, but I did have a car – a Peugeot 205 GTI that I truly had little use for so, I sold it. I actually wanted the modern Speedmaster, but the vintage model with Calibre 321 movement was cheaper – that’s hard to imagine today, right? I knew the movement was rare and that it was perhaps best not to wear the watch to clubs and bars.
How did you become obsessed with the Speedmaster?
My interest in mechanical watches sparked somewhere in the mid-1990s and, at some point, I found myself looking at the Speedmaster. The moon story and the design attracted me. I spent more time studying watches than I spent in university. There wasn’t much out there, but my real obsession started by participating in Omega forums on TimeZone and WatchUseek, visiting watch fairs and talking to other collectors like the late legendary Chuck Maddox.
I bought that Speedmaster Calibre 321 in October 1999 and, from that moment on, my life changed – dramatic but true. It was not only the start of a watch collection, it was also the start of a career and a different life.
How and why did Speedy Tuesday start and how did you start working officially with Omega on it?
While on holiday in Cannes, in 2012, I brought my Speedmaster Professional and took a wrist shot of it. I published it on Facebook and wrote, “It is Speedy Tuesday”. Not long after I realised that this could be a neat working title for Speedmaster articles on Fratello, a website I started in 2004 while bored at work. I thought it might be a good idea to categorise the Speedmaster content a bit.
In the beginning, we wrote Speedy Tuesday articles every two or three weeks, but already soon it turned into a weekly topic. Today, we have well over 300 Speedmaster articles classified as “Speedy Tuesday”. Not long after, I put an image on Instagram using the hashtag #SpeedyTuesday. It was picked up very quickly by other Speedmaster owners and it began to grow very organically – we started to organise Speedy Tuesday meetings and events and people started to use the hashtag when publishing a Speedmaster-related photo.
In 2013, we approached Omega to do something official with us culminating in a cool Speedmaster event in the visitor centre of the European Space Agency in Noordwijk (near Amsterdam). Omega brought watches from the museum, the museum director and novelties of the year such as Dark Side of the Moon. From that moment on, we started to do these events more often, sometimes without Omega as it was all about the Speedmaster and the collectors and Omega respected that. At other times, we need Omega’s help and the brand jumps in. Everyone can join one of these events, whether they have 20 of the rarest Speedmasters ever or just a brand new “Moonwatch”. It doesn’t matter, everyone who is passionate about this watch is welcome.
And how did the amazing Speedy Tuesday watch come about?
In 2016, I was in Switzerland with Omega for an event and I bluntly asked CEO Raynald Aeschlimann if we could do something cool together for the fifth anniversary of Speedy Tuesday. He asked me what I had in mind and I suggested a special watch to commemorate these five years. I was a bit surprised by his enthusiasm, but he created a small project team, in which Fratello took part, and we came up with the Speedy Tuesday watch not long after.
Why did you choose Alaska III as your inspiration?
One of the watches that made a huge impression on me in the early days of Speedy Tuesday, was an original Alaska III from 1978 that I saw in 2012. It was previously owned by two different (ESA) astronauts: Reinhard Furrer and Wubbo Ockels – the latter being Dutch, like me. He was actually one of my childhood heroes, as he took part in a 1985 Space Shuttle mission. Ockels’ son approached me, telling me that he had this Speedmaster from his dad and didn’t know what it was. He came to my house, with a plastic shopping bag and just turned it upside down on my kitchen table. Out fell a number of interesting watches, but my eyes immediately focused on this special Speedmaster.
The caseback had all sorts of weird numbers engraved and there was a radial dial. I asked Ockels if I could keep the watch for a few days, to do some research on it. I sent Omega an email to ask them about the numbers – at that time, it took about three weeks to receive an answer from the brand, but within minutes, I received a call asking how I got this watch and if I knew what it was. Apparently, this watch was one of 56 watches that Omega sent to NASA in 1978 for the Space Shuttle missions. The numbers on the caseback were internal product and serial numbers. Normally, these watches were considered equipment for NASA astronauts and they needed to be returned after every mission or training.
We believe that Furrer received this watch during one of the training sessions, where it was quite common for ESA astronauts to get NASA gear and simply didn’t return it. When Furrer passed away years later, during a plane crash, his widow gave the watch to his friend Ockels who handed it over to his son, as he only wore the digital Seiko A829 that he used on board the space shuttle. Wearing this Speedmaster for a few days on my wrist gave me shivers and became the inspiration for the Speedy Tuesday. But we didn’t want to replicate the 1978 Alaska III model so, we went with a reverse panda, radial dial with applied logo and an all-brushed case. I was amazed at how quickly we all agreed on this particular design, albeit with added elements from Omega.
You said that you tell your daughter that this is Dad’s watch. How does it feel to leave a legacy for her and for future generations?
Of course, it is nice that our name will turn up somewhere in the Omega chronicles at some point, but what’s just as important is that I can show my daughter that this is really her dad’s watch. She is now only five, so doesn’t have a clue, but I want her to wear hers when the time comes and feel as proud as I do. But not only for my daughter, also for my father. At school, my parents were worried about what would become of me. With this Speedmaster I know my dad is super proud. He always wanted a Speedmaster, but was never able to purchase one.
He is from a generation that doesn’t spend money on something unnecessary, but this time he did. He wanted one and saved up for it. I reserved the birth date of my daughter as the unique number for his watch and asked Mr Aeschlimann if I could bring him to visit the museum and manufacture to collect his watch. He agreed and we drove from the Netherlands to Switzerland, on a father-and-son trip like we used to do 20 years ago. Even without the watch it was a great time.
When we arrived at Omega, we were treated to a tour of the museum, a peek inside the new manufacture, and a great lunch with Mr Aeschlimann where I presented him with his Speedy Tuesday. It was an emotional thing, for which I am thankful to Omega. My father gained a better understanding of what I do, what drives me and realized that I ended up doing something I love.
I also feel proud when Speedy Tuesday owners come over to me or my Fratello colleagues to thank us. These things make me happy for sure and not for my ego, but for the fact they found something they like so much.
The new “Ultraman” Speedy Tuesday 2 almost broke the internet. It must be nice to see how much the Speedy Tuesday following has grown?
It was nuts! I was quite nervous – although not as bad as with the first one – to see if people liked what we came up with. Well, within two hours we knew. It was sold out and had a waiting list with no end. At some point, I felt bad that there are only 2,012 pieces available, but I think that making it limited is part of the success. I feel bad for the people who didn’t manage to buy one, but very happy for the lucky 2,012. I think the design of the first Speedy Tuesday was a bit more hardcore, while the Ultraman has some gimmicks that we’ve also seen with the Silver Snoopy Award and is perhaps a bit easier to love due to the colourful scheme. Most of the Speedy Tuesday community seem to love it as well, and for those who criticise it, they don’t have to buy it and can just go for the regular Moonwatch model, which is a terrific choice, too. You can’t please everyone, that’s for sure.
Irritatingly there are people already trying to flip these on eBay, how can we combat this?
Ugh. That is certainly frustrating. I really dislike the fact that speculators take the spot of a true enthusiast. The list of orders is being thoroughly checked, to see if people ordered according to the guidelines. But on the other hand, there is nothing much you can do about it. There will always be people who want to make a quick buck, that’s not exclusive to Speedy Tuesday or Omega. Look what’s happening to any sports model from Rolex right now.
People suggested we take down-payments, but that does not stop dealers who buy five or 10 pieces. Perhaps at some point we can combat this with an “invitation only” purchase, like Vertex does, but that will exclude certain enthusiasts and collectors so, except for double checking regarding the list of reservations, I don’t have a solution for this. I would urge people not to buy a reservation from someone – make sure someone physically has the watch, and not only a reservation confirmation.
Tell us about the collaboration on this watch and why you selected the Ultraman?
For the Speedy Tuesday 2 Ultraman, Omega used the same project team. We wanted something more colourful, like the 2004 Speedmaster Professional Racing for the Japan market. A few brainstorming sessions later it led to Ultraman. The original Speedmasters with orange hand from 1968 that can be seen in the 1960s TV series Ultraman are simply amazing and appreciated by many collectors.
We don’t like doing exact replicas of existing models, so we started to add certain colourful elements. The stepped dial, applied logo and DON bezel are all elements from the ref. 145.012-67 that was used with an orange hand in Ultraman. So those elements definitely needed to be in there, as well as some colour on the tachymeter bezel and of course the first 3 minutes of the counter that indicate the duration of Ultraman’s power. You will also find small orange squares at the end of each hour marker, to make the dial a bit more vivid.
The small seconds hand is a nod to Ultraman, as it has the shape of the Beta Capsule. Hidden in the small seconds dial is the silhouette of Ultraman, which will only become visible when you use a UV lamp. We also put a few surprised in the packaging that will only be visible with a UV lamp that comes with the package, in the shape of the Beta Capsule. One end has the lamp and the other side has the little tool to remove the spring bars. Some of the details are small enough that they won’t bother you during normal use of the watch, but cool enough to mention during conversation with other Speedmaster enthusiasts.
What’s your favourite detail?
If I mention just one, it seems that I don’t care about the others, but what I really love is the step dial. I hope Omega finds a way to return it to the regular production of Speedmaster Professional models. That said, the orange elements are really cool!
Considering its rarity, do you think this reference is relatively undervalued?
For a long time, the Speedmaster Ultraman was a bit of a mystery. I actually remember that some people put an orange hand on their Speedmaster because it just looked nice. From what we know now, the original was very limited and delivered worldwide. Somehow, the creator of the Ultraman series got his hands on one and decided to use it in Return of Ultraman. I love watches with a bit of mystery such as the Speedmaster Tintin for example. Watches with a neat story.
With regards to being undervalued, I don’t know. To be honest I am not following the craze of market prices. For me, it is about the watch itself, not about its market value – I think that actually ruins the fun a bit, because these watches tend to get so expensive, that you don’t dare to wear them anymore, and that’s what they are meant for: wearing. That said, the price for an original Ultraman – but only if there’s real proof it left the factory with an orange hand – is still OK compared to some other models that have skyrocketed in price in recent years.
What are your favourite Speedmaster sites other than Fratello?
I love what the guys from Moonwatch Only did with their books. A great resource for any Speedmaster collector. Speedmaster101 is a good source on vintage models, with a lot of details explained. However, I turn to the Omega museum and archives if I really need to know something. I also find myself reading some of the old articles on Chronomaddox, an archive of all publications by Chuck Maddox. Some of it is a bit outdated, but Chuck paved the way for many of us.
Do you feel Speedmasters in general are relatively undervalued for example relative to vintage Daytonas?
Yes, and I would like to keep it that way as I want to carry on collecting. But in all honesty, Daytonas are just overvalued. Don’t get me wrong, I like Rolex and vintage Daytonas as well from an aesthetic point of view, I just like the design of the Speedmaster a bit more. In the end, the purists that collect Daytonas are cut from the same cloth as those who collect Speedmasters, but unfortunately the number of speculators and people who are in it for financial reasons is higher than with the Speedmaster. That’s a pity.
Do you feel that Omega’s ability to provide extracts from their archives makes a critical difference in being able to reassure vintage collectors on pieces like the Ultraman?
As long as this extract states that a Speedmaster 145.012-67 left the factory with an orange hand, it is definitely of added value. The thing is, that an extract doesn’t provide the guarantee that the watch is authentic and original in the condition it is today. If I am not mistaken, Audemars Piguet gives out these certificates of authenticity, but then the watch needs to be sent to them so they can examine the piece. I think that this is the next level. Giving out an extract of the archives is a great service though, especially if you want to know when it was produced and shipped, and to which market.
What Speedmaster would you recommend for someone just getting into vintage?
If this person has a nice budget, I would go for any reference with a Calibre 321 movement. They are getting scarce, especially those in good condition. The 145.012 is the most affordable version on the market, and it was this reference (together with the 105.003 and 105.012) that was used by Apollo astronauts, so you get a lot of history with it as well. If you have a more limited budget, but still want to go vintage, go 1970s with a nice 145.022. The early models (up to 1974) still have the step-dial. But to be honest, I’d go for a Speedmaster from the 1990s (before 1997) with box and papers. These models still used tritium as luminous material, and the ref. 359x.50 models tend to get a really nice yellow-ish patina. They look awesome and you can easily find a complete set from that period.
And a modern Speedy?
I would just recommend to buy the modern Moonwatch, with Hesalite crystal. You can’t go wrong with that one and you will still cherish it when your collection grows. If it turns out you got infected by the Speedmaster virus, you will probably find yourself searching for a nice vintage Speedmaster or one of the limited editions to add later on. If you want to be a little bit different, I think that the modern but discontinued Speedmaster with brown dial (sapphire crystal and display back) could be an interesting purchase as well.
What do you think is different about Speedmaster collectors relative to other watch collectors?
You know what, I think that in the end the eye for detail or stories isn’t perhaps that much different from collectors of other watches. The thing that might be different, is that Speedmaster collectors are also nice in groups. Put a couple of Speedmaster collectors in one room and you will get wonderful conversations. I also noticed that Speedmaster collectors really want to help one another out with finding a part or watch. What I definitely feel is different, is that people with one modern Speedmaster are just as part of the family as those with dozens of vintage models. There’s mutual respect and luckily enough, it is still not about money, but about the actual watches.
What do you see as the most undervalued vintage Speedmasters?
Definitely the 145.012 and perhaps the 145.022 up till the ones with -71 identifier. The 145.022-69 and 145.022-71 have the step dial, 1039 bracelet, variations in dial colours (just black or a tropical) and casebacks. I feel that these are still relatively good to source, at fair prices.
And the modern watches?
A bit neo-vintage perhaps, but the early-1990s models with yellow-ish patina and with the beautiful ref. 1479 bracelet are definitely undervalued. Really modern: the 2013-2016 Tintin and the chocolate brown dial model with sapphire crystals. I also have a weak spot for the Apollo 15 limited edition with red/white and blue colors. Oh, and want to know something really weird? I love the X-33. Get one and you will love it. Its quirkiness makes it so attractive. The Gen1 and Gen2 models are nice, but the Gen3 (Skywalker) is also interesting. The latter one can also be found with a little flaw, one of the first batches had ‘Tested and certified by ESA’ engraved on the caseback instead of ‘Tested and qualified by ESA’.
What are your Top 5 Speedmasters to own?
Well, I could just go by generation: 1. CK2915, 2. CK2998, 3.105.003, 4. 105.012 and 5. 145.012. However, my personal Top 5 looks a bit different. For me it would be: 1. CK2998, 2. CK2915, 3. BA145.022, 4. 105.012/145.012, 5. 105.003. I combined the 105.012 and 145.012 because they are just too identical, and I added the gold 145.022-69 that was produced in a quantity of 1,014 pieces. This watch was presented to the Apollo astronauts in 1969 and later on went on the regular market as well.
And if you could only have one?
I think, in all honesty, that would be one of the watches that was actually on the Moon.
It’s the 50th anniversary of Apollo XI next year, which is huge. Any expectations?
No expectations, just wishes. I wouldn’t mind something in gold. I think precious metals suit the Speedmaster as it is such a versatile watch. I also believe these are still undervalued, especially the gold ones other than the 1969 model. You can still find a gold Moonwatch for €10-12,000 and I think that’s a bargain.
How and when did you set up Fratello?
I have had the domain name fratellowatches.com since 2002/3, as I tried to buy and sell vintage watches during my time as a student. It was just doing nothing so, in 2004, I decided to install WordPress and start blogging about watches. In the beginning, it was just to escape from the forums a bit, however, it didn’t take long before I found myself doing reviews, manufacture visits and writing in-depth articles. So, it gradually turned into an online magazine. Today running Fratello is my main job, along with a knowledgeable team including Gerard Nijenbrinks, Bert Buijsrogge, Balazs Ferenczi and Michael Stockton, as well as Teun van Heerebeek and Paul Dezentjé plus contributing watch collectors and enthusiasts.
Do you have any other areas of interest beyond Speedmasters?
Of course. I am a bit late to the game, but I recently bought my first Grand Seiko after visiting the manufacture in Japan in 2015 and I simply love it – the quality and level of finish is amazing. I also own and love the Royal Oak Jumbo. In the past, I had my share of vintage and modern Rolex, but I said goodbye to most of them and kept only a few. Recent purchases, besides the Grand Seiko and Eterna Kontiki, are a number of vintage Omega Constellations. They are not very costly (I do have a limited budget) but they give me a lot of joy.
Of course, the Speedy Tuesday is something I will always cherish. Then, there are some watches I received as a gift or inherited that are very meaningful and special to me. The Speedmaster ’57 that I received for my first Father’s Day means a lot to me, as does the gold Constellation that my grandfather wore every day for 42 years. Besides those, I have to say that the gold Speedmaster gets a lot of wear, as well as my modern Globemaster. Besides Omega, definitely the Royal Oak 15202ST. My Grand Seiko is still a bit too fresh to state it is one of my favourites in the collection, but I am pretty convinced it is a keeper. Just like my Seiko Marinemaster 300.