Posted on August 28 2019
The Omega Speedmaster - The Best Affordable Alternatives and Homage Watches.
It may seem a little surprising when you look back at the space race and the technology the two Superpowers brought to the table.
Everything looks dated.
From the cumbersome, slow computers to the astronaut's uniforms. It can take a little bit of imagination to picture what that world looked like then.
No internet, no mobile phones, and no digital watches.
The first Space flight was in 1961. The same year the Jaguar E-Type was launched and the contraceptive pill was made available on the NHS.
The accurate measurement of time was crucial to the success of these early missions. Watchmaking technology, like the rest of that used, was fairly limited. Mechanical watches were just that - mechanical. They seemed a little bit out of place in the space age.
Initially, the watches available to NASA and the Russian Space program were essentially the same as those available to the public. High-quality precision instruments no doubt, but nothing specifically designed for this job.
As the space race progressed so did the design of the watches.
In Russia, under the Communist system, watches were designed and produced by state owned factories. Factories that now go down in watchmaking history. In the US the procedure was slightly different. The government went shopping. I've previously discussed this process when looking at how the US government sources it's military watches.
What's so fascinating about the development of space watches is that it was a marriage of old mechanical timepieces with the space program's then cutting edge technology.
Men orbiting the Earth in rockets but having to hand wind their watches. Added to that is the development of these watches as the functional needs became apparent.
For watch nerds, there are also the stories of these space pioneers who had their own individual influence on this history. Astronauts and cosmonauts who chose their own watches or collaborated with manufacturers to get the watches that they needed.
Speaking of the moon landings, SciFi author J.G. Ballard said that they had killed the public's interest in space exploration. Man had landed on the moon and there was nothing there.
Elon Musk's SpaceX may be promising new frontiers in space exploration but it doesn't quite capture our imagination the way those early flights did. That could explain why we enjoy the history of space exploration so much.
For those in the past, it represented a bold, ambitious future. For us now it is viewed as history, and for watch enthusiasts, there's nothing more satisfying than watches associated with the historical high points of the 20th century.
Originally the Speedmaster was designed as a sports chronograph. Although it was naturally favoured by pilots.
1965’s Gemini 3 mission was the first to use these officially qualified watches and later that year Ed White wore one as he made the first American space walk during Gemini 4. The watch was subsequently worn on Apollo 11, the moon landing.
Typically, the story isn’t quite as straightforward as you’d expect.
“few things are less necessary when walking around on the Moon than knowing what time it is in Houston, Texas. Nonetheless, being a watch guy, I decided to strap the Speedmaster onto my right wrist”
Sadly, this is another historically significant watch that is now lost. This time when Aldrin sent it to The Smithsonian.
The watch itself is a black faced chronograph with the sub-dials arranged in a Compax layout at 3,6 and 9 - similar to the legendary Rolex Daytona.
The Speedmaster is understandably a desirable watch. Produced by a Swiss luxury brand it’s priced accordingly. New ones start at £3k+.
Therefore I’d like to highlight some of the more affordable alternatives. Watches with a similar styling but at a reduced cost.
Bulova Lunar Pilot
1971’s Apollo 15 mission was interesting for watch enthusiasts.
The missions commander Dave Scott damaged his Speedmaster during EVA-2, a lunar walk. During EVA-3 he wore a backup Bulova chronograph prototype that he’d agreed to test out for a friend.
This was the only privately owned watch to reach the moon’s surface and it subsequently sold at auction for $1.6m.
The Lunar pilot isn’t a direct homage, although the general aesthetic is there. The dial and the white baton hands in particular are very close to the Omega’s.
Bulova have recently created a modern quartz version of this watch, the Lunar Pilot Chronograph. This modern replica has the specifications you’d expect, a high performance quartz movement, stainless steel case and 50m water resistance.
Bulova Lunar Pilot 96B251
Shinola Rambler Ltd Ed
Shinola is a company that I’ve featured recently. Founded in 2011, the brand’s mission is to create high-end American watches.
The founder of Fossil watches had a vision to create a high-end American watch company. Told that he didn't know 'shit from Shinola', this was his response.
He took the Shinola name from that insult, reviving the defunct shoe polish brand name.
It's an American success story. The company now employs over 500 employees.
Shinola’s big selling point is that its watches are assembled in their Detroit factory. They have local watchmakers trained by the brands Swiss partners.
The Rambler is a limited edition piece, with a distinctive Titanium case.
It's not an Omega homage, but it's also very much in the style of the Speedmaster. The titanium case is lighter than stainless steel and very resistant to corrosion. It makes for a tough watch.
It's also quite a chunky piece, with a 44mm case and 22mm bracelet.
If American-made is important to you, start here. This watch was built by master craftsmen in Detroit.
Shinola Rambler Ltd Ed
Fossil Sport 54 CH3030
American fashion brand Fossil, from their inception, have specialised in producing reasonably priced retro styled watches. It makes sense that they’d produce another vintage looking chronograph - we’ve previously included a watch of theirs our article about the Rolex Daytona.
The Sport 54 is marketed as a watch for car enthusiasts.
Reminiscent of vintage race car gauges with its three sub-eye chronograph timer, bold indexes and technical dial it’s not a direct homage to the Speedmaster. But you can see the obvious similarities.
This particular variation has a blue dial and tachymetre and like the Davosa there’s a date window.
It's a real budget option - great if you're keen to keep the cost of a Speedmaster alternative down.
Fossil Sport 54 CH3030
Stuhrling Concorso Dragster
This is another stunning watch from a US brand. It's very affordable and very similar to the Omega. But again, it's not a homage. It has its own DNA.
Stuhrling is a young watch company. But they sold over a million watches in 2017.
That's a lot of watches.
They have positioned themselves as a brand selling affordable luxury. I know, it's a cliche.
But they have released watches that take inspiration from well-known luxury brands. This model is a great example. It gives more than a nod to Omega's Moonwatch.
The case, tachymeter and colouring are all recognisable from the Omega. But the sub-dials, hands and use of numbers all give the watch some of its own distinct styling.
I like that. The aesthetics of the Speedmaster, but with the confidence to add Stuhrling's own touches.
At 40mm it’s a little smaller than some of the other watches on the list. And st this price-point limited to a quartz movement.
It works for me and is a very affordable way to get the Omega look.
Stuhrling Concorso Dragster
Pulsar was initially a watch brand owned by Hamilton.
Japanese giants Seiko are among the biggest watch manufacturers on the planet. Founded in the late 1800's the company has progressed from its initial production of clocks to the forefront of wristwatch design and manufacturing.
Along the way the company released the world's first quartz watch, the first quartz chronograph and introduced the innovative Kinetic models – a marriage of mechanical automatic watch features with quartz accuracy.
So Pulsar have their own history, an association with Hamilton and are now owned and produced by Seiko, using Seiko’s movements.
This model ticks pretty much all of the boxes of a Speedy homage. Again, it's not an exact copy. But it's close to the original.
Citizen has a lot of chronograph models in its range. There is a wide range of styles - this is one of my favourites.
First, let me tell you a little about the brand and its Eco-drive technology.
The aim of Citizen was always to sell watches to the Japanese market. They started in Switzerland but soon transferred their watchmaking to Japan.
Since then, the company has been at the forefront of technological advancement. They were a key player in the transition from mechanical to battery-powered movements.
They then took this a step further. Citizen created their own innovative watches. The light-powered Eco-Drive collection now being a core part of the brand.
The concept of Eco-Drive watches is simple. The watch movements are designed to convert both natural and artificial light into energy. This energy charges the watches battery.
So it's no surprise that this Omega alternative is from the Eco-Drive line.
Technology aside, this is a great watch. It has the appeal of the Omega and is recognisable as a Speedmaster influenced design. But it's also recognisable as a Citizen model. It's in keeping with other Citizen chronographs.
So the case shape is different from the Speedmaster. As are the hands and sub-dials. But they're nearer enough to draw comparisons.
I like it. And if you're a fan of eco-friendly watches, this would be the obvious choice. It's affordable and ethical.
Citizen Eco-Drive AT2411-50E
Revue Thommen Aviator
Revue Thommen have a big selling point.
They're a Swiss heritage brand with the Swiss-made wording on the dial of their watches. Like Omega's Moonwatch, the Revue Thommen aviator is a Swiss mechanical watch.
I can already hear your first objection. It's expensive right? Well, yes it is.
But it's still a lot less than the Omega. And you get a lot of watch for your money.
But first, let's look at the design. This is a full homage to the Omega. it looks like the iconic chronograph and would make an ideal replacement.
It's 42mm, which is comfortable and contemporary and has a 22mm bracelet. It has a quality finish, as you'd expect, and an exhibition back.
Through that caseback you can see the movement. And it's the movement that really sets this watch apart from the inexpensive ones on my list.
It's a Swiss-made automatic by Sellita. It's attractive and reliable.
If quality is important to you then Swiss-made is going to matter. And Swiss-made mechanical watches command a premium. But with that price-tag comes a quality not available at the lower end of the market.
Revue Thommen Aviator
Tissot V8 Chronograph
Tissot is an entry-level Swiss brand that does Swiss-made watches at accessible prices. The V8 Chronograph is one of these watches.
It's Swiss-made and affordable. An attractive quartz watch that ticks many of the boxes for a Speedmaster alternative.
Unlike the Revue Thommen, this isn't a replica of the Omega. The main features are there. It's a black, aviators chronograph, with three sub-dials and a tachymeter.
But it has its own style. The hands, case and dial are all different. Take the date for example. It's not there on the Speedmaster. But it's at 6 o'clock here.
It's those small differences that give the Tissot its own character.
And it should have its own character. Tissot and Omega are both owned by Swatch Group but they're independent brands with their own histories.
This is a watch that sits well among Tissot's range, not Omega's.
Crucially, it's a fraction of the price of an Omega. You should be able to pick this up for a few hundred bucks. Not bad for a Swiss-made chronograph.
Of course, it's a quartz model. But the other specs are good. A sapphire crystal and 100M of water resistance.
This is a realistic way to get a Swiss-made watch from a heritage brand.
Tissot V8 T1064171105100
Gigandet Volante G3-011
Gigandet are a brand with some Swiss heritage, having been founded there around 100 years ago.
It seems that the brand has been relaunched recently and is now German owned and based. They make affordable watches that get decent reviews and are often powered by Japanese Seiko movements.
The G3-011 is an attractive chronograph that does tip a hat to the Speedmaster but is far from a homage.
It’s tempting to say that there’s more different than there is alike between the two watches. The case, dial, hands and bracelet all diverge - but overall it still manages to look like the Omega.
With a Japanese Miyota movement and 100M there’s a lot of watch for the money.
Gigandet Volante G3-011
Swatch Night Flight
The Swatch Group is one of the giants of watchmaking, employing over 30,000 people. They own, amongst others, Blancpain, Hamilton, Longines, Rado and Tissot. They also own Omega.
So this is a watch inspired by another that Swatch already owns the rights to.
Like a couple on the list, this model has a lot in common with the Omega, but it’s not a direct homage. Noticeable differences includes the hidden lugs on the case and bezel. There’s also a quirky round date window at 6 o’clock.
Swatch Night Flight
Chinese brand Corgeut make homage watches. That’s it. They basically produce cheap remakes of classic Swiss brands.
But they do it well.
The Speedmaster homage looks like to should and is powered by a Japanese movement. It has a domed mineral crystal to add to the vintage feel.