by Richard Brown December 13, 2022

Omega Speedmaster, Bulova Lunar Pilot, andtheOmega+SwatchMoonSwatch.There is aMoonwatch for every budgetand an authenticLunarstrap to wear themallon 

From the 1960s to 2017 Omega had the monopoly on Moonwatch fandom and resulting sales. As a result, the Speedmaster is arguably the most famous tool watch of all time. If you are a watch enthusiast and lucky enough to see a collection of models transiting from a vintage Ed White Ref: 105.003 to the recently launched Calibre 321 it’s almost impossible not to be swept up in the sheer magic of Gemini and Apollo lore.   

We only have hard evidence that two watches were worn on the moon.  The Omega Speedmaster (refs: 105.012 and 145.012) which accompanied all Apollo missions and a prototype Bulova (possibly ref: 88510/01) which had a single sojourn on the Lunar surface during Apollo 15. Since Project Apollo concluded in December 1972 countless other watches have flown into space via Soyuz, the Shuttle and SpaceX resulting today in a wonderfully eclectic collection orbiting in the International Space Station. One other watch is much rumoured to have taken part in a Moon walk but there is no conclusive evidence to support this. Urban myth, and an educated guess, tells us that Ed Mitchell wore his Rolex GMT Master on Apollo 14. He is seen on pre-launch film strapping on the Rolex under his spacesuit, but always remained tight lipped as to whether the watch flew or took part in any EVAs. General opinion is that the watch did fly as Mitchell had been a vocal proponent of the theory (now fact) that an automatic watch would work in zero G.  

The ultimate guide to buying a Moonwatch plus our top strap recommendations

                                                     Alan Bean during Apollo 12 with his Speedmaster clearly visible

Sales of Apollo related watches and memorabilia show no signs of slowing down. Perhaps the current fascination with the Artemis rocket and our eventual return to the Moon is fuelling new interest therefore demand remains high for space related watches.  

Of course, with demand comes prices. If you are set on an Omega Speedmaster to fulfil your 2023 dreams you will have to dig ever deeper. If we focus only on the current Omega portfolio of classic steel Moonwatches you will have to part with £5700 for the entry level model (ref: 310.32.42.50.01.001) which in fairness does look good on a functional black nylon strap. For the steel bracelet version, you will need to find an additional £300. It’s no cheaper to collect vintage watches and brace yourself if you are considering a flown artefact. Current prices are as unsettling as a 1202 Alarm!  

The Ed White’s original Gemini spacewalk Omega sold in 1999 for £27,000 and if you want a non-flow vintage watch you could easily pay the half that amount for a good example. Apollo 17 CMP Ron Evans spare mission Speedy sold in 2009 for the relatively low price of £18,000. Then in 2016 Omega bought the same watch for £188,000. Unfortunately, such an excessive purchase price has a knock-on effect for all Speedmasters. I paid just under £2000 for a new Moonwatch in Abu Dhabi airport in 2011. That seems impossibly cheap now. 

Almost all Apollo era NASA Speedmasters remain US Government property and are thankfully on display. Buzz Aldrin’s has been AWOL since splashdown. Apollo 15 mission Commander Dave Scott’s unique Bulova chronograph which he wore on EVA3 remains the only Moon worn watch to be sold privately. It was picked up by a collector in 2016 for £1.25 million. It spent just 4 hours and 50 minutes exposed to the surface of the Moon.  

Enough of fantasy; if you really want to own a Moon homage watch what are your options? 

The Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch 

To achieve the classic vintage NASA feel and look there is only one Moonwatch to purchase. This is the current Omega Speedmaster reference 310.32.42.50.01.001. The watch is 42mm in diameter with a steel case and back, Hesalite crystal lens and a new hand wound calibre 3861 movement. Despite subtle evolution over the years the Speedmaster Moonwatch remains a stunning timepiece and the quintessential Moonwatch. It was striking when it first flew in space in 1962 with Wally Schirra in SIGMA 7 and it has somehow managed to transcend age, becoming timeless.  

The ultimate guide to buying a Moonwatch plus our top strap recommendationsThe Omega Speedmaster on the ZULUDIVER Lunar Strap

As a tool watch first and foremost the Omega Speedmaster is supremely legible and functional yet still presents an elegance seldom seen today. The long slender hands and black dial give an unmistakable aviation feel. The sweep chronograph hand with its arrowhead and extra-long needle ensures accuracy while the sunken sub-dials, like Moon craters, give the watch face a subtle three-dimensional impression. The steel case back on the classic Moonwatch is engraved with the famous Omega Hippocampus and bears quite possibly the most impressive engraving on any watch back. “Flight qualified by NASA for all manned space missions. The first watch worn on the Moon”.  The lens is made from Hesalite crystal. An easily scratched version of plexi-glass but without which the Speedmaster would not be the original Moonwatch. NASA developed Hesalite to not shatter if impacted. It will crack across its width but due to the unique construction of the material no particles will break free and escape which could have jammed behind a critical switch in the first space capsules. 

In the heart of the 2022 Speedmaster Moonwatch beats the new, hand wound calibre 3861 movement. This movement has the Lemania 1873 as its base and is technically an 1861 movement with a few changes. It has 26 jewels and beats with a frequency of 21600vph. As you would expect it retains full chronograph function displaying seconds, hours and minutes. It is a certified Master Chronometer with a diameter of 37 mm and a thickness of 6.87 mm offering a power reserve of 50 hours. The movement is resistant to magnetic fields to 15,000 Gauss. 

The upshot of which is that the current Omega Moonwatch is arguably one of the best Speedmasters to grace the Omega portfolio. So, if you have the money the Speedy remains as solid a purchase as its predecessors have been for 50 years, but whether new or pre-owned, make sure you go for the classic model with the Hessalite or the Wally Shirra 1964 model if you want the truly authentic Apollo look.  

The ultimate guide to buying a Moonwatch plus our top strap recommendationsThe Omega Speedmaster on the ZULUDIVER Lunar Strap

The Bulova Lunar Pilot Apollo 15 Chronograph 

Apollo 15 had instructions to undertake EVA moonwalks and more distant exploration using the new Lunar Rover. To many Apollo fans, 15 is therefore the definitive mission as the astronauts explored so much more of the surface than previous visits which had been restricted to walking distance.  

On EVA2 Commander Dave Scott noticed that his NASA issue Omega Speedmaster had blown the Hesalite crystal lens. We do not really know why this happened, perhaps it was knocked or suffered a temperature change. All missions carried backup watches and 15 was no exception, however Scott’s reserve watch was not a Speedmaster but a unique Bulova chronograph which he had been given personally by the CEO of Bulova.  

The US watch manufacturer Bulova already had a strong relationship with NASA.  Chronometers in all Apollo capsules were made by Bulova using their propriety Accutron mechanism which operated with a triple pronged crystal fork vibrating at a much higher frequency than a normal quartz clock, thus giving unparalleled accuracy. Given their proximity to the space programme Bulova were keen to get a watch on the Moon and developed a non-commercial model and asked Scott if he would take it on Apollo 15.  

The ultimate guide to buying a Moonwatch plus our top strap recommendationsThe Bulova Lunar Pilot Apollo 15 Chronograph on the ZULUDIVER Lunar Strap.

Post mission, the Bulova disappeared and became legend. It was not until the watch was sold in 2016 that we had our first good look at it, wonderfully battered and scratched after its short Moonwalk. Lunar dust still stuck in its 1970s Velcro strap. The watch was a revelation; a simple beautiful design less cluttered than the Speedmaster, with larger push paddles for easy use with bulky space gloves. The ultra-rare watch immediately became the most desirable Apollo artefact worldwide, beyond the reach of most, however thankfully Bulova released a near prefect copy of it in 2017. 

The current Bulova Lunar Pilot Chronograph is an impressive watch which faithfully (although not completely) replicates the design of the original Apollo 15 original. It is very reasonably priced at around £500 to £1000 depending on issue model. The most expensive model is black and gold to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 15. The case back of all Bulovas are smartly engraved with Apollo 15 landing data making them very collectable; every bit as much as the Omega.  The dials are large and legible and less cluttered than the Speedmaster. Sub-dials are slightly sunken and the Bulova has a striking deep channel around the dial which lifts it and almost mirroring the Hadley Rille gorge which was the major topographical feature at the Apollo 15 landing site. Luminescence is not as profound as Omega but glows well enough in a subtle blue through the night. The push paddles give a distinctly 1970s look and the watch is topped off with a substantial chunk of sapphire crystal and the ever-present tachymeter for rocket burn calculations.  The Bulova is a large watch at 45mm and is heavy. It also stands very proud from the wrist so if you want a watch with presence its arguably more eye catching than the Omega.   

Possibly the most interesting element of all Bulova Moonwatches is the technically smart decision to equip them with an ultra-modern 262kHz Precisionist high performance quartz movement which derives its operation from the original NASA capsule Accutron chronometers.  Bulova guarantee an accuracy of +/- 10 seconds a year with this movement which outperforms Breitling’s SuperQuartz by 5 seconds. I have tested my own Bulova and can confirm that when assessed against the Greenwich clock, during BST/GMT changes, it had only lost 7 seconds in nearly six months. That level of accuracy has held the Bulova high in my estimations. For a fraction of the price of the Omega the Bulova does give you that inspirational Moonwatch feel.  

The ultimate guide to buying a Moonwatch plus our top strap recommendationsThe Bulova Lunar Pilot Apollo 15 Chronograph on the ZULUDIVER Lunar Strap.

Omega + Swatch MoonSwatch 

Back when we reviewed the MoonSwatch I recall I wrote, “not since the release of the Harry Potter novels have we seen crowds line up outside a shop.”  Well the initial buzz (no pun intended) seems to have died down but the demand for the latest Moonwatch has not. We own three MoonSwatch models in the Geckota office and these are regularly handled through genuine affection and seemingly unabated curiosity. 

The ultimate guide to buying a Moonwatch plus our top strap recommendationsMoonSwatch Jupiter on the ZULUDIVER Lunar Strap

If you are not familiar with these radical co-branded gems from Omega and Swatch, here is a brief introduction. The MoonSwatch family looks like Speedmasters and even has Omega and Speedmaster written on them. However, appearances can be deceptive. The 42mm case is not steel but an ultra-light Bioceramic material which is one third responsibly sourced plastic and two thirds ceramic. The result is an incredibly light watch weighing only 29g. The hands, pushers and the tachymeter scale are thoroughly Speedmaster in appearance with hour, minute and chronograph markers coated with Super-Luminova. Unlike the original Speedmaster which is in limited colour palates, the USP of the MoonSwatch (other than its price) is that they are produced in eleven striking colours, each one inspired by a different planet in our solar system. Your chosen planet, for example Saturn, appears on the rear battery hatch which covers the ETA V8 quartz movement.  

The watch has polarised NASA enthusiasts. On one hand there is the argument that this is a clever creation which pays respectful homage to the greatest tool watch of all time. It brought the Speedmaster it into the realms of total affordability and made it trendy again. However, the flipside argument is that genuine Speedmasters owners feel like their hard earned £6000+ Moonwatch has been somewhat belittled by this plastic upstart. Most controversially, the ‘Moon’ model in the ceramic range looks very like a conventional Speedmaster. You could be forgiven for thinking it was one at first glance and its creation has ironically triggered a new loyalty to the classic steel watch almost to the point of protectionism. Nice job Omega…  

From a business perspective the MoonSwatch always made sense. Rolex ended 2021 with a 29% share of the Swiss watch market and recorded £6.3 billion of sales by the end of the year, so at some point Omega must have wondered how could they claw some of this back. At just over £200 in the UK, yes believe it or not that’s what a new MoonSwatch cost when they first came out, Omega threw its doors open to a significant new demographic of customer. It attracted the aspirational buyer who simply could not afford a Speedmaster and the younger buyer who wanted a genuine high-end brand on their wrist. 

Do we love them or hate them here at WatchGecko? Honestly, we love them, and we own quite a few genuine Speedmasters in the team. What’s not to love. The Omega+Swatch is a brilliant marketing creation which as fellow professionals in the watch industry we must respect and, most important, they are great looking Moonwatches which keep the passion for space travel alive.

The ultimate guide to buying a Moonwatch plus our top strap recommendationsMoonSwatch Pluto on the Marine Nationale Military Nylon Watch Strap - Black / Grey

Taking your Moonwatch on an EVA with the ZULUDIVER Lunar strap.  

As you ponder which Moonwatch to purchase take a moment to consider which strap to put it on. You may have noticed in our voyage around the solar system of space watches that I did not mention straps. Some of the OEM straps which come with the afore mentioned watches are good, some are not. Supplied straps are distinctly hit or miss with big brands making some woeful strap gaffs. 

When the Omega Speedmaster was selected by NASA for spaceflight, no matter what the mission or watch model, the one thing all flown watches had in common was their deployment on a bespoke NASA issue Velcro strap.  

If you look closely at official images all the way back from Project Gemini to Skylab, you can clearly see the straps worn externally by astronauts. The general design has always been the same and based on a series of numbers which have become famous in the watch world – SEB12100030-202 - the original NASA strap drawing number. 

The ultimate guide to buying a Moonwatch plus our top strap recommendationsMoonSwatch Venus on the ZULUDIVER Lunar Strap.

At ZULUDIVER we had wanted to develop an authentic Moonwatch strap for some time and early in 2022 we released the ZULUDIVER LUNAR strap. Early models sold out and the strap is now on its third production run! We undertook extensive research studying original NASA blueprints and numerous vintage photographs of astronauts to get our product as accurate as possible yet functional for daily use.  

As you would expect from ZULUDIVER we did not compromise on quality with the strap being made from high strength slanted nylon using a unique shuttleless weaving process which offers superior friction resistance and colour retention. The military grade non-fray hook and loop fastening system is hypoallergenic and will work in temperatures as low as -30 degrees. It should securely open and close more than 5000 times. The matt, corrosion resistant, steel loop is embossed with the ZULUDIVER name.  

To see the full range of ZULUDIVER LUNAR Straps click here. Whether your Moonwatch choice is a timeless Speedmaster, a single mission Bulova or an über trendy MoonSwatch, we have configured the LUNAR range of strap to fit all available Moonwatches – even a 19mm Speedmaster.  

As a side line it is also worth pointing out that Moonwatches look great on Military style straps. Whilst they were never used on any NASA missions the military chronograph style of these watches really lends them favourably to Military style bands straps and there are many options which give you the classic “over the spacesuit” look.  

The ultimate guide to buying a Moonwatch plus our top strap recommendationsMoonSwatch Venus and Jupiter on the ZULUDIVER Lunar Strap.

Re-entry to the Earth 

How do we summarise the phenomena of Moonwatches. Maybe we can’t? I would suggest that the enduring fascination with timepieces connected to some of our greatest achievements should never fade away. It is as prevalent now as it was 50 years ago and that is truly something to be celebrated. As I write this, I am listening to the soundtrack to the amazing 2007 documentary In The Shadow Of The Moon. The program makers interview all surviving Moonwalkers, and the Speedmaster gets more than a mention when the production team talk to Jim Lovell, Commander of Apollo 13. To own a Moonwatch of any origin is to own a nod to history and if you don’t have one in your collection you are missing out. Thankfully today there is a Moonwatch for every budget and a super authentic strap to put it on so now is the perfect time to explore a new world.