Many watches have extensive histories, either through their own model line or just the extended lineage. Through those histories, a story can be crafted that lives on with the watch, and reinforces it in our minds. Of all of those stories, you’re not going to find many that can beat the Omega Speedmaster and it’s trip to the moon. Since 1965, trips to space have defined this watch, and it has largely retained its looks and functions since then. As such, we’d expect every design execution to be perfect, but we are aware of one misstep. At first, they tried to pass it off as something else entirely, but a journalist asking the right question led us down a path that gave one version its own nickname: the Omega Speedmaster Professional “TINTIN”.
The watch that we know today as the Omega Speedmaster Professional started life in 1957, and without the Professional moniker. As it was intended for sports and racing, the Speedmaster name just made sense, as well as following the naming convention Omega had at the time (they also had the Seamaster and Railmaster). To help with the racing bonafides, the Omega Speedmaster was graced with the Broad Arrow handset and contrasting indices, making it easy to see at a glance. Add in the triple-register chronograph layout and tachymeter scale engraved on the bezel — rather than printed on the dial — and you have the makings of a useful tool for speedy events.
Subsequent years saw other versions produced, but it was 1965 that proved to be the pivotal year for the still-young Omega Speedmaster. This was the year that started the watch towards its nickname: the Moonwatch. In 1965, the Omega Speedmaster took its first spacewalk on the wrist of Ed White; after Omega learned of this, they added “Professional” to the dial. The Speedmaster stayed with NASA, which led to it being on the wrist of Buzz Aldrin as he stepped on to the moon. The legacy of the Moonwatch was set.
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For all of the associations with space, the Omega Speedmaster Professional still maintained a place for automotive racing. While space was the rage, Omega still wanted us to see the watch as a practical tool for terrestrial adventures. Given that, it was really not a surprise when they introduced a version in 2013 that featured a checkered pattern that prior Racing models had exhibited — but these squares were a bit different than what we had seen previously. There was a good reason for that, it turns out.
By asking the right questions, Robert Jan-Broer of Fratello learned that this particular pattern was part of an attempt to create a watch that celebrated the fictional character Tintin. Specifically, it was derived from the pattern that TINTIN’s rocket had in the comic book Explorers on the Moon. While the estate of Hergé doesn’t acknowledge the inspiration, Omega has, and has one single prototype of the planned watch in their archives. Since that discovery, this watch has been known as the Omega Speedmaster Professional “TINTIN” even if the character appears nowhere on the watch.
For just about any Speedmaster, the combination of the dial and bezel makes it easily identifiable. Which is unique if you stop and think about it, as Omega are not the only ones to produce a triple-register chronograph. Nor are they the only ones to have the bezel doing the timing readout. It is the sheer consistency they’ve had over the years with those elements that cements those elements with the watch and its identity. Secondarily, the slender stick handset is also very much tied to the design – though some references have gone to the Broad Arrow of the original. Finally, I would point you to the lugs of the case. This twisted, beveled look is another hallmark of design, allowing the lugs to come down to the bracelet, allowing for straps to be swapped in without looking too odd.
For the Omega Speedmaster Professional “TINTIN”, the calling card is that red-and-white checker pattern around the edge of the dial. This gives a bit of flair to an otherwise monochromatic watch, even if you’re unaware of the inspiration for the pattern. Even knowing it, it does give a racier feel to the piece, enlivening the dial. Despite the pop of color, the design has not become distracting. All elements are kept perfectly legible, with the ceramic bezel insert mirroring the white-on-black of the dial.
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While the Omega Speedmaster was never a large watch by today’s standards, the Omega Speedmaster Professional “TINTIN” is one of the larger, coming in at a 42mm diameter and 14mm thick, courtesy of that domed Hesalite crystal. Which, come to think of it, is yet another design cue that is deeply associated with the design. Flipping the watch over, you have a solid caseback with the Speedmaster logo, and engraving that ensures you never forget this design’s place in space exploration history.
Under that solid caseback, you have the manually-wound Omega caliber 1861 movement. This is a movement that was first produced in 1996, taking over for the Lemania-based Caliber 861 that had been in the Speedmaster since 1969. While the 1861 is now retired, it had a good run, appearing in Speedmaster watches for over 20 years, which attests to its reliability and durability.
In terms of the hard specs, the 1861 isn’t going to seem all that different from many other movements – it has a rate of 21,600 bph (3Hz), offers a power reserve of 48 hours, and relies on 18 jewels to keep things moving. Still, it gets the job done while maintaining an accuracy of -1 to +11 seconds per day. Obviously not chronometer levels (or METAS, in Omega terms) but later movements do get there. For this, I say if it was good enough to get men on the moon, it’ll be accurate enough to get you to your appointment on time.
Versus The Competition
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The good news is that, while the Omega Speedmaster Professional “TINTIN” is difficult to find, there is no shortage of Omega Speedmaster models that you could find, both new and second-hand. If you’re going vintage, you can find things like tropical dials (a dial surface that has been faded by the sun). In the more modern era, you can find watches that celebrate the anniversary of the moon landing, or even go with a more explicit comic association with one of the Snoopy Speedmaster models.
If you’re looking for something other than the Speedmaster, but still want a chronograph that has had a longer production run, you have a few different choices. The heavyweight in the room for these watches would be the Rolex Daytona and all its racing heritage, or even the little brother Tudor Big Block Oysterdate Chronograph. Alternatively, if you want to head for the skies, Breitling is the place to look in either vintage or modern versions.
I liken the Omega Speedmaster Professional “TINTIN” to someone who wears a dark, conservative suit and then splashes in bright colors with their socks or pocket square. While the overall look of the Omega Speedmaster Professional is surprisingly conservative (giving it’s sporting history), the Tintin rocket pattern in there enlivens things a good deal. I find myself rather tickled by the fact that there’s this hidden association to the cartoon character, as well as being a monument to a rare failure by Omega that still saw light of day.
If you find yourself dreaming of the stars, and reliving the great space race of the 1960s, it would be hard to argue against obtaining an Omega Speedmaster Professional. Over the last 65 year, innumerable models have been produced, many celebrating the NASA associations. For diving into the rare end of the pool, the Omega Speedmaster Professional “TINTIN” is a unique way to go. The very unassuming – if bright – design belies the fact that the watch has an almost apocryphal origin story, something you can delight your fellow watch lovers with.