Source: Christie's

The History of the Omega Speedmaster, on Sale at Christie's New York

The Omega Speedmaster is one of a small handful of watches that is a legitimate icon. It's the archetype of the modern chronograph, was the wristwatch of choice for NASA, and has gone through dozens of iterations loved by collectors. On Dec. 15 in New York City, Christie's is hosting a sale of 50 lots spanning the nearly 60-year history of the Speedmaster. It's a history lesson in an auction catalog.

  1. The First Speedmaster (Lot 3)
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    The First Speedmaster (Lot 3)

    This is where it all started. In 1957, Omega released the ref. 2915-1 Speedmaster, which was the very first watch to have a bezel marked with a tachymeter scale for measuring speed (a feature we take totally for granted today). The all-black dial has luminous markers, a broad-arrow hour hand, and a slick bracelet, too. Only a few hundred of these were ever made and finding one in good condition like this is next to impossible. Estimate: $100,000 to $150,000

    Source: Christie's

  2. The Next Generation (Lot 5)
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    The Next Generation (Lot 5)

    After the 2915 came the ref. 2998-1 Speedmaster. This one has a black anodized aluminum tachy bezel instead of the engraved steel one, and you'll also notice the hands are a lot slimmer and more understated. The dial on this example has started to fade to brown (called "tropical" by collectors), making it even more desirable. Otherwise this watch is nearly mint. Estimate: $20,000 to $40,000

    Source: Christie's

  3. A Space Watch (Lot 15)
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    A Space Watch (Lot 15)

    While the Speedmaster was originally meant for auto racing, it's best known as the watch worn to the moon. This is one of the few Speedies that actually made it that far. Astronaut Ron Evans wore this Speedmaster on the Apollo 17 Command Module in 1970. Most space watches were owned by NASA and are thus still in government hands, but this was Evans's own watch and it comes with tons of materials backing up its provenance. Estimate upon request

    Source: Christie's

  4. A NASA Trophy (Lot 16)
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    A NASA Trophy (Lot 16)

    So this watch didn't go to the moon, but it was a trophy created to celebrate Ron Evans's return after Apollo 17. Many NASA missions were commemorated with special-edition Speedmasters in 18k gold, meant to be the luxurious versions of the tools relied upon in space. This one is engraved to the same astronaut who wore the watch above, and it, too, comes with the documents to prove its past. Estimate: $40,000 to $80,000

    Source: Christie's

  5. A Strange Racing Dial (Lot 20)
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    A Strange Racing Dial (Lot 20)

    As the funky 1970s got under way, Omega started making oddly colored watches to match. This is what's known as an "exotic" or "racing dial" Speedmaster Professional, with bright markers and hands meant to help a driver read precise times quickly. This particular exotic Speedmaster has a rare combination of traits, including the orange Omega logo at 12 o'clock and the orange/white hand combination. Estimate: $20,000 to $30,000

    Source: Christie's

  6. Barrel Case Speedy (Lot 25)
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    Barrel Case Speedy (Lot 25)

    Up to this point, the Speedmaster almost always had one of two cases, either with or without guards around the crown. This blue-dialed Speedmaster, though, has a barrel-shaped case that is much larger and heavier than what you'd find on previous models and a more unusual dial layout with the chronograph minutes counter centered instead of in a subdial. This is a great example of the strange watches that got made in smaller batches during the '70s. Estimate: $2,000 to $3,600

    Source: Christie's

  7. A Mark 4.5 Prototype (Lot 27)
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    A Mark 4.5 Prototype (Lot 27)

    The Speedmaster line evolved from just the Professional to include the Mark II through Mark V chronographs, with different case shapes and features. This prototype watch was made between the production of the Mark IV and Mark V and dates to 1974. It's unclear how it found its way out into the wild, but Omega has confirmed that it is a genuine prototype, a white whale for many collectors. Estimate: $5,000 to $10,000

    Source: Christie's

  8. The Apollo-Soyuz Speedmaster (Lot 28)
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    The Apollo-Soyuz Speedmaster (Lot 28)

    At 12 o'clock on this Speedmaster is a mission badge from the 1976 Apollo-Soyuz mission, the first international space mission. The watch dates to 1976 and was made to commemorate the important step in cooperative space travel, almost unthinkable during the Cold War. The watch comes with an American flag flown during the mission, too, a valuable collectible in its own right. Estimate: $25,000 to $50,000

    Source: Christie's

  9. An Early Alaska (Lot 30)
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    An Early Alaska (Lot 30)

    When NASA switched to the Space Shuttle from rockets, it had to requalify all the equipment used by astronauts onboard. That meant new watches. Omega had a secret project called Alaska III to develop the next space watch, and what we have here is an early prototype submitted to NASA for review. Eventually the space agency settled on the original watch, the Speedmaster Professional, which it'd been using for over a decade. Estimate: $10,000 to $20,000

    Source: Christie's

  10. A White Gold Apollo 11 (Lot 35)
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    A White Gold Apollo 11 (Lot 35)

    Most commemorative Speedmasters are yellow gold, but for the 25th anniversary of Apollo 11, Omega made this white gold Speedy with an even more unusual white dial. You can see some fading and discoloration at the top, a sort of tropical effect. Without the stark black dial, the watch looks entirely different, even with the classic black bezel and case shape. Only 500 of these were made in 1994 (with 50 more in platinum, too). Estimate: $15,000 to $25,000

    Source: Christie's

  11. Black and Yellow (Lot 36)
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    Black and Yellow (Lot 36)

    To complement the original Apollo-Soyuz watch that is lot 28, there's this 20th anniversary Apollo-Soyuz watch, too. The combination of a yellow gold case and all-black dial with gold accents is really striking, especially because of the gold rings surrounding the subdials. More than anything, this watch is a testament to the enduring and real connection between NASA and Omega, from the earliest missions through to the modern era. Estimate: $12,000 to $22,000

    Source: Christie's

  12. 40th Anniversary Box Set (Lot 39)
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    40th Anniversary Box Set (Lot 39)

    Why buy one Speedy when you can have a box full of them? In 1997, for the 40th anniversary of the Speedmaster, Omega produced this box set of 23 watches, including a replica of the original and one watch commemorating each NASA mission from 1965 to 1973. This is box No. 1 of only 40 made, and there are some other goodies inside like a watch movement, too. The suitcase is covered in the cloth used for early space suits, because of course. Estimate: $40,000 to $80,000

    Source: Christie's

  13. The X-33 (Lot 41)
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    The X-33 (Lot 41)

    Not all Speedmasters are traditional mechanical watches. In fact, the quartz and digital Speedmaster X-33 is one of the most famous Speedies of all time. It's made of titanium to cut down on weight, and the pushers and bezel allow for a variety of timing functions. It was made for, you guessed it, NASA in 1998 to be a lightly more advanced timekeeper than the original Speedmaster Professional. It's not the Speedy I'd want to wear, but it's an important part of the collection's history. Estimate: $1,000 to $2,000

    Source: Christie's

  14. Olympic Split-Seconds (Lot 47)
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    Olympic Split-Seconds (Lot 47)

    If you've watched any Olympic Games in the past decade, you'll know that Omega's the official timekeeper. For the 2006 games in Turin, Omega made this unusual Speedmaster, which features not just a chronograph but a split-seconds chronograph for timing the difference between two events. Notice there are Olympic rings on the back of one of the chronograph hands, easily visible against the stark silvery white dial. This is No. 11 of 26 made. Estimate: $5,000 to $8,000

    Source: Christie's

  15. Turning 50 (Lot 48)
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    Turning 50 (Lot 48)

    Here we go. The end of the line. For the Speedmaster's 50th anniversary, Omega made a special solid gold model in only 57 examples (for the year the watch originally debuted). This is No. 1/57, which you can see just below the logo at 12 o'clock. Considering this watch alongside the others, it's amazing just how little has changed in the Speedy yet how fresh and interesting the watch still looks (now almost 60 years on). Estimate: $15,000 to $25,000

    Source: Christie's