The Omega Speedmaster has been so synonymous with the Space Program that we often forget how that came to be. Its role in manned space missions--from Gemini IV to the Apollo moon landings and the fateful Apollo 13 mission have entered the annals of horological history. Examples of Speedmasters from this era have long been sought after by collectors, and only lately have "pre-Moon" examples--such as the "Ed White," Reference 105.003--become desirable.
The Speedmaster spawned from the mind of Omega's head designer Claude Baillod, who conceived its distinctive black pie-pan dial and "Tacho-Productometer Scale." The Speedmaster followed the Railmaster and the Seamaster, tool watches designed with specific purposes in mind. At the time, Baillod intended the Speedmaster for use by drivers, just as the Railmaster and the Seamaster were meant for railroad conductors and divers, respectively.
So the Speedmaster, with its highly-legible dial and sturdy straight-lugged case, seemed an ideal choice for aviation--even perhaps spaceflight, attracting the attention of astronauts like Wally Schirra, who wore his own Speedmaster (a Reference CK2998) aboard the Mercury-Atlas 8 in 1962.
In March of 1965, NASA approached six leading watch manufactures for submission in a series of grueling tests. The object of the tests was this: to produce the first watch certified for use in manned space flights. Three watches were disqualified from contention in the final round, leaving three: a Rolex, a Wittnauer, and a Speedmaster.
NASA's Qualification Test Procedures included timing tests that involved running the chronograph for several hours. The watches were decompressed for 90 minutes, and exposed to temperatures from 0 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Then they were exposed to intense vibration for 30 minutes, and had to withstand shocks of 40 Gs.
Of all the watches that underwent these intense trials, only the Omega Speedmaster passed each trial intact. The Rolex stopped running twice and the second hand warped. As for the Wittnauer, its crystal warped and disengaged from the case during the decompression and high pressure tests.
Thus, the Speedmaster was flight-qualified for use in manned space missions, and went on to make history on the wrist of Lieutenant Commander Edward Higgins White in Gemini IV, in June of 1965.
The Speedmaster that he wore was a Reference 105.003, produced from 1964 to 1969. At the time of Ed White's historic flight, Omega was already developing a new reference of Speedmaster with a new designation of "Professional," to replace the straight-lugged versions favored by Ed White and Wally Schirra. The new reference, 105.012, had the added bonus of crown guards and the flashy new association with NASA, so sales of the Ed White languished.
However, values of Ed Whites have been picking up traction in recent years, as collectors cotton on to their immense value and their spaceflight heritage. The Ed White is the last Speedmaster to have straight lugs, and is the first to have baton--rather than dauphine--hands. That fact, which put off collectors (who might have viewed it as a placeholder between the 2998 and the Apollo-era 105.012) in the past, is now immensely attractive.
This particular Ed White possesses a feature that is rare in surviving examples of this reference--a strong case. The bevels on the lugs--a hallmark of this reference--have been polished out on most Ed Whites that surface on the market. But the case of this Reference 105.003 is very honest with fat, thick lugs. Another rarity is a bracelet: so many watches come to us with the head only, but this Ed White comes complete with an original 7912/6 bracelet (pictured here) or a selection of leather straps.
For many collectors and enthusiasts, early "pre-Moon" references of Speedmaster--like the Ed White--carry a tremendous value, both historically and horologically, representing the transitional period in Man's quest to go to the Moon.