Following the Omega Speedmaster’s participation in the Apollo moon landing, NASA contacted Omega to develop a watch specially-designed for space missions.
NASA had selected the Speedmaster through trial and error—on the watch itself. In 1964, in response to a memo issued by Flight Crew Operations Director Deke Slayton for “a highly durable and accurate chronograph to be used by Gemini and Apollo flight crews,” NASA sent formal bids to twelve different manufacturers. Since an astronaut had already worn a Speedmaster in a manned space mission—namely, Walter “Wally” Schirra in Mercury Atlas-7—the Speedmaster made the cut.
After strenuous tests, in which the watches were exposed to rapid fluctuations in temperature and pressure, violent shocks, and humidity, NASA selected the Speedmaster for inclusion in every manned space mission.
However, the Speedmaster wasn’t purpose-built for use in space—a fact that NASA chose to redress, with Omega’s help.
In 1967, Omega decided to improve the design of the Speedmaster, making it more suitable to extreme variations in temperature. Coincidentally, NASA sought to create a watch that would be ideally suited for every aspect of a space mission, from the punishing cold of the vacuum of space to the searing heat of reentry. Thus, the Alaska Project was born.
For the Alaska Project, Omega souped-up the Speedmaster’s Calibre .861 movement, enlarged the case and cast it in titanium, and redesigned the dial to ensure maximum legibility.
But, unfortunately, after Omega made five prototypes and submitted them to NASA, the administration denied the proposal. All this after Omega had spent more than 1 million Swiss francs. To absorb some of those costs, and to put the lessons learned in the Alaska Project to good use, they released the Mark II series of Speedmasters.
For the Mark II, the large titanium case of the Alaska Project was cast in steel, streamlined and reduced in size for maximum wearability. Though this would become a common case design in the 1970s, for 1969 it was new, fresh, and—to some—divisive. But what emerged was a purpose-driven sports watch, easily adapted to any pastime the owner chose to engage in, whether driving, diving, or flying.
More variations of the Mark II followed, from one with a “racing dial” to another designed specifically for pilots, but the one with the black dial reminiscent of the original Speedmaster Professional remains the most iconic.
And then there’s this watch.
Omega also released a variant of the Mark II (Reference 145.034) with a case clad in gold. This was achieved by electro-plating, in which the steel of the case is coated with a plating solution using electric currents. Though the metal’s increased susceptibility to the dings and dents of daily wear meant that some examples didn’t hold up particularly well, we’re fortunate to have come across some that have—and, boy, are they stunning.
Though the case of this particular Mark II has some slight signs of wear (faint tarnishing near the crown and pushers), it retains the crisp bevels that have unfortunately been polished out in so many examples.
All told, it’s an excellent example of a watch that we think has entered pantheon of classic chronograph designs—and we’re sure you’ll agree.