Omega just released a major revision of one of the most legendary watches ever made, the Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional. In the hands of a lesser brand, I’d advise against trying to fix what isn’t broken, but Omega has managed to refine a classic without losing any of the heritage that has made it so celebrated. More specifically, how they were able to modernize the movement to bring it up to contemporary Omega standards of accuracy and resiliency without replacing it from scratch is amazing. This is definitely the update movement-obsessed watch fans like myself were waiting for.
Only a handful of watches have had the staying power of the Moonwatch, and even fewer have maintained quite the degree of continuity that it has enjoyed. Only a small number of elements of this watch have changed over the decades, and even the handwound chronograph movement, until recently the 1861, has stayed remarkably similar to the original 321 and subsequent 861, so a Moonwatch purchased just last year would not differ all that meaningfully from one in the ’60s. While this is great in terms of the sort of cultural inheritance that comes with a design of this significance, it has meant that this watch, arguably Omega’s most famous and important contribution to watchmaking ever, has been left out of a great deal of horological advancement over the years. This is perhaps all the more appreciable since Omega has been at the cutting edge of movement design for decades now.
This is the new 3861, and you’d be forgiven if you couldn’t tell any difference from the prior 1861 movement, but the improvements are nonetheless very significant. While most of the movement appears to be untouched, the areas of the watch involving timekeeping have been totally overhauled with Omega’s latest watchmaking prowess, borrowing innovations from modern movements like the 8900 (although, to be clear, these two movements are virtually entirely unrelated) as well as from age-old methods that have been used in high-end Swiss watches for decades. Crucially, Omega has managed to somehow modernize this iconic line of movements without compromising its unbroken lineage. Omega could have just tossed a 9900 into the watch and it would have performed extremely well, but it would be a break with decades of tradition, so they took the costlier and more difficult route of integrating modern Omega technology into a far older design.
For starters, the smooth balance and regulator have been replaced by the simpler, yet more sophisticated, free sprung design. This approach, already in use in virtually all other Omegas, as well as in other major brands, like Rolex, Patek, and more recently Grand Seiko, uses a series of tiny weights (in this instance screws) to alter timekeeping, as opposed to a regulator index that alters the effective length of the hairspring. The escapement has been replaced as well, moving to the Co-Axial design that is now synonymous with Omega movements. The metallic hairspring has given way to a silicon one, vastly improving anti-magnetic performance. There are numerous other small details, but the important point is that the 3861 has been brought up to speed with other modern Omega watches in both accuracy and magnetic resistance. As such, this next generation of Speedmasters is entirely made of METAS-certified Master Chronometers.
That isn’t to say that every change is under the hood, however. Tiny, almost imperceptible updates to the dial, bezel, and case were also added, like this famous “step dial” design. If you look very closely, you can see an abrupt change in level that bisects the luminous hour markers in a circle, hence the step name. You can also see changes in the gradations of the seconds ticks, giving the dial a slightly less busy feel.
Another tiny change is the “dot over 90.” In the last version of the watch, that dot was more of at a 45 degree angle away from the 0, whereas now it’s positioned slightly above the 0. These are both very tiny nuances unlikely to be noticed by the average buyer but harken back to the Speedmasters of the ’60s.
It’s nice to see such subtle nods to the past, but the changes are so small that they can be basically ignored by all but the most hardcore Omega fan. What won’t be, however, is the thinner case, apparently by roughly 0.7mm on the hesalite model and about 0.5mm on the sapphire version. That’s not a radical improvement either, but it is one that should be appreciable on the wrist, and it’s nice to see that Omega has considered this dimension at all given the brand’s propensity for thick watches. Aside from this improvement, the new model remains pretty much the same, a good thing in my book. I’ve always loved the asymmetrical case design, and 42mm still seems like an appropriate size for a true tool watch (one of few that has the benefit of actually having been used as a tool, quite famously, in 1970).
The new Speedmaster comes in two versions (two more if you count the boutique specials, although I don’t like either of those as much as the more affordable options here). The first version, seen above, is designed for traditionalists and offers a hesalite crystal along with a solid caseback. Its design is slightly more utilitarian in other ways, too, like the fully brushed bracelet and lack of an applied Omega logo. Naturally, it’s the more affordable of the two, likely owing to the absence of the sapphire front and back.
For the less traditional (but still pretty traditional) buyer, there’s the “sapphire sandwich” version which not only gives you a tougher crystal, but lets you see the gorgeous 3861 movement inside. That alone is worth the cost of entry to me, but it has a few other small changes over the hesalite to give the watch a slightly dressier, more refined look. For instance, the bracelet is partially polished, and the watch gets an applied Omega logo at 12:00.
They’re also available on a nylon or leather strap. While both look good, I find the more rugged nylon strap to be the better fit for the Speedmaster. That said, I’d take the bracelet over either of them.
The new Speedmaster manages to maintain everything we loved about this historic watch while simultaneously modernizing it. From my perspective, this is all upside, and now your new Speedmaster will be just as accurate as your new Planet Ocean or Globemaster, and just as resistant to magnetism as well. That latter part is increasingly relevant in everyday life, even if you don’t plan on being around spacefaring equipment anytime soon. It’s way too early in the year to make any concrete predictions, but unless something blows me away, the new Moonwatch is already looking like the best chronograph for 2021, something akin to the A384 of last year in terms of history, pedigree, and authenticity.
Click the links below to learn more or to pre-order your new Speedmaster.