The Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon Apollo 8 was certainly the most exciting watch to come out of Omega in 2018 and one of the most exciting to come out of Baselworld period. It’s a fascinating combination of a crucial piece of Speedmaster history, the cal. 1861, with the cutting edge material science of a DSotM. More than that, its styling was so unlike anything I’d ever seen before that I half suspected it was more inspired by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon than by Apollo 8.
This new watch was designed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission, the first time a crewed spacecraft had ever orbited the moon, which makes it especially fitting for a DSotM piece. But before we get to its many lunar accents, we should first note that the watch takes a bit after the ’68 Speedmaster Racing, notably funkier than the utilitarian design typically associated with Speedmasters. The use of brightly colored accents, for instance, likely come from this inspiration, as well as the unusual seconds markers, which were divided into long and short segments to show fractions of a second.
Upon closer examination, the details of the dial start to be revealed, namely that it’s a semi-skeleton and it has an extremely unique textured surface to most of it. The contrast between the smooth, utilitarian metal of the movement with the rough lunar surface is quite fascinating to behold in person. The texture seen on the face of the watch is inspired by the bright side of the moon while the texture on the back of the watch is inspired by the dark side of the moon.
In reality, what we’re referring to is the near or far sides of the moon, as there is, at least in a literal sense, no bright or dark side of the moon. Both sides of the moon experience day and night, about two weeks each of it, but from the perspective of someone on earth, we face the same side of the moon the entire time because the earth and moon are tidally locked. While the other side of the moon is not literally dark, or at least, isn’t for 50% of the time, it is figuratively dark insofar as it is mysterious.
You might, therefore, be thinking that having two different sides of the moon depicted on each side of this watch is academic, since it would make no real difference. But interestingly, that’s not the case at all, as the near and far sides of the moon are quite different from one another. On the near side, the one that people reading this review can see, we see many more dark, smooth areas of the moon, known as lunar maria, Latin for seas. The far side, AKA the dark side, however, is covered much less by these dark areas and far more by visible craters. Hence, you can find relatively flat areas on the face of this watch, like the one visible on the top left of this image, while the back of this watch is almost entirely made of rough surfaces. This is a lovely little touch by Omega. You can look at a photo comparison of the near and far sides of the moon here at NASA.
Presumably whilst still under the influence of Pink Floyd’s 1973 album, someone at Omega decided that having a realistically depicted surface of the moon on the watch just wasn’t crazy enough. No, they were going to cut into their newly-designed dial and make it a semi-skeleton. As semi-skeletons go, however, this is fairly mild, revealing only a small part of the movement, but the contrast between these smooth, shiny, metallic pieces and the harsh, rough surfaces of the dial adds a great deal of visual intrigue to the piece.
Interestingly, you can see the chronograph actuate when you hit the pushers, although the effect is subtle. You’ll also note that, unlike other DSotMs, Omega has skipped the date complication, a decision I entirely approve of here, even if it is just a byproduct of using a different movement.
Hands often reveal a lot about a watch, and that’s certainly true of this Speedmaster. The time is indicated by these polished hour and minute hands, while the seconds hand in the lower left subdial is white. It’s worth noting here that the watch doesn’t hack, a reminder of its old school movement. Given the enormous complexity of the dial, legibility of the hour and minute hands takes a hit, as they are not only slender, but their reflective nature can counterintuitively make them look darker than they are. They are rescued by their luminous stripes, which are far more easily seen against the dark dial than the polished surfaces.
This is not the product of sloppy design. Rather, the designer of the watch intentionally chose to de-emphasize these hands so as not to distract from the chronograph. Thus, while the minute and hour hands may be challenging to read at times, this is not the case for any of the hands corresponding to the chronograph, all of which are bright yellow. It’s usually a mark of thoughtful design when a watch color-codes its various functions, as is the case here.
As is generally the case with DSotMs, it does not disappoint in low light. A fully-illuminated tachymeter is not particularly useful in my experience, but it definitely looks great. The chronograph seconds is still visible, although you’ll have to stick to timing events shorter than a minute. In practical terms, this is enough lume to be useful and reasonably easy to read at night. It won’t compete with something like the Planet Ocean, but you’ll be able to see it in the movie theater or walking to your car after dark.
This unorthodox approach to lume continues to the signed crown, which glows quite nicely at night.
That crown does not screw down, which only makes sense on a hand wound watch. Pleasingly, the pushers and crown remain ceramic, perfectly matching the rest of the watch. In terms of pusher feel, the movement requires quite a bit of force to start the chronograph, although otherwise the feel is very positive.
The case is where an otherwise ordinary Speedmaster becomes a Dark Side of the Moon model, namely, that metal has been replaced by ceramic, and usually of the black variety. Ceramic is a highly desirable material to make cases from because it’s incredibly hard and scratch resistant.
That’s not the only advantage of ceramic, however. Unlike steel, which must receive a special coating to produce a black watch, ceramic can simply be made to be black. That is to say if you broke off a piece of this material, it would be black all the way through. The advantage of this is that, unlike in steel watches where the black material can (and inevitably will) be scratched off, a ceramic case will remain its intended color forever.
Size wise, the Apollo 8 remains quite large at 44.25mm, in line with other DSotMs. It’d be nice if it were offered in the original 1968 size of 42mm, though, as it’d be substantially more versatile. But then, I don’t suppose you wear a Dark Side of the Moon, particularly this Apollo 8, to fly under the radar.
That doesn’t mean that the case has no improvements. The ordinary Dark Side of the Moon, like most contemporary Omega chronographs, is quite thick at about 16.5mm. This new model is no ultra-thin, but it comes in at a far more wearable 13.8mm, very acceptable for a chronograph. The question is, then, how did Omega manage to remove nearly 3mm from the case?
The answer is surprisingly simple: by using a hand wound movement. But this isn’t just any movement, this is the new 1869, an updated version of the incredibly successful 1861, which itself is a version of the 861, the movement used in the 1968 Speedmaster. The 861 and its various successors have formed the core of the Speedmaster lineup ever since, but this is the first time a movement of this lineage has been used in a Dark Side of the Moon model. This is also the first time we see the famous Apollo 8 quote “We’ll see you on the other side,” a nice touch that’s discreetly placed on the back of the watch.
So what differentiates a movement like the 1861 from the new 1869? So far as I can tell, the finishing. These textured bridges resemble the far side of the moon, and the process by which these are made (as well as on the dial) is quite interesting as well, namely subtraction via laser ablation. But there’s so much more to see here than the lunar texture. You’ll not find any German 3/4 plate here to cover up the intricate workings of this chronograph, nor will a rotor block your view. You’re free to enjoy the entire chronograph, and you most certainly will.
I’m very pleased that Omega went with this movement. It is, no doubt, technically inferior to the far newer 9300, but aside from being thinner, it’s also part of the history of the Speedmaster and it makes it much more charming. The 9300 is a great looking movement, but because so much is covered up, it is nowhere near as fascinating to look at as this 1869 is. If you’re shopping for features and accuracy, I have little doubt the 9300 is going to come out on top, but if you’re more of a romantic, it will be very hard to resist the allure of the 1869, a movement so special that it is sold in precisely one model.
On a technical level, the 1869 is very much the old school, non-hacking movement you’d expect it to be. We won’t find any newfangled co-axial escapement here, or even a relatively traditional free sprung balance. Rather, we have a smooth balance, unlike, say, a Rolex 3135 or Omega 8500, which is kept in check via a regulator. Omega has largely abandoned this design these days, but brands like Grand Seiko and Zenith, among others, are still making excellent movements with it.
The frequency is true to its era as well. At 21,600 BPH, it is significantly lower than the average modern watch, which is 28.8k BPH. This gives the watch a rather laid-back sound. Fortunately, the staccato nature of a low frequency seconds hand is obscured by its small size. While the watch world has, more or less, agreed upon 28.8k as the ideal watch frequency, it is nonetheless generally believed that lower frequency movements experience less wear than their high frequency counterparts. It also contributes to relatively long power reserves, like the 1869’s above-average 48 hours.
I often say that the worst thing a luxury watch can be is boring, and the Apollo 8 is certainly not that. It’s a watch that delivers on every level. It’s got a fascinating history, an incredible dial, and a great movement, which is pretty much all you could ask of the watch. I love textured dials in general, and the decision to use the surface of the moon as a texture for both the front and back of the watch was inspired.
I love how eccentric this watch is. Dark Side of the Moon Speedmasters have always been a bit more fun-loving than the Speedmaster Professional, beneath their seemingly hardcore exterior, but the Apollo 8 takes it to another level. It completely gives up the pretense of being a tool watch and instead just focuses on being incredibly interesting. There’s just nothing boring about it-even the material the case is made out of is worth exploring.
And what a wonderful choice it was not only to rely on the 1861, but to decorate it in such a unique way. It looks every bit as cool as you imagine it would, but more importantly, Omega fans have been hoping for thinner watches for some time now, and Omega has finally made a DSotM for them. Thanks to the much thinner movement, the Dark Side of the Moon is substantially more lithe than its brethren.
The Apollo 8 is surprisingly far less expensive than other Dark Side of the Moon watches. The 318.104.22.168.01.001 seen here costs $9,750, well over $2,000 more affordable than most DSotMs. Even if the price were the same, the Apollo 8 would be my first choice in the Dark Side collection. That said, this particular model might be too wild for some, so please click here to see other DSotM watches, which are far more mild (keep in mind that this is mild relative to the Apollo 8). If, however, you want to see more about the Apollo 8, please click here.