5 of the best space watchesFergus Nash
Space may be the final frontier, but there’s nowhere humans would dare go without a good watch. Over the years there have been hundreds of wristwatches granted the honour of space flight, but only a select few have reached fame for their active use. In celebration of World Space Week, and in no particular order, here are the top five space watches that will have you seeing stars.
With a cushion case, brilliant gold dial, and a Pepsi tachymeter bezel, the Seiko Pogue chronograph is possibly one of the most emblematic watches of the 1970s. NASA’s first-ever space station was called Skylab, and Colonel William R. Pogue was one of the members of its fourth and final crewed mission from November 1973 to February 1974. During this time, he wore a Seiko reference 6139-6005 that became the first automatic chronograph to be worn in space. Since then, that reference and similar models have been collectible for their space-faring connections and plain old good looks. Despite the collectibility, they remain one of the most affordable vintage Seiko chronographs out there, with a high production number and many in less-than-ideal condition. If you want to scratch the space watch itch or dip your toe into vintage Seikos, the Pogue is a great place to start.
Many watch enthusiasts will be familiar with the Glycine Airman as the first wristwatch to introduce multiple time zones, thanks to its rotating bezel that could easily be adjusted while flying. It also happens to hold a significant place in the history of space travel having been worn by Pete Conrad during NASA’s Gemini 5 mission in 1965. At the time, it broke the record for the longest manned space flight at 7 days, 22 hours, and 55 minutes. The purpose of the mission was to ensure astronauts would survive in space for the 8-day duration of flying to the moon and back. Conrad actually wore three watches during the mission, with an Omega Speedmaster on each wrist and his favoured Glycine Airman doubled up on the right wrist. He’d do it again for Gemini 11 in 1966, with the Speedmaster on the left and the Airman on the right.
Bulova Lunar Pilot
Although it may look like an homage to the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch to the uninitiated, the Bulova Lunar Pilot actually does have its own space story. Apollo 15 Mission Commander David Scott was on the moon and outside the shuttle when the crystal of his Speedmaster popped off, but thankfully he’d brought along a mechanical Bulova chronograph as a backup. The Bulova survived its moonwalk, and spent the next 44 years in a safe deposit box. Once he sold it at auction for $1.6M in 2015, Bulova reissued the design using their high-frequency quartz chronograph movement, giving it a mechanical-like sweep. Since then they’ve come out with a reduced case version that’s still a hefty 43.5mm, but much more wearable for the masses.
Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch
The Omega Speedmaster Professional is not just the most legendary space watch, but also undoubtedly one of the most iconic watches of all time. It won the contract with NASA with 1965 and has flown on all of their missions since, including the Apollo 11 moon landing. It even helped save the lives of the Apollo 13 crew after a ruptured oxygen tank disabled the capsule’s computing, and Jack Swigert had to use his watch to time a burn of the propulsion system. This precise measurement allowed them to swing around the moon and return to Earth, instead of drifting off into space. Countless versions of the Moonwatch have been released, ranging from the quartz-powered Swatch collaborations to works of incredible luxury.
There are a bunch of watches with terrific space pedigree, and they deserve to get honourable mentions on this list. They are the Sinn 140, the Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute, the Rolex GMT-Master, and the Pobeda watch worn by Yuri Gagarin in the first-ever manned spaceflight. However, as special as those watches are, I wanted to draw attention to the Fortis Stratoliner. It’s a controversial pick, because beyond the WERK 17 movements being tested in the Earth’s stratosphere, the Stratoliner itself doesn’t have an astronaut resume. Even the Fortis Cosmonauts Chronograph was worn by Russian astronauts on the Mir space station and ISS, but the Stratoliner represents something else. Its design is influenced by the retro-futurism of the jet-setting 1960s, an aesthetic style which has influenced not just science fiction but also the design of genuine technologies. The colours are crisp, the skeletonised case is captivating, and it’s the only watch on this list which will really grab the imagination of people who aren’t watch nerds. After all, it’s imagination which led humanity to the moon in the first place.