Collectors in all forms have quite unique approaches to gathering their treasured items, amassing unique pieces of information from first hand experiences. We thought it was time to launch a series of content celebrating that, called ‘The Collector’. In this inaugural edition we sat down with Matteo aka @themasterofspeed on Instagram, to talk about a selection of his collection of Omega Speedmasters.
So, how did you become interested in watches in the beginning?
Around ten years ago, I had a family friend who was very into watches. Every time I would hang out with him, he was wearing a different watch. After a while I got curious about the details and differences.
You were trying to understand why someone would want to own so many watches?
In a sense, yeah. I remember asking him why so many, why this, why that. [laughs]
And it grew from there…
What did you first start to buy?
Well, one watch my friend showed me early-on was the Speedmaster. I remember being particularly taken by this watch because the story of it is just so fascinating. I mean, a watch which has been to space with NASA - I was very impressed. It seemed to be so much more than just a watch; it represented something.
This was the first realisation you had that watches could be ‘more’ than just watches?
Exactly. It was through the Speedmaster that I uncovered the whole world of watches. It was clear to me that this watch had real historical importance versus special design elements which so many others are known for.
The Speedy is one of the few that has both right?
Yeah, totally. I found it very fun researching the little details and differences between references and movements.
Right, let’s get through this portion of your collection chronologically…
Yes, then we should begin with the 2998.
How did you first come across the reference 2998 and what did you find appealing about it?
The first thing that stood out to me was the hand set, because I had only seen the more commonly associated hands of the more modern references at that time. This reference had leaf-like hands which were just so striking, along with the smaller seconds hand and the chronograph counters.
"This was an experimental period for the Speedmaster."
This watch became the basis of a lot of my studying because there were so many variations. Within months of production, this reference went from having a ‘lollipop’ seconds hand, like the 2998/2, to the straight hand. Years later, we can now deduce that this was an experimental period for the Speedmaster; it went from being an evolution of the 2915, to a completely different thing, very quickly.
There are certainly a lot of variations…
They probably ran out of their order of ‘lollipop’ hands and switched to the straight hand at some stage I’m guessing. The 2998 is the last iteration that you can still find elements of the original on, which is quite fun.
Next in line is the reference 105.003-65, and quite a special one at that…
Yeah, this is something that took a while for collectors to understand because it was so unusual. The dial has a special sunburst blue texture which many collectors thought were just tropical or faded. It became clearer after a few had surfaced that they had common design features in the writing on the dial, that are unique to this execution.
When was it that these began to be understood?
The first wave of people really understanding these would have been back in 2013, 2014, somewhere around there. Around ten pieces are very well-known in the watch community and have been studied in great detail revealing three different typologies of dial.
Interesting, what did they find?
Well, the watch community can be quite conflicted on things like this, but there have been three evolutions identified which include larger and smaller sub-dials, as well as a slightly greyer dial.
..."it’s fun to have something that only a few collectors understand".
And again, this was presumably Omega experimenting?
Yeah, I think it makes perfect sense for Omega to be experimenting with other dial colours. These become very interesting pieces to own, because they are really quite rare - it’s fun to have something that only a few collectors understand. These are more broadly known now, but are far more difficult to find and far more expensive, of course.
Now, speaking of rare, this one is particularly rare because it doesn’t have the standard bezel, right?
Exactly, this was delivered with a pulsation bezel which was a rare option for someone to request. These were intended primarily to be used with a tachymeter.
Would this be the rarest configuration of this reference?
No, I think the Miles Telemeter bezel version is the rarest. I’ve only seen two of those.
Moving along, we come to the CB-cased Speedmaster…
Yes, the CB.
So, quite simply this reference was a different case manufacturer right?
Yeah, basically. I think it was when they were expanding production to meet demand. At the time Huguenin Frères were the only case manufacturer able to twist the lugs to the more commonly known case shape…
So during this period they must have tested out Centrale Boites and only produced with them for a period of one year, in 1966.
Were these entirely milled or did they find some way of twisting the lugs as well?
We’re not so sure actually, but what you can see is that there is a flat spot on the top of each lug; this is the main visual difference.
And this wasn’t developed initially for Omega was it…
No, it was initially developed for the Universal Geneve Polerouter.
Universal Geneve pushing the boundaries once again…
So, was the CB produced in large quantities?
Relatively large, but certainly not by comparison to the Huguenin Frères production figures.
Next in line is the 145.022-69…
Yes, now the main difference on the dial is that it doesn’t have an applied metal logo, it’s printed instead. But the special element to this piece is what’s on the back.
Tell us about that…
This is the first reference to have the official NASA affiliation following the successful moon-landing.
Quite a special moment historically for both NASA and Omega by their affiliation with it…
Yes and because it was the very first reference to do that, this watch is very important to me. To be able to make that claim is quite incredible, you know?
"This watch went to the Moon. If you want to be an astronaut, you need to own this watch."
Which, when you boil it down, has always been the appeal of the Speedmaster…
One of the reasons…
This being the first generation of the Moon landing case-backs, it has a different design to the more commonly seen today. It has straight writing as opposed to circular writing, making it quite rare.
And now, potentially the best until last…
Tell us the story behind this gold version…
This reference was made to celebrate the Moon landing and was offered to the astronauts as well as key political figures. Nixon famously didn’t accept one, as it was seen as problematic accepting gifts while in public office of such value. This one now sits in the Omega museum with a special inscription on the back.
So, there were 1,014 produced in total. Numbers 1 and 2 were offered to the President and Vice-President but declined. Numbers 3 to 28, to astronauts involved in the mission, 29 to 32 went to Swiss politicians and watch industry leaders, leaving 33 to 1000 for the public.
Numbers 1001 to 1008 were given in 1972 to the astronauts of Apollo 14-17, while the remaining numbers 1009 to 1014 went to various personalities.
That’s quite an in-depth knowledge of the allocation of these pieces… [laughs]
[Laughs] Well, yeah. My one is the second generation design.
What were the differences?
The first 19 had a special engraving on the back which wasn’t paint filled, like the later examples. These early pieces had an oval O for the Omega logo, which later became the more commonly seen rounder O.
..."it’s maybe something you would see online but never see in person".
So, how did you come across this watch, because it’s not something you see so commonly right?
Definitely, it’s maybe something you would see online but never see in person. The first one that became available to me was from someone in Monte Carlo, but it just felt like it was very expensive. This was all before prices raised considerably on Speedmasters, so I passed.
And then you began to obsess over it and try to find another?
[Laughs] No, not really. I like to let watches come to me, rather than trying to find specific things. One became available in Milan and the seller sent me a message on Instagram, so off I went to see it. It happened to come from an ex-Omega retailer who had kept this watch in a safety box for many years.
Wow, that’s the dream find…
Yeah, absolutely. It was sitting there for 50 years untouched and the condition certainly reflects that.
The condition is beautiful…
This would have likely been a difficult piece to sell in the ‘60s as relatively speaking it was expensive, so it’s quite feasible that it would have sat unsold.
It must have been a strange one for people because the Speedmaster was so utilitarian and then there it is, as a big lump of gold…
Yeah, it was never intended to be a ‘luxury watch’ in terms of its aesthetics. It was intended as a celebration, like a medal or a little statue or something.
Let’s talk briefly about the one that has escaped you…
There are a few, I’m going to have to think.
What’s that one personal grail that you’re hoping will come along…
I want the Speedmaster ‘racing dial’ with the 321 movement with red hands and indexes.
Those are going quite crazy price-wise these days, right?
Yeah, I have one of them.
Ok… so why is this the one that has eluded you? [laughs]
Well, I’m missing the non-professional version. There are two black dial versions in the non-professional and the professional case. The professional has the small dial indexes, so I need that one.
Why not… you’ve got to have two.
[Laughs] Yes, I need to have both.