The Breitling Watch That Went to Space
On 1 June, bidding will end on a gold Omega Speedmaster, currently on sale at an auction house in America. At the time of writing, bids stand at $155,000 though the final figure is likely to eclipse that. It's not the age of the watch, which dates from 1969, nor its material, it's made from 18k gold, that makes it particularly worthy of attention. It's its provenance. It belonged to Michael Collins, the crew member of Nasa's Apollo 11 Mission, sometimes referred to as the "loneliest man in history" which seems a little harsh. Collins had the job of remaining in the spacecraft and doing laps of the Moon, while his crew mates Neil Armstrong and Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin got time to explore the lunar surface. It sounds like the booby prize but Collins was in charge of making sure the Command Module reconnected with his colleagues and everybody got home safely, which as anyone who's seen the mind-blowing 2019 Apollo 11 documentary appears to a feat of actual magic requiring unshreddable nerves of something way stronger than steel. Collins died in April last year, age 91.
Anyway, the point is, if you made it this far into an Esquire watch story, chances are you already know it was Omega who equipped astronauts with their Speedmaster watches that got them to the Moon. In fact it's hard to avoid the fact—the company has made it the central pillar of its marketing for the last five decades. Fair enough. If your brand was part of arguably the greatest achievement of the 20th Century, you'd probably want to shout about it, too.
But Omega isn't the only watch brand that's been into orbit. The American astronaut William Reid "Bill" Rogue wore a Seiko Speed-Timer on the Skylab 4 mission in 1973. Jon Glenn wore a Heuer stopwatch over his spacesuit as he orbited the Earth three times in 1962. Then there was a special Breitling Navitimer. Scott Carpenter was one of the original seven astronauts to orbit the Earth three times in the Aurora 7 spacecraft in 1962, making him the second American in orbit. He wore a version of Breitling's defining watch, one that had been modified with a hand-wound movement. Fifty years later, in 2009, the watch was reissued and rebranded as the Navitimer Cosmonaute. Like the 1962 model, it came with a 24-hour display (unique to a Navitimer, and apparently Carpenter's request, who figured he wouldn't need to worry about AM and PM up in space) a slide rule bezel, and a manual-winding movement.
Today, on its 60th anniversary, Breitling reissues the Navitimer Cosmonaute with a number of subtle modifications.
Dubbed "the first Swiss wristwatch in space"—though by Esquire's calculations, the Heuer beat it by three months, although perhaps the semantics of "wristwatch" and "stopwatch" are at play here—it now comes with Breitling's latest movement, a new platinum bezel and a special bridge with the engravings "Carpenter," "Aurora 7" and "3 orbits around the Earth" on it. The date of Carpenter's mission is on the back.
Elsewhere the Cosmonaute's original stylings are present and correct—the all-black dial and a choice of black alligator strap or stainless steel bracelet.
To this writer's eye, this is one of the nicest Navitimer's of all the many dozens that have been launched since the early 1950s. The simple black dial and matching black sub-dials go some way to help calm down a watch that, on first glance, can be a lot to take in. It's elegant but it's still full of all the aeronautical info that defines the Navitmer in the first place.
In addition to the new watch, which is limited to 362 models, a reference to the year the mission was made and the number of times the spacecraft orbited the Earth, Breitling recently unveiled Scott Carpenter's original beaten-up Navitimer to a select audience in Geneva—the first time it had been seen in public.
Should that watch find its way to auction, it's unlikely to hit gold Omega prices. But it served as a timely reminder that there's more than one watch brand that's made it to the stars. Space, after all, is a big place.
From: Esquire UK