The most recent, major functional update of the ‘Speedmaster’ series, besides the introduction of the Co-Axial escapement, is the model X-33. With its digital display and the multiple specific functions, also targeting requirements for working in space, it represents one of the most versatile tool watches ever made.
The origins of this model, which was introduced in 1998, lies in an ETA movement introduced in 1983. The ETA 988.331 movement was the first Swiss movement allowing for analog time display combined with a digital display featuring multiple functions and covering the whole dial surface.
The Beginning as a Seamaster
In 1983 Omega starts a project in collaboration with ETA for the development of a hybrid caliber combining simultaneously analog and digital display. The planned shared development consisted in Omega developing the movement and ETA constructing it. The caliber was code – named ‘Flamand – Combo’ (1).
Omega’s Claude André Gygax and Michel Burdet, helped by André Calame and Pierre-André Dubois succeeded to have a running prototype by the end of 1983, but a few months later, due to the fusion of the two Swiss watch giants SSIH and ASUAG (later named Swatch Group) in early 1984, Omega lost the status as a manufacturer of electronic movements and passed the responsibility of the further development of the caliber entirely to ETA. Subsequently, André Triponet, a former engineer at Omega, and Pierre-André Noirjean from FHF took over the project and formed the caliber to suit Tissot’s requirements for their ‘Two Timer’ model (cal.: 958, rectangular dial) and Omega’s Seamaster ‘Multifunction’ (cal.: 1665, circular dial) (1).
The Omega model has been introduced by Nicolas G. Hayek during a press conference on the 23.10.1986 (1). After the launch of the ‘Polaris Multifunction’ Nicolas G. Hayek was seen wearing multiple watches at both his wrists. When asked during an interview in 2007 what watches were his favourites he answered that he always wears the very first Swatch to have left production line and an Omega Polaris multifunction (3).
The Revival as a Speedmaster
In 1993 the decision was taken to bring the ‘Speedmaster’ model to the next level by adding useful functions for prologued work in space. The most suitable way to increase the functionality without jeopardising reliability and visibility of the time was to introduce an additional digital, multifunctional display. As a basis for this development Omega took their earlier cal.: 1665 and adapted it with functions requested and discussed with NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) astronauts. Cal.: 1666 was born (1).
This new calibre was intended to run the new ‘Marswatch’, of which some prototypes started to be made in 1995. The new model would receive the short name X-33, adopted from the codename NASA gave to a new spaceship in development in the early 1990ies, but which was never realised. The prototypes first identifiable as ‘Flightmaster’ until 1996, will be renamed and attributed to the ‘Speedmaster’ line in 1997 (1).
Several further adaptations will be made, the most important being an alarm which reaches 80 Db to be heard in the noisy environment of a spaceship and a luminosity of the digital display of 8 lux. Moreover the watch was housed in a titanium case, the pushers were placed the way to be able to be activated with gloves and of course it had to withstand the usual precision, temperature, acceleration and strength tests (1).
- Richon M; Reise durch die Zeit; Omega SA, 2007
- Watch Guy
- Manager Magazine