To most enthusiasts, the first watch that comes to mind when the thought of space exploration comes up is the Omega Speedmaster Professional, known simply as the "Moon Watch." For good reason, too. Issued by NASA to Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins for Apollo XI, the Speedmaster Pro ST 145.012 was the first watch on the moon, and Omega has done a fabulous job of capitalizing on this achievement.
The "Speedy Pro," as it is also known, is a wonderful piece and one of my personal favorites. It is one of the best-looking chronographs ever made, in my opinion. The Moon Watch is still in Omega's model lineup, meaning that a trip to the dealer is all you need to have a piece of history.
While the Omega is probably the best known space watch, it is hardly the only timepiece with extra-terrestrial pedigree. If you are looking for something to wear on your wrist that calls to the stars, there are a lot of other wonderful pieces that you should consider.
A few years ago, a good friend and I wondered: if the Omega Speedmaster Pro was the first watch to go to the moon, what then was the first watch in space? We knew that Russia—then called the USSR—had sent the first manned mission to outer space, so a watch of Russian origin was the likely source. Sure enough, it was a Sturmanskie, made by the state-owned First Moscow Watch Company, that cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin wore on Vostok 1. All-original examples are nearly impossible to find, but the Sturmanskie brand was recently revived, and modern versions of this historically significant watch are not too hard to find.
The latest reissue of the Surmanskie Gagarins are larger than the originals at 40mm, but are otherwise visually very faithful. There are several dial colors, with the off-white variant being the most historically accurate, but my favorite is the black dial variant. It is a simple watch with no complications, and the latest iteration uses basically the same 17-jewel manual movement that was used in 1961. It's a relatively inexpensive watch, and a perfect piece for a new collector.
While on the topic of firsts, the title for the first automatic chronograph in space might seem a very narrow and specific title to own, but it is one that is quite interesting historically. In 1985, German astronaut and physicist Dr. Reinhard Furrer went into orbit wearing a German watch, the Sinn 140, making it the first automatic chronograph in space. Or at least, that's what most people believed. While there is some debate as to the exact model Herr Furrer wore on the Spacelab D1 mission, what is not up for debate is that it was 140-series Sinn. Sinn itself claims that it was a model 140, and the current model is called the 140 St—but there is a study made by an enthusiast that it was actually a 141 S. Whichever it is eventually proven to be, this family of watches is one of the most successful in the history of space exploration (the Sinn 142 was also used in missions up until the 1990s), and a very cool piece to own.
Sadly for Sinn fans, the exact model of Dr. Furrer's 140 is not the only horology issue historians have. In 2007, another watch enthusiast did some sleuthing and eventually found that the 140 was not the first automatic chronograph in space. The honor belongs to Seiko. In correspondences made with Astronaut Col. William Pogue, it was proven that his gold-dial 6139-6002 made the trip with him in 1974, on the Skylab 4 mission. It was his personal watch, and he wore it alongside NASA's standard issue Omega because it was the watch he used during mission simulations, and he was comfortable operating the Seiko. Now known among fans as the "Pogue," the gold-dial version of the 6139-600x series does not have a commemorative re-issue, unlike the other watches on this list.
The Speedmaster Pro is known as the moon watch, and rightfully so, but it isn't the only watch to have gone to the moon. During the 1971 Apollo 15 mission, Commander David Scott took his personal watch, a Bulova Accutron Chronograph, to the lunar surface. When the crystal popped off his NASA-issue Speedmaster, Commander Scott switched to the Bulova for the landing. Bulova recently released a modern iteration, called the Lunar Pilot Chronograph, which is still in their catalog. Other than the lack of a date window, the reissue is almost identical to the original. The Lunar Pilot Chrono runs on "just" a quartz, but this is actually consistent with the original, which used Bolova's Accutron system—a precursor to modern quartz movements. Either way, it's still a cool piece of space memorabilia.
From the first time prehistoric humans looked at the night sky, the heavens have held the wonder and fascination of mankind. In all of recorded history, only a very lucky few have been able to take to the stars and experience first hand the wonders of space. With one of these timepieces, however, the rest of us can hold in our hands a small piece of their story.