Sunday 20 August 2023

Watches - Speedmaster Professionals - Real, reimagined, homaged, faked and, err, just plain insulted?

I'm a bit of a watch fan, having a reasonable collection covering everything from Casios to Breitlings, Heuers and Omegas.

I have a few 'homage'/'clomage' watches that owe their entire design to a well known watch, but are branded as something else (take a look on Aliexpress, there are plenty of examples).

However, I'm generally adverse to outright fakes.

I've owned a mid-1990s Omega Speedmaster Professional for many years, picking it up when they were relatively affordable and, a broken mainspring aside, it's been a great watch.

The Speedmaster's claim to fame, of course, is that it was the watch worn by NASA astronauts on the moon, but before that it was a high quality chronograph, delivering precise timing from its Swiss build quality.

It's a dated design now, with a manual wind movement, although the latest version features a modern automatic movement.

In 2022, Swatch, Omega's parent, unveiled a plastic Speedmaster clone under the SwatchXOmega brand as the MoonSwatch and it was a huge, perhaps unexpectedly so, success.

At around £250, it was expensive for what you got, but not for a watch with Omega branding (that wasn't an all out fake), but the success, in my mind at least, led to some very unsavoury behaviour from Swatch.

These watches were selling for 4 or 5 times RRP at times and knife wielding gangs were intimidating regular buyers queueing outside Swatch stores to ensure they could get the supply and sell them for a profit. Worse than that, Swatch seemed to facilitate this 'scalping' behaviour, by allowing such groups (Whether knife-wielding or not) preferential access to the watches.

Therefore, when, inevitably, 'lookalike' MoonSwatches started appearing for a fraction of the RRP (and even less that of the profiteers' prices), I, for once, felt no qualms about picking one up and raising a metophorical finger to the Swatch Group and their contempt for their customers.

I watch a lot of watch review videos and this is definitely not intended to be a watch review (you won't get movement specs, timegrapher plots or a rundown on the various brushing on the watches), but I thought it may be interesting to compare the iconic Omega Speedmaster to the genuine MoonSwatch to the various 'dodgy' copies I have and see where the value lies, between the plastic models.

My Speedmaster is a 1997 Omega Speedmaster Professional (145.022), which I bought from eBay over a couple of a beers, while staying in a hotel in Chester for business.

That was almost certainly one of the worst ways to buy a £1,700 watch, but it turned out fine, being a nice example with no issues.

It arrived on a leather strap, rather than a bracelet, but I believe they were sold that way back in 1997, and I tend to prefer my watches on leather, anyway.

My Speedmaster is a traditional hand-wind model and one morning the mainspring broke, leading to a full service by an independent watch maker (From memory, I used STS).

The standard Speedmaster Professional isn't a flashy watch (some of the many, many special editions are, though), with no applied indices, ceramic bezels, screw down crowns and pushers, significant water resistance and the like, but it is a well made, nicely finished quality chronograph - NASA didn't choose it over the Rolex Daytona and others because of a big 'product placement' deal (Yes, I am thinking of the Omega Seamaster 'Bond' tie-in), but because it was the best watch for their job, providing precision timing in zero gravity.

The case finish is very high quality, mine now lives on this Uncle Seiko 'Beads of Rice' bracelet, which may not be as good as a genuine Omega bracelet, but I really like the look and feel of the watch on it, more than the bracelet my watch may or may not have been shipped on in 1997.

The crown isn't the easiest to wind, a bit of a shame on a hand-wind only watch, but it's manageable. The bezel (as on all the lookalikes) is a Tachymeter, that allows you to calculate speed from the time taken to cross a known distance - A fuller description can be found here.

The dial is fully printed, with no applied indices. Likewise the subdials.

Two of the subdials only work with the chronograph running, as does the centre second hand. The exception, the left hand subdial, tracks the running seconds, while the right hand one tracks chrono minutes. The lower of the 3 dials, tracks chrono hours, up to 12.

Finally, this period Speedmaster Pro is fitted with a hesalite (plastic) crystal which is far more prone to scratching than sapphire crystal (as you can see - It looks far worse in the photo than to my eye), but I can forgive that, as it's what the NASA astronauts had and minor scratches can be buffed out.

If it really bothers you, you can get a sapphire sandwich model (with a sapphire crystal and display back - The display back on my watch is an aftermarket one).

The 'genuine' MoonSwatch here is a 'Mission to Jupiter'.

I bought this a few days old from someone on a watch forum, for the RRP, specifically for this comparison and it will be moved on shortly after I complete this blog.

It came in the original box (some fakes will come in very similar looking boxes), which has a slightly plastic feel and a grippy feel, like soft sandpaper. The fakes won't have that feel to them.

Opening the box up and picking up the watch, it felt very like the fakes, but closer examination reveals that the lugs are far more refined in their finish (closer to the true Speedmaster) and, indeed as you may expect for ten times the price, the finish of the watch overall is noticeably better than the fakes.

Oddly, for a watch costing £220+, Swatch skimped on a quartz movement without a ghost date position on the crown, but the chronograph is a 1/10th second model, with the right hand sub-dial tracking that after you stop the chronograph.

The lower subdial is a continuous ticking second hand and the left hand dial tracks chrono minutes.

I was skeptical about this watch, I'll admit, but, while I don't personally think it's worth £225 (let alone 4 times that price, as they often sold for at the height of the frenzy), it's much nicer than I expected.

Next up, price-wise, is the Pagani Design PD-1701, sometimes referred to as the "Mission to Alaska", due to its similarity to both the Mission to Mars MoonSwatch and the Project Alaska Speedmaster.

This features a decent Seiko quartz chronograph, but it doesn't have the same 1/10th second feature that the MoonSwatch does.

On this watch, the left dial tracks chrono minutes, the right hand one is a 24 hour running time and the bottom one is a running seconds hand.

Unlike the other non-Omegas here, though, it's made of stainless steel.

The bezel insert is red sapphire crystal and the dial is actually silver, rather than plain white as it appears in most photographs. The subdial hands, of course, look like little Apollo space capsules, echoing those on the 'Mission to Mars' MoonSwatch.

From the factory, this comes on a just OK bracelet, but I've swapped it onto the 'Mission To Mars' strap that my red fake came on and I rather like the combination.

My two outright fake MoonSwatches are next.

I paid around £20-25 each for these from AliExpress.

Neither was advertised as being a fake, the images showed dials without the Omega or Swatch branding, which I was happy with, but, as mentioned before, I feel no qualms about owning these outright fakes, given the Swatch groups unpleasant behaviour regarding MoonSwatches.

The first I bought was the Red 'Mission to Mars'.

I was quite pleased with the 'Mars', so I also bought the 'Mission to Neptune', blue watch you see here.

This came on a lookalike strap, very like the Jupiter, while the Mars came on the white strap on my Pagani Design.

It seems to be identical to the fake 'Mars', with the same error on the caseback and completely removable caseback and purely cosmetic battery 'hatch'.

Here the subdials are different again to the real thing.

The left dial tracks chrono minutes, the right is a 24 hour clock, always running, like the Pagani Design, but is marked as if it is the 1/10th second dial on the genuine MoonSwatch. The bottom dial is a running second hand.

At first sight the fakes look pretty decent, but (as you can see above) the devil is in the detail. The lugs are broader and less defined than those on the MoonSwatch, which are pretty close to those of the real Speedmaster.

On the 'Mars' especially, but also the 'Neptune', the bezel printing is quite crude compared to the Swatch.

The hands look fairly similar, but even a few moments in the sun reveals the lume is much better on the Swatch.

The back features some big giveaways, too.

On the Swatch, you can only open a small hatch, featuring a sticker of the planet the watch represents, whereas these fakes have a completely removable back, indicated by a little notch in the top right lug as you look at this photo.

The pushers and crown, too, look a bit coarse and, yet again, undefined, compared to the Swatch.

The biggest let down though, is the engraving on the back.

Generally it looks fairly good, but while the Swatch says "DREAM BIG FLY HIGHER", the fakes say "DREAM BIG FIY HIGHER!" - If you're buying a MoonSwatch from an unknown source, always check the case back (and the position of the right hand sub dial hand - If the main hands are set to 12 in photos, be suspicious)

Finally, I picked up the Omsan you see here. It features some Swatch branding, but not the Omega one, with Omsan being prominent.

The biggest difference between this watch and all the others, is that it is a fake chronograph!

The pushers do absolutely nothing, they don't even move and the second hand ticks continually, while the subdials are for appearance other.

The case, hands, strap and dial all look pretty similar to the branded fakes, but the caseback is even poorer, with "DREAM BIG FIY HCHER" obviously poorly copied from the other fakes and only printed!

The caseback opening is cruder, too, with just a little tab on it to open the back.

Still, having paid just £4.86 for it, I'm rather surprised to say it's as well finished as the other fake MoonSwatches and after 4 months is still keeping perfect time. Can you expect any more than that?

Also, a quick look at what's inside the fakes.

You're obviously getting a better movement in the £20 watches, as they are real chronos, but they do look far more substantial than the Omsan.

All you can ever access on the Swatch is the battery.

The straps on the fakes are pretty good, I think. I know a lot of people hate the genuine MoonSwatch velcro strap, but it's actually a fraction nicer, with more texture, than the fakes, but it's no more flexible and the fittings don't seem any better quality.

My two fakes, though, now sit on cheap silicone replacements, for no reason other than I thought I'd try them out!

The colours are a poor match for the cases, but I don't really mind. To be honest, I'd be happier if my 'Mars' watch's case was closer to the strap. The first time I wore the watch, my wife asked why I'd bought a pink watch!

So, there you have a comparison of the Speedmaster Professional and a selection of the lookalikes on the market.

The real thing is, I think, a great watch, if undoubtedly over milked by Omega with their massive array of limited editions and the like.

If I had my time again, I would have bought the quite rare version of the Speedmaster with the moonphase complication as I think it looks great, but I'm a very happy Speedmaster Professional owner.

The genuine MoonSwatch surprised me by being nicer than I expected, but I remain unconvinced it's a £250 watch or anywhere near.

The Pagani Design (as with nearly everything from that brand, who stole a premium car maker's name and then compounded the crime by adding Design to it, when design is the last thing they do!) is actually a pretty decent affordable watch.

It doesn't pretend to be an Omega, although it's clearly a copy of the Speedmaster (if not an exact copy of any particular one), and features a quality Seiko quartz chronograph movement for well under £100.

There's little to dislike about it (except the brand name perhaps) if you look past its similarity to the Speedmaster, even the bracelet is reasonable for the price and some newer versions are even more attractive than genuine Speedmasters, in my view.

The fully branded fake MoonSwatches are OK for the £20 or so I paid, but if you look, they're cheap watches and flawed fakes. On the other hand, they work perfectly well as cheap, simple chronographs.

Finally, the Omsam is just a very cheap quartz watch that looks very like a MoonSwatch, but is certainly no worse than many other quartz watches in terms of time keeping - For under £5, do you have any right to expect a watch to even work?

I'm not, as I said before, supporting fakes generally. If I'd known the two fully branded fakes were marked as such I wouldn't have bought them, but Swatch treated honest buyers so badly over the MoonSwatch affair that I feel no guilt in owning these two and would certainly never pretend they were anything other than cheap copies of the Swatch.

So, how would I rate the various lookalike Speedmasters in terms of value for money?

The Pagani Design is the clear winner for me. It delivers a quality Seiko movement in a well finished stainless steel case and sapphire crystal for sub £100 (sometimes well under!).

It's a watch you can wear without shame and will probably last you as long as a low-end Seiko would, for substantially less money.

Next, in my view, is the MoonSwatch. I was impressed by the finish, it really is as close as you can get in plastic (oh, sorry, bio-ceramic!) to the real case shape and the 1/10th second chrono feature is a good one, but if you just want a 1/10th second chronograph, even Swatch themselves offer far better watches for less money.

Looking past their fakeness, the two £20 fakes are next up. They're relatively crude compared to the Swatch, but I think you'd only really notice that if you had the real thing to hand as well or took a really close look. They are working chronographs and look the part from arm's length, at least.

Propping up the league table of Speedmaster lookalikes is, of course, the Omsan. It's just a very cheap quartz movement in the crudest of all the watch cases here, but it tells the time as well as the others, so if you really want a watch, for next to nothing, that has the Speedmaster look, it's hard to completely discount!

Of course, many will disagree, but this was never going to be anything but a subjective comparison.