When it comes to owning a classic watch, they don’t come more well-travelled than the OMEGA Speedmaster. Now celebrating more than 60 years as an iconic timepiece, the Speedmaster has been worn by astronauts, Air Force pilots, explorers, athletes and actors alike. In 1969, Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the lunar surface as part of the Apollo 11 crew wearing his OMEGA wristwatch, making the Speedmaster the first watch to be worn on the moon. But what happened to it after he returned to earth? We met with Buzz as part of OMEGA’s Speedmaster anniversary events, to hear about his adventures in space (and time-telling), and to find out what happened to that iconic space watch…
Buzz Aldrin and the OMEGA Speedmaster
In 1969, as part of Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first and second men to walk on the surface of the moon. This iconic shot of Buzz, taken en route by Neil, shows the astronaut displaying his OMEGA Speedmaster, which was tested by former NASA engineer Jim Ragan before the mission.
Here, Buzz talks us through the mission, and the stories behind the most famous images of his trip.
‘We’re going to the moon, we haven’t even got there yet. But I need to check and see what the condition of the lander is like because all three of us had been in Columbia. So, I crawl up through the tunnel and go down through the tunnel in Eagle, and then position myself and look around and check everything is in the right position. Neil stuck his head down with the camera upside down so he could take a picture of me right side up, and that’s his triangular window behind me, and my window’s on the other side so the instrument panel is here. And it just happened that I was displaying very prominently an Omega watch. This is not a spacesuit I had on. This is what the outfit was inside the spacecraft before putting on a pressure suit to go outside the spacecraft. And this garment was on display at the Smithsonian when we came back, and they recently sent it back to its rightful owner, and it fits fine!’
Once Buzz landed on the moon, he takes one of the most famous shots of all time.
‘What was so remarkable getting on the surface was to look down and see how precisely the boot print kept to the surface, like talcum powder. It didn’t smudge and vanish, it preserved itself, unlike sand. It was very distinct. So, I had to take a picture of it before and after. This is a very famous picture but it’s very lonesome looking, so I had to put my foot down and move it slightly so you could see the boot and the print.’
Following this, Neil Armstrong took charge of the camera, and pointed it at Buzz, often mistaken for Neil in this, the most iconic of space photographs. You can see the black strap of his Speedmaster watch here.
‘You can see the black sky, the sunlit grey, almost 50 shades of grey. No life, no air, very desolate but magnificent desolation. This very spontaneous picture I was moving, we didn’t pose this picture. Neil said “Stop!” and I looked at him and he took a picture, and I was still turning around. You can see my name on the plate here, and the gold visor of the helmet reflects the light that was coming toward him in the picture. And you can see the white suited Neil, the photographer, you can see my shadow, the spacecraft that we landed in (Eagle), the flag, and a few of the experiments. This image is so complete, and so iconic a picture. People ask me to tell them about it and I only have 3 words: “Location, location, location”.’
The Lost Watch
So what happened to that iconic watch? As per the usual protocol, on his return to earth, Buzz sent his watch to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington to be displayed; but it got ‘lost’ on the way.
And nobody is taking the blame for the loss of Buzz’s moon watch. We spoke to former NASA engineer Jim Ragan, who was responsible for testing all the personal hardware for the space missions.
‘I wasn’t responsible for recovering those watches. The only thing I got back from that mission was the magazines of film and I had to send those to the Smithsonian as well. I didn’t have anything to do with those watches.
‘I made Buzz Aldrin sign a slip of paper to this effect saying that he had shipped it, and it wasn’t there when it got to the Smithsonian.’
The astronaut says he occasionally gets calls from people claiming to have the elusive lost moon watch, but thus far these have all been hoaxes.
So, if you happen to have a vintage Speedmaster in your collection from circa 1969, just take a close look at the serial number. (And perhaps check for lunar dust…)
Article first published in 2017 and republished as a lockdown long-read.