There are few names in the watch galaxy that you can say without uttering the brand – the horological equivalent to the one-name celebrity. The Madonna of watches. For me, two stand out above all else. At the top of the list are the Submariner and the Speedmaster. The Speedy is known the world over because it permeated watch nerdery and entered the broader consciousness. Much of that has to do with the chronograph’s well-known connection to the NASA space program. And Omega knows how important the Speedmaster is to the brand, writ large. James Stacey and I spoke recently about how you could almost consider the Speedmaster a subsidiary brand in its own right.
That status has resulted in Omega producing a lot of Speedmaster variations. We’re talking vintage revivals, all sorts of metals, and a bevy of case sizes. But for the most part, the general design has stayed true to the original Speedys of old. We’re talking an uncomplicated dial layout, and a tachymeter bezel. You color within those lines, and you can make Speedmaster variants to your heart’s content. We don’t see Omega breaking from this mold almost at all, and the times we do, it’s usually to do something like Snoopy flying in a rocket across the caseback of what is otherwise a standard Speedmaster design.
And then something happened. Late last year, Omega announced a new Speedmaster – a different Speedmaster. It wasn’t one Speedmaster … it was all Speedmasters of the past wrapped up into one. I am talking about the Omega Speedmaster Chronoscope. And to fully understand what this watch is doing, we need to take a trip down memory lane and examine some rare bezels. Yeah, it’s bezel time.
But first, a glossary of terms (with a little help from our friends at Merriam-Webster):
Who Doesn’t Love A Glossary?
Telemeter: An instrument for measuring the distance of an object from an observer
Pulsometer (or Sphygmograph): A watch with special dial [Editor’s Note: or bezel] used by physicians in determining the pulse rate
Tachymeter: An instrument for quickly determining the distances, bearings, and elevations of distant objects in surveying, or a speed indicator
Now, there’s a method behind the madness here. The reason I want to define these terms is that they play a fundamental role in the piece of machinery that is the Omega Speedmaster Chronoscope. Each of these concepts, or terms, is illustrated on this watch in a way that allows for the user to time and measure each one as much as they want. Endlessly, even.
And there’s a reason why the seemingly complex (okay, literally complex) Chronoscope displays this measurement capability. And that reason comes from the history books and something called “snail” dial displays. This was a way to allow a single chronograph to time all manner of things. And that’s what the Chronoscope seems to be about. Only the coolest part is that it takes a known design language – Speedmaster bezels of old – and seemingly reproduces them onto the dial surface.
So let’s look into the Speedmaster time capsule, and see what the historical predicate is for each of the timing displays on the new Chronoscope.
Scales On Scales On Scales
For the most part, every Speedy bezel of note (a fixed bezel, either in steel or black anodized aluminum) either does feature or has featured a tachymeter scale on the bezel. Notable vintage Speedmaster references like the 105.003-65 “Ed White” had that very bezel, with the oh-so-French Tachymètre spelling. This is the version that has been carried through onto modern iterations of the Moonwatch.
So what is a tachymeter scale? If you didn’t get a chance to read my piece on bezels in HODINKEE Magazine, Vol. 8 – I’ll break it down for you. In short, it’s a fixed bezel illustrating the tachymeter scale. Got it? Moving on. Kidding aside, its utility is to reconcile average speed from elapsed time where you use the bezel to calculate that conversion using the chronograph complication.
There are some rarer models which allow users to measure heart rate – you know, like a doctor’s watch. These are called pulsometric scales and we’ve seen them pop up in vintage models of the Ed White variety, as well as a modern limited edition, the CK2998. These are scales graduated to measure pulsations, i.e. average heart rate over a one minute period.
In practical use (for the record, no doctor is using a Speedmaster to measure heart rate. If they are, maybe consider a second opinion), you place your finger on a person’s pulse, engage the chronograph and count to the number of pulses indicated on the bezel (15 or 30 on Speedmasters) at which time you stop the chrono function. The number you’re left with gives you the average heart rate in beats per minute (bpm).
But that’s not all. Even rarer still is the Telemeter Speedmaster. We’ve seen examples in the 145022-69 ST reference, which basically swaps the tachy for the tely – a scale developed as a means to measure the distance of an object. The most practical use case for the telemetry scale was for soldiers to discern how far away the enemy was by using the scale to time artillery shell fire. In practice, this meant engaging the chronograph when artillery was fired and stopping when it landed. This is pretty limited in practice these days (Omega suggests you might use it to time lighting …), and you’ll only find Speedmasters of the vintage variety with these markings on the bezel.
The Chronoscope – Subsumer Of Speedys
Which brings us back though the time circuits to the Chronoscope announced in September, 2021. This is a 43mm Speedmaster with an extremely recognizable case profile from the lyre lugs to the crown and pusher guards to the vintage-inspired tapering three-link bracelet. Even the Tachymetre bezel is there. But look at the dial and you’ll see a new watch entirely. One that almost looks like it was pulled straight from the 1940s and given a modern makeover.
You’ll notice I didn’t include the word “chronoscope” in my little glossary. I wanted to save it for this portion of the discussion. It’s defined as an instrument for the precise measurement of small time intervals. I think that’s a great way to tee up this watch. It’s also worth noting this isn’t the first time Omega has used this naming convention for one of its watches. There was the DeVille Chronoscope some years back that displayed small time intervals in a very different way (but that’s a story for another time).
This watch, on the other hand, is the first Speedmaster Chronoscope as well as the first meaningful design upgrade of a Speedy in a long, long time. I like to think of it as the Ring of Power for all other Speedmasters. One watch to rule them all, one watch to bind them, one watch to bring them all, and in the darkness … um … time them.
The Chronoscope feels like the product of a design brief gone awry in the best way. It’s as if there was agreement on one single thing – that a new throwback Speedmaster should be produced – only, nobody could agree which scale to use on the bezel, or dial for that matter. What we’re left with is this: A watch with a tachymeter scale on the bezel, and then a telemeter, pulsometer, and even more tachymeter on the dial.
Take one look at this dial and you might think there was some long lost Omega chronograph from the archives from where this borrows its inspiration. And you would be both wrong and right. The Chronoscope is definitely a continuation of complex dial work done by brands like Omega and Tissot (sometimes both at the same time) in the 1940s, when something called “snail” timing scales like these were printed in a similar fashion. But this is a bit different in the sense that those watches did not have external timing bezels. So in effect, this is both vintage-inspired and an entirely fresh design with a vintage bent.
Is it confusing to have all of these measurement markings all over the dial? It may be hard to look at – but no, it’s not confusing. In fact, the tachymeter scale (or any scale, really) was not originally a bezel fixture at all. Historically you’d see it printed directly onto a watch dial. It was Omega, with the Speedmaster, that relocated it to the bezel.
And it’s the Chronoscope which has kept that on the bezel, and just returned all the other ones to the dial in an intersecting expanse of small time-interval measuring tools, hence the name. In terms of the movement, this watch is no more or no less complicated than any other chronograph but for a few things. In order to keep this design from becoming utterly unwieldy, Omega utilized a manual winding movement – the Co-Axial caliber 9908. The manual nature allows for the thickness to be minimized. It also allows for a fun little quirk. While this watch appears to be a twin register chrono, it is actually a three register in practice. At three o’clock there are, in fact, two hands operating the chronograph minutes and hours. I think this watch would be entirely unusable with a third subdial, so hats off to Omega for that.
But without question, this piece is all about the dial and the many “bezels” on it. Visually it looks, aside from the bezel, like Omega took the design drawings for every other bezel and literally printed them onto the dial so they could be used in tandem. And you know what? I like the way it looks. It’s chaos, it’s confusing – it’s watchmaking. And none of it is superfluous. Sure, these timing mechanisms may be antiquated in modern practice, but this watch strikes me as something that’s meant to remind us of what watchmaking was, what it can be, and what it always will be: the creation of instruments for mechanical timekeeping of all sorts. Here we have almost every sort.
We start at the top, with the tachymeter (or Tachymetre) on the bezel for you motorheads out there. We then work down to the Telemeter (or Telemetre) graduated for km for the war buffs, followed by the Pulsometer graduated for 30 pulsations (or Gradue Pour 30 Pulsations) for the wannabe hero who comes to the rescue in that moment when someone yells “Is anyone a doctor?” Please don’t do that.
But then we are left with one further readout. It says Base 1000. What’s up with that? We didn’t cover that. Well, we did because this is a further extension of the tachymeter scale. In fact, the earliest Speedmaster, going back to the watch’s inception in 1957, had bezels that read Tachymètre Base 1000. Even the new modern Speedmaster ’57 models continue this tradition. The Base 1000 wording is an indicator that all of the bezel and inner scale numbers are to be multiplied by 1,000, it’s simple as that.
Moving away from all that dial text and all those scales is a set of applied Arabic numerals, which might offend purists who know how un-Speedy that is, but as we said, this a new Speedmaster. These numerals give the watch that extra vintage punch that older ’40s-era watches had, albeit usually with printed numerals. Adding to this old-school look are a set of leaf hands which makes the watch feel more detached from other Speedys and also a lot less toolish. It’s funny that these sort of aesthetic choices were used on a 43mm case – a size not necessarily associated with “fancy.” Then again, I think I would have a heck of a time trying to make sense of this dial if it were any smaller.
I appreciate any watch that challenges the norm. It’s easy for Omega to keep producing the same Speedmaster over and over again. But it’s a delight to see the brand try a new trick every once in awhile. It also feels good to see a watch that challenges me to dig into the archives and understand just what went into the making of such a piece. The Chronoscope feels like a sleeping giant. For now, it’s generating some light intrigue and buzz around the watch world. It’s the kind of piece (sighs) that you have to see in the metal to appreciate, but it will change your perspective when you do. There aren’t many watches under $10k that encapsulate the history and usefulness of horology in one package. The Chronoscope just might be that watch.