Omega Resumes Production Of The Caliber 321, The Speedmaster Movement That Went To The Moon
This is probably the single most exciting piece of movement-related information I’ve seen in over 20 years of reading and writing about watches.
A classic of the mechanical watch world has received a new lease on life after Omega announced it would restart production of its Calibre 321 after 51 years. Famous for powering the watches that US astronauts wore during the Gemini and Apollo missions, the new 321 chronograph movement was recreated by extensive research and reverse engineering.
A watch is only as good as its workings and a finely crafted case filled with a load of cheap stamped tin parts doesn’t even make a good paperweight. It’s for this reason that news of the Caliber 321 going back into production is attracting attention in horological circles even though Omega hasn’t announced what timepiece it’s going to be installed in.
Though it’s known to the general public through Moon landings, the Omega Calibre 321 actually started production in 1946 and was developed with Albert Piguet of Lemania. Only 27-mm in diameter, the 321 is a 17-jewel, 2.5 Hz (18,000 vph), manually-wound, lateral clutch chronograph movement with a 44-hour power reserve, a 60-second chronograph register, and 30-minute and 12-hour counters. In addition, several parameters are designed to be adjusted after leaving the factory.
However, the Calibre 321 really made its mark when it was installed in the Omega Speedmaster chronograph in 1957 and later the Speedmaster Professional. Then in the 1960s, NASA started soliciting bids from Omega, Rolex, and Breitling for a watch suitable for flight in the Gemini and Apollo missions that was also robust enough to be worn outside a spacesuit during spacewalks and other extravehicular activities.
After extensive testing, the Omega Speedmaster with an acrylic crystal was chosen and first flew on Gemini III in 1965 and would be worn for all manned missions through Apollo 17. Though other watches have been cleared since then by NASA as flightworthy, only the Speedmaster in its various iterations is cleared for spacewalks.
Since it’s been two generations since the last Calibre 321 was assembled, Omega had to assemble a team of watchmaking experts, researchers, and historians to study the archives and original plans to guide the reconstruction. Because watchmaking is as much art as engineering, the company also made a digital scan of the Speedmaster watch worn by Commander Eugene “Gene” Cernan on the Moon during the 1972 Apollo 17 mission.
According to Omega, the new Calibre 321s will be made at the company’s headquarters in Bienne, Switzerland in a dedicated workshop along with the host watch and bracelet. What the end product will be will be revealed later this year.