The Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Alaska Project reference 318.104.22.168.04.001 was the limited edition Speedmaster watch model that Omega introduced at Baselworld 2008. It happens to have one of the most interesting “limited-edition stories” among the modern limited-edition Omega Speedmaster Moonwatches, in my opinion, and it happens to look really cool. I’ll readily admit that my purchase of this watch began with an initial interest when it first debuted, but I didn’t get it until several years later. Lucky for me, I was able to get the last unsold new one here in the US that Omega had. I’ve heard that recently The Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Alaska Project has become a collectors’ favorite, with prices incrementally increasing at auction.
I don’t like to have the same watches as everyone else, even if there is a good reason to have those watches. I’m never shy about suggesting to people that getting an Omega Speedmaster is a good idea, but for me, I like to wear the ones that are a bit less common. Moreover, I have a soft place in my heart for white-dialed sport watches – and if you haven’t noticed, there aren’t too many of these in the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch family.
Omega still produces Speedmaster Moonwatch models very much like those that went to the moon during the Apollo missions on the wrists of NASA astronauts in the 1960s. What started as a racing watch in the 1950s became the astronaut/space pilot watch after the success of the NASA missions. Think about it, in the years after the moon landing, who didn’t want to wear the same watch as that worn by the guys who went to the moon?
The success of the Omega Speedmaster isn’t just because of history, but also because of its dedication to being a tool watch first, and a “nice watch” second. This isn’t all function and no style, but it works wonderfully as a utilitarian object that just happens to look sexy in the process. Reams have been written about why the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch is a must-have for most modern watch lovers, and I won’t seek to reiterate the love and passion that has been thus far communicated for years all over the internet and in watch publications. All I can do is add my own thoughts and experience with Omega Speedmaster watch models.
Omega made the 2008 Speedmaster Moonwatch Alaska Project as a “re-issue” of essentially two very obscure Omega watches from the past. These are the original Omega Speedmaster Alaska Project watch from 1969/1970 and the later Speedmaster Alaska Project II watch that came a bit later. The 2008 model combines elements from these both. The coolest among these original Alaska Project watches were produced as five prototype watches at the request of NASA who wanted an even beefier timepiece for use in space. NASA was also planning a (never to be realized) mission to the dark side of the moon where temperatures are much cooler.
Therein came the “Alaska Project” name, because much of Alaska is very cold. The watch was developed with an optional red aluminum housing that was meant to offer the watch additional shielding from high and low temperature extremes. According to Omega, the case “shield” offers temperature resistance up to 260 degrees Celsius and down to -148 degrees Celsius. Aluminum apparently has a high thermal retention, so it doesn’t heat up or cool down very quickly. I think that is more important than its actual insulating capacity. The red color was also chosen for specific reason – related to either ambient radiation or protection against sunlight.
For the original Alaska Project watches, Omega developed a pusher system in the aluminum doughnut housing which allowed for the chronograph to be operated with it on. Perhaps the most amazing element of the 2008 Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Alaska Project limited edition watch was that is actually came with specially made aluminum outer-casings that you could wear with the watch (that I sometimes do). This was a very rare addition to a limited edition Omega watch, in that there was a specially designed accessory to go with it aside from the watch case, straps, and tools.
Omega also supplied a nifty white-colored and nicely branded white Velcro strap in addition to the standard steel Speedmaster bracelet with the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Alaska Project. I’ve enjoyed this strap so much, I’ve never actually put the watch on the bracelet (yet)! This strap even came in two sizes, with an additional strap making it more comfortable to wear with the aluminum housing. Omega’s dedication to truly nerding out when it came to designing the presentation for the limited edition Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Alaska Project is commendable.
I’m never going to be as much of a Speedmaster expert as RJ at Fratello Watches, who covered the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Alaska Project here. There, you’ll get a bit more history, as well as a picture of the extremely rare Alaska Project II watch that is the only historical one mere mortals could ever wear. Given the round case and mostly black hands, it is arguable that the 2008 Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Alaska Project is more closely linked with this model than the original, but if you look at the link above you’ll see that the watch doesn’t perfectly match the Alaska Project watch from 2008, especially when it comes to the bezel and the design of the subdials.
An interesting piece of trivia is that the original Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Alaska Project from about 1970 was a lot more than a white-dialed Speedmaster. It was a serious and expensive project that Omega was using not only to continue their participation in the NASA space missions, but to also improve the Speedmaster’s design and performance. Omega only produced five prototypes, and they were the first watch cases ever to be produced with a solid titanium case. One of the five watches is at Omega’s museum in Switzerland, and there is a picture of it here.
As you know, these watches never went to space because NASA did not engage in the planned missions to the dark side of the moon, but Omega was eager not to have the entire project be a write-off. So what Omega did was take lessons from the Alaska Project and build them into the “improved” Speedmaster Mk II which was released shortly thereafter. Omega introduced a re-issue (not as a limited edition) of the Speedmaster Mark II back in 2014 (aBlogtoWatch review here), and ironically, that is another modern Speedmaster watch that is part of my collection.
The overall design of the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Alaska Project dial was not only meant to stand up to things like radiation and light better, but was also supposed to improve on the legibility of the Speedmaster dial. It was apparently found that white-dialed sport watches fare better in both bright and dim lighting conditions, and the “space landing pod”-style chronograph subdial hands were intended to help make reading the subdial registers faster and more easy (I think it works). Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I like white-dialed sport watches so much – I do actually find them easier to read… and everyone that knows my watch tastes knows I am fanatically into legibility.
The 2008 reference 322.214.171.124.04.001 Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Alaska Project watch was an attractive hybrid taking the best design elements of the standard Speedmaster Moonwatch, the prototype titanium Alaska Project watches from 1970, and the later Alaska Project II watches. This is yet another reason why I feel that it was such a successful design, and it’s easily one of the favorites in my collection.
For me, there are two downsides to the Speedmaster Moonwatch, but without them it would not be the Speedmaster Moonwatch. It is cool to celebrate tradition insofar as being able to enjoy what the smart guys at NASA wore, but there are certain modern conveniences that the core Speedmaster Moonwatch lacks. Further, Omega produces a “family” of Speedmaster models starting with the “original” Speedmaster Moonwatch, and from there others build on the most traditional model with additional design elements and features. With that said, the two things that I most want the Speedmaster Moonwatch to have is a sapphire crystal and an automatic movement.
It isn’t the only modern watch to have an acrylic crystal, but it is one of the few. Actually, the look of these is nice assuming you don’t scratch it up. Scratch tolerance is perhaps the major downside to acrylic crystals, but otherwise they offer a nice “warm” view into the dial and are cheap to replace in addition to being more or less shatter-resistant. Pretty much all other Speedmaster (as well as other modern high-end) watches have sapphire crystals. Again, for “tradition’s sake,” Omega continues to produce the Speedmaster Moonwatches with acrylic crystals, and it just means that if you have one of these watches and wear it often, you’ll likely need to get a new crystal once in a while. I hope that replacing them is still cheap. It used to cost less than $100 (the part itself was about $30 the last time I checked).
Omega continues to produce the core Speedmater Moonwatch with the caliber 1861 manually wound chronograph movement. NASA (at the time) wanted a manually wound movement because they were concerned that in the zero-gravity environment of space automatic rotors would not really do anything. It was later found out that this concern was unfounded, and the kinetic energy of moving your wrist around in space was enough to keep a watch wound via an automatic rotor. I am not sure when this was proven, but it was reaffirmed when Seiko put its Spring Drive Spacewalk timepiece into space around 2008 – ironically, the same year that the limited edition Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Alaska Project was released.
The caliber 1861 movement is otherwise nice, even though it needs to be manually wound. It operates at 3Hz (21,600bph) and has a power reserve of 45 hours when fully wound. It’s a tough working and reliable movement, but it’s also based on generations-old mechanical movement architecture. It is a good place to start, but personally, for a daily wear I like a more modern automatic movement (as you can find in a host of other Speedmaster models). For me, the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Alaska Project is a cherished part of my collection, but it isn’t by any means a daily wear (it is more of an occasional wear that I look forward to donning from time to time).
Like all Omega Speedmater Moonwatch models, the Alaska Project comes in a nicely sized 42mm-wide steel case that is 13.55mm thick and water resistant to 50 meters. How cool would it have been if Omega decided to make it in titanium? The case design is an enduring classic, and it looks good on just about anyone. It is also a great case because while it looks fantastic on the classic Speedmaster steel bracelet, the Omega Speedmaster case is one that looks great on a variety of straps only limited by the style and creativity of the wearer.
I didn’t purchase the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Alaska Project because it was a collector’s item or because it was hard to find. I bought it because I really liked the design, was fond of white-dialed sports watches, and wanted to have an Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch without having the same thing as everyone else. There is something to be said for getting the unadulterated black-dialed original, but there is also something to be said for choosing from the wide range of limited editions that Omega has produced over the years.
Omega Speedmasters are currently in a rather healthy collecting environment when it comes to both demand and prices. There is good reason for that, but I really hope that the market doesn’t get crowded by “speculators” looking for increasing values, only to cause an enthusiast-unfriendly bubble from occurring (more so than it is right now).
The reference 3126.96.36.199.04.001 Omega Speedmaster Professional Moon Watch (Moonwatch) Alaska Project was produced as a limited edition of 1,970 individually numbered pieces. Retail price in 2008 was $5,600.
>Model: Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch Alaska Project Limited Edition reference 3188.8.131.52.04.001
>Size: 42mm wide
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: NASA and Omega history lover looking for an excellent white-dialed sports watch that exists as an uncommon expression of what makes the Speedmaster so great.
>Best characteristic of watch: Omega did an excellent job bringing back what was great about the incredibly uncommon and mostly not-for-sale Speedmaster Alaska Project models of the 1970s (not to mention the great story) for enjoyment today within the retro-themed Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch collection. White dial looks great and included accessories are very welcome.
>Worst characteristic of watch: White strap will inevitably get dirty with repeated wear. Aluminum case shield is cool but mostly a novelty item in terms of wearability. Omega should really have more white-dialed Speedmaster watches (a true panda dial!) as part of their regular collection.