Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Speedmaster anomaly?

Ever since I first began my interest for the Speedmaster Moon watch, I asked myself: surely, given the importance of timing, NASA would have built timing modules into the space suits...a couple of stopwatches, mission timer etc...probably in a specially designed nylon housing with ultra large dials and indices, hands and pushers, backlight etc. It seems a little illogical that NASA would say: oh, we need a timer for EVAs, lets just buy a watch off the shelf...

After using the Speedmaster in space twice (Gemini 12; Apollo 11) Buzz Aldrin gives us a first-hand insight as to the effectivenes of the Speedmaster as a space watch:

"I had a watch on but I don't think I looked at it. Which would probably say that I should have had it set at something so that it was just not a normal time going around, but going from some specific...It was a lousy watch to have on the surface. It just didn't give good numbers as far as a stopwatch type thing. To have gone to all that expense and then to have crews out on the surface with just an ordinary watch, in retrospect, is a mistaken priority somewhere." Source:

And upon completing the EVA on the lunar surface (closeout):

111:34:43 Aldrin: I think my watch stopped, Neil.
111:34:46 Armstrong: Did it? (Pause)
111:35:01 Aldrin: No it didn't, either. (Garbled) second hand. (Pause)

Thinking about it logically, a regular watch worn outside the space suit must have been difficult to read, to say the least. Buzz Aldrin appeared to have problems reading his. In shadow - impossible. Pressing the pushers must have been a problem too, but I am not that sure they were used while "moon-walking". Muliple timing tasks - forget about it.

But, (amazingly to me) - NASA has stuck to off-the-shelf Omegas since. That's great for us who "dig" the whole moon-watch story, but has anybody else ever wondered at the "anomaly" of NASA using a regular sized, common-or-garden wristwatch (with a tachymeter scale ) as one of their most important pieces of EVA equipment, with essentally no development or change after 40 years?

Omega Speedmaster "Chronometer" donning & hacking, EVA preparation, Apollo 11 protocols

References to the implementation of the chronometers can be found during EVA preparations, i.e after the Eagle Lunar Module has landed.

The first reference comes on page Sur-27 of the Surface Checklist (at 106h49), where the begin donning the PLSSs (Portable Life Support System or backpack) and the Oxygen Purge Systems (OPSs). Chronometers are fitted to the RH gloves, which at this stage are not donned:

Page SUR-37 mentions the chronometer on the RH gloves:

The gloves themselves are donned at 108h42:

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Prior to the EVA, hacking of the chronometers takes place:

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And a little later:

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And the rest, as they say, is history...


How to fit a domed sapphire crystal (Seiko 6309-7040)

Having seen a number of questions regarding the fitting of new crystals to Seiko divers, I have prepared the following simple guide. From the outset I would like to say that anyone can do this, with a few simple tools, even if their 9-year old son William is watching and has an inexhaustible line of questions.

Start with a clean work area. A sheet of printer paper gives a nice, dust-free work surface. The crystal is a domed sapphire crystal from Harold Ng (Yobokies), the watch is a wonderfully patinaed original vintage Seiko 6309 on a Super Oyster with Yobokies solid end links:

Using a sharp pocketknife, ease the bezel off by pushing the knife under the crystal and twisting gently. The bezel will pop off. Take care not to lose the small steel ratcheting ball.

Tell William to keep quiet. Use a rubber-ball (or other) caseback remover to...remove the caseback:

Press down on the retaining mechanism and remove the crown:

Turn the watch over and gently tip out the movement. Cover the movement with a shot glass:

Get another shot glass, pour a whiskey and tell William to keep quiet. Rummage in your box of tools and find the crystal press:

Remove the crystal retaining ring in the same way you removed the bezel:

Send William out to blow his nose. Crystal retaining ring removed:

Use crystal press to remove crystal. A firm squeeze:

...and it pops right out. Check the condition and orientation of the crystal gasket and wipe it with a smear of silicone grease:

Clean the surrounding area with a Q-tip:

Press the new crystal in with the crystal press, checking that the crystal gasket is not pinched:

Place the crystal retaining ring in position:

...and use the crystal press to snap it home:

Insert the movement and crown, making sure the chapter ring lines up:

Lubricate the caseback with a dab of silicone grease and fit, after which the bezel can be snapped on using the crystal press:

And admire your handiwork, after unlocking the cupboard and letting William out:

Time taken: a little over 10 minutes.

THE VERDICT: it was a pleasure to deal with Yobokies, in the same way it is a pleasure to deal with our other suppliers of Seiko parts. We really need to stop up from time to time and thank our blessings by having suppliers who also are enthusiasts

The crystal is a wonderful upgrade to the flat Seiko original. The gentle dome gives depth to the dial and creates a wonderfull play when moving the watch. The dome gives life to the watch and makes it look like it is under water, even when it is not. The AR coating on the inside of the watch gives fascinating blue reflections (see last picture) and makes the dial easy to read at all angles. The fact that it is a scratch resistant sapphire gives peace of mind in daily use. In all, a "mod" which improves an already perfect watch. SCORE: 10/10.

The 1964 Grand Seiko Chronometer Box..... is IN!

Finally together - with the 1964 Grand Seiko Chronometer, Owners Manual and a copy of a Chronometer Certificate, the original box just arrived from Japan.... this collection centerpiece is beginning to take form....

The box has a decidedly Oriental design, with the sides slightly angled and the base wider than the top. The red cushion is silk-like in texture and the writing is printed on the material. The felt base is removable, and includes a tab as well as an elastic loop to slot the watchband in.

The box is light and appears to be made of pressed cardboard, covered by what appears to be lacquered paper textured to look and feel like leather.

The search continues for the remaining parts of the collection, including a hang-tag, original chronometer certificate and receipt.... Until then, I have prepared a fascimile of the Chronometer Certificate (note the fictitious date and "Fascimile" stamp) based on a 1966 King Seiko Chronometer certificate, which is identical with the exception of the Lion Seal, which was printed after 1965, and should be a gold applied seal for 1964: