The new Omega Speedmaster Racing Master Chronometer reference 318.104.22.168.01.001 is a slimmed-down version of the modern – and previously fairly hefty – Speedmaster Moonwatch. Yes, it’s just as wide from the front, but its profile is much slimmer. It’s not just about looks, either, as it’s now equipped with the Master Chronometer caliber 9900, which is METAS-certified and resistant to 15,000 Gauss. Let’s see if all of that, plus some orange accents, is enough to get one’s heart pounding. There are a few oddities to be aware of as well.
The Omega Speedmaster Co-Axial Chronograph, a modern Speedmaster with with an all-new 9300-series, two-register, automatic chronograph movement, was released in 2011. Since then, they’ve given the collection a number of varied and often baffling titles, including the Speedmaster Moonwatch (yeah, that’s right), despite the fact that it belongs to the 99.99999 percent of all watches that have never traveled to the moon. I’m serious. See what comes up first when you Google Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch – it’s this collection, not the famous and authentic Moonwatch Speedy. The most recent time this modern Speedy came close to the moon was when it got a cool moon phase indication with a fantastic blue-dial model that Ariel reviewed here.
This means that a growing number of Omega Speedmaster chronographs are based on the iconic Omega Speedmaster “Moonwatch” (the one that went to the moon and back). While I’m sure the “original” Moonwatch will remain unchanged until we populate the moon, it is also one of the few watches that truly deserves the moniker “iconic.” However, the good news is that the remainder of the Speedmaster collections are free to change and evolve as Omega and the market want. Now, with the Omega Speedmaster Racing Master Chronometer, we can see what that unmistakable path is, and I’m happy to report that it implies more wearing, technically innovative, and visually appealing watches.
Before we go any further, a word about the racing dial’s history, and especially an interesting quirk that you should be aware of the next time someone poses as a historian and gives whatever storied explanation for the racing dial’s existence: “Despite great research and theory, the exact origin and purpose of these 1968 models remains shrouded in mystery.” These are Omega’s words on the race dial, and I appreciate their being honest about it rather than fabricating some phony, misty-eyed racing story.
To get right to the point, the case is 1.1mm slimmer than the Speedmaster Moonwatch (still referring to the 2011 model that didn’t make it to the moon). The case is still made of stainless steel and measures 44.25mm in width. Omega claims that the sapphire crystals' design has been altered to reduce the thickness by a fraction of a millimeter. Later, I’ll talk about how it wears and looks on the wrist.
Another significant change is the conversion of the 9300 caliber to the 9900 variant. On the front and rear, there’s plenty of boasting to help you figure out whether this is the latest generation of Omega in-house movements: the dial says “Co-Axial Master Chronometer,” and the rotor says “Omega Master Co-Axial 9900” in red. I was present at Omega’s event in Geneva in late 2014 when they announced their new relationship with METAS, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to double-check Omega’s terminology for these calibers since then.
It’s a bit confusing because the same watch refers to two very similar things in two different ways: “Co-Axial Master Chronometer” and “Master Co-Axial” both mean that this watch is a chronometer (as only COSC-certified watches can be called that), as well as METAS-certified and tested in-house by Omega, as the text on the rotor explains. Here’s more on the movement. Aside from these tweaks, the racing dial reappears – as a first for this larger Speedmaster, if my memory serves me well – and is accompanied by a new perforated, sporty-looking strap. It doesn’t get any more perplexing than Co-Axial Master Chronometer and Master Co-Axial – especially since Omega Seamaster 300 dials used to say Master Co-Axial Chronometer.
It’s time to take a closer look at the Omega Speedmaster Racing Master Chronometer’s new features, so let’s start with wearability. After a day of wearing the watch and a few strap adjustments, I found that the Speedmaster Racing (with the strap set to ensure a secure fit – which is how I prefer to wear watches) wears like loosely set, slim timepieces.
The Speedmaster Racing’s eye-trickery originates from the fact that it has a very thin case profile – in the traditional sense, that is. From the end of the upper lug to the opposite corner of the watch, the extraordinarily long, finely curved, polished edge runs. For starters, the watch’s angled, gleaming, sweeping curve makes it appear longer and narrower. The sleek, vertical case profile is brushed and so darker beneath it, making it appear even slimmer to the eye.
The key is that the case-back is just as thick as the case-band, but it is tucked away in such a way that it is almost never visible when the watch is worn on the wrist. So, when you look at the watch on your wrist, it gives the impression of being a slim watch that sits a finger’s width above the wrist — perhaps the best way to describe it.
While it may appear clumsy — loosely worn timepieces, in my opinion, look clumsy the bulk of the time – it actually looked fine in this case. The watch does not wobble since it is securely mounted, but it still has a thin profile that makes it feel more like a regular, good watch than the brutish showpieces that Omega’s other 9300/9900-equipped watches are. The Seamaster and Speedmaster Chronographs are both over 16mm thick, however this one is slightly under 15mm thick and appears even slimmer than that figure suggests.
Since we’re talking about wearability, we should also discuss the basics, such as wearing comfort. The Omega Speedmaster Racing Master Chronometer reference 322.214.171.124.001 comes with a black strap about which Omega says nothing publicly – neither in the Baselworld launch document nor on their website – at the time of writing. The strap isn’t labeled “Genuine Leather,” and while most people (including myself) would assume it’s leather at first glance and touch due of its color and texture, deeper scrutiny reveals a peculiar, rubbery sensation that leads me to believe it’s not.
It’s comfortable to the touch, but it seems more like pliable, softly textured rubber than genuine leather. Even if it was real leather, it had to have been subjected to a harsh surface treatment that altered the way it felt. I’ve owned this watch for about two months and wear it on my wrist frequently, so I’m not worried about the material’s longevity, but I do wish it was genuine leather. It’s OK in our day and age, when car interiors are plastic but still desirable (think alcantara), but I like the endurance and patina of genuine leather. On that point, I know some people can damage a leather strap in a year, but I’ve always had mine last several years, so how long this rubbery strap lasts will be determined on how you use it. So far, it has stood up to water, sweat, heat, and other elements.
The strap has machined perforations, which I assumed were only in the upper, black layer based on the original photographs, but they actually continue all the way through the strap. You’ll be surprised how much of a difference these small holes can make: I’ve never felt uncomfortable wearing this watch in temperatures beyond 40°C (104°F). I never had a problem with the strap sticking to my skin, and I didn’t sweat much while wearing it. An orange rubber padding runs down the centre of the strap, peeking through the perforations and complementing the orange embellishments on the dial. The soft strap is coupled to a single-folding clasp that closes with a satisfying click if the strap is properly fastened — if the pin doesn’t go all the way through, the strap will prevent it from closing. All you have to do is get it right the first time, and it will open and close normally.
While I believe the racing dial is cool, I disagree with Omega’s statement that “it is generally acknowledged that this ‘Racing’ style was adopted to make the chronograph simpler to read.” I mean, it could have been introduced with that objective in mind, but it didn’t work for me. This is the first time I’ve worn a racing dial Speedmaster for an extended amount of time, and it’s the first time I’ve realized how difficult it is to read not just the chronograph seconds, but also the running time minutes with great accuracy in between the applied markers, at least for me.
My issue with the racing dial is that the odd minute/seconds track on the periphery of the main dial has its consecutive indices share the first and last marks, making it impossible for my eyes (or brain) to discern where one minute finishes and the next begins. I’m willing to acknowledge that it could just be a problem with my brain wiring, and if I really wanted to, I could probably discern where each part finishes and begins (at the lengthier marks), but the minute track just didn’t add up for me when I tried to read it at a glance.
Contrary to popular belief, this does not imply that I dislike it. Thanks to a creative dose of colors and an even more ingenious choice of textures for the dial and hands, I believe this is one of the coolest and most beautifully balanced dials Omega has done. The two-tier seconds track draws the entire dial together, making the 44.25mm watch appear smaller and more balanced. It also offers a sporty element that contrasts nicely with the tacyhmeter scale’s track as well as the long, arrow-like, polished, applied hour indicators.
The orange highlights on the Omega Speedmaster Racing Master Chronometer are a more subjective design element, yet they are placed in a very practical and stylish way. The indications for the running time are orange, while the chronograph’s three hands are white, which makes sense. The bezel’s orange tachymeter lettering, the Speedmaster line, and the small orange pips by the hour markers all work together to produce a perfectly balanced design. The Omega logo, which is crisp white, pops off the dial.
The date window is located above the six o’clock hour marker’s small, lumed block. The shape, size, font style, and color mix make this one of the most logical and least obtrusively designed date windows I’ve ever seen, and it’s one of the few times I’ve never wished it wasn’t there.
The nearly flawlessly flat sapphire crystal has AR coating on both sides, and all of the hands, thank goodness, are appropriately proportioned. When compared to prior versions, Omega has also increased the size of the 3 and 9 o’clock sub-dials, making them seem just right and far more legible than before.
As previously stated, the case is 44.25mm diameter and made of stainless steel. The ceramic bezel on the Speedmaster Racing Master Chronometer reference 3126.96.36.199.001 has a brushed Liquidmetal tachymeter scale and a spot of “Tachymètre” orange writing to complement the orange dial and strap. I’ll admit that I’m still not a fan of watches with weird French words on them when the rest of the text is in English – or vice versa.
The box sapphire crystal extends nearly two millimeters above the plane of the smooth bezel, and it is virtually completely level throughout following a modest bend on its periphery. By encircling the ceramic with steel and keeping the sapphire crystal low and near to the interior, Omega adds a clever aspect to the bezel. This step-like construction, combined with the bezel’s softer steel frame, will protect your delicate (yet scratch-resistant) ceramic bezel insert from side impacts. Because ceramic is notoriously hard but also notoriously delicate, this framed bezel will not only look excellent but will also save you hundreds of dollars in repairs.
The polished edge that runs across the side adds a touch of refinement, rendering the Speedmaster Racing Master Chronometer an ideal fit for everyday office wear. It isn’t a funky-looking tool/racing watch that only aficionados will get – it’s an objectively versatile, modern, but restrained looking watch.
As a result of all of these features, the overall design is far from boring, but it’s also not ridiculously over the top. Tastes vary, but if you want a steel-cased, modern Speedmaster that deviates from the standard monochrome/basic aesthetic, I believe the Speedmaster Racing adds just enough to the mix to make it much more lastingly interesting, without sacrificing wearability or the seriousness that is rightfully expected from a watch that many are eyeing as their only watch they wear every day of the week.
Apart from my personal difficulties with the legibility of the minute track, the Speedmaster Racing is a very attractive watch that strikes a good mix between spicing things up and remaining completely worn on a daily basis. Many try, but just a small percentage of recent big-brand releases succeed. The Caliber 9900 (and 9901 in gold cased versions with gold rotor and bridges) is Omega’s most recent and most advanced movement. It’s a mechanical chronograph with a column wheel, vertical clutch, two barrels, and a Co-Axial escapement with silicon parts that operates at 4Hz. The “Master” in the watch’s name – whether it’s Co-Axial Master Chronometer or Omega Master Co-Axial – refers to both the movement and the finished watch passing Omega’s METAS-certified in-house quality control method. The Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology (METAS) is in charge of the propagation of official time in Switzerland and, as a federal institute, certifies a slew of major initiatives involving the measurement of things. They are also, of course, independent of Omega as a federal institute.
A widespread misunderstanding is that the timepieces are METAS-certified. Omega’s testing techniques and equipment are certified by METAS. The institution insisted on having its own office in the Omega factory, directly next to where the testing takes place, so they could perform random tests and inspections.
The eight steps of Omega’s METAS-certified Master Chronometer tests are preceded by Omega sending its to-be Master Chronometer movements to COSC for chronometer certification testing. The 8-step process then commences, which includes various timekeeping performance tests, first on uncased, then cased-up movements, in 15,000 Gauss magnetic and demagnetized states, as well as at 100% and 33% power reserve. Finally, the water resistance is tested in the water. We’ll give you a full rundown of these tests in a future article because they certainly deserve it.
The 9900 movement is gorgeous, and for around $8k, it’s one of the nicest-looking movements available at this price point. It’s machine-made, but it’s done well: it’s extremely detailed, reaching even hard-to-see areas like the plates deep beneath the balancing wheel, and it’s finished with a silver-purple-green colour that changes with the light and is rarely seen elsewhere.
The vertical clutch eliminates the need for coupling-decoupling chronograph wheels, yet the curving striping on the ice silver rotor and plates still provide plenty of optical pleasure. A few splashes of color are provided by dark grey screws and intelligently positioned, variously sized red lettering. The column wheel is beautifully displayed next to the huge balancing wheel, which is hidden several levels into the action for true nerds.
The completely silent operation, as well as the inaudible or, at times, scarcely audible automatic winding rotor, merit praise. The piston-style pushers travel straight and provide supple clicky feedback at the same depth, which is pleasant if a little unusual. It’s exactly how a well-engineered column wheel chronograph should feel, and the chronograph seconds start and stop incredibly smoothly thanks to the vertical clutch. Two hands that run around the same 3 o’clock sub-dial display chronograph hours and minutes.
The Omega Caliber 9900 is a stunning piece of machinery. While I wish it were a little slimmer, I recognize that doing so would necessitate removing the vertical clutch and possibly the second barrel – and, to be honest, I’d rather have these modern features than a watch that’s only 2 to 3mm thinner. In their right mind, no movement engineer would build a movement that is thicker than it can reasonably be.
The evolution of a product can be just as interesting as the debut of a completely new one at times. Omega shows that it cares about enhancing and fine-tuning its watches both inside and out with the Speedmaster Racing Master Chronometer. The new movements have been tested to a level that is unique to Omega at the present (and I doubt any other major brand will follow suit on a similar scale anytime soon), and the current Speedmaster’s appearance has been fine-tuned just enough. It’s one of the rare occasions in the luxury watch market when a product has been genuinely upgraded both inside and out in a way that prioritizes the wearing and owning experience.
I recall seeing this new Speedmaster Racing for the first time at Baselworld 2017. I quickly realized that this would be an excellent piece for a one-watch man looking for something new yet timeless that also works and looks well. It satisfied me about that perception after several weeks of wearing it. I only hope that every new Omega (and other major brand) product was as good as this.