Down The Memory Lane: Still Driving the Omega CK 2998 and Loving It
Editor’s Note: This is a review of the CK 2998 released in 2018. But instead of just reviewing the one particular watch in isolation, we have dived into the history of the watch, the movements used in the ‘moon watch’ program, how the Calibre 321 has been revived recently and last but not the least, how despite having it for a while now, I am still in the honeymoon phase with the Omega CK 2998…
The CK 2998
There are times in every watch collector’s life I reckon when they need to take stock. Over the years one gets into the habit of buying a watch — finances permitting of-course — intending to add it to an ever burgeoning collection.
That collection slowly takes a certain form of its own, and at times different watches begin to merge into one another. Someone may have a liking for blue dialled watches — what is up with that anyway? Every second Instagram post about watches seems to be devoted to the colour blue — and all of their watches at some point or other may get to be very similar. In my case, I seem to have a penchant for dials with an additional inner dial that features some sort of guilloche or azurage patterns.
But then there comes along a watch, that may or may not match anything in your existing collection. But somehow miraculously ticks all the boxes.
The 2018 Omega Speedmaster CK 2998 is one such watch.
When it was first launched back in 1959, it was a quiet game-changer. No, it was not THE moon watch — more on this later — and not officially sent to the moon as well. But this unassuming chronograph, perhaps unintentionally, left its mark on the universe.
Having now become one of the most sought-after vintage Speedmasters, this original has come to be known for its alpha hands, symmetrical case and dark bezel. But these distinctive design features are not the only aspects that make this a collectors’ favourite.
The original CK 2998 is more importantly known as the “first Omega in space” or “FOIS” due to it adorning the wrists of astronaut Walter “Wally” Schirra during the “Sigma 7” mission of the Mercury program. Wally wore it as his own personal watch for the mission. The original CK 2998 has since become one of the most iconic Speedmasters.
This perhaps drives closer to home as well given I personally wasn’t around for the whole moon landing saga, but like most people, I have looked up to the space that envelopes the stars and wondered what lay beyond. So even on a personal level, I prefer this as I can get a connection out of it.
Omega’s Paul Newman
Unless you are living under a rock you would know the association of Rolex and Paul Newman. You would also know that Paul Newman’s Daytona, nicknamed the Paul Newman, was a panda-dial chronograph.
This new and more contemporary iteration of the CK 2998 closely resembles the Paul Newman Daytona, with its three black sub-dials.
But this resemblance is very superficial, and usually is only visible when watching the watch from a distance. Up close, it’s a whole new brave world and is very distinctive with its minutes track and the polished ceramic bezel with its white enamel pulsometer scale.
Of-course the other distinctive feature is the Omega calibre 1861 movement that is deeply rooted in the overarching history of the “Moonwatch”.
The Doctor’s Watch
The 2018 CK 2998 came with a pulsometer scale rather than the usual tachymeter. These pulsometers do not have much use these days but back when the original was released, doctors did make use of them to check a patients’ heartbeats per minute.
You must be asking why would a space / race themed watch have a pulsometer?
Well, the answer lies in the fact that the original models came with the options of either a tachymeter, pulsometer, decimal or telemeter bezel. Including a pulsometer on this new watch’s bezel is just Omega paying homage to that aspect.
These watches have been produced in a limited series of 2,998 pieces. This is in line with the similar re-issue of 2016 in blue and makes one wonder about the legitimacy of the “limited edition” phrase.
The Limited Edition number can be found on the caseback, along with the original Seahorse / hippocampus medallion.
Relation of CK 2998 with the Silver Snoopy Awards
Frankly, this lies with people’s own opinions. Technically, these are two different watches, from two different times frames and belong to two different space missions.
So someone could potentially say there is no relevance whatsoever. But that wouldn’t be wholly true.
Like we have depicted in our timeline below, all these watches and calibres are linked to each other. Without the existence of one, the other wouldn’t have evolved. Technically then, CK 2998 is related to the Snoopy Speedmaster Professional watches.
As to how the watch got its Snoopy nickname, to cut the long story short, there was a major problem that the crew of Apollo 13 faced just two days after launch that nearly rendered them without power and hence sans digital timers.
This incident also forced the mission to drift off-course by roughly 60 to 80 nautical miles. What this meant was that if their module was to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at the wrong angle, they could have bounced back into space with no chance of recovery.
This is where the Omega Speedmaster Professional came in handy as it was used to manually readjust the course of the craft with exact 14-second burn of fuel timed accurately. The watch worked as intended and the crew safely landed in the the South Pacific Ocean.
To celebrate this, on October 5th 1970, NASA presented Omega with the “Silver Snoopy Award” as a mark of gratitude.
Why Snoopy? Because he is an American watchdog that emphasises mission success and because of his ability to keep things light in serious situations.
The reference 3126.96.36.199.02.001 produced in limited numbers of 2998 features the calibre 1861 — based on Lemania 861 — which is a manual-winding chronograph movement featuring a Delrin (a plastic polymer material) chronograph brake and rhodium-plated finish (instead of the copper plated of the original’s 321 calibre).
The movements in the moon/space watches can be a bit tricky to keep up with, so we have pulled together a simple timeline for easy reference.
1957 – Speedmaster introduced for the first time. This was intended for racing or sports as the space program involvement wasn’t a reality then. This also validates the new CK 2998’s race inspired aesthetics. The first generation, the 1957 Speedmaster used the reference 2915. This predates 2998. This reference had a few variants over the next couple of years including another collectors’ favourite, defined by the stainless steel bezel and the characteristic broad arrow hands.
1957 to 1965 – Speedmasters use the Lemania CH 27 calibre. It was a column-wheel controlled, lateral-clutch chronograph movement. Calibre 321 is a derivative of this Lemania CH 27 movement.
1959 – The version CK2915-3 was produced changing the stainless steel bezel to a black aluminium base 1000 bezel and broad arrow hands were changed to alpha hands. Second generation of Speedmasters introduced, based on CK2915-3. These were called CK 2998 and also featured a new movement, calibre 321 that was derived from the existing movement. It was one of these that Walter “Wally” Schirra acquired and wore it during the “Sigma 7” mission in space.
1959 to 1962/63 – The original Omega Speedmaster CK2998 was in production, eventually replaced by reference ST 105.002.
1959 to 1967 – Calibre 321 used. The moon watch from 1969 Apollo 11 mission used this movement even though by 1969 calibre 321 had been replaced.
1968 – Caliber 861 took over from calibre 321 in mainstream production and was used in subsequent moonwatches after Apollo 11. It increased the frequency from 2.5 to 3Hz, and is the same frequency used in the current watch.
1996 – Calibre 1861 took over from 861. This is the calibre used in the current CK 2998 we are reviewing today.
2016 to 2020 – The current movement comprises of 18 jewels, beats at the frequency of 3Hz (21’600 A/h) and is encased inside a 39.7mm diameter and ~14mm thick polished and brushed stainless steel case with a scratch‑resistant sapphire crystal with anti‑reflective treatment. The watch offers a decent 48-hour power reserve though our tests ran it to a slightly lower range, and a water resistance of 50m (5 ATM).
Design similarities b/w the original and current CK 2998
- Both the watch cases feature straight lugs and no crown guards
- Simple pump pushers at 2 and 4’o clock
- The same case diameter of 39.7mm
- Spacing between lugs is the same 19mm
- “Base 1000” is printed on the top right of the bezel
- The alpha-shaped hour and minute hands are accompanied by a bold “lollipop” seconds hand, with the large luminous dot at the tip, reminiscent of 2998-2
The watch face shows the traditional functions of hours and minutes with blackened “Alpha” hands coated in Super-LumiNova, along with small seconds at the 9’o clock sub-dial.
All the sub-dials — 60 seconds counter at 9’o clock, 30 minutes counter at 3’o clock, and 12 hours counter at 6’o clock — feature contrasting sand-blasted rhodium-plated “Alpha” hands and this combination of black hands on a silver dial and white hands on the black sub-dials really adds to the beauty of the watch.
Further complimenting the slightly sand-blasted silvery dial are the black minute track and a varnished red chronograph seconds hand, as well as blackened indexes. This chronograph seconds hand along with the ‘Speedmaster’ lettering at 12’o clock provides for a brilliant touch of red colour on an otherwise almost entirely B+W dial.
This b+w colour theme is further continued on to the bezel and strap. The black ceramic bezel includes a white enamel pulsometer scale and the watch is presented on a black micro-perforated leather strap with a white rubber interior.
Watch Ya Gonna Do About It
There is just something so undeniable about the wrist presence of a Speedmaster that frankly any watch collection worth it’s weight in gold is incomplete without it.
The same stands true for the Omega CK 2998 version. In fact, I would ever dare to say that this version is much better than the traditional Professional. The reason is that this, in my opinion, is more of a daily wear watch. I am validating my point on the basis that the watch is only 39.7mm in diameter. As a rule, most Omega Seamasters and Speedmasters are thick watches that wear large. For someone with an average wrist size — and this could be debated but I’m averaging the wrist size at 16cm — a Speedmaster Professional runs the risk of looking out of place. Plus, they are traditionally black dialled with the same colour sub-dials.
Now, I realise that look went to the moon, but let’s be honest here and realise that we are not astronauts. The Omega CK 2998 due to its contrasting sub-dial and dial base colour offers a great deal of legibility. The stark contrast is further helped by the shining red chronograph seconds hand.
The pulsometer is a nice change from the usual tachymeters of most chronographs these days, and design aesthetic-wise, this specific version wears smaller due to the peripheral black minute track that sits well in sync with the outer black bezel and visually makes the watch appear smaller.
From a design-architecture perspective the brushed and the polished look of the steel case, especially on the sides, brings about a nice textural interplay.
The piston pushers at 2 and 4 o’clock are also very well balanced and do not jar out.
Even though this is a near-perfect Speedmaster (and a near-perfect watch as a whole) there are two small aspects that could use improvement. When you wear the watch the ends of the lugs are a bit sharp for comfort. And second, the strap comes with white stitching on the sides of the top with red stitching underneath. In my opinion, this should have been reversed as the red stitching of the strap would have perfectly complimented with the red on the dial.
There are a lot of Speedmaster variations out there and there is plenty to choose from. That said, if you can get your hands on the 2018 Omega CK 2998 version, I think it would be a worthy addition to any collection.
The Omega CK 2998 is one heck of a space themed sports watch.
To find out more about this and other Omega watches, visit the Omega website here. All images unless specified otherwise are ©Watch Ya Gonna Do About It. A version of this review was first published on April 10th, 2020.