Scott Carpenter’s 145.022-69 BA Omega Speedmaster
It was bound to happen eventually, we have a third million-dollar Speedmaster on the market. There was the somewhat erroneous 3.4M tropical 2915-1 result from Phillips. Then, perhaps more understandably, Wally Schirra’s 145.022BA hammered at 1.9M from RR. Now, another actual astronaut’s personal watch. It’s not a coincidence Carpenter’s is the same gold reference and year as Schirra’s, both were presented to their respective astronauts at the same dinner on 25 Nov 1969 in Houston at the Hotel Warick. Omega presented 26 astronauts (both alive and deceased) a 145.022BA in recognition of their accomplishments, just after the success of Apollo 11. This is only the second time a watch from this 26 has come to market.
The question I find myself asking as I approach this bit of horological history is this: how to do you come close to doing Scott Carpenter justice? Born 1962 and passing in 2013, the guy was a force of nature. Mr Carpenter was the fourth American astronaut in space. He grew up where I currently write to you now, Boulder, CO, where he is said to have grown fond of a rugged outdoor life. In his words, ‘If all you do is sit and read, all you get is smart and soft.’ This guided him toward a Naval career where he flew patrol planes in the Korean War, became a test pilot (he was a specimen of an aviator), and was eventually selected to be a Mercury astronaut in the early years of Kennedy’s push. His mission, Mercury Atlas 7, orbited the world three times, totally on his own in a crew of 1. In the last 30 minutes of his flight, the equipment controlling the capsule’s attitude malfunctioned, and Carpenter had pilot re-entry manually on visuals alone. There was no wavering, he recounted in his memoir, ‘I was trained to avoid any intellectual comprehension of disaster — dwelling on a potential danger, or imagining what might happen. I was too busy with the tasks at hand.’ That’s the kind of man he was: hands on, mission first, and capable of staring abject failure in the face while sorting shit out. President Kennedy came to Colorado to congratulate Carpenter and his family in 1962 shortly after. Oh, and he worked the Sealab projects. I mean, this paragraph could be several volumes. Carpenter’s work in future missions was cut short by a motorcycle accident, but his legacy is just immeasurable.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, therefore, that his 145.022BA is going to set records. Watches from that fortuitous dinner really deserve the word grail, in its full meaning. This was the first-ever gold Speedmaster, a total production of 1014 watches; in series, numbers 1 and 2 went to President Nixon and VP Mr. Agnew respectively. 3-28 went to NASA astronauts, 29-32 went to Swiss friends & family, and 33-1000 were offered to the public. Interesting, 1001-1008 went to Apollo 14 & 17 crews, with 1009-1014 going to ‘other personalities’ (no one knows). But those from that dinner, as this, were engraved on back with the text ‘to mark man’s conquest of space with time, through time, on time.’ God, I wish Omega had this kind of grace today. Or indeed that the entire world was watching each step of NASA or SpaceX with eager joy. This watch is a reminder of a better time, when humanity’s ambition was boundless. A time when we weren’t afraid of having huge dreams. Carpenter peaked my intellectual curiosity in writing this article. But I’m not focusing on that as I come away from this, no. I’m going to dream bigger. Because the line from Carpenter that most stuck with me as I learned more of his legacy to appropriately cover this Speedmaster was this: ‘Satisfying curiousity ranks number 2, in my book. Behind conquering fear.’
This Speedmaster has made its way to market from Carpenter’s family. It’s totally untouched, worn by Carpenter, unaltered and not polished. Carpenter also made famous a Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute prototype, which was worn on the above-mentioned Mercury-Atlas 7 mission, damaged upon re-entry and submerged in the ocean after orbiting the Earth three times. While Carpenter is probably more associated with Breitling lore for watch nerds, this Speedmaster tells his story of contributions toward the Apollo missions. Wherever it sells, it’s going to be a record and it deserves to be. But in truth, a watch with this kind of history, a watch which tells humanity’s story, is priceless.
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