August 2, 2016
by Ariel Adams
The Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Alaska Project reference 3188.8.131.52.04.001 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 a few 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 (as the story goes). 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.