Despite being over 50, space exploration remains mind-blowingly cool. Lance Bass notwithstanding, the title of Astronaut (née Cosmonaut) holds strong its position as the ultimate trump card when it comes to professions. Similarly, the title “space watch” is more than just branding. Torture tested to excel in the most inhospitable of environments, these timepieces are designed to survive instantaneous 200-degree shifts in temperature, acidic humidity and extreme g-forces (shocks up to 40 Gs). Much like the explorers who don them, there are but a lucky few that have earned special recognition. These are our eight picks of the best space watches (or their modern reinterpretation) available for the rest of you dreamers out there.
Halda Space Discovery
Hand-wound or automatic, a mechanical timepiece may seem an archaic instrument for space travel. The Halda Space Discovery (named after its trip on the shuttle Discovery) features two interchangeable “modules”, the Space Module (electronic) and the Mechanical Module, to deliver both cutting-edge tech and heritage. The Space Module boasts a proprietary TECAMEX case housing an accelerometer, g-force reader and light sensor (as well as the standard chronograph) to keep astronauts informed and missions on time. The Mechanical Module is a simpler affair powered by an old-stock automatic movement that can then be swapped in for terrestrial affairs.
Sinn 140 A Space Chronograph
Sinn’s Teutonic attention to detail often yields what enthusiasts consider indestructible watches — so it’s no surprise that their timepieces can survive a little trip beyond our atmosphere. The Sinn 140 A Space Chronograph is a limited-edition refresh of the watch that traveled with astronaut Reinhard Furrer on Challenger’s final successful mission. A supercompressor-style internal rotating bezel, unique center-mounted stop-minutes hand and Sinn’s use of Argon gas to eliminate humidity combine to give this chronograph impressive zero-G tech.
The appearance of the Omega Speedmaster Professional on this list should surprise no one. Its pedigree has been carved into the annals of our history — as well as its very own case back. Flight qualified by Nasa’s stringent testing procedures on March 1, 1965, the Speedmaster Professional has changed very little in its lifetime. The movement remains a manual winding chronograph and, while purists will seek out the original 321 caliber that accompanied Buzz Aldrin to the moon, newer versions powered by both the 861 and 1861 are no less worthy of attention. Aside from being the first watch worn on the moon, the iconic Omega was employed for every manned Gemini and Apollo mission as well as trips to Skylab and the Apollo Soyuz test project. The newest member of the Speedmaster family, the co-axial-powered Dark Side of the Moon pays tribute to the first flyers to see the other side of our pet rock, doing so in sinister and scratchproof ceramic.
Fortis B-42 Official Cosmonauts Chronograph
A peek at the wrists of any of the cosmonauts graduating from the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in the past 20 years would reveal a Fortis watch. The Fortis B-42 Official Cosmonauts Chronograph employs a Valjoux 7750 automatic movement to power its three-register chronograph; Incabloc shock protection and water resistance to 200m means this 42-millimeter space watch won’t rupture during deep-sea splash downs. An extremely limited (300 pieces) modified titanium version can also be had, featuring the world’s first mechanical alarm and COSC chronometer designation.
Bulova 96B251 Moon Chronograph Watch
He and his colleagues wore the NASA-issued Speedmasters during the 1971 Apollo 15 mission; during his second excursion to the moon’s surface, the crystal came off of mission commander Dave Scott’s Speedy. Scott had packed his own personal Bulova Chronograph as a backup, and he used it during his next lunar walk, making it the only privately owned watch to be worn on the moon’s surface. For 2016, Bulova has made a faithful recreation of the watch, powered by the brand’s high-beat, quartz chronograph movement.
While mechanical watches command the bulk of our attention both terrestrially and beyond, digital watches have made their mark in space too, often worn in conjunction with a mechanical backup. The Timex Datalink and various Casio G-Shock models (DW-5600C and 5600E, DW 6900, and DW 5900) have proven their merit, earning Nasa’s qualification for manned space travel; their ease of use, rugged toughness and undeniable accuracy made them a natural choice for space travel, and their inexpensive costs make them an excellent starting point for any collectors still saving for space camp.
Sturmanskie 2001 B Gagarin
Soviet pilot Yuri Gagarin was the first man to travel into space. On his wrist was a Russian-made 17-jewel manual wind Sturmanskie. In 2005 cosmonaut Yuri Shargin relied on a commemorative version of Gagarin’s pioneering wristwear during his own trip. The Sturmanskie 2001 B “Gagarin” is powered by a 25-jewel variant of the Poljot 3133 movement that has proven itself beyond our atmosphere on numerous occasions. Featuring a two-register chronograph, a 24-hour UTC subdial at 6:00 and an exhibition case back, this Cyrillic-scripted manual-wind watch is a budget-friendly and heritage-rich option for even the most casual of stargazers out there.
During his first space mission, Dutch astronaut André Kuipers noted that he lost his sense of time in orbit — something common among astronauts. To all but eliminate the confusion, Roland Oostwegel’s R.0.1. Space not only displayed time but also communicated total mission time in days and weeks. He also added a unique dial that counts down a singular Earth orbit (91 minutes and 59 seconds, to be precise), a feature that came in handy on the International Space Station. The consumer models forego the mission counter for a more traditional day/date wheel, but the carbon fiber, titanium and ceramic instruments are still built to the same exacting standards.
Zenith Stratos Flyback Striking 10th
Bonus Pick: Technically speaking, the Zenith Stratos Flyback Striking 10th did not travel into space. Strapped to the wrist of Felix Baumgartner at 24 miles above terra firma, it fell about thirty-five miles short. However, much like Pluto, it deserves inclusion — it broke the sound barrier, after all. Completely exposed as Baumgartner fell back to Earth at supersonic speeds, the Zenith was the first watch to nakedly enter our world at 844 mph. Powered by the 31-jewel El Primero 4057 B column wheel automatic movement, the Striking Tenth is regarded as one the most accurate chronographs available. At 36,000 vph (vibrations per hour), it can record time down to the tenth of a second — the length of time it took Felix to cover 121.44 feet at full speed.