Hands-On with Astronaut Michael Collins’ Gold Omega Speedmaster
An Apollo XI astronaut's Omega Speedmaster 'Apollo XI'
Astronaut Michael Collins flew Apollo XI to the moon, joined by his crewmates Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. When Armstrong and Aldrin hopped into the lunar module, eventually landing on the moon to make that “one small step,” Collins stayed behind in command module Columbia. Of course, the Speedmaster was the crew’s watch of choice on the trip, and now, Collins’ commemorative Apollo XI Speedmaster is up for auction.
More on Collins’ Speedmaster in a moment, but I enjoyed some of these tidbits about Collins while he was alone in Columbia orbiting the moon. In his autobiography, Collins said he still felt very much a part of the mission, writing, "this venture has been structured for three men, and I consider my third to be as necessary as either of the other two". In the 48 minutes of each orbit when he was out of radio contact with Earth while Columbia passed around the far side of the Moon, the feeling he reported was not fear or loneliness, but rather "awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation." I start to get anxious if I lose cell reception for more than five minutes, and that’s reason #4397 why I’m not an astronaut (there’s also my crippling fear of heights and flying).
The Omega Speedmaster Apollo XI (reference BA145.022) was manufactured by Omega in August 1969 to commemorate that first, successful moon landing. An initial run of 28 pieces were engraved with the recipients’ names and the inscription To Mark Man's Conquest of Space with Time, Through Time, on Time, and were given to active NASA astronauts, as well as President Richard Nixon and VP Spiro Agnew (who had to decline the watches for federal gifting policy reasons; Omega now has these in their museum).
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The watch was so good that, in 1972, Omega produced an additional run of 1,014 commemorative Apollo XI Speedmasters.
But since Collins was aboard that Apollo XI flight, of course he got one of the first ones — number 19, to be exact.1 Collins died in April 2021, so this watch comes from his estate. Here’s what Collins said about the watch in a letter that accompanies the lot:
"This Omega watch was given to me shortly after the flight of Apollo XI, and has been in my personal possession ever since. I wore it seldom if ever, but I have wound it every decade or so, and I believe it is in perfect operating condition. Michael Collins, Apollo XI CMP"
According to Heritage Auction, the auction house offering the Speedmaster, Collins wore the watch for a few years after receiving it, but eventually put it away and seldom wore it, only taking it out every decade or so to wind it.
The Apollo XI Speedmaster is a huge, heavy gold watch, and after getting to put on an actual astronaut’s, it’s probably my favorite Speedmaster ever.
For the 50th anniversary of the Apollo XI moon landing, Omega released a re-edition of the original commemorative gold Apollo XI Speedmaster. It’s a great modern watch, but there’s truly nothing like an original, especially when it comes straight from the estate of one of the three Apollo XI astronauts. It’s a trophy of history.
Michael Collins’ Omega Speedmaster is at Heritage Auction on June 1, with the current bid at $155,000.
btw, this guy flew the ship that got us to the moon and he was #19 on the list? How could there possibly have been 18 people more important in front of him?