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Speedmaster Caliber 321 "Ed White" - A Pictorial Review

  1. Travelller May 10, 2021

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    Let's welcome back, the one and only...

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    click-the-pics for hi-res goodness


    Off we go...
    ...on another amazing adventure! It was on a "Speedy Tuesday" back in Jan 2017 that sent me (and 2011 other Speedmaster fans) on an exciting journey to procure the now-iconic Speedy Tuesday reference. For me, that little journey ended up lasting just shy of a year. In Jan 2019 and again on a Speedy Tuesday, Omega blew us all away with the announcement* that the venerable calibre 321 would be making a return!
    *In large part through our friends at Fratello Watches

    Once I heard the news, I knew I had to have it! But of course, Omega would need to house this most awesome caliber in a Speedmaster before we could even begin to think about something that could be (pre-) ordered and for me, that would have to be a steel Speedmaster. A few weeks after the news of the 321 broke, there were already rumors that the first watch that would have the honor of being powered by this iconic caliber would be in Platinum... . A very logical move by Omega, but alas, bad news for me and all the other steel-watch lovers.

    Knowing however that we were about to celebrate the Apollo 11's 50th, I figured Omega might use the 321 and release both platinum & steel versions. Omega did release the 50th in March (2019), but it was in "Moonshine" gold, not platinum and it was powered by Omega's latest generation Speedmaster movement, the 3861. So by then, it was a given that the steel 50th would also have the 3861.

    The 321 finally made it's appearance in July (2019) when Omega released the 321 Platinum. A beautiful watch indeed, just not one for me for a number of reasons (including but not limited to, the price tag). The 321 platinum was Omega's third big Speedmaster release in 2019 so it was looking less and less likely that Omega would release a steel 321 in the same year... .

    But I knew ...correction, we all knew that Omega would have to eventually release a 321 steel Speedmaster! The New Year came and by now, much like Pavlov's dogs, we were all salivating in anticipation of each and every Speedy Tuesday in January... . The first Tuesday rolled around and... boom! There it was, the one many of us had been waiting for, the "Calibre 321 Chronograph 39.7 MM", aka the new "Ed White"!

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    "Caliber 321" - the Ed White ...2.0
    Yes, the 321 steel Speedmaster was finally here and very much a "Speedmaster" in every sense of the word. With exceptions like the FOIS*, "Speedmaster 60th", etc. most production and limited-edition Speedmasters released in the past two decades have been Speedmaster Professionals, with it's familiar lyre lugs and 42mm asymmetrical case (c/o crown guards). It's quickly evident that the original straight-lugged, ~39mm Speedmaster case is the perfect home for the 321, which powered the very first Speedmaster released in 1957 up until Omega switched to the 861 to power the (now "Professional") Speedmaster in 1968. During that period, there were many firsts for the Speedmaster, including the FOIS* So why nickname it the "Ed White"? Because Omega chose to model this new Speedmaster after the 105.003 reference which was worn by Ed White during his 1965 Gemini IV EVA. The 105.003 also happens to be the last of the "pre-Professional" Speedmasters. It was however (and obviously) not the first reference to use the 321, nor the last... .
    *First Omega In Space - tribute to Wally Schirra's private CK2998 Speedmaster.

    But Omega chose this reference to model their first (new) steel-encased 321 reference. Aside from the 1005.003 being a perfect candidate for their 321, they had decided to use Gene Cernan's own 105.003 to model the new movement ...literally. We're talking about the use of tomography in order to replicate every single part on a 1-1 basis. In any event, a reference associated with astronauts White & Cernan will certainly make for a perfect Speedmaster to house Omega's 321! While Speedmaster fans will forever associate the 105.003 with White's EVA, it's also important to note that it is one of three references to have been on the moon's surface. Last but certainly not least, the 105.003 was the first to be "flight-qualified by NASA for all manned space missions"!

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    It's also worth noting that the 105.003 used the second (& final) generation of the 321. The only (visible) differences between generations; 1. a switch from an unfinished & symmetrical "clutch-lever" bridge to a nicer-finished, asymmetrical bridge; 2. The adjustment-index indicator went from arrow-shaped to a thicker "lozenge" shape.

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    Left: 1st-gen 321 c/o the Moonwatch Only book.

    Other characteristics of the original 105.003 include the switch from alpha to baton for the hour and minute hands. It was the first reference to use only Tritium (the 105.002 had some batches still with radium). Omega also employed larger pushers than with previous references. The 105.003 can be further broken down into the sub-references 105.003-63, -64 and -65 (which eventually was renamed 145-003).

    Characteristics that apply to most Speedmasters of this period include the stepped dial with long hour markers, deeper sub-registers, applied logo, chronograph seconds-hand's "drop" (vs. flat) counterweight, bezel with "Dot Over Ninety" (DON) / dot diagonal to 70 / "È" in TACHYMÈTRE, specific fonts (such as the "S" and "R" in "Speedmaster") and beveled caseback. Omega has not only respected these details with the new "Ed White", they went as far as using a period-correct 24-tooth crown with a very similar "Ω" (narrow loop, flat feet) from said period. The pushers, when compared to a production Speedmaster Professional are smaller, much like those from the original 105.003.

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    Omega even shaped the Laser-etched "Ω" on the sapphire crystal to match the Hesalite's from that period (narrow loop) ...sweet!

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    Of course the Caliber 321 "Ed White" is not a 1-1 re-production of the 105.003. The most obvious differences are a display caseback, ceramic bezel and sapphire crystal. The first one is a "must" IMHO - why would anyone want to hide such a beautiful movement, one of, if not the main reason for the existence of this reference. Wording-wise, Omega chose to keep the caseback as simple as the original's and all you will find is "Speedmaster" etched into it. There's nothing else to distract or deter you from enjoying the 321 movement - absolutely brilliant!

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    The other two main differences are a little harder to argue. Given a choice, I would have "lived dangerously" with an aluminum bezel and Hesalite crystal, both definite scratch magnets. It's hard to fault Omega for opting for the much more robust options of ceramic and sapphire, both which (IMHO) cannot be faulted in terms of aesthetics (more on the crystal below).

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    Last but certainly not least, everyone's thrilled by the flat-link bracelet (STZ013537) that comes with the Caliber 321 (and the Apollo 11's 50th). Not only is it period-correct (1960s - 7912, 1501, 1035, 1039), it feels very robust despite the fact that it's not as heavy as the contemporary (pre-2021) production bracelets. Not quite as light (or as "jingly") as the 1171 currently on my Speedy Tuesday but then you get a secure feel in return for a few grams more. As much as I LOVE the 1171, I have to admit this flat link is awesome... apart from the clasp's extremely limited fine adjustment options ...TWO?!? The contemporary has three, the 1171 like 8 (lol). I'd say 4~5 would be my idea of perfect, three is just enough to survive and two is going to be a challenge... sigh. But just look at it, what a beauty! The clasp's finish matches the links perfectly and the tapering is also period-correct. When I first saw the marketing pics, I wasn't 100% sure, but now that it sits on my wrist, the bracelet is going nowhere ...! If I have a craving to feel the 1171 grace my wrist, I'll just grab my SpeedyTuesday for the day... .

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    "Holy resurrection-by-tomography, Batman!"
    The 1949 c.321 is based on Lémania's / Albert Piguet's "27 CH C12 17p" movement adapted by/for Omega (2310), Patek Phillipe (2872) & Vacheron Constantin (1141) back in 1942. As already noted, the 321 was replaced by the 861 (Lémania 1872) in 1968. The key difference between the two calibers is the conventional column-wheel vs. cam-lever mechanics for the chronograph complication (note that both make use of a horizontal / lateral clutch).

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    Left: the 1863 from my 3572.50

    The 321 uses a balance-wheel balanced with screws along with a Breguet "overcoil" hairspring whereas the 861 uses a contemporary "annular" balance wheel and "flat spiral" hairspring. The 861 also beats faster at 21,600vph/3HZ vs. the 321's 18,000vph/2.5Hz. Speaking of which, the return of the 321 "corrects" an issue with all 861/1861 Speedmasters with chapter rings marked each 1/5s. The 321 moves the (chronograph's) seconds-hand five times per second, thus guaranteeing the hand will stop exactly on a marker. As the 861/1861 moves the hand six times per second, the alignment may be slightly off-index when the hand is stopped. The latest production Speedmasters as well as some LE Speedmasters use chapter rings marked each 1/3s which works wonderfully with the 3Hz movements.

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    Most movement upgrades are motivated by the desire to improve accuracy, reliability, robustness and/or minimize costs in terms of build, parts and maintenance. The shift from the 321 to the 861 was certainly based on one or more of those objectives. One of the most wide-spread arguments is that the cam-lever solution is simpler, more robust, as well as more cost-friendly. While this may be the case, one well-respected Omega authorized service watchmaker has flatly stated that there is little difference in the servicing-time between the two movements. In terms of robustness, he's seen the occasional column-wheel where a tooth broke off and conversely, has never seen anything happen with the cam-lever components. But that's about it. As for the balance wheel, the 321's "mass-adjustable" version may have a slight advantage for the watchmaker when it comes to adjusting the wheel's center of gravity.

    There's also a difference in feel when the pushers are operated. The difference however, is minimal, at least when I compared the action between my three-year old 1861-powered Speedy Tuesday and the brand new Caliber 321. Could it be that bigger differences reported on the 'net are in actuality more related to a horizontal vs. vertical clutch setup?

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    The technical evolution of the Speedmaster is clearly through the 3861 which is now used for all current production Speedmasters. The point being that Omega re-introduced the 321 for fans of vintage Speedmasters and their iconic movements. Having said that, it should be noted that Omega did manage a few small upgrades to the 321, like an improved mainspring bringing the power reserve up to 55hrs from the original 321's (& 861/1861) ~45hrs. The movement's plates & bridges have a Sedna-gold PVD finish as well as the clutch-lever bridge being in silver. We can also assume the Breguet hairspring has been brought up to date, material-wise. Accuracy-wise, the Caliber 321 and (my) 1861s unsurprisingly return similarly good results. Time will tell if the accuracy is maintained thereby confirming the Caliber 321 is as robust (against shocks, etc.) as its successor.

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    Nothing in this world is perfect...
    ...but I'll be damned if the Caliber 321 "Ed White" doesn't come very close... ! When first announced, there were two possible show-stoppers for me; the sapphire crystal and the non-white lume. I was however optimistic regarding the Caliber 321's crystal, having seen enough photos... photos which showed the distinct lack of the dreaded milk ring... ! But you know how it is... often things look quite different in the flesh. I'm very pleased to say that all the photos out there do represent reality; this Omega sapphire crystal has no [discernible] milk ring! The topic has been discussed in several posts already but the bottom line is that the curved edge of the Caliber 321's crystal approaches that of Hesalite, where as the standard Omega sapphire is more of a "boxed" configuration with a 90° edge that promotes the milk-ring effect.

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    So we're down now to the last potential show-stopper, the "natural tritium" colored SuperLuminova. To be frank, it's not so much of a question of staying true to the original as it's simply my preference to have a dial that keeps to a particular color scheme. The Speedmaster is the ultimate monochromatic timepiece with waaay above-average legibility. Black & white, light & dark (...much like the moon ...heh). Having said that, I'm willing to accept that tritium may indeed have been produced in non-white variations (with pale yellow & pale green being the most popular assertions). I'll also have to admit that like most Caliber-321 owners here, I've also come to the conclusion that the pale yellow Omega selected is unobtrusive by and large.

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    That's about as positive as I can be about it, until we ...go dark. The Caliber 321 has the brightest lume of the three Speedmasters I own (or have handled - maybe another three... lol). You'd think that distinction would go to the Speedy Tuesday with all of its lumed surfaces, but no. The Caliber 321 in the darkness looks amazing with its simple and yet sufficient presentation (much like a basic Panerai diver).

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    At first I thought it might be the longer indices, then I considered the possibility of thicker (deeper) lume. While both of these may indeed play a part, the last "variable" in determining the base brightness of SuperLuminova is related to the color, as shown in the chart below. So while we all spend a whole lot more time looking at our watches in lit environments, I am more than okay with Omega's choice given what I believe to be the benefit of additional brightness in the darkness... !

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    Chart may be outdated. c/o RC TRITEC


    A few more "points of interest"...
    ...that I'm more or less neutral about. Let's start with the presentation box. If you shell out €50K for a platinum Caliber 321, you kind of expect it to come in "deluxe" packaging and you just may raise an eyebrow when you find out it's presented like a standard* (production) Speedmaster. Of course, most watch boxes end up in the attic / cellar soon after the purchase which should make it a moot point. The silver lining is that the standard box* is pretty sweet and comes with some nice gear. You can actually buy it separately and it will set you back around €700... ! The best included accessory is the NATO strap (not that I plan on removing that awesome bracelet anytime soon...). You also get that most nostalgic NASA-issue velcro strap (albeit too long) as well as an elegant loupe and strap-changing tool. I'd much rather have all of these goodies than a gilded box or whatever €50K watches are usually presented in... .
    *The 2021 3861-powered Speedmasters will come in a "mini-me" version which looks identical save for the lack of goodies...

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    Next up is the fact that Omega appears to be shifting from strictly limited editions to some "limited production" models. This trend applies to the Caliber 321 along with the 2019 Platinum 321 and the recent 2021 Snoopy III. Honestly, I don't know if this is a good move or not as one can debate the merits of either approach. I will admit that I feel "privileged" to be one of only 2012 Speedy Tuesday owners. On the other hand, the Caliber 321 is not for everyone and given the price and production volumes, it's doubtful that the reference will ever become "commonplace." In both cases, I know I have a real beauty on my wrist, one that not every Joe will be wearing ... *cough*Daytona*cough*.

    Now it's time to delve into this "Caliber 321 vs. Daytona" debate ...not.
    I have a much better idea; let's talk about how good the new "Ed White" makes my wrist look...

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    A big shout-out to the OB
    Last but certainly not least, I need to once again raise my glass in honor of our local OB! Unlike the Speedy Tuesday "event", I can't say that the first 15mths of this journey were that eventful, but the beginning and end were certainly a wonderful rush. MINUTES after Omega / Fratello Watches announced the [Ed White] Caliber 321, I shot off a mail to my OB titled "Ed White 321 SS - 311.30.40.30.01.001 - I MUST HAVE ONE PLEEEEASE!!!" ...lol! There are watches that you have to "think about" and then there are watches that you know you must have. I have a great relationship with my OB - I visit on a regular basis to simply talk watches (read: hairspring types and not just available dial colors...) and it is always great fun. The months went by and we discussed all the latest goodies from Omega but rarely about the Caliber 321 as we knew it was a waiting game and no one wanted to spoil the great atmosphere with a childish "are we there yet...?" One day I received the most casually-titled email from the OB: "How are You." As I'm reading through it, I come across these magical words "...a UPS delivery from HQ just came in..." yesss!!! So after the agony of waiting for the city to reopen (...) I was finally able to pick up the Caliber 321. As always, we enjoyed a great talk and traded remarks about the reference for a lengthy period that easily went above and beyond the (OB's) call of duty for one humble customer. I can't emphasize enough the "added value" of such a personal and memorable experience when getting a new (and very special) watch. Thank you so much!

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    The price of admission...
    ...is indeed high. If like me, you're PASSIONATE about references from the chronograph's glory days, the Speedmaster Caliber 321 "Ed White" is a very special reference. The rebirth of the iconic 321 movement housed in a tribute to the well-known and loved Speedmaster reference, the 105.003, is pretty much Speedmaster nirvana. If you're more pragmatic than nostalgic, a new 3861-powered Speedmaster may make a lot more sense... particularly when factoring in the considerable price difference. Not only does the METAS-certified 3861 represent a substantial upgrade, you can also enjoy a few of the historical details shared by the new Caliber 321, such as the stepped dial, DON bezel, etc.
    If, like me, you REVERE vintage watches but are not prepared to navigate the difficult and at times treacherous world of vintage collecting, the Caliber 321 is the ultimate Speedmaster.


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    click-the-pics for hi-res goodness
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    The 39.7mm Speedmaster vs. the 42mm Speedmaster Professional
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    My fab trio - 3572.50, Caliber 321 & Speedy Tuesday
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    The bracelets vary not only in style but also in weight - 138 / 119 / 104g respectively (incl. watch)
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    A "deep dive" of the balance wheel & hairspring
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    The blue Breguet hairspring of the "upgraded" Caliber 321
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    ~~~~~~
     
  2. oddboy Zero to Grail+2998 In Six Months May 10, 2021

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    Makes me want to buy one now. Thanks! ::censored::
     
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  3. stevec14 May 11, 2021

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    That’s excellent. Sums up the way I feel about mine. :thumbsup:
     
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  4. orlis May 11, 2021

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    Ok I read it! I know I was not supposed to but could not resist ;)

    great write up Travelller! Beautiful pictures and personal story of your journey to ownership!

    I’m thinking of buying it and…moving to a hotel room after my wife’s discovers it…:whipped:
     
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  5. burnrbr May 11, 2021

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    Amazing write up. Thank you!! I feel pretty lucky to be part of the owner’s club
     
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  6. Travelller May 11, 2021

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    :oops:... :D;)
    Many thx - enjoy yours too :thumbsup:
    ROFL, M! - Good luck, my friend - fingers crossed for you to make the "right" decision... (buy-buy-buy!!! :D) ;):thumbsup:
    My pleasure - glad to join you & the others, finally ::psy::
     
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  7. 64Wing May 11, 2021

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    Doesn't have the T's at the bottom. Junk. Haha much joke! Incredible photos. This should have a sticky!!
     
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  8. The Father Buyer of schlock dials May 11, 2021

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    Great examination of that handsome watch
     
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  9. ATWG May 11, 2021

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    Great write up, wear it in good health.

    I sold my vintage EW b/c it had too many flaws, the plots were relumed, the DON was trashed and the band was not original. For the price, I didn’t get any enjoyment in owning the watch.

    Fast forward to this re-edition, this watch totally has me sold. I will own this in the near future, love everting about it.

    BTW- you should be the one writing for Fratello!!
     
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  10. TimeODanaos May 11, 2021

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    Now that's a watch review! Mind-blowing photos, great passion. Outstanding effort, thank you very much for this education.
     
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  11. kingsrider Thank you Sir! May I have another? May 11, 2021

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    You know... SOB!.... NOW I want one. Daaamn... I have other priorities. Why didn't finish cooking dinner. I had to look. F&$*. Start rationalizing. *** it will be worth more in a few years ***::popcorn::::screwloose::
     
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  12. watchtinker May 12, 2021

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    Congratulations on a very nice pictorial review.

    However, some eighteen months after the launch, I find that, with a very few exceptions, some data about the performance of this timepiece are still missing. Let's hope that this gap will be filled in the future. ;)

    0002.jpg
     
    Edited May 12, 2021
  13. Travelller May 12, 2021

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    Lol, tru dat :D - Many thanks, good sir ;)
    Much appreciated :thumbsup:
    Yes, exactly - the world of vintage collecting is exciting but also scary business :unsure: which is why I haven't found the courage to engage in it. Especially now a days where the prices are stratospheric ::facepalm2:: Believe me, you'll be thrilled with this one :D
    As for writing for Fratello... I'd be fired before finishing my first write-up for being in delay and over budget... :p
    Your kind words are very much appreciated - it's a lot of work but worth it when I have a few good WIS who are as nerdy as me and actually appreciate the "sensory overload", hehe :D:thumbsup:
    ROFL - sorry about that and I admit, I've been accused of being an enabler on more than one occasion... guilty as charged :whipped::p - at least I hope you enjoyed it and hopefuly didn't burn dinner in the process... :thumbsup:
    Thank you, sir :)
    Re. "performance": ask away! As I wrote above, it's "comparably good" as my 1861 Speedmasters and in comparison with my most accurate watches, not really anything to write home about. In my opinion, the 3861 Speedmaster may be the very first "accurate" Speedmaster... ! My $150 "Witschi" shows an average of +5 with high deviations in CU (+9) & CD (-10) positions. My 1861s are both on the fast side at maybe +7 on average. Beat error for all three ranges between 0.1 ~ 0.2 with the occasional 0.0 & 0.3 readings. Amplitude is equally similar averaging around the 300 mark when fully wound.
    So why haven't I mentioned this in my "Pictorial" ...? Because the unit's a $150 knock-off and the values can only be taken as "rough estimates". When on the wrist, they all run slightly fast (+5 or higher) and I find the desire to adjust the time every ten days or so to avoid being off by a minute or more. ;)
     
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  14. jaguar11 May 13, 2021

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    Nice read!!!!
     
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  15. oliverstevens May 13, 2021

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    Wow this is a well written share! You quite literally provided everything behind this beauty, I might have to get my hands on one in the future! I think I would say the bracelet is the pudding on the cake for me. I really do think the solid center links have my heart. There has been other crazier Omegas that I think also have my eye, and a t the end of the day I think I only need one crazy Omega. I was looking at this crazy "Snoopy Speedmaster". What are your thoughts, would you cop this for yourself. https://www.bobswatches.com/rolex-blog/resources/omega-snoopy-speedmaster-watches.html "The astronauts involved with the mission nicknamed their lunar module after the cartoon hound as they ‘snooped around’ for a suitable landing site for Apollo 11". Seems like an intersting wat to name the watch but it definitley catches my eye and I would love it for special occasions.

     
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  16. watchtinker May 13, 2021

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    I have to congratulate again for your writing and concise reporting of the performances of the timepiece, which appear very well in line with those of the original ones from the Sixties (I have been fortunate enough to be able to overhaul a certain number of unmolested ones back in the Eighties).
    In particular I appreciate your cautiously taking the values of your $150 timegrapher as "rough estimates", but I can assure you that the sound of a 321 is rather crisp and loud, so that your results are worth something more than an estimate. Thus I take the occasion to ask if, by chance, you have also had the opportunity to measure the amplitude in the vertical positions.
    Finally, I agree that it is quite likely that the 3861 might be the very first "accurate" Speedmaster.
     
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  17. Travelller May 13, 2021

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  18. watchtinker May 14, 2021

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    Of course: I was interested in assessing the mean drop of amplitude in the vertical positions with respect to the horizontal ones. In your case, assuming that the reading 330° at DU is not entirely accurate (it would be on the verge of rebanking and too different from the reading 297° at DD from a brand new watch), it is: 297°- (274°+247°+258°+264°)/4 = 36°, again well in line with the original 321.
    It can be thus inferred that the choice of Omega has actually been of making the new 321 as a faithful reproduction of the movement from the Sixties, also with respect to its performances.
    Thank you very much indeed for sparing your time and sharing your measurements. :)
     
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  19. Travelller May 16, 2021

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    FWIW, a quick n dirty Smartphone session of the 321 in reset / running / paused - chronograph modes :thumbsup:

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  20. WatchCor May 16, 2021

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    Damn, thats a nice review and pictorial. Thank you @Travelller :thumbsup:
     
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