A watch that was flown to the moon, of the same make and model as the watches NASA issued to all of its Apollo astronauts to wear while in space, was sold by Christie’s on Dec. 15 for nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the watchmaker’s own museum. The Speedmaster chronograph, which was mounted to an experiment before it became an astronaut’s memento, sold for $245,000 to the Omega Museum in Switzerland.
As the last scheduled manned mission to the Moon, Apollo 17 broke several records set by previous fights, including longest manned lunar landing flight, largest lunar sample return, and longest time in lunar orbit. In addition, important tests were undertaken for the continued development of space processing, which exploits the unique environment of a space laboratory to research, develop, and manufacture products. Among these tests was one named ‘Apollo 17 Heat Flow and Convection Experiments’, which was carried out by astronaut Ron Evans while on his way to the Moon, using this watch, along with the metal part it was attached to.
The watches the Apollo 17 astronauts wore however, were not theirs to keep. Today, they reside in the Smithsonian’s collection, transferred there by NASA after Apollo ended in the 1970s, along with most of the other astronauts’ Omega timepieces. Evans though, was able to pocket the experiment’s watch as a souvenir of his trip to the moon. A law passed in 2012 further confirmed that the Apollo astronauts had legal title to the flown spacecraft equipment they kept as mementos.
Evans used an engraving tool to hand inscribe the watch to reflect its mission use. He wrote, “Ron Evans / Flown in CSM / to the moon/ Apollo 17” on the caseback and “6-19 Dec 72 Heat Flow Exp” on its side.
After his death in 1990, Evans’ widow held onto the watch for almost two decades before initially putting it up for sale. In 2009, the Omega sold to collector Riccardo Bernard for $23,900 at an auction in Dallas. Bernard also bid on and won Evans’ flown Velcro watch strap (used with his NASA-
Christie’s offered all three artifacts as one lot in its Omega Speedmaster 50 sale The high bid (and buyer’s premium) of $245,000 is more than six times what Bernard paid for the watch, strap and pen six years ago.
At least two other astronauts’ flown Omega Speedmaster chronographs have been sold in past auctions. The watch worn by Edward White, the first American to walk in space, was presented to his widow after he died in a 1967 pad fire while preparing to launch on the first Apollo mission. The Speedmaster was inherited by White’s son, who sold it for $35,500 in 1999.
Eight years later, Sotheby’s sold one of Donn Eisele’s two Speedmaster watches that he wore on Apollo 7 in 1968 for $204,000. (Eisele’s other Speedmaster was on loan by the Smithsonian in Ecuador when it went missing in 1989). Another moon watch, Apollo 15 commander David Scott’s personal backup Bulova chronograph that he wore on the lunar surface, was sold for $1.625 million in October. It is believed to be the most ever paid for an astronaut’s flown memento.