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Extraordinary 18K solid yellow gold Omega Speedmaster Professional BA 145.022 watch presented to the family of the late Gus Grissom at a special gala dinner on November 25, 1969, at the Hotel Warwick in Houston. Omega initially created 26 of these gold commemorative watches—known as the ‘Tribute to Astronauts’ watch—to present to NASA astronauts alive and deceased, with the case back of each watch specially engraved with a quote, the name and missions of the astronaut, and a unique number relative to when the astronaut flew into space. This watch’s case back, issued as “No. 4,” is encircled, “Astronaut Virgil I. Grissom, Mercury 4 - Gemini 3.” The special central quote reads: “To mark man’s conquest of space with time, through time, on time.”
The first gold Speedmaster that Omega created, the watch features an 18K gold case with the same design cues and dimensions as the regular steel Speedmaster Professional. The gold bezel has a burgundy red aluminum inlay, with the famous ‘dot over ninety,’ and a special solid gold dial, indicated by the “OM” next to “Swiss Made,” which means ‘Or Massif’ or ‘solid gold.’ The hour markers are made of onyx, have two facets each, and are set in gold frames. The hands are black with gold centers and give wonderful contrast to the solid gold dial. The gold bracelet (1116/575) features hollow links and a small 14mm gold clasp with striping decoration. Inside the 18k gold 42mm case ticks the Lemania-based copper-colored chronograph caliber 861 with a steel brake; this caliber 861 has a ticking speed of 21,600vph and uses 17 jewels. Includes its original hinged Omega case and cardboard box (with "Virgil I. Grissom" on a typed label affixed to the bottom, evidently applied for distribution at the 'Tribute for Astronauts' dinner), as well as felt Omega bag; an engraved identification plaque was later added to the front of the case. The watch received official Omega authorized service in 2018 (nothing cosmetic done, only lube, etc.) and is in fine functional condition; cosmetically, the watch exhibits very minimal wear—it is a superior example, with just a few minor scratches.
Accompanied by a letter of provenance from noted collector Raleigh DeGeer Amyx, noting that he acquired the watch from Grissom's widow, Betty Grissom. Additionally includes a 1994 letter from Omega to Amyx, offering some history of the elusive 18K gold Speedmaster Pro astronaut watches and describing this chronograph as "of incalculable value."
After the moon-flown Omega Speedmaster Pros—property of the United States government—these Apollo XI commemorative 18K gold chronographs stand at the forefront of space watch lore. Issued in an extremely limited number to commemorate the Apollo 11 landing, the first twenty-eight watches produced were reserved for President Richard Nixon (#1) and Vice President Spiro T. Agnew (#2), followed by the 26 astronauts who paved the way for the moon landings in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. Only 19 of the 26 astronauts honored were able to attend the gala dinner at which they were presented—the Apollo 12 crew was still in quarantine after their return to Earth on November 24, 1969, and the Apollo 1 crew were being recognized posthumously. These early watches all feature the special central engraving, "To mark man’s conquest of space with time, through time, on time." The publicly available version of the watch (numbers 33-1000) was issued with a caseback commemorating Apollo 11 and the Speedmaster's status as 'the first watch worn on the moon.' Omega returned to the special engraving for the astronaut watches later issued to the crews of Apollo 14-17.
The elusive gold astronaut chronograph also takes a place as the most expensive Speedmaster Pro ever sold: in October 2022, RR Auction sold Wally Schirra's example of the Apollo 11 commemorative 18K gold Omega Speedmaster Professional chronograph watch (Ref. BA 145.022) for nearly $2 million. This example holds particular esteem, as it may be the lowest numbered example to ever come to market—the first two, designated for Nixon and Agnew, are held by Omega's museum, making only Shepard's watch (#3) a possible candidate for the auction block. It is further noteworthy in that Gemini 3, commanded by Grissom, was the first mission to wear the Omega Speedmaster as official equipment. A stunning timepiece, honoring an astronaut who gave the ultimate sacrifice—his life—for the American space program.