Omega Speedmaster '57 Vintage & Dark Side of the Moon Vintage Black
With the popularity of vintage-styled watches in full swing, it's not surprising that Omega has revitalized its popular Speedmaster lineup with these two new watches, the Speedmaster '57 and the Dark Side of the Moon Vintage Black. Fortunately, we have both here for comparison. While they share a great deal, including their basic styling, colors and movement, there is also a lot that separates them. The main difference is the full ceramic case that makes the latter watch a member of the Dark Side of the Moon collection, but it's far from the only difference. Read on to learn more.
Check out our high-definition videos of the Speedmaster '57 and Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon Vintage Black.
The Speedmaster is one of Omega's oldest and most venerated lines of watches. It was originally launched in 1957 as a racing watch and, back then anyway, it had no aspirations of aviation, much less space. Yet despite its motorsport heritage, today it is best remembered for being the first watch on the moon.
The '57 is, in general, an updated model that intends to bring us back to the original. No version of the '57 collection does it better than this one thanks to its vintage color palette and broad arrow hands. While the Speedmaster has changed a lot since 1957, this model does come quite close with only a few significant differences. I'll get to a more complete analysis of them later, but for now the important ones are that it is today a bi-compax chronograph instead of using the three registers of the original and that it now has a date at 6:00. It's not a perfect match, but the resemblance is striking, and this watch wouldn't have been at all out of place if you were to wear it in the late '50s or early '60s. The most profound change, of course, is in the very high-tech 9300 movement inside.
The Dark Side of the Moon Vintage Black is a different story altogether. It represents a different way of doing a vintage style watch, namely it's a modern watch with vintage inspiration, not an attempt to actually re-issue a model with subtle updates. The vintage styling comes courtesy of vintage Super-LumiNova and its beige coloration. Outside of that, however, it's a thoroughly contemporary watch, or if anything, it's probably a bit futuristic. That's because, like all Dark Side of the Moon watches, it uses a full ceramic case which is extraordinarily resistant to scratches. While both the '57 and Vintage Black dials are a similar black, this watch is also using a ceramic dial.
Whichever you pick you'll get the sophisticated 9300 Co-Axial Chronograph. It has a wide variety of high-tech features, but we'll save the deep dive on it for the movement section.
The dials of the '57 and Vintage Black are extremely similar, perhaps more than you might have expected, yet there are a variety of subtle differences between them. Let's examine them in turn, starting with the Speedmaster '57.
The dial of the '57 is remarkably faithful to the original even though it's not intended to be a reissue. As I mentioned earlier, several things keep it from being that, namely the bi-compax layout and date, but it's still pretty impressive how close they were able to get.
Another impressive vintage-inspired feature is this massive box crystal. It looks terrific.
The element that is largely responsible for its vintage good looks is the beige-ish Super-LumiNova. The color appears to be a tad lighter and a tad brighter than the Dark Side variant.
Let's take a closer look at those accents before we address the hands. Interestingly, these luminescent markers are recessed just a bit into the dial, not unlike a Panerai (but less so). This is not at all obvious at a glance but this is actually very different from the Dark Side version.
The '57 uses the classic Broad Arrow hands and this marks one of the big differences with the Dark Side. For a vintage look, the broad arrows work better. The polished hands and more distinct shapes also make it more legible.
The twin registers of the chronograph and sub seconds also used polished hands, and in this instance it actually makes it a little more difficult to read than the Dark Side's beige. Another very subtle difference is that the subdials are recessed in this version.
The date is virtually identical between the models, although here it is slightly stepped. I really like the symmetry of the date at 6:00 and the fact that Omega bothered matching the date ring to the rest of the watch, an altogether too rare trait.
In terms of dial lume (as opposed to bezel, which this lacks) the '57 is actually superior. The main hands are not only easier to see, but distinguish, and the markers are actually a little bolder. That said, the subdial hands disappear in low light pretty quickly.
One interesting lack of differences is found in the dial color itself. The Dark Side uses a ceramic dial and we don't know what the '57's dial is composed of, but presumably it's not ceramic. Side by side though they're both slightly glossy, dark black dials that look great. They might look very slightly different if you're lucky enough to own both and put them next to each other, but there's virtually no difference. This is made all the more interesting by the fact that Omega incorrectly states that the Dark Side Vintage Black uses a "matt ceramic dial." It's definitely not matte but quite glossy, which is much better in my book.
The obvious difference in the Dark Side is, of course, the black case, but we'll get to that in greater detail in the case section. For now we're looking at the dial and the differences are many, but very subtle.
The most important is probably the use of baton hands instead of the broad arrow hands. I'm a huge fan of broad arrow fans and I'm typically in love with them, but for some reason I feel like the batons work better here. They are easier to mix up though, both at a glance and at night.
The same cannot be said for the subdials, however, which are actually easier to read than the Speedmaster '57's thanks to the more consistently high contrast. It's also interesting that Omega chose to put these subdials on top of the dial as opposed to subtly recessed in it, unlike the '57.
That theme is continued on the hour markers, which are no longer recessed but actually applied with strips of lume added. I'm speculating here, but since this dial is ceramic, it may have been a lot of work to get the precise cut outs and graduations needed to replicate the '57's dial. Whether or not this was to make it easier on Omega's part, I actually think I slightly prefer how it looks.
The date is virtually identical, except the cutout is simpler, lacking the step of the '57. Again, this may have something to do with the ceramic material that composes the dial. Regardless, it looks great.
The Dark Side also has an awesomely thick box crystal although, side by side, it's slightly less proud than the 57. Still, a very impressive touch.
The Dark Side's lume is both better and worse than the '57's. I find the hands harder to read at night, given the smaller application of lume and the fact that, in terms of shape, the hour and minute hands are basically identical. The markers are slightly thinner as well. However, the Dark Side counters with a luminescent tachymeter. Look very closely at it and you'll see, particularly in the top right of my sample, that the lume is actually a little mottled to give it that aged look. Take a look at the 200 as a great example. Also note that the subdials remain slightly legible here but not on the '57.
The Dark Side Vintage Black is so interesting, stylistically, because it's attempting to do something novel. It's really not a vintage watch per se, and it would stick out if you wore it whilst driving your DeLorean back to the 1950s. But it does work as a contemporary piece, the beige paint complementing the black everything.
Which one wins it for me in terms of dial? I'm surprised, but I think it's the Dark Side Vintage Black. Maybe I'm just a sucker for Dark Side watches in general.
Both watches are powered by identical 9300s, in my opinion easily one of the most advanced production chronograph there is, other than perhaps the 9R86/9R96, but being a spring drive it's basically in a class of 1.
The 9300 is Omega's current-generation chronograph and utilizes all of the lessons learned from designing their hugely popular 8500 movement. In the past I've claimed that the 9300 is not a chronograph version of the 8500, but rather an entirely distinct movement that happens to be designed and made by the same people, a distinction I continue to claim today.
The 9300 is, for one thing, an integrated chronograph. Many companies, including companies that produce in-house movements, typically add a chronograph module to add the complication to their watches. This approach dramatically decreases R&D costs but inevitably makes for a thick movement. Furthermore, because the modules are added to the dial-side of the movement, the chronograph functionality is usually not visible from the back. The 9300, however, makes chronograph functionality beautifully visible.
Moving past hyper-technical distinctions, we notice that the 9300 is a stunningly good looking movement, thanks to its arabesque finishing and the removal of a good portion of the top plate for the column wheel. You can actually watch the chronograph actuate, stop and reset thanks to touches like this.
Aesthetics aside, how does the thing work and why is it so special? The most important mechanisms of time keeping are all right here in this photo, although some are obscured by the top plate. We'll start with the co-axial aspect of the movement. The co-axial is a radical departure from typical escapement design and fairly substantial tomes have been written to address it. Basically, the escapement, on any watch, is the functional unit of time keeping-this is the part that applies the brakes, in a manner of speaking, to the mainspring and doles out the power, and therefore the movement of the hands, in an extremely stable way. The trouble with the escapement is that it suffers quite a bit of wear as the result of its tireless job and ultimately requires fairly frequent servicing and minute disparities in it can, over time, cause a decrease in stability. The co-axial aims to increase service intervals and to maintain better stability over the course of years by reducing friction.
The next important thing to note is the balance wheel. Watches are either going to be regulated or free sprung, and the difference is the addition of a component that changes the effective length of a hairspring, known as the regulator. Regulators make it really easy to change the rate of a movement (make it faster or slower) and are extremely common. I'd wager that about 99.9% of watch movements in the world today are regulated. However, despite their ease of use, the presence of a regulator itself can negatively affect the stability of a movement. Thus, many high-end movement makers like Patek, Omega, Rolex, Breguet, and Audemars Piguet primarily use free sprung balances. This 9300 is an example of a free sprung balance movement.
Of course, eliminating the regulator has its drawbacks, and one of those is that you now need a way to adjust the rate of the movement. This is generally done with a variable inertia balance which allows the balance itself to be adjusted to change poise and rate. Most free sprung watches, like this one, use small screws in the rim of the balance which, when moved into or away from the axis in pairs, change the rate. The vast majority of variable inertia balances use screws on the outside of the rim, but this is not very space efficient. You either have to make the movement larger to create more clearance or to make the balance smaller and that can negatively affect stability. Thus Omega and Rolex have placed their screws on the inside of the rim, which allows for a larger balance wheel.
The hairspring is an extraordinarily important aspect of good watchmaking and it often goes unnoticed. Omega, however, spends a lot of time developing next-gen hairsprings, and what we have here is the Si-14 spring that powers virtually all Omegas today. This silicon hairspring has superior dimensional stability and magnetic resistance when compared to its metallic counterparts.
Securing it all is this beautiful balance bridge. Most watch companies, even high-end ones, use balance cocks, including the Omega 2500. But in the 8500 and 9300 the bridge is used which should offer slightly improved durability thanks to having two points of contact with the rest of the movement.
Omega went the extra mile and developed this proprietary Nivachoc shock absorber that lives on each side of the balance shaft. These shock absorbers are little springs that allow for slight movement without breakage.
The 9300, like the 8500, uses a bidirectional automatic winding mechanism, which does exactly what it sounds like. Although the difference between bidirectional and unidirectional efficiency is apparently surprisingly small, at least if you listen to Jaeger LeCoultre and Girard Perregaux, I like the bidirectional mechanism because it lacks rotor wobble and noise. This is because it can't freewheel in a non winding direction as all directions wind, and thus all offer significant resistance to the rotor.
The rotor spins effortlessly with the help of these ceramic ball bearings. These are substantially more wear resistant than the sleeve bearing that is gradually being phased out from watchmaking generally.
That rotor winds two sequential mainsprings. While they can and do operate in parallel, they can also unwind individually. This gave Omega the ability not just to offer a 60 hour power reserve, which is very impressive given that the 9300 is a 28,800 BPH movement (as opposed to the similar 60 hour reserve on the 25,200 BPH 8500), but the ability to reduce power reserve related instability. In virtually all watches, the energy given by a more wound mainspring is slightly different than from a less wound mainspring which causes inconsistency in time keeping between the extremes. By using sequential mainsprings Omega was able to streamline the delivery of energy to the escapement and thus improve stability.
Finally we glance the column wheel, another mark of a high-end chronograph due to the relatively labor intensive approach it takes to craft them effectively, at least relative to their cam-actuated brethren.
Another interesting note is that, like the 8500, the 9300 has an independent hour hand. That makes it ideal for frequently travelers because you can change your time zone without hacking the seconds. It also grants the owner the weird GMT-esque ability to set their date backwards as well as forwards.
The 9300 is truly a great movement, easily one of the best chronograph movements available today. It's just as sophisticated as it is good looking.
Omega must have agreed because they gave it its own box sapphire crystal.
The case is probably the single greatest difference between the two watches. Obviously, they are different colors, but also different in terms of size, composition and even water resistance.
The '57 is the more conventional of the two thanks to its solid steel case. Stainless steel is a great material for watches being easy to work with, relatively rust resistant and it also tends to deform, instead of crack, under high stress, so it shouldn't be discounted merely because it's not ceramic.
It also enjoys a smaller, and in my opinion superior, size of 41.5mm.
The bezel is slightly different, aside from the change in color and materials. Namely, the tachymeter scale starts at a smaller number thanks to elongated writing.
The contours of the lugs are quite different on the '57 with a much larger top facet, minimizing the edge.
The pushers and crown are also a bit different on the '57 due to the fact that they stick out further. I think this is just a simple consequence of using a smaller case here. They're more exposed in the '57, and therefore more vulnerable, but I think I prefer the more classic look here.
The crown is, of course, signed with an Omega symbol although it lacks the paint of the Dark Side.
Given the '57's smaller diameter you might expect it to also be a little thinner. Perhaps it is, but to my eyes it's probably the same thickness. They're both a bit thick for my tastes but keep in mind about 2mm of each watch is in the box crystal, not actually the case itself. Is some added thickness worth the addition of the cool crystal? To me, yes, but your mileage may vary.
Here's a nice comparison of the crowns. The Dark Side Vintage Black gets a nice painted Omega logo.
Here you can see the cut outs made in the ceramic case for the pushers and crown. Thankfully, neither watch has a screw down crown making it more convenient to hand wind and to set the time.
Looking from the other side is probably the easiest way to see what I mean about the pushers. I like the recessed look in my watches. In fact, virtually all of my personal watches use this. Yet here, maybe just because I'm so used to seeing Speedmasters be a certain way, I think I prefer the non-recessed pushers and crown from the '57. That said, you get more protection in the Dark Side.
Interestingly, despite an increase in size to 44.25mm the water resistance goes down to 50 meters relative to the '57's 100. This is something I've seen with other ceramic watches so I imagine there must be some additional complications with water resistance with this material. However, 50 is plenty for a watch like this in the real world.
Of course the most important difference is the color and composition of the case. Like the original Dark Side of the Moon, it is made entirely from ceramic. Ceramics are great for watches because they are among the hardest materials we have available, far harder than steel. This means that Dark Side watches will stay looking new for much, much longer than most stainless steel competitors.
It may just be in my head but the crystal seems to be a little shorter on the Dark Side Vintage Black.
The bezel looks different, of course, having luminescent paint on its tachymeter, but the "tachymetre" writing is considerably shortened here, making for an elongated scale.
My obligatory ruler shots.
Which case do I like better? I think I'd go with the Dark Side Vintage Black here. I despise scratches, so the ceramic plays a big role, but I also really like the look of the vintage lume on the black case.
I just wanted to briefly take a look at the straps. The '57 has a nice strap that compliments its vintage look perfectly. Both are very pliable and comfortable out of the box. The Dark Side gets a nice suede-feeling dark brown strap, also a great complement.
I really like the rubberized holes on the Dark Side straps. In fact, I love Dark Side straps in general. I suspect they may be my favorite out there now, although I'm by no means an expert on these things. I'm very impressed with both and like that, although they look brand new, they don't need to be broken in. Stylistically I lean towards the Dark Side though.
These are a great pair of watches to review, in part because they're great watches in the first place, but also because it clarifies two different ways to do a vintage watch.
The '57 is the more conventional way to do that. It's not a reissue of the original Speedmaster, but it looks like it could have been made brand new in the late '50s and no one would have blinked an eye (well, except for a movement that would have been seen as alien technology). Basically, this is a vintage watch made with modern technology.
The Dark Side of the Moon Vintage Black, however, represents a more novel path. Here we take a thoroughly contemporary model and give it certain characteristics of vintage watches.
It always amuses me a little when I think of Omega's obsession with their historic models because these current ones are so incredibly advanced. These are pretty much as far away as you can get from a conventional movement like a 6R15 or 2824-2 as you could possibly get short of crazy things like tourbillons and fusees. Yet many of them, like the '57 here or the Tresor, look like they belong to a world 60 years past.
I feel like declaring a winner here is unwarranted because both watches are directly comparable. Choosing one is merely an indication of one's preferences regarding vintage watches and has little objective merit.
Perhaps this merely indicates my own preferences, then, but I slightly prefer the Dark Side Vintage Black. It's a little bigger than I'd prefer but I love the idea of having a full ceramic case and a lumed tachymeter. Is it my favorite Speedmaster? Well that's some seriously tough competition. My favorite from the last comparison, the Grey Side, remains my first choice, but then I'm not a big vintage watch fan in the first place. There is some hope of dethroning the Grey Side, however, with the Pitch Black on its way.