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VCH Book Review # 4—Moonwatch Only: The Ultimate Speedmaster Guide

Moonwatch Only — one of the best watch books extant about one of the most iconic watches ever. We’ve seen copies on eBay sell for upwards of $500. Here’s a brief review of this superb collector’s guide.

First introduced in 1957, the Speedmaster is still flight qualified by NASA and used for space walks at the International Space Station even today. Moonwatch Only is a detailed look at the history, design, and evolution of the first watch worn on the Moon in 1969.

Why do we care? Because the Speedmaster is a very special watch. It is arguably the coolest timepiece of them all, with a history that is unmatched and only rivaled by other superstars like the Rolex Submariner.

In the book’s Foreword, astronaut and NASA legend Gene Cernan, last man to walk on the Moon, describes one of his Speedmasters and its incredible reliability and durability:

“And my very first Speedmaster looks a bit beat up, the crystal is cracked, it has never been cleaned or repaired and to this day, more than 45 years after I first wore it in space, I can wind the watch and it still keeps great time.”

The late, great Gene Cernan's Foreword in the book

This book is a watch collector’s dream come true. Too many watch books are short on information and long on pretty pictures. Or, they go 180 the other way — chock full of a dense, mind-numbing amount of information that will put you to sleep and bereft of any good visuals.

Not this book. It strikes the perfect balance.

In production for 60 years now, there's been an incremental yet astounding variety of changes made to the watch over the years, some big and many more smaller and only of consequence to hardcore collectors. Details in everything from the movement to case size and shape, dials, hands, crowns, bracelets and casebacks have changed numerous times.

The emphasis in the book is on the collector minutiae of changes to the various models or "References" of the watch over the years. Still, there is enough historical information provided to appeal to the history-minded Speedy fans out there who just want to flip through its pages, gaze at the great photos, and read the most interesting bits.

The authors have created a thoroughly original typography for cataloguing the various changes in the Speedmaster. They assign a letter and number and brief textual identifier to the following ten components: caliber; caseband; dial; bezel; hands; caseback; crown; pushers; glass or crystal; and the band.

The example they give to explain the nomenclature is one of dial "B3. Spaced T," which corresponds to the third of the type B dials, the Spaced T meaning the Ts on both sides of the SWISS MADE legend are spread out more than on earlier dials. It's a simple system that works.

There is a handy section of appendices at the end of the book, with the most useful being the illustrated Recap of Features charts for the major components. The authors also include a nifty foldout three-page ID Tree that lets you check the authenticity of all 29 references and sub-references of the standard production models.

You can buy a Speedmaster over the counter today that looks almost exactly like the same watch that was purchased by NASA in the glory days of the space program in the sixties and seventies. That's the beauty of the Speedy. For me, this book highlights that salient fact by showing us the myriad ways the watch has evolved since 1957 — while still remaining true to its hardworking, tool watch essence.

This is not an inexpensive book. Hodinkee offers it in their online shop for $350 and you can find it on eBay for prices ranging from around $185 and up, sometimes way up. If you plan to buy a used Speedmaster, especially Pre-Moon and other older models, this book can pay for itself quite easily if it saves you from buying an incorrect or cobbled together Frankenwatch or worse.

Moonwatch Only is a wonderful resource for both Speedmaster fans and collectors alike, and is obviously a labor of love for its authors. It’s highly recommended.

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