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Mystery Solved: Golay, Longines and NASA

Just before the US Thanksgiving holiday, I received a direct message on Instagram from the account @secondhand.secondhands.
Al Worden's official NASA portrait from 1971. He's wearing the watch in question on his left wrist.
They were looking for help identifying a watch on the wrist of an astronaut in a photo from 1971. The astronaut in question is Al Worden, pictured here. Worden was the command module pilot for Apollo 15. He orbited the moon 74 times during that mission. To this day, he travelled farther from Earth than any other person. Worden was a 1955 West Point graduate but he commissioned in the US Air Force (the Air Force Academy was not yet commissioning graduates so USMA and USNA graduates were able to commission in the Air Force). Before NASA, Worden flew the F-86D Sabre and the F-102 Delta Dagger. He then earned a Master's degree in aerospace and instrumentation engineering just before enrolling in a test pilot school in the UK.

I've included a screengrab of the DM I received about the watch in question.
The DM laying down the gauntlet to spot Worden's watch.
Worden wore it for one of his official NASA portraits. As soon as I saw this watch, I knew I would struggle to identify it. First, the watch has a cushion case design with faceted edges. Frankly, this is not a design employed by the most well-known brands on the most well-known references. The cushion case was very popular with watches in the early half of the 20th century, but I thought it unlikely that Worden would use a 1940s timepiece for astronaut work. Most troubling was the brand name and icon at 12 o'clock. The name seemed to start with the letter "G" but the rest was indecipherable and the icon was equally inscrutable.

As I began to look through photos of candidate matches, my fears were confirmed. Various design elements matched closely to Soviet watches of the era, including the cushion case, black and white dial, and painted arabic numerals. I knew that there was no way Worden wore a Soviet watch during some of the hottest years of the Cold War. There were two design elements, though, that set me on the path to making this spot with near certainty. First was the date window at 4:30. This positioning of a date window was not used by very many brands in the 1960s and 70s. Zenith was one brand that did, but the cases in their references did not match the cushion shape in question. And, squint as I might, I just couldn't convince myself that the brand on Worden's watch spelled Zenith.

The other brand that employed a 4:30 date window was Longines in their Ultra-Quartz reference housing the caliber 6512 "Cybernetic" movement.
Worden's watch on the left and a Longines Ultra-Quartz on the right. Photo credit of the Longines: Auctions Dr. Crott.
In fact, the Ultra-Quartz was a near perfect match. Longine's offering was a back-winder, and Worden's watch had no discernable crown. The cases are a very close match: the integrated lugs and edge facets on Worden's watch are dead ringers to the Ultra-Quartz cushion case design. In addition, Worden's watch featured hash marks to indicate short increments of time. This level of detail would appeal to an astronaut. Longines' Ultra-Quartz was similarly marked: each minute was tagged with a long hash mark while twelve second intervals were marked by shorter hash marks. This design was rare among watches of the era and it also seemed a perfect match between the Longines and the Ultra-Quartz.

Nevertheless, I couldn't sign off on Longines as the manufacturer of Worden's watch. The Longines featured applied hour indices while Worden's watch had printed arabic hour markers. The Longines icon, and brand name, really did not seem to appear anywhere on Worden's watch. "Ultra-Quartz" and an applied design just above it were also missing from Worden's dial. It really felt like, in Longines, I'd found another "close but no cigar" match.

On a whim, I decided to read a little more about the development of Swiss quartz movements in the 1960s and early 1970s. I thought it was possible that Longines had a subsidiary or related brand that could have manufactured Worden's watch. This hunch turned out to be correct. I stumbled upon a 2020 Europa Star article by Stephen Fossett on Longines' introduction of the "first commercial quartz crystal watch." Fossett mentioned that Longines collaborated with a smaller Swiss company, Bernard Golay SA, to develop the Ultra-Quartz movement. Could this Golay match the fuzzy brand name beginning with "G" I'd seen on Worden's watch?

The answer is yes!
Worden's watch on the left and two examples of Golay watch dials on the right.
The brand name and emblem on Worden's watch are, basically, a perfect match in more recent, clearer, pictures of Golay watches (see the side-by-side photos offered here). Am I 100% certain of the match? I suppose there is some small residual doubt. But it is really, really small. I'd probably need to use scientific notation to express how unlikely it is that Worden's watch is not a Golay (in collaboration with Longines) timepiece.

So, there you have it. To my knowledge, this is the first bit of evidence that an early Golay / Longines quartz watch participated in the NASA astronaut program. Many questions remain. For example, was the Golay watch simply a prototype of the Longines Ultra-Quartz? What did Longines learn from Worden and NASA about this watch and its preformance? Did the Golay fly on the Apollo 15 mission? I leave these questions to future research.
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Comments

  1. This Golay-Longines wrist watch did not fly onboard any spaceflight mission. In fact, there're no training photos showing the watch being used other than the official WSS portrait. The Apollo 15 astronauts each received two NASA-issued Omega Speedmaster chronographs, of which one was modified with a practical " 60 minutes " bezel. In the end the original Speedmaster with Tachymètre bezel was worn during Apollo 15, with David Scott carrying an extra Bulova stopwatch and a 44 mm Bulova prototype 885104 chronograph which he worn during Lunar-EVA-3 until splash-down back on Earth!

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