Skip to main content

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.
My book on the history of Rolex marketing is now available on Amazon! It debuted as the #1 New Release in its category. You can find it here.

You can subscribe to Horolonomics updates here.


  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 Tachym├Ętre 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!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Hot Take: Preowned + Vintage are the Greenest

I applaud the effort by watch manufacturers to minimize their contributions to climate change. Globally, we've made some progress towards "bending the curve" of greenhouse gas emissions, which is the good news. This figure from shows that, even under an optimistic scenario, some increase in global temperatures is unavoidable. The bad news is that we clearly need to do a whole lot more to get to a point where we halt the growing cost of environmental degradation. As the graph I've presented here shows, existing policies are not enough to ensure a healthy planet for our children, their children, and all future generations. As Elizabeth Doer's outstanding coverage on Quill and Pad shows, the watch industry is discussing the challenges ahead and developing contributions to the fight against climate change. These include the use of recycled and recovered materials in manufacturing as well as requiring transparency in how raw materials are

Closet Currency: Let's Keep It Real

Today, I learned a new term from an Instagram post by @ebaywatches. That term is "closet currency." No, this doesn't refer to someone stacking bills in some dark corner of their wardrobe. Instead, closet currency is the value that is stored in items that you put in your closet. At least, that's what I think it means. I arrived at this conclusion since eBay's post featured YouTuber Jose Zeniga describing the monetary value of different luxury watches. Zeniga also described a "luxury exchange" that eBay set up in NYC. In essence, you could take something out of your closet, go to the exchange, get an appraisal value, and then use your item and its appraisal to purchase another item that was available on the exchange. The formal definition of money is anything that is generally accepted as payment. In essense, eBay set up a NYC micro-economy in which almost any closet item could be used as money. Money is actually a pretty complex topic. It took a lo

Scabby the Rat Visits His AD

An inflatable rat in front of a Rolex property in New York City, source: Google Maps. While following up on a recent Instagram post, I spent some time reviewing properties owned by Rolex in the New York City metropolitan area. One property, in particular, caught my interest because it seemed to be "off the beaten track." In order to learn more about it, I used street view in Google Maps to access some pictures of the building. As I virtually strolled down the middle of the street, I approached the building's main entrance. Surprise doesn't even begin to describe my reaction when I saw an inflatible rat positioned on the sidewalk facing the door. This thing was big, maybe 12 feet tall. A carnival-esque rodent was the last thing I expected to see near the entrance to a Rolex building. There were three people standing nearby, one wearing something like a construction hat. Having seen a number of labor-related demonstrations in the recent past, my gut told me th