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A New Horological Moonshot

The story of watches and moon exploration is arguably more well-trodden than the surface of the moon itself.
A view of the moon from the IM-1 lunar lander. Photo credit Intuitive Machines.
The Omega Speedmaster is the incumbent "moonwatch," a title earned after U. S. astronaut Wally Schirra wore his personal Speedy on Earth orbit in 1962. Seven years later, Speedmaster was there when humans first landed on the moon.

What's interesting is that this legacy of Omega on the moon emerged through serendipity. There was no grand marketing plan or product placement strategy or KPI which choreographed the arrival of the Speedmaster on Schirra's wrist. Instead, Omega learned that the Speedmaster had been adopted by NASA astronauts in 1965 when they saw a news photo of Ed White wearing one during a spacewalk.

Eventually, Omega's role in spaceflight became more intentional and formal.
An Omega Speedmaster Project Alaska III. I took this photo during a Phillips auction preview on 2017.
The Speedmaster passed rigorous NASA testing and Omega even designed a wild, and much-loved, version of the Speedmaster through its "Project Alaska." Elements of the Project Alaska design have even found their way into Omega's collaboration with Swatch by way of the Mission to Mars design.

The US space program has changed a great deal since the 1960s and 1970s. Arguably, one of the biggest changes is the emergence of commercial operators in the space industry. Elon Musk's Space X, a publicly traded company, currently functions as a sort of "taxi" to outer space, carrying a wide variety of payloads for NASA, the US military, and many others. Space tourism outfits, such as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origins, offer brief forays into space for affluent travelers. The list goes on.

This week marks yet another important moment in space exploration, one representing a milestone for both a commercial space company and a watch brand.
The fully assembled IM-1 moon lander.
On February 15 at 1:05 in the morning (EST), a Space X Falcon 9 rocket took off from Cape Canaveral. On board was Odysseus, a lunar lander also known as Intuitive Machines 1 (or IM-1). The lander is the product of a private company. If all goes well, IM-1 is slated to land on the moon on Feb 22 in the evening (EST). This will be the first time a private company has ever placed a lander on the moon. A "soft landing" on the near side of the moon is relatively rare, happening something like 24 times over 65 years of lunar exploration (once every 2.7 years).

What does this have to do with watches? IM-1 carries a large number of payloads, and it so happens that independent US watch brand Barrelhand provisioned some space on one of the payloads (for a detailed discussion of Barrelhand's origin story I highly recommend Ariel Adam's podcast episode covering the brand).
The Memory Disk with different archives applied using NanoFiche.
More specifically, Barrelhand founder Karel Bachand spent some time curating materials relating to global cultural heritage. For example, he selected Le Petit Prince by French author Antoine de Saint-Exupérys and he created an updated version of the "Golden Record" which has been carried across and beyond our solar system by the Voyager spacecraft. These materials were inscribed on a resilient nickle-based plate, called a Memory Disk, using a laser technology called NanoFiche. Barrelhand's repository, along with a number of additional archives, are aboard IM-1. They will reside on the surface of the moon once the lander touches down.

Watch collectors will have an opportunity to aquire a copy of the lunar Memory Disk affixed to the caseback of a new reference called Monolith.
A MemoryDisk copy affixed to the Monolith caseback. Photo credit Barrelhand.
There will be two versions of Monolith. One is designed for extravehicular activity by astronauts wearing a new generation of spacesuits (called xEMU). Barrelhand specializes in novel and cutting edge methods for manufacturing watches and presenting the time (side note, Barrelhand has also worked with the awesome watchmakers Gehan & Dorety for past projects, a workshop I've trusted with my own timepieces as well). With Monolith, Barrelhand has continued this strategy. The case is 3D printed using a laser scintering method applied to a material called Scalmalloy (an alloy made of aluminum, magnesium and scandium).
Laser scintering of the case (a 3D method for manufacturing Monolith).Photo credit Barrelhand
The watch design provides insulation to the mechanism through an "air-core" architecture. The watch also features a novel "airlock" crown which can be safely used both underwater and in a vacuum. Moreover, the automatic movement is regulated to chronometry standards. Through components such as a nickel-phosphorous escape wheel and pallet fork, Nivaflex mainspring, Nivarox hairspring and Glucydur balance spring, Monolith achieves impressive antimagnetic properties (it would be unaffected by a magnet twelve times the strength of a MRI).

With Monolith, Barrelhand has joined the ranks of other brands that have played a role in space exploration.
Case for Monolith alongside a completed Project One Barrelhand watch (on wrist in photo). Photo credit Barrelhand.
This time is different, though. With this evolution of horology in space, we discover that novel methods, materials, and players have arrived on the scene. It is no doubt an exciting time for both space exploration and watch brands seeking to offer timekeeping in one of the most hostile and unique environments around.

The civilian version of Monolith is available for $8,750 (USD) and can be preordered on Barrelhand's web page.
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.

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