The Omega Speedmaster is a widely recognised iconic wristwatch. Released in 1957, it formed one half of a duo of new releases by Omega that year, alongside the Railmaster. As the name indicates, the Speedmaster was incredibly useful to those wishing to time races, helping calculate average speeds and so on.
Primarily designed for those involved in car racing, chronograph watches had been an important part of the watch industry since the 1930s. Like many purpose-driven watches, most buyers would not have been involved in racing however; some would have used the stopwatch function for recreation and many would have bought the watch for aesthetic or aspirational reasons.
Today, the Speedmaster is often referred to as the ‘Moon Watch,’ as in 1969 it was the watch on the wrist of the astronauts who first set foot on the moon. One of ten watches by various brands tested by NASA in the preceding years, the Speedmaster proved most resilient under the unusual conditions of space. Over the last 50 years, Omega has released many iterations of the Speedmaster, including limited edition models, to much success. The most valuable models are those early ones, often those with a story to tell.
We are delighted to present early Omega Speedmaster dating to 1967 at our Autumn Select Jewellery & Watches sale. The watch is being sold on behalf of the son of its original, and only, owner Frederick Steele, or "Derek" to his friends who lived a remarkable life.
In order for his father to seek new employment in the accountancy industry, Derek’s parents moved from Cromarty to Welwyn Garden City where he was born in 1930. This was, at that time, a relatively new place and one of the ‘planned’ towns built in England, designed to offer inhabitants the best of city and country life.
It was Derek’s childhood ambition to join the Merchant Navy and he did so at the age of 17, straight from school. He reached the position of Chief Petty Officer but was unfortunately discharged with oil-fume poisoning within a few years. Now in his mid-20s, and considering his next step, he responded to a newspaper recruitment advert for the Kenyan police force.
After moving north to Nanyuki, Kenya around 1963, a friend took Derek flying in a small aircraft. Very taken by the experience, he chose to train for his private licence subsequently attaining his commercial pilot's licence. Following this, he set up a company taking tourists on tours around the countryside and, during this time, became good friends with actor William Holden who co-owned a hotel called Mount Kenya Safari Club. He also knew George Adamson of Born Free fame.
Around 1967, Derek purchased his Omega Speedmaster. The watch would have suited Derek as a pilot for a number of reasons. It was larger in size than the average wristwatch of the time and featured a black dial with white markers; both factors increased the ease of visibility.
Two years later, Derek was featured on the cover of Queen Magazine. In the cover photograph, shown above, he is seen in the background, leaning out of the door to the cockpit, sporting the Speedmaster. Originally set up in 1861, after a merger the magazine became Harper’s & Queen, and later Harper’s Bazaar, as it is still known today.
In May 1970, not long before his 40th birthday, while helping a colleague clock up more night-flying experiences, tragically Derek was killed in an unexplained crash. He was wearing the watch at the time and it lost its bezel as a result. The minutes hand is also a little misshapen, which is also believed to be due to the crash. A young father, Derek left behind his wife and three young sons who moved back to the UK in the years following his passing.
Derek did not appear to have had a passion for watches. The Speedmaster was, to him, a tool to assist him in his work. The value of the watch should not be underestimated, however, forming as it does, a window on Derek’s fascinating, and sadly very short, life. In turn, his story bestows value upon the watch, creating a biography for it, something that watch collectors seek with great enthusiasm.
p style="text-align: center;">
Lyon & Turnbull’s Watch Auctions department is a dynamic one with significant expertise, hosting diverse watch auctions across the U.K. featuring fine, rare, modern and vintage timepieces. Highlights from recent auctions include a rare Rolex Daytona 6263 that sold for £62,500 in October 2021 and an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak that achieved £106,250 (incl premium).
0141 333 1992