Wise beyond their years and yet embracing of their childhood innocence, the characters of Charles M. Schulz’s long-running Peanuts comic strip charmed generations of readers in the United States and around the world. As much as Charlie Brown, Lucy and Peppermint Patty are beloved, however, the comic’s undeniable star was Snoopy, the whimsical and imaginative anthropomorphic beagle.
Peanuts debuted in 1950, and by the end of the decade had garnered significant popularity on the strength of its philosophical humour and introspective cast. Schulz was unafraid in his craft and did not shy away from applying his sardonic wit to current affairs. The resulting social commentary is a surprisingly insightful examination of the era, deftly woven into amusing slice-of-life parables.
The comic strip truly came into its own during the 1960s. It was a turbulent decade for the United States, one capped by the golden age of spaceflight that captured the world’s attention. In 1968, and with the blessing and support of Schulz, Snoopy became the official mascot for NASA’s safety programme. This association gave rise to the Silver Snoopy award, which is issued to personnel who made impactful contributions to mission safety. As playful as a Snoopy lapel pin might appear, the award is a serious one that is highly respected and coveted. It is issued to a mere one percent of those eligible.
Snoopy would in fact go on to beat NASA to the moon – in the comic strip, at least. In a series of strips published in March 1969, Snoopy, long known for his fantasy alter-egos – including, most famously, the World War I Flying Ace – became ‘the first beagle on the moon’ as a ‘world-famous astronaut.’ NASA would put the first man on the moon themselves later that year, in July, while a preparatory mission in May had its lunar and command module named Snoopy and Charlie Brown, respectively.
It was during this period in the late 1960s that the Swiss watch manufacture, Omega, was forging its own partnership with NASA, in the form of the Speedmaster chronograph. In a time before quartz, the Speedmaster’s proven mechanical precision and reliability made it officially qualified for spaceflights – and the watch that was on Buzz Aldrin’s wrist when he and Neil Armstrong were the first men on the moon.
The Speedmaster was thrust into the spotlight in 1970, during the ill-fated and highly storied Apollo 13 mission. When critical failures struck the spacecraft, a lack of power rendered the on-board digital timers useless. This required the astronauts to fall back on their trusty Speedmasters to calculate a risky re-entry manoeuvre that would eventually bring them home safely. For its role in the dramatic operation as well as general contributions, Omega received its own Silver Snoopy award on October 5, 1970.
This year sees the 50th anniversary of that commendation, and the occasion is marked by a special edition. The Speedmaster “Silver Snoopy Award” 50th Anniversary (RM39,600) is a smart blue-and-silver expression of the iconic chronograph: stainless steel case 42mm in diameter, three registers to the dial, and ceramic bezel with white enamel tachymeter markings. Snoopy, in his spacesuit, makes is embossed on the running seconds counter at 9 o’clock in the same style of the Silver Snoopy lapel pin – itself based on a drawing by Schulz himself.
The real surprise of this watch is on the back. Here, an image of the moon dominates the foreground, inscribed on a sapphire disc. Behind it, on a disc of its own, is one of the Earth at a distance, which rotates once every minute in sync with the small seconds hand. Best of all, while the chronograph is running, one will see Snoopy in his command module appear to fly across the scene. This light-hearted bit of animation is a welcome inclusion to a hobby that often gravely serious, and is a fine, fitting tribute to Snoopy’s whimsical nature.
The Speedmaster “Silver Snoopy Award” comes in an Apollo 13 presentation box and a blue nylon fabric strap that features the mission’s trajectory embossed on the lining. It is powered by the hand-wound Omega Calibre 3861, an evolution of the original Moonwatch movement that graced the spaceflight-qualified Speedmasters of the late 1960s, and is Master Chronometer certified.