The watch world has a funny way of coming full circle sometimes – does anyone else ever feel that way? With this particular Speedmaster, that was most certainly the case. It was April 2017, and while idly browsing Craigslist one night, I came across a very poorly executed advertisement for a vintage Speedmaster. It correctly identified the watch as a “2998 Speedmaster,” but included no condition details and most importantly lacked an email relay or contact number. The ad sat on Craigslist for nearly three weeks, tantalizingly close but ever so far away.
Multiple times a day for nearly two weeks, I hit the “notify poster” button, which would send an automated email to the poster alerting them to the fact that they accidentally omitted a contact link. Deep down, I hoped that with each passing day, the other collectors I was inevitably competing with would get frustrated and give up. Persistence and optimism are two of the traits that carry the most weight and bear the most fruit in the world of vintage watches, and I felt confident that the poster would eventually get a hint. Then one day nearly two weeks later, an email relay was added – the race was on.
I’m guessing my email plea that day was about as noteworthy as a snowflake in a blizzard. I didn’t receive a response within the first twelve hours, so I fired off another email from a different account. And then another from the original account. And then another from the second account. Finally, I received an answer: “Where are you – I will only sell locally due to scammers.” Ah. Scammers. The bastards that give us earnest collectors a bad name. I immediately responded, hoping that my college alma mater in Fort Worth would appeal to his Texas pride and assuring him that I had multiple friends in Houston who could act as a proxy for me. I never got another response, however, and quickly set out upon Plan B. I texted three non-WIS friends in Houston and had them all email the seller with blunt messages that they were local and would pay cash. Two never heard back, but the third did. The seller’s response was simple: “Call me.” Unfortunately, I learned a hard lesson that day, and that’s to never enlist the help of a non-WIS when trying to buy a watch in a time-sensitive manner. As it turned out, my friend “got busy at work” and “forgot” to write back to the seller’s email. By the time he reached out the next day, he was informed that the watch had been sold. I was gutted.
But now we come to the full circle part of this saga. Roughly a month later, the exact same ad showed up again on Houston Craigslist, again with no email relay and the same description, but without any pictures this time. Having learned my lesson from the prior opportunity, I enlisted the help of my friend / Instagram watch celeb, @bzabodyn214, and suggested that he lean heavily on the “local” angle. I still had the poster’s contact information from the last time around and knew what he was looking for out of the deal. Like a fisherman who finally found the right bait to use (how about all these metaphors?), Brandon received a response almost immediately and made plans to purchase the watch the next day. I never learned why the prior transaction had fallen through, but frankly, I didn’t care. As long as I came away with the watch and Brandon left without getting mugged or killed, I was content to not question anything. The seller ended up being a “home renovation expert” who had purchased the watch for very little at an estate sale seven years prior. My purchase ended up funding a new motor for his fishing boat, I ended up with the juiciest project watch that I’d encountered to that point, and Brandon ended up with a very nice bottle of whiskey. All in all, a successful day for everyone involved. Most stories would end here, but in the case of this watch, there was still a lot of work to do (as you can see below in a photo taken by Brandon moments after serving as proxy):
I immediately reached out to a short list of friends who were enthusiasts and struck gold in my first text – James Lamdin (of Analog/Shift fame) had recently purchased a drawer of old parts from a retired watchmaker, and among those parts was a pair of original 2998 hands that were period-correct for the 2998-3 (including the original radium lume in the hour hand). A couple weeks later while browsing eBay, I found an original pair of leaf sub-dial hands in Italy (not cheap) and decided to opt for a service chrono hand rather than an original (very cheap!). The final thing to address was the bezel, which was original but in rough condition. Thanks to a serendipitous eBay find – a 145.022-71 with an original pulsations bezel – I had a trade chip for my good friend, @t_swiss_t. As a hematologist, he’s a sucker for pulsations bezels, and as payment for finding him a vintage Speedmaster pulsations bezel, I laid claim to the dot-over-ninety bezel that accompanied his Ed White Speedmaster. Locating the correct parts took about a month and sending the watch to Simon Freese in the UK for compilation and a much needed servicing took another few months, but nearly four months to the day after buying the beat-up Speedy from Craigslist, I opened Simon’s shipment to find the watch before you here. The circle was finally closed.
The Fine Print
Normally I’m a stickler for provenance and originality, but in the case of this 2998-3, the alternative was pretty simple…either take on this project, or pay 3-4x more for an original example. Nearly all of the hands were wrong, the case suffered from sleeve polish, and the bezel was chewed up, but the most important part of the watch (the dial) had aged beautifully. That’s typically a trade-off I’m willing to live with even if parts are tough to locate.
For those who haven’t studied the stupidly inane details that define each iteration of the straight lug Speedmaster, I’ll point out what makes this 2998-3 noteworthy. The reference 2998 underwent a lot of change in a three year stretch, beginning with the 2998-1 in 1959 (which was essentially indistinguishable from a reference 2915-3) and moving to the 2998-62, which was also nearly indistinguishable from early versions of the subsequent reference (the short-lived 105.002). They all kind of blur together unless you have mild OCD and live for the minutia that separates each reference [raises hand – guilty]. As for this particular reference, the only hard and fast difference between the reference 2998-2 and -3 is the introduction of the “Base 500” bezel. The alpha hands, leaf sub-dial hands, straight chrono hand, and circular “O” in Omega (rather than an oval-shaped “O” in the 2998-1 and 2915 references) are all observed here.
As mentioned above, the case and caseback have encountered a fair bit of sleeve polish over the years, but the case contours are still identifiable and the hippocampus on the caseback, while faint, is still visible. Beggars can’t be choosers, and in this case, the opportunity to pick up an extremely rare Speedmaster iteration for roughly the price of a modern one made it easy to look past these flaws.