This is how you test a space watch

13 prototype movements flew into the freezing cold thanks to the Swedish Space Corporation and a stratospheric research balloon.

People are losing their minds over space watches, but Omega isn’t the only game in town. Swiss manufacturer Fortis has also been around for over a century, and their chronographs have been used by the Russian Federal Space Agency since 1994, when the Soyuz TM-19 mission visited the Mir space station. Now, Fortis is fine-tuning a new calibre for the most adventurous future space tourists out there.

While you can technically wear pretty much any watch in a pressurized cabin of a space craft, throughout the decades, Fortis chronographs survived proper extravehicular activities (EVAs) as well. No surprise than that the company’s latest manufacture calibre, the WERK 17, is even bound for a rocket ride into space following its balloon adventure to the stratosphere, not to mention back to the top of a doomed arctic pine.

WERK 17 is a self-winding chronograph calibre with a custom transversing bridge, a column wheel and a power reserve of 60 hours. It was developed in collaboration with Manufacture La Joux Perret, and went to face low pressure, high radiation and extreme temperatures after Fortis felt it was time to leave the lab.

Close to its northern borders with Finland and Norway, the Esrange Space Centre was built in 1964. First, to investigate aurora polaris, also known as the northern lights. Today, this small and remote station is used to launch sounding rockets and stratospheric balloons like the gondola used by Fortis, this time packed with 13 prototypes.

For the Fortis team, the good news is that out of the 13 prototypes, only a few had accuracy issues after this intense 90-minute adventure.

What’s really cool is that next up, Fortis will be looking for a rocket to go higher with its latest space-approved proposal. Automatic or not, inertia still works up there. In fact, the first automatic chronograph believed to be used in space is William Pogue’s Seiko 6139, worn during the 84-day Skylab 4 mission between November 16, 1973, and February 8, 1974.