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Luna-tic-tock: Facts and fools behind moon rock-made watch

Analog Watch Co.'s Lunar Watch, made from a solid piece of moon rock, ships on April 1 — or does it? (Analog Watch Co.)
April 1, 2016

— "Own a Sizeable Chunk of the Moon with This Lunar Watch."

That was Gizmodo's headline Thursday morning (Mar. 31), leading to an article about Analog Watch Co.'s new Lunar Watch, "made of a solid piece of genuine moon rock."

And it is not just any old lunar meteorite, either; this moon rock was returned to Earth by the Russians.

"What justifies [Analog's Lunar Watch] $27,500 price tag is a housing made from a solid piece of 4.5-billion-year-old moon rock collected from our lunar neighbor back in 1974 by the Soviet's Luna probe," described the Gawker design and technology blog, citing the Philadelphia watchmaker's website.

Limited to 25 watches, a high profile article like Gizmodo's could easily lead to the Analog Lunar Watch quickly selling out, were it not for one small problem: the offer was more lunatic than lunar-tock.

"Update: We Got Fooled," Gizmodo added to its headline just 16 minutes after the story was published. "This watch is totally fake."

April Fools

"It is, in fact, a joke," wrote Scott Hughes, a marketing and accounts manager at the Analog Watch Co., in an email to collectSPACE on Wednesday (Mar. 30). "We had put it on our website and will be promoting it through the week until we announce the joke on Friday."

"You'll note the ship date on the product is April 1," added Hughes.

Sure enough, if you try to purchase the made-out-of-moon-rock watch on Analog's website, you are presented with a screen stating, "April Fools. We Gotcha!"

"Each piece is handcrafted and built over 4 months in Switzerland in a limited quantity of 25 units." (Analog Watch Co.)

"Who doesn't love a good April Fools prank?" the website reads.

Besides perhaps Gizmodo's editors? Maybe many of the space collectors who've long desired a piece of the moon.

Made-up mission

Even without clicking the "Add to Cart" button, those who remember their Soviet space history might be able to tick off several reasons why the moon watch was more likely to be made out of green cheese.

To begin, there is the matter of the mission. Analog states that its source material, obtained from the Russian federal space agency, was "collected from the surface of the moon by the Soviet Luna probe in 1974."

Artwork of Luna 24 launching off the moon in 1976. (Roscosmos)

The former USSR did indeed launch three Luna missions that robotically-returned lunar material to Earth, but those flights — Luna 16, Luna 20 and Luna 24 — were carried out in 1970, 1972 and 1976. No mission, whether Soviet or American, returned moon rocks in 1974 (NASA's last lunar landing was in December 1972).

Even if one assumed that Analog got the year wrong, there is still the matter of the amount of moon rock needed to make a "41mm genuine olivine basalt moon rock case," let alone 25 of them.

Unlike NASA's astronauts, who brought back a total of 842 pounds (382 kg) of lunar material, the Soviet Luna probes collected just 301 grams (0.66 pounds or 0.3 kg) of mostly moon soil (regolith) and pebbles.

And then there is the price: $27,500 per Lunar Watch.

Lunar soil returned to the Earth by Luna 16 in 1970. (Roscosmos)

Outside of the lunar meteorite market, there are not many (legal) examples by which to base the going rate for moon rock. But the single instance we do have is spot on for this case.

Three very small samples (0.2 grams) of Luna 16-returned lunar soil were sold by Sotheby's for $442,500 in 1993.

If the Analog Lunar Watch was real, it would be the steal of the century. Instead, it is more like fool's gold.

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