After its qualification on March 1, 1965 for the Gemini program and all further manned space missions, the OMEGA Speedmaster was part of the daily lives of all NASA astronauts and virtually never left their wrists until the completion of the Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz missions. Some astronauts even wore them during missions of the space shuttle when its use was official only for spacewalks.
As a reminder, the OMEGA Speedmasters officially given to the astronauts were following references:
– ST 105.003 used during Gemini missions,
– ST 105.012 and ST 145.012 during Apollo missions,
– ST 145.022 used after the last Apollo missions.
Over the spacesuit
In some photos showing the preparation for the mission Gemini III, the watch is worn just above the wrist and is attached by its original semi-elastic OMEGA bracelet.
However, this bracelet was quickly replaced by a more practical black Velcro strap (at least from the Gemini IV mission), attached higher on the arm.
Out of uniform
When not in their spacesuit, a number of astronauts kept their Speedmaster on their wrist, both during their work on land or in the spaceship, or during their free time.
Most of the pictures show that this is not the original OMEGA steel bracelet, but a steel mesh bracelet.
Information regarding the reason for the choice of this bracelet was provided to us by the OMEGA Museum, which is in close liaison with James H. Ragan, NASA engineer in charge of equipment testing for the Gemini and Apollo programs.
NASA engineers in charge of equipment testing realized that the OMEGA steel bracelet might put an astronaut at risk of injury from being snagged as it would not break easily, unlike the mesh type bracelet, which also has a great adjustability setting and requires no tools for adjustment.
The mesh bracelets worn by astronauts are JB Champion models of the American bracelet company Jacoby Bender. However they seem to originate from another company, Forstner, who manufactured mesh type bracelets under the name “Komfit”, amongst their range. In 1963 the manufacture was purchased by Jacoby Bender.
All these mesh bracelets have a width of 15.6 mm, but there are numerous variations, for example in the form of end pieces, straight or curved.
However, we observed a multitude of versions that we present in detail in this article, without pretending to be exhaustive. For practical reasons we have given them arbitrary coding, thereby not corresponding to an actual timeline.
THE ORIGINS: KOMFIT BY FORTSNER
The bracelets worn by NASA astronauts seem to originate from another manufacturer, Forstner, who manufactured mesh type bracelets under the name “Komfit”, amongst their range. In 1963 the company was purchased by Jacoby Bender. It would seem, therefore, that the Komfit Forstner bracelets had never been used by astronauts.
Most Komfit bracelets are characterized by fixed width end pieces, unlike JB Champion. All have the inscription “STAINLESS STEEL – Forstner – KOMFIT – PATENTED USA”.
THE MODELS WORN BY THE ASTRONAUTS: JB CHAMPION
These are the versions actually worn by the astronauts with their Speedmaster since 1965. It is unclear if there is a timeline between the different versions.
All versions have variable spring-loaded end pieces, which can be distinguished by their profile: straight and curved (which better fit to the watch lugs).
There are many variations, with different materials or designs. We present a few of them hereafter.
There are probably many other variations of these bracelets, as their production by JB Champion was at that time largely distributed in the US for a large number of watches.
The objective of this study was simply to provide an overview and to present the main versions, which became famous thanks to NASA.