Ever since we enthusiasts began turning this watch hobby on its head, the decision-making tree for purchasing a watch has sprouted innumerable branches. Some have breached your neighbor’s fence and onto their property, spawning an HOA battle that’ll likely sour the rest of your year. But for now, that’s not important. What is important, however, is what happens when you look to buy a watch. You walk into a store or browse an e-commerce platform (hello, there) and realize it’s just not that simple.
You see, the enthusiast cohort made straps a cottage industry. One watch could become 100 watches if you had the strap options to make your watch feel like new each time. Want to buy a Tudor Black Bay GMT? Well, you should be prepared to choose between a textile strap, leather strap, or steel bracelet. And before you tell me it’s an easy choice, go look at each – they all look good. One adds more contrast to the colorful bezel, one brings a vintage appeal, and one is a pure tool watch. The point is, the age-old debate of “strap vs. bracelet” has only gotten more complicated. If there’s one watch that has stood at the center of this quandary for decades, it’s undoubtedly the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch, aka the strap monster.
The Speedmaster is one of maybe a handful of watches that can lay claim to the “icon” moniker and have it actually mean something beyond just lasting recognizability and the fact that we say it is, well, iconic. I mean, the Speedy is entrenched in history. I don’t need to re-hash the entire NASA space program timeline and how the watch went from racing chronograph to moon landing accompaniment. I will, however, say that I visited the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC, last week, where Gordon Cooper’s own Speedmaster from the Gemini missions is proudly on display. The watch has an energy to it that grows stronger when seen in its proper context. Cooper’s watch was on a thin Milanese-style bracelet, an option I don’t see too often – especially these days when the modern Seamaster has somewhat taken ownership of the Milanese. After the “woah, this watch was part of the Gemini missions when the Speedy was certified in 1965” feels wore off, I began thinking (as one does) about strap options.
Being a member of Hodinkee, Speedy is core to our company’s identity. I have seen countless colleagues with Omega Speedmasters, both vintage, modern, and in between. If there’s one common note among everyone I’ve ever met that’s owned the watch – it’s that they don’t wear it any one single way. I have seen more Omega Speedmasters on straps than bracelets, for sure, but I also came into this hobby at a time when the modern Omega Speedmasters 1861 bracelet was not necessarily a coveted item with its hyper-’90s aesthetic.
That all changed in 2021 when Omega made the first major update to the Speedmaster line in years with the introduction of the Speedmaster 3861 (so named for the movement inside which was upgraded with Co-Axial METAS certified specifications). For the purposes of this discussion, I am going to keep this limited to the Speedmaster, 3861, in steel, though the 2021 release cycle did also bring some killer precious metal options. Oh, and then 2022 saw the introduction of the Moonshine Speedy, which… damn. What the new 3861 Speedmaster launch did, in essence, was make the buying calculus that much harder when it comes to bracelets or straps. Why? Because the bracelet on the new Speedmaster is leagues better than what it replaced and is probably the best Speedy bracelet ever made (apologies to the Flat-Linkers out there, but I stand by my opinion).
So, let’s examine this new bracelet. It has a five-link construction reminiscent of a jubilee-style that drapes over the wrist in such a fashion as to make the 42mm Speedmaster wear closer to something like a 40mm watch (think the First Omega in Space). The old bracelet, though charming in its own right, tended to jut out a bit, creating a perceived increase in size. The new Speedmaster bracelet takes the five-link design and makes something that feels both new and timeless. First, there’s the taper from 20mm all the way down to 15mm at the clasp (the old model had effectively no taper at all). The clasp is actually where the design feels lightyears more mature. Instead of a brushed steel clasp with the words “Omega Speedmaster Professional,” this one has a simple vertical pattern with the Omega logo integrated at the top.
The steel bracelet is one of those things where it could have very well been too much. Omega could’ve gone out and overengineered the thing. But everything just works from twin-trigger enclosure to the fact that (and trust me on this) it doesn’t pull arm hairs. Since this article is all about tough decisions when it comes to what you wear your watch on, it’s worth pointing out that the Speedmaster bracelet actually comes in two variations as well – as if you didn’t already have enough to choose from. If you opt for a Hesalite Speedmaster (i.e., a Speedmaster with a plexiglass crystal), the bracelet is entirely brushed on all links. If you opt for the Sapphire crystal variation (which also has a sapphire exhibition caseback), the center, and small links, are polished. The overall feel and wear experience of both iterations of the bracelet, however, are identical. The current Speedmaster lineup also includes two strap options for the steel models (yes, once you get into precious metals, rubber enters the fray, but I am trying to un-complicate this for you as much as possible). The first option is one I consider to be fairly underrated – the nylon strap. This is a fabric textile on the top portion, with a leather underside. It adds a good contrast to the watch by adding another black component, thus allowing the dial to shine a bit more than it would when paired with more steel.
I think of this option as the stealthiest of all available. It’s still bringing a level of luxury to the table via the leather and a deployant buckle, but it gives the watch a toolish element that evokes the velcro straps of old (more on those later). I think of it as a luxe NATO. But here’s where things get interesting – and confusing – yet again. You see, the textile option is only sold on new Hesalite Speedmasters, and it represents the entry-level price point to the watch at $6,600. Hesalite on a steel bracelet costs another $400 bucks.
And then there’s leather, which is only sold on Speedmaters with the Sapphire crystal. This, to me, feels the most classic. Unlike the 1861 Speedy with a crocodile leather strap that felt as dated as the bracelet, this smooth, stitched strap brings a contemporary element. A black leather strap is the no-brainer strap alternative to a steel bracelet. I’ve undoubtedly seen more Speedmasters in this configuration than any other and yet – Omega has it limited to its more expensive version of the Moonwatch.