The decision tree for buying a watch has sprouted countless offshoots since our enthusiasts started turning this watch hobby on its head. Some people have violated their neighbours’ fences and entered their property, creating an HOA battle that could sour you for the rest of the year. But for now, it doesn’t matter. What does matter, however, is what happens when you wish to purchase a watch. You walk into a shop or browse an e-commerce platform (hello there) and realise that it’s not that simple.
You will find that the enthusiast queue has made leather straps a cottage industry. One watch can become 100 watches if you have strap options that make your watch feel like a new watch every time. Want to buy a Tudor Black Bay GMT? Well, you should be prepared to choose between a textile strap, a leather strap or a steel bracelet. Before you tell me it’s an easy choice, look at each one – they all look good. One adds greater contrast with the colourful baffle, one brings a vintage appeal, and one is a purely tooled watch.
Crucially, the age-old “belt and bracelet” debate has only become more complicated. If there’s one watch that’s been at the centre of this dilemma for decades, it’s undoubtedly the OMEGA Speedmaster Moonwatch, a.k.a. the Belt Monster.
The Speedmaster is one of the few watches that might claim the epithet “icon”, which in fact means not only enduring legibility, but let’s say iconic fact. I mean, the history of rapidity is deeply entrenched. I don’t need to re-limit the entire timeline of NASA’s space programme and how the watch has been a companion from the racing chronograph to the moon landing. I will say, however, that last week I visited the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., where Gordon Cooper from the Gemini mission proudly displayed Gordon Cooper’s own Speedmaster. The watch’s energy grows stronger when seen in the right context.
Cooper’s watch wears a thin bracelet in the Milanese style, an option I can’t see – especially nowadays, when modern seafarers have ownership of the Milanese. Being part of the Gemini mission at the time of the “wow, this watch was certified in 1965”, I started to think about the leather strap option (as one does).
As a member of Hodinkee, Speedy is at the heart of our company’s identity. I’ve seen countless colleagues – old school, modern and in-between. If there’s one common thing about everyone I’ve met, it’s that they don’t have it any one way. Sure, I’ve seen more racers on belts than bracelets, but at a time when a modern Speedmaster 1861 bracelet isn’t necessarily a coveted item, I’ve gotten into the hobby as well.
That all changed in 2021, when Omega made its first major update to the Speedmaster collection with the introduction of the replica omega Speedmaster 3861 (to coincide with a specification upgrade using Co-Axial Element certification).
For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to limit this to the 3861’s steel, although the 2021 release cycle also brings in some killer precious metal options. Oh, and then 2022 saw the introduction of Moonlight Rapid, darn it.
So what does this mean? I’m not supposed to tell you what Master Racing should buy? I can’t, I won’t. You will often hear the advice: “Always buy the watch on the bracelet, and then buy the strap.” Of course, I think that’s good advice. But what if you never plan to wear a bracelet? The $400 saved will give you more options for straps.
It’s all personal preference. While Omega makes the band vs. bracelet decision difficult, I think the choice makes it harder to make a big purchase that should last a lifetime. From nylon to leather to brushed steel to polished steel, it’s hard to go wrong. Personally, I’m a steel bracelet guy. But I’d love to know how you made this decision, so please let me know in the comments below.