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Wearing vintage Velcro® loop tape as a watchband

To some contemporary consumers, the vintage hook and loop used in the authentically made NASA watchbands confounds expectations. While it is understood that the SEB12100030 specification is a historical document, it is not always appreciated how much we take for granted modern materials and construction methods in making a quality strap. Quality, that is, if the criteria is "hard wearing", but not if the desire is being as authentic as possible.

This contradiction is similar to the decision OMEGA made to preserve the easily scratched original Hesalite crystal in the Omega Speedmaster despite the availability of better alternatives. Nevertheless, I sell these straps as suitable for everyday use, provided allowances are made for performance of original materials, so it is important I allay these concerns.


One of the chief drawbacks of vintage loop tape (circa 1970s) is that its is simply not as hard wearing as we have come to expect. For that reason, I provide an alternative watchband using modern mil-spec loop tape, which is an exceptionally hard-wearing and superb watchband material, outperforming other loop tapes used in supposedly "quality" watchbands in terms of fray resistance and open/closure cycles, not to mention both watch support and skin comfort.

Sometimes one hears concern of the vintage loop tape that despite using the gentler VELCRO® brand #65 type hooks (compared to the other specified #80 type hooks), initial use will cause some of the pile on the loop tape to pull away. The remedy is simple: these loose fibers can be tidied up by sparsely snipping with sharp scissors and quickly the remaining pile that is left will stabilize and continue to provide adequate peel strength.


One way of wearing the short watchband is by cinching the strap to one springbar first, and then using the second springbar to secure on the strap on wrist as shown in the image below. This way, the second spring bar acts tighter on the loop tape than if the steel loop was threaded directly, and therefore prevents the strap fully opening if the hook and loop closure were ever to accidentally peel apart. Also, the springbars are just as secure as if in the traditional two-piece strap and buckle arrangement. 

You can reassuringly feel how secure this arrangement is every time you take off the watch. 


A word of caution if using this technique with vintage loop tape for some modern watches where the gap between the springbar and the watch case is substantially narrower than for the design of the Omega Speedmaster. Here, the thicker more delicate vintage fabric will not move easily when pulling through to don and doff the watch, causing the edges to fail eventually. The modern mil-spec loop tape is much tougher and gives no such concerns, nor is this a problem for the vintage loop tape with the intended Omega Speedmaster lug dimensions.



Another issue sometimes remarked upon is a small gap between the loop tape and the watch lugs. Is this strap really tailored for a watch with 20 mm between the lugs?

Here we have to consult the blueprint SEB12100030 in detail. The watchband is constructed as laid out there, which says to cut the loop tape to 47/64 inches (in other words, 1/64 of an inch less than 3/4 inches, about 18.7 mm). What an extraordinary number you may think, until realized that a reasonable tolerance for cutting must have been ± 1/16 inch from the cut line (which is also the Mil-spec tolerance for widths).

This means a 1/8 inch difference between narrowest and widest with the widest being 51/64 inch, or 20.2 mm. So to be within tolerance, the vintage watchband could be a whole 3 mm thinner than the width of the 20 mm lugs and still be within the minimum width allowed - as can be seen in the picture S69-38507 below.



But that wouldn't do nowadays, so I commit to exceeding the specification and cut to 49/64 inch ± 1/64 inch (i.e. 19-20 mm). Nevertheless, the very nature of the overall design means there will always be a tiny gap - just as with the originals.


These NASA watchbands should be washed regularly, and it is sufficient to use running water with hand-soap and then dry with paper towels. They can be machined washed if preferred, they are made from military grade webbing materials and stainless steel after all.

Finally, please note that the printing on the Olive Drab tape is made with a simple typewriter, or stamped with permanent ink. The markings will withstand many washes, but it is just a pigment ink and will abrade off eventually.

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