Forstner was originally founded as the Forstner Chain Corporation in about 1920 by William Forstner in New Jersey. In its early years, the company made ornamental jewelry and watch bracelets, like that shown below.
While the company made some pure jewelry products, its focus was on watch accessories -- chains, straps, and bracelets.
Origin of the Komfit Band
Forstner changed its trajectory in 1939, when it invented a novel strap design that ultimately would be branded the "Komfit." Of course unknown to Forstner at the time, this design would become a part of some of the most significant events of the 20th century.
As shown in several U.S. Patent filings, including U.S. Patent Nos. 2,213,096 and 2,229,677, Forstner invented "a novel construction for for extension bracelets, whereby the length of the bracelet may be changed as desired . . . to provide a bracelet construction which permits instant detachment and separation of an easily manipulated part, so as to facilitate removal and mounting of the bracelet."
Forstner's idea, put simply, was to make a watch strap whereby the buckle and clasp could move along the length of the strap, and then be secured once the proper fit was located. The unique clasping mechanism allowed the bracelet to be resized in micro-increments, and is still used today in the Komfit reissue.
The "Komfit" was born. Forstner created a portfolio of products based on this invention, using the "Komfit" name as to highlight the comfort that this design brought to the wrist.
Other Significant Designs
The Komfit wasn't the only historically-significant design from Forstner, however. At about the same time, circa 1940s, Forstner made (and patented in the United States) a version of the classic "Bonklip" bracelet--a ladder-style bracelet commonly used with military watches because they could be attached to their fixed lug bars. Such fixed bars were commonly used with military-supplied watches, as they prevented the watch from inadvertently falling off the wrist. The "Bonklip" style bracelet was one of the only metal bracelet options available for fixed bars.
Although this style was originally made in the UK and US years earlier, Forstner released its own design, as shown in a patent filed in 1944. Both the "Komfit" and the "Bonkip" were based on a similar principle--both were highly adjustable to small increments to provide a proper fit for nearly anyone.
Forstner's "Bonklip" style bracelets differed from others, in that Forstner used a push-button clasp that locked into the links. Other styles used a non-locking clip system that could be less secure.
Forstner/JB's Role as OEM Supplier
In addition to producing watch bands under its own name, Forstner and its successor Jacoby Bender (JB) have a rich history of serving as an OEM watch band supplier for some of history's most iconic watches. Below is an exemplary list of brands and watches that were fitted with Forstner/JB-supplied bracelets:
- Rolex - Pre-Daytona 6238, GMT 1675, Datejust, Oyster Perpetual, and others (Jubilee, woven mesh bracelets)
- Omega Speedmaster and Seamaster (Flat Link, Slat-style, Brick, Oyster-style, among many others)
- Jaeger LeCoultre (Brick-style bracelet)
- Longines (Beads of Rice, among others)
- Universal Geneve Polerouter (Brick-style and Herringbone bracelets)
- Bulova Accutron, including the Astronaut (the Bullet bracelet, Flat Link, and other designs)
- Hamilton (President/1450-style bracelet, Oyster-style)
- Zodiac Sea Wolf (Brick and Oyster-style bracelet)
- Eterna Eternamatic (slat-style bracelet similar to Military Type Komfit)
- Titus (patterned bracelet similar in design to Military Type Komfit)
- Wyler (slat-style bracelet similar to Military Type Komfit)
Connection to the Space Program
Before NASA selected the Omega Speedmaster Professional as the standard-issue watch for manned space missions, astronauts used their own timepieces, and their own watch bands.
In these early days of the space program, certain astronauts personally purchased the Omega Speedmaster Professional, and paired it with the Komfit band. The benefits of the "Komfit" design, including the ability to easily resize the band without tools, and remove it easily in case of emergency, made it a natural choice. The band even fit over space suits of that (Mercury) period.
And the pairing became ubiquitous throughout NASA.
The Komfit band almost immediately became the watch band of choice for astronauts, as shown in the NASA image archive, which is packed with photos of astronauts wearing the Komfit band. These photos are beautifully cataloged in the MoonwatchUniverse tumblr page.
In the Mercury years, the Komfit band fit over the space suit -- accordingly, it was often worn in this manner, both during training on Earth and in space.
Astronauts wore the Komfit band on two Mercury missions: the Mercury-Atlas 8 and Mercury-Atlas 9 missions. In fact, the first Komfit in space was worn with the first Omega in Space, the CK2998, on the October 3, 1962 Mercury-Atlas 8 mission.
The Komfit Gets Re-Branded
In about 1963, Forstner was purchased by Jacoby-Bender, which continued the "Komfit" style, but re-branded it the "JB-Champion."
In 1964, NASA started the well-documented process of selecting one "highly durable and accurate chronograph to be used by Gemini and Apollo flight crews," per a requisition memorandum from Donald Slayton, former NASA Director of Flight Crew Operations. The full text of that requisition memo can be found here.
However, by that time, NASA was already using the Komfit (and later JB Champion) bracelet. It even purchased a dozen JB Champion "Komfit" style bands for in the chronograph requisition memo:
The JB Champion version of the "Komfit" band was subsequently flown on numerous missions during the Gemini and Apollo periods. During the Gemini program, it was flown at least on the Gemini III and Gemini X missions.
During the Apollo program, the JB Champion "Komfit" style band was flown on Apollo 10, Apollo 12, Apollo 14, and Apollo 17.
In Flight During Apollo 17 (Komfit clearly shown on left wrist)
And, on Apollo 17, the band was worn on the moon.
Post-EVA Photograph during Apollo 17 - Notice Komfit Band on Left Wrist
After the Apollo program, this band continued to be worn periodically on Space Shuttle missions. However, the band eventually was lost to time after Jacoby Bender shut its doors, until Forstner was re-launched - now with a full suite of historically accurate bracelets from Forstner (and Jacoby Bender's) rich catalog.