The humble watch strap usually isn’t the focus of attention, but it plays an important role in terms of the comfort, function, and style of a timepiece. And if you’re itching for a seasonal refresh without adding a new watch to your collection, straps are here to bring a little change into your life.
Before we get to the readings and recommendations, a quick history lesson on the rise of the watch strap. Straps first arrived on the scene when soldiers in the late 1800s started wearing their pocket watches on their wrists for easier use, securing them with leather straps. By the early 1900s women started attaching them with metal chains and bracelets, treating them like jewelry. In 1912, The New York Times reported from Paris, “The wrist watch … is now the fashion of the hour. It is worn over here by women who have to work, as well as those who play.” The fad caught on quickly, nudged forward by WWI soldiers who relied on their timepieces in battle.
From their earliest days, luxury wristwatches were produced with leather straps and then, metal bracelet-style bands. Rolex is responsible for three of the most iconic metal bracelets: the Oyster, the President, and the Jubilee. More casual and durable rubber straps and nylon NATO straps followed, many years later. Somewhere along the way, people began changing straps – partly out of necessity, as their original straps needed to be replaced, but also as a way to add to the lifespan and functionality of their watches.
Today, changing the strap is an easy way to update the look of your watch; sometimes even making it feel like a brand-new timepiece. If your watch has an integrated metal band, it’s best to take it to your authorized dealer or a jeweler, to change it. But if there are no screws and your band is connected using a spring bar, you can usually change things up yourself, in the comfort of your own home. Ready to change your strap? Learn how with this short video.
The latest metal bracelet-style bands are made of a wide range of materials (stainless steel, gold, platinum, and titanium) and usually come in designs made of links, beads-of-rice, and/or mesh. They are known for their durability (and often, their heft), but they’re also susceptible to scratches. Classic leather straps are usually made of cowhide, but today, they also include more exotic options, such as alligator and ostrich – and come in a variety of colors, finishes, and price points.
Rubber straps were first introduced in the 1960s as diving watches began to grow in popularity. The first rubber strap was the Tropic, which was stamped with a basketweave pattern. Today’s rubber straps are much more flexible and come in a range of textures and patterns that lend themselves easily to sports and casual use.
Nylon straps are also well-suited for casual wear, and they tend to be more versatile than rubber versions. The most common type of nylon strap is the NATO, which was developed in the 1970s for the British Army – and resembles the same type of webbed material used on seatbelts. An easy option for sports or military-style watches, NATO straps are among the most versatile options available. They’re inexpensive, easy to change, and extremely durable. James Stacey, a big fan of the NATO, has also shared his easy hack for eliminating the extra fabric that can sometimes affect the way these straps wear.
If you’re in the market for a new strap and want to see what will work best for your watch, the HODINKEE Strap Finder virtual tool can help you explore your options.
To learn even more about all the different types and styles of watch straps out there, we’ve collected a few of our favorite stories from the HODINKEE archives, below.
Logan Baker examines the pros, cons, and best uses for watch straps ranging from rubber and nylon to metal and more in this informative and useful guide. Be sure to check out his take on alternative leathers, including naturally water-resistant vegan pineapple “leather.”
James Stacey and Jason Heaton go deep, chatting about all sorts of watch straps – from vintage Tropics and James’ favorite NATO and leather options to metal bracelets in stainless steel and shark mesh – and their personal recommendations on this 2019 episode of The Grey NATO podcast.
In addition to making them look better, taking proper care of your watch strap(s) can help extend their life. Ever wonder how to clean your NATO strap, or what’s the best way to care for leather? James Stacey has quick and easy answers.
A type of leather strap that features a pad for the watch to rest on, the leather cuff watch band – aka, the “Bund” strap – was first widely used by the German Air Force, which is how it earned its nickname. In this essay from 2018, Jason Heaton goes all in for this often-polarizing option, and its 70s-era cachet.
In this exclusive video interview, Jon Bues visits the French factory where Tudor’s woven straps are made, and talks with fifth-generation owner Julien Faure about how they create what may just be the finest fabric watch straps in the world.
Wearing a vintage dive chronograph on a Bund is the exact opposite of a fragile dress watch. Just strapping it on lowers my voice an octave and I’m compelled to give up shaving and take up competitive arm wrestling.
Jason HEaton, in “The Case for Bund Straps”
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The HODINKEE Shop features a wide range of straps in a variety of materials and price points; explore the collection here.