What could be more mundane than a watch strap?
Actually, there’s a bit to understand. Some may only want to replace tired and worn straps while others may look at the strap as a fashion accessory and change the look periodically. Wherever you fit in this, you’ll want to know all about straps before you begin.
The correct sized strap
To make choosing the right sized strap as easy as possible, all you really need to know is the required strap width and your wrist size.
The most common strap widths, on men’s watches, are 20 or 22 mm but can range from 18 – 24 mm. The easiest way to determine this is by checking your watch’s specifications online. If you want, you can measure with a caliper, but you may want to avoid the standard stainless steel version, as they can easily scratch the watch. Since you’re not planning a space launch, you don’t need super exacting measurements. As an example, a very inexpensive plastic caliper is available here on Amazon.
The typical strap will accommodate a wrist size of 6 3/4” to 7 3/4”. Larger straps will fit wrists of 7 1/2” to 8 1/2”. Many brands will only offer a standard and large version. Sometimes three versions are offered with the additional offering of a smaller strap. If only one version is offered, it will be the standard sized version.
Of course, there may be other variables. Lug to lug measurements, size of the watch, etc., can result in slightly different needs. You can ask the strap vendor for an opinion or simply try different sizes to find your perfect fit.
By the way, you might have heard horror stories of watches falling off someone's wrist due to poor quality or faulty spring bars. Whether these stories are true or just old wives' tales, it is a good idea to get the best spring bars you can. The best spring bars that I'm aware of are sold by Otto Frie and available at their website here. According to Frie, “these are 100% Stainless Steel, Swiss-made spring bars which are assembled by hand in a small village in Switzerland. When you want the best spring bars in the world made from the best materials, then you buy these Swiss-made bars.” I can't attest to the validity of their claim, but it's work looking into.
Straps typically range from leather to nylon to rubber and even sailcloth, canvas, and wood. Metal bracelets are typically stainless steel but titanium, gold, and platinum can also be used.
Since replaceable bands are typically leather, nylon, and rubber, these are the materials addressed in this post.
You should be aware that leather comes in many different qualities. Full-grain is the best, followed by top-grain. The words “genuine leather” is not a rating and can be used on anything from split-grain to bonded (which is barely leather). You can assume that vendors that don’t mention the quality of their super low priced straps are probably not using quality leather.
Quality leather straps will state full-grain. Another term to look for is “Horween” or “shell cordovan” which is a company that produces vegetable-tanned horsehide leather that is extremely durable and develops an attractive patina with age. (Think Alden's Cordovan shoes.)
Dress watches normally look great paired with Alligator, Crocodile and Lizard leathers, which are typically more expensive. Combat Straps, listed below, has some of the most unusual and diverse skins available – just for fun, check them out. Some companies will imprint a leather strap with an alligator pattern, so be aware. You get what you pay for.
Solving the problems with leather
Leather has a number of great features – it’s classic looking, comfortable, and lightweight but it also wears quickly, especially when a tang buckle is used, and when it absorbs sweat. Consequently, it can even smell bad. (Think hippies of the '60s, I know, I was there).
Outside of changing your strap periodically, you do have other options to reduce wear and avoid some of the bad characteristics.
RubberB produces two interesting watch straps.
Their Structure Series are developed with various leathers which are vulcanized to a rubber base. This concept protects the leather from absorbing body fluids and keeps the leather pristine.
Additionally, their Uneique series are all rubber straps with the color and texture of real leathers. They come in a number of options and look like the real thing. As rubber, however, they are impervious to sweat and will last much longer and continue to look new.
Both of these options are comparable in price to quality straps and are really worth exploring.
Other companies also offer a rubber combination strap, such as Hirsch's Robby Performance Strap available from Amazon. Still others, like ABP, offer a rubberized calf lining.
Most NATO straps are nylon and come in a myriad of colors. This strap not only has a historical significance since most military issue watches were complimented with NATO straps, but NATO straps just look good on certain watches and are easy to work with.
Want to emulate Daniel Craig, Sean Connery, or Steve McQueen's NATO strap (see image above)? Look no further than here.
Many vendors (listed below) offer any number of NATO options and not surprisingly, the NATO is very reasonably priced. It’s easy then to have a number of NATO straps to fit any occasion you want. Finally, installing these straps is a breeze. Additionally, many vendors offer Perlon and seatbelt nylon straps, which have a different weave and look. They're worth looking into also.
Today, even some of the most expensive watches are sporting a rubber strap. Rubber has become even more common in recent years probably due the popularity of diver watches and has expanded to dress up a number of everyday and sport type watches.
There are a number of benefits to rubber; it wears well, is light and comfortable, and is extremely impervious in all types of weather and conditions.
Rubber straps, especially in bold colors have become more than just a fashion statement. Kevin O’Leary, aka “Mr. Wonderful” of Shark Tank, always wears a red RubberB rubber strap on his many watches. It is, in fact, a statement that defines his collection and his brand.
Buckles and clasps
Most straps come equipped with the ubiquitous tang buckle. Why change what works?
Some, I believe, retain the tang buckle system because of its historical significance. Unfortunately, the tang is one of the major causes of stress and aging in a strap and you should seriously consider using some sort of deployant system.
Deployant clasps can be simple foldovers, to butterfly arrangements and have the benefits of easily attaching and removing, as well as retaining your desired sizing, and finally reducing the wear and tear on a strap. Many quality watches come with deployant systems and they are easily purchased either in OEM quality or serviceable quality, especially in stainless steel. Check the accessories option in the recommended vendor below.
Changing your strap
Nothing strikes fear in the heart of a watch collector more rapidly than the thought of changing their watch strap. Many, who have done this before, will attest that changing a strap may be the easiest way to scratch an otherwise perfect watch.
For the totally DIYer challenged individual, you may simply have to rely on your local watch repair shop. With the right tool, however, and a few minutes watching some of the myriads of YouTube videos on the subject, you should be able to do this yourself and survive the experience with your watch intact.
Many straps now come with a Quick Release system which incorporates a small latch affixed to the spring bar and facilitates changing without the use of tools.
If you need to use tools, use the best tool you can. This is a pretty inexpensive complement to your watch collection and will make the task easier and safer. I actually cover tools in another article here, but here are some quick recommendations:
- Bergeon has really been the standard in watch tools and their 6767-F watch spring bar tool (available on Amazon) is excellent and inexpensive.
- If you want to go all out and need a better grip, Robert Isaac of Baughblabs handcrafts a standard and travel spring bar tool that is outstanding. What's especially nice about this tool is that it's designed to use the Bergeon replacement tips. A bit more than the Bergeon, although I believe it’s well worth the investment.
It used to be that the local jewelry/watch store was the primary and often only source for watch bands. Not so anymore. The number of options is spectacular. I list below the ones that offer real quality. Enjoy your exploration.
Your first option, especially if your strap is specific and integrated with your watch brand (for example, Cartier and Hublot) is to check your brand’s OEM options.
A second easy option is Amazon, specifically the many Barton straps like their top-grain leather, and rubber straps. They also offer an Alligator Grain strap, but again, you get what you pay for. Barton's NATO straps are not that great, but the PBCode NATOS are nice.
The Bartons have the Quick Release feature and are of reasonable quality especially considering their $20 or so price point. If you need something quick and cheap, Amazon is a viable option.
If you want to review strap vendors, here’s a list of some you may explore (in alphabetical order no less). Although this may seem like information overload, it actually helps to run through the various vendors to get an idea of the variety, quality, and prices available in just the simple watch band.
– this is a Paris, France based concern with straps by their specific watch brand. What’s helpful here is they pair deployant clasps with the straps which fit the particular branded watch. Although not OEM, they sell higher-end straps similar to OEM and produce their own quality brand.
– another well-priced shop with super selections. They carry some interesting diver straps and even Horween straps with a deployant clasp.
– this is really a find and available on Amazon. Although not a super large selection, these NATO straps are well designed with slightly stiff nylon, which holds the watch better, and a signed and robust buckle. Even better, the price is half of what other quality NATOs go for.
– this is one of the widest NATO selections, including one and two-piece NATOs and seatbelt NATOs, which are really well priced. It is also very popular and deserves a look.
– offers one and two-piece NATO as well as seatbelt NATO, Apple Watch Bands, and even leathers and rubber with quick-release features.
– This is a Canadian concern that offers truly unusual and interesting custom made straps in anything from Ostrich leg to Toad to Beaver Tail and Shark. They also do hand painting (think Pin-ups on a pilot's watch). You’ll have to view this site to see all the options. Interestingly, the prices are surprisingly reasonable for such unique offerings.
– a popular and well-known shop with an excellent selection. Also, how to change strap videos, as well as perlon straps and buckle accessories.
– Everest offers rubber straps specifically designed to fit Rolex and Tudor sports watches. They also have vulcanized rubber, Italian, and tanned leather straps which you can select using their customizer.
– Global also offers a wide selection with some integrated leather/rubber straps. They rep for Hadley, Hirsch, and Bonetto watch bands.
– this was the old standard and what was commonly available at the local shops but has grown since then and now offers some quality straps and some integrated rubber/leather straps which may be worth checking out. Many are still sub $100 with good quality.
– a well-known source of watches and reviews as well as a great source of higher-end straps. They also offer a configurator which images your particular brand watch with the many watch options the offer.
– a wide assortment of lower mid-range straps plenty of options and accessories. Holben's reps the Fluco (German) and Colareb (Italian) straps if that is of any interest.
– the US distributor of RIOS1931 straps has everything from OEM band replacements to premium straps and NATO. As you might expect the OEM straps are pricey but their other offerings are really reasonable.
– this company gets more recognization daily and has an excellent selection of rubber straps and vulcanized rubber/leather straps. Their rubber straps are designed to specifically fit Rolex, Panerai, Roger Dubuis, Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, and Tudor watches as well as a universal fit option. They also offer some NATO straps that are made of rubber. Definitely worth a look.
– this is really an interesting company with really reasonably priced straps, including nylon and rubber, that are designed to fit specific watches. Strapmeister is a Singapore concern with relatively lengthy delivery times but if you look at the offerings and “read between the lines” you can surmise who their primary customers are.
– granted this is a watchmaker, not a strap company but their straps are excellent. Unfortunately, they are limited to 22mm and the buckle is signed – Unimatic (not really a problem) – but the quality is exquisite and this price is more than reasonable for the quality and selection. Kind of a secret find here.
– another rubber strap company specializing in Rolex sport watches only. Prices are competitive with RubberB and Everest so it may be worth checking.
– offering watch straps and watches, that include some Horween leathers as well as vegan straps, quick-release straps, etc.
– Watch Prince carries many of the Rios1931 straps. You may want to review both sites, especially if looking for a replacement OEM strap.
The lowly watch strap – well, not anymore. There are as many strap companies as watch brands and the interest in wristwatches seems to be growing all the time.
Changing the strap is a simple way to get a completely different look to your watch. It’s fun and reasonably inexpensive. Check out the sites and see what you can discover. Enjoy!