Changing out the watch strap on your favorite timepiece can give it a whole new look in just minutes. With a little creativity, the options are endless. If you are looking to learn everything there is to know about changing the straps, how to choose the right one, and general material and design options, you came to the right place. We like to make things easy, so naturally we collected all the necessary information in one comprehensive guide for you. Let’s get to the changin’ of the straps!
Basic terms for watch straps:
- Lugs: protruding ends at the top and bottom of the watch case. These are used to attach the strap or bracelet.
- Lug Width: the distance between the 2 lugs. Typical size is between 16 and 24 mm.
- Strap: a band made of leather, nylon, rubber, etc. You can refer to it as a band.
- Bracelet: most people commonly refer to stainless steel or other metal “bands” as bracelets.
- Spring bars: small, spring-loaded bars that hold the strap in place by popping into the small holes in the lugs.
- Integrated lugs: some brands require their own special strap or bracelet as the lugs have a proprietary design.
- Pin buckle: same mechanism as on a belt
- Deployant clasp (not deployment clasp): unlike a pin buckle, the deployant clasp opens in a butterfly manner in order to preserve the strap from wear and provide a more elegant look. Therefore you’ll see these clasps on higher-end, dressy watches.
Alright, we got the horology glossary covered. Next, let’s jump into the different materials and what to know about them.
Leather Watch Straps
A classic leather strap is the most commonly used material when it comes to watch straps, and for a good reason. Like leather shoes, leather straps tend to get more comfortable with time, and are very long lasting under normal circumstances. The different leather straps you may encounter include treated leather straps, and composite leather straps with rubber backing, which make them appropriate for situations where the strap might be exposed to sweat. Note that none of the leather straps are appropriate for aquatic activities.
Most common types of leather straps:
- Full Grain: one of the most expensive options, it usually has a unique patina as the leather has not been sanded to remove any marks.
- Top Grain: second highest quality leather. The top layer is sanded to get a pristine look, uniform pattern.
- Split Grain: this is basically a fancy term for suede.
- Genuine leather: the term used as a blanket statement to cover a wide range of quality. When you read or hear this, it can be assumed it is average quality leather. It can still be an excellent find, but if the quality of the leather is important to you, you might need to ask the manufacturer some clarifying questions.
Majority of the leather straps are cow or calf leather, but there are other available options. The more exotic skins are usually used for dressier watches.
- Alligator leather straps: these have large squared individual scales. The best quality alligator leather is pulled from the animal’s belly-area.
- Crocodile leather straps: these have more rounded scales.
- Lizard leather straps: these are most commonly found on vintage watches and a lot of women’s watches. These have fine grain scales.
Note: look for the “genuine crocodile/alligator/etc.” marking on the strap to make sure you pay the right price. It is possible to use calfskin and press a specific grain pattern on it to make it look like a more exotic leather type.
- Ostrich straps: they are relatively easy to identify as they have the so-called “goosebumps” look. These are comfortable and durable straps.
Rubber Watch Straps
Rubber straps are usually paired with dive watches or other sports watches, as this durable material can withstand extreme conditions. These are typically thicker on the wrist and they might need some time to break in but they do last a long time.
- Natural rubber: find it on higher end watches as the natural rubber / vulcanized rubber is from rubber trees and they do not pick up lint.
- Silicone: artificial rubber. This is a more budget-friendly option.
- Polyurethane (PU): bit stiffer than natural rubber or silicone but it is still a very durable option. Most entry-level dive watches come with this strap (i.e. Seiko and Citizen).
Nylon & Fabric Watch Straps
Nylon watch straps have all the benefits rubber straps have: they last a long time and are water friendly. Additionally, they are usually more comfortable, breathable, and pretty affordable too.
- NATO straps: this design was originally designed for the British military in 1973.
What’s unique about these straps is the pull-through design that will keep the watch on the wrist even if the spring bar between the lugs gets damaged or fails.
- ZULU straps: the main difference between ZULU and NATO straps is the thickness as ZULUs are generally made from a thicker nylon and are heavier.
- Canvas: They’re not as durable and water resistant, but they are comfortable to wear as they break in nicely and it’s a great way to enhance the look of vintage watches.
Pairing straps with different watches
Here at TheWatchResource, we’re big believers of “less is more”. Therefore the majority of our recommendations will be focusing around understated elegance, classic looks that are an integral part of the appearance of a gentleman.
Now, we do not discourage anyone from having fun with the straps and experimenting with bright colors and attention-grabbing designs.
But we love watches. We love straps as well, but we love watches more. So our recommendations will always take the watches’ intended use into consideration and the fact that we like to let the watch shine, while the strap remains the perfect complementing support element.
This being said, let’s take a look at popular watch types and the kind of straps that would go well with them.
- Rubber straps
- 2-Piece Nylon straps
- NATO straps
- Tan leather straps
- Genuine leather straps with a contrast stitching that complements the dial color of the watch.
- Alligator leather straps
- Crocodile leather straps
- Lizard leather straps
- Canvas strap
- Distressed leather straps
- Rally straps