We cover watches on a regular basis and talk about all different types, styles and functions. However, one thing that most watch writers forget to write about is one of the most integral parts of a wrist watch: the strap.
Today, we’re going to focus on the one part of the watch that keeps it on your wrist. It’s an important part and it deserves our respect.
Types of Straps
There are three types of anchors – if you will – that secure the watch to your wrist.
These are made of rubber, plastic and various other materials. The band is especially useful for sport watches and specific timepieces for use in extreme environments.
Straps are typically made of leather or fabric such as nylon. Leather straps are ideal for dress watches and other daily wear timepieces that you would typically wear with a variety of clothing from casual jeans and a polo shirt, to your business suit. I always recommend making a leather strapped watch your first timepiece. Fabric on the other hand is a great choice for a casual watch. I have a Timex Weekender with a repp fabric strap that I love to wear to the beach. The traditional fabric straps are considered quite preppy and are a lot of fun to wear in the summer.
Typically bracelets are made of metal ranging from basic steel to precious metals like gold, platinum, silver and rhodium. This is the most common type of anchor used on watches and metal bracelets can be found on just about every style of watch at price points from a few dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. They can be embellished with precious gems such as diamonds and often feature different types of clasps and closures hallmarked with the brand logo or icon. One big benefit of a metal bracelet is that it usually uses the link system which allows it to be resized for any wrist.
Choosing the perfect strap
Almost every watch on the market comes standard with a strap, band or bracelet. The only time you may find that they come separately is when you’re buying a vintage watch and the strap is missing. The standard rule of thumb is that the more expensive the watch, the better quality the strap. However, that’s not always the case.
If you are going to purchase an aftermarket strap it really depends on what kind of watch you’re putting it on. Certain watches have lugs that are different sizes and so you need to measure the size of the lugs to determine what size of strap and what kind of strap you need.
I suggest going with a strap that will last and that’s made of a quality leather such as cordovan or crocodile. If it’s metal, don’t cheap out. Go for a higher quality metal that won’t snap or rust. Especially if the watch is water resistant and you plan on submersing it. Of course, if you are going to be taking your watch into water, make sure you avoid fabric and leather straps sticking only with metal or rubber.
Popular Materials Used
There has long been a wide selection of materials used in watch straps. While most consist of a form of leather or metal, in the past we’ve even seen recycled paper and naturally carved stone. Here, we’ll discuss the most popular kinds.
The range in quality is vast when it comes to leather straps. From the inexpensive imitating leathers to the high priced exotics, finding a strap that appeals to you is an easy task for those with money to spend.
When it comes to leather, you can find everything from grained and smooth leathers to naturally vegetable tanned hides as well. Beginning with a basic leather, there are options of moving into exotics such as lizard, ostrich, alligator, shark, snake and buffalo. The straps range in price based on the type of hide you select as well as the way it’s treated, the workmanship, the deployment buckle and even whether it’s padded or not.
When selecting a leather band, it’s very important to look at quality and of course the stitching. Small imperfections, color of stitches or even the appearance can turn what was intended to be a dress watch, into a casual watch instead.
One very popular leather in the United States is Horween Leather.
The company, which is based out of Chicago, provides leather straps for a number of watch makers. Taking raw, usually cow hides, the salt them, trim them and remove the hair with a chemical process in a large wash drum. Once the hair is removed they’re actually pickled overnight until the leather reaches the desired pH level. Then, they’re soaked in a solution to strip them of their proteins, fat and grease and finally tanned before being shaved, dried, colored and sometimes polished. When you see Horween Leather on a strap, it’s not a type of leather but the name of the company that made the leather used in the strap. I personally own a few watches with Horween straps and they vary in quality and craftsmanship. Horween leathers aren’t a bad choice, but they shouldn’t be selected simply for the name.
Metal bands are excellent for any timepiece that you don’t plan on wearing with a tuxedo. In my mind, they serve no place in formal wear.
Of course, when selecting a type of metal you need to factor in the quality. Stainless steel comes in many shades from untreated to polished or even with colored coatings. There are titanium bands, aluminum bands and ones made of precious metals like gold and rhodium.
When it comes to gold bands, it’s important to try and avoid gold plating and gold filling. The coloring almost always tends to rub off with time and if you plan on handing the watch down as an heirloom, you certainly want it to look resplendent for years to come.
Ideally, the best bet is to stick with raw materials that aren’t treated. Stainless steel or titanium will last quite a long time when left with their natural luster. In addition, solid gold or platinum bands will last many years with slight scratches that show beauty more than age.
One factor many people don’t take into consideration are allergies. If you do suffer from an allergy to gold obviously you’re better off going with a different kind of material. They same applies to those who have spouses or children with allergies. If your wife or two-year old daughter are allergic to gold; play it safe and go with a different metal.
Then, there are the other kinds of straps. Those made from rubber, nylon, and various plastics. These are great for casual watches and rubber straps are a prime option for those who dive or spend time in the water, One neat trick you can do to save some money is buy a water resistant watch that’s simple and two straps – one leather, and one rubber. By doing this, you can interchange the straps based on your daily excursions and it will look like you have two different watches.
A number of months ago, a 10-in-1 watch was being advertised on KickStarter that was being sold as ten different watches in one. While it only came with a single watch, it also came supplied with ten interchangeable straps in a range of colors and materials. It was a perfect solution to those on a fixed budget.
There are many places to buy straps online and in store but few that sell high quality. When purchasing online, it’s very difficult to determine the quality off a picture and buying a strap made of imitation leather or cheap metal is like lighting dollar bills on fire.
Because of this, here are a few recommended strap makers that I would trust my own watches with.
Hadley Roma Watch Straps
If you are on a budget, Hadley-Roma offers a great value watch strap. Is it the best leather on the market? No, but it is decent and you can find even exotic skins such as this black lizard strap for $20.
If you’re looking for canvas strap, this is one of the best custom makers in the world. Carl Evans is the proprietor and he originally started making straps for his own watches. Pretty soon he was selling them on eBay and now, he sells them to just about every collector looking for military grade canvas and webbing straps. In fact, he even sells his straps to Bremont. Click here for more info.
Another strap maker who started off making his own straps, he now sells almost exclusively through his website. Based in Taiwan, he’s become a global brand name for the aftermarket. Each strap is custom designed and offered in alligator, crocodile, shark, nubuck, shell cordovan, and vintage French and Swiss ammo pouch leather. In fact, recently they even began making rubber bands. Click here for more information.
Joe d’Agostino owns this brand and is brand new to the industry. However, his straps are a piece of art. During the day, Joe works as a member of the police SWAT team and at night, he handcrafts straps from some of the best leather available on the market. Every strap is made for the specific customer. He works with his client base to ensure they get a product that’s custom made for their beloved timepiece. Click here for more info.
Greg Stevens Design
Greg Stevens started making straps because he began frustrated trying to find a strap big enough for his wrists. Now, he spends his day making them for other watch lovers and each one is hand crafted from the heart. Click here for more info.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this short primer on watch straps, bands and bracelets. There are hundreds of manufacturers in this aftermarket but only a select few who make straps as superlative as the watch it’s attached to. What do you look for in a strap?