You don’t have to own a bevy of watches to change up the look of what’s on your wrist. Some watch manufacturers outfit their timepieces with bracelets, bands, or straps that are commensurate with the style of the watch itself, and they complement the watch’s aesthetics perfectly. Other watch brands might treat it as a bit of an afterthought in order to keep the price point a bit lower. Regardless of which camp your watch(es) may fall into, the sheer array of aftermarket watch bands out there is staggering. But you can’t just slap on any strap on any watch because the look and feel matter.
The venerable leather watch strap is one of the best choices, and it comes in a multitude of styles, materials, and hardware. There’s no question that a great aftermarket leather watch strap can add a new dimension to the watch and change its look altogether. That’s the beauty of changing out straps because you can wear a crocodile-embossed leather watch band for a dressier look one day and then swap out for a casual perforated leather rally strap the next day for a completely different appearance. But not all leather watch bands are created equal in terms of the leather and the hardware quality. You also can’t just take a rally-style chronograph leather watch strap and slap it on a 1,000-meter dive watch. It’s important to know which straps look best with specific genres of wristwatch, and then there are aspects to consider such as matching the watch band hardware to your watch case, quick-release spring bars, and even how well a strap manages moisture.
How to Change Your Watch Strap
Changing out watch straps can be easy or painful, depending on the make and model of your timepiece. If you’re removing a fitted watch bracelet that has very tight tolerances and there are no drilled lugs, it could present more of a challenge. Hence, the best way to perform strap changes yourself is to get a good set of tools, which can be found for a pittance on Amazon. You could try to pull it off by using a small screwdriver, but those tend to slip on the springbars and cause scratches on the lugs. Spring bar tools, either in single or plier forms, are the safest way to remove and install straps. It’s also a smart idea to buy several sets of spring bars in different lengths just in case you lose or break yours in the strap changing process.
Here are our selections for pairings of watch types and the best leather watch straps.
The Best Leather Watch Straps
Dive Watch: Bulang and Sons Refined Rugged Grey Leather Strap
Let’s make it clear that this watch strap isn’t for diving, but who cares when it looks this good. The rugged grey suede gets complemented by contrast stitching and the natural leather keepers. The watch strap has a great taper and visual and tactile texture that add character to the purpose-driven dive watch. The leather watch band is hand-made by Italian leather artisan Jean Paul Menicucci, and it’s capped off by the B&S logo on the stainless steel buckle. Available in 20 and 22mm lug widths, it should accommodate most divers.
Pilot Watch: B&R Bands Black Horween Rivet Pilot
In our books, you can go one of two ways for a pilot watch. You can get the two-layered Bund strap or a rivet strap. The latter is certainly more practical in terms of minimizing the thickness of watch wear, and the classic rivets add great personality. This one uses high-grade Chicago-sourced Horweeen Chromexcel leather that only gets better with age. The pilot-style taper, white contrast box stitching, and the stainless steel rivets bring the proper look for this leather watch band to complement any pilot watch.
Expedition Watch: Crown & Buckle Navy Shell Cordovan
Most expedition-style watches lean toward the sporty side, but you can dress up the look with premium leather and great stitching, as is the case with this Navy Shell Cordovan band. Horween Shell Cordovan gets colored in a rich navy and then is lined with soft calfskin for comfort. The premium price of the strap is warranted by both materials and construction, as evidenced by the painstakingly performed triple back-tack stitching. It’s a stunning leather watch strap that should easily make an expedition into a luxurious affair. Available in 20 and 22mm lug widths.
Dress Watch: Hodinkee McBride Watch Strap in Hunter Green
Every other guy is probably wearing his dress watch with a black or brown strap. Be boldy different with this deepest of green McBride leather watch strap that has more personality than most timepieces. The rich hue and the sophisticated texturing of the leather make for a truly opulent look, and the right-sized stainless steel pin buckle makes a great bedfellow. It will make any dress watch even dressier, and the Hunter Green makes it pop off your wrist, albeit only figuratively. Available in 18 to 22mm lug widths.
Field Watch: BroscolorsDesign Grey Leather Zulu Military Strap
Field watches are definitely form-follows-function timepieces, but you can add some style without making them look too genteel. That’s where a great Zulu-style leather watch strap makes all the difference. The tough oval-ringed Zulu strap style typically uses nylon webbing, but the substitution with matte grey leather changes the wrist game from utilitarian to ruggedly handsome. You can even choose your thread color to match or contrast your field watch’s dial. Available in 18 to 24mm widths.
Chronograph: TYMELeather Racing Rallye Green Leather Watch Strap
Another green leather watch strap. When it’s this stunning, you’re damn right. British racing green combined with Rallye style perforations partner perfectly, and the creasing in the strap edges and the keepers add refinement to this sporty band. The green stitching accents are just icing on the cake. Available in 18 to 22mm lug widths.
GMT Watch: SlipStreamStraps Dark Gray Crazy Horse Leather Vintage Watch Strap
GMT watches typically have bi-colored bezels, and this leather watch strap celebrates the popular red/blue (Pepsi) bezel look with matching stitching. The super-thick horse leather matches the typically thick-cased GMT (because of the added height of GMT movements), and the match is just right. The watch band should develop its own unique aging over time, adding even more personality to the pairing. Available in 19 to 24mm lug widths.
Vintage Watch: Worn & Wound Model 2 Premium
Adding a crisp, modern leather watch strap to a vintage timepiece might not be the best choice. You need a strap that looks like you’ve had it in the family for decades (minus the wear and sweat, of course), and that’s where W&W’s Model 2 Premium comes in. It uses tapered Horween Chromexcel top leather and Wickett & Craig vegetable tanned lining and then paints the edges a contrasting hue. Waxed cotton cord accents are added by hand, and the extra-wide single keeper adds visual heft. The Model 2 comes in fifteen different colors and is available in 18 to 22mm lug widths.
Apple Watch: Nomad Goods Modern Band
It’s hard to make the world’s most popular smartwatch look classy, but Nomad Goods pulled it off without making a leather watch strap for the Apple Watch that looked vintage. The Modern Band uses vegetable-tanned brown Horween leather and adds hardware that can match your Apple Watch’s case. The thick leather gets long sizing holes and a flat pin buckle for excellent security. Over time, the leather will patina nicely, and you can transfer it over to the next-generation Apple Watch without a hiccup since the lug hardware is built-in. It fits all Apple Watches from the first all the way to the Series 7.