If you want to add variety to your watch collection, you don’t have to buy more watches (but we’re not discouraging you from doing so). Swapping out watch straps or bracelets is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to change the look and feel of your watches. Perhaps one of your timepieces is showing its age, and you don’t wear it as much anymore. A new strap can bring it back to life. You may also have a very nice watch that’s been sullied by a sub-par strap that the manufacturer skimped on. Upgrading that strap could very well be the key to unlocking a new passion for your rarely worn timepiece.
When it comes to buying straps or bracelets, you have to figure out what style works best for you, as well as they type of situations where you’ll wear it. Going dressy? Opt for a great two-piece croc (or croc print leather), and your once humble Q Timex might even pull off suit wear. let’s say you want to add some sportiness to your classic leather-strapped Hamilton Khaki Field watch. Swap out the calfskin for a three-link oyster bracelet, and you’ve immediately changed the look of the watch and expanded what you can wear it with.
If you’re concerned about costs, the wide array of prices for aftermarket straps shouldn’t dissuade you from adding one to your horological style repertoire. Nothing says you have to opt for the more expensive manufacturer OEM bracelet or strap, unless you just have to have it match. For example, a stainless steel bracelet for the famous Omega Speedmaster can cost $900 if you buy the manufacturer version. You can find nearly exact versions of the OEM version in the aftermarket for less than $150, and the quality is typically quite good. Adding an aftermarket leather strap to that same Speedmaster can also dramatically change the look of the watch.
How to Choose the Right Strap
When it comes to choosing an aftermarket strap or bracelet, keep these basic guidelines in mind:
- Leather can be casual or formal, depending on the leather type, finishing, and color. Darker leathers work better in more formal situations, while lighter hues tend to work for more casual fare.
- Nylon, elastic, and rubber are commonly appropriate for casual or sporting wear. The weave of the nylon affects comfort (finer: more comfortable). Rubber watch straps vary, including resin, silicone, nitrile, or natural rubber.
- Metal bracelets typically can toe the line between casual and dressy. Thinner, polished links dress things up. Thicker, brushed or sandblasted links dress things down.
You’ll also want to make sure you measure the lug width. The lugs are the part of the watch where the strap or bracelet connects with spring bars. You don’t need to remove the existing strap to do so. Lug width is almost always measured in millimeters, and most aftermarket straps or bracelets can be found in 18, 20, 22, and 24mm widths. It’s important not to deviate from your watch’s lug width. Too wide, and it won’t fit. Too narrow, and your watch will slide back and forth on your wrist. It will also look strange and increase the likelihood that the spring bars (and the watch head) will pop out. Also, measure your wrist’s circumference with a soft tape measure or a by using piece of string and a ruler. This is important to know because some straps and bracelets may fall into a size range. If you have a 6.5-inch wrist, and there are only strap holes for down to 7.5 inches, you’re left with having to punch holes yourself and potentially ruining the strap in the process.
Types of Watch Straps
This is perhaps the most common type of watch strap because solid two-piece leather straps come in thousands of styles. There are very few watch types that don’t look good on a two-piece leather strap, and it’s easy to find ones with contrast stitching and hardware that matches your watch case finishing. The range of colors is nearly endless, as well.
The Bundt is polarizing because it’s a bit of a thick and wide strap that also happens to pass behind the caseback of the watch. Originally designed for German WII pilots, the leather backing was meant to keep the cold metal of the watch off pilots’ wrists. Today, it’s more of a style statement, but it still looks best with pilot-style timepieces.
The Rallye strap was born out of auto racing with holes in the strap for venting in a hot driving environment. Just like the Bundt, the Rallye strap is more for style purposes today than anything else. Perforations can run from large holes to small, to a mix of both. They especially look good with racing chronographs.
2-Piece Croc Leather
Crocodile leather dresses up a watch by adding visual and tactile texture. Variations include lizard, sharkskin, and ostrich leather. If you’re concerned about animals, you can always opt for a croc embossed strap that looks just as good.
Elastic 1-Piece Strap
These sport/casual straps have grown in popularity recently. Not only are they attractive due to their simplicity, but they’re also remarkably light and comfortable. A simple clasp, combined with elasticity and breathability make them very easy to wear all day long.
2-Piece Rubber Tropic Strap
The beloved Tropic strap goes back to the ’60s as a more comfortable but no-less-handsome alternative to metal bracelets. Not only are they practical for diving, activity, and everyday wear, but they’re also comfortable thanks to real rubber and handsome with surface texturing. It’s a great option that won’t betray the look and feel of premium timepieces, as well as dressing up more affordable watches. They look best on dive watches, for sure.
The venerable Nato has been around since 1973 when it was created for the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) for field use. Highly functional and utilitarian, it’s also a great style statement that can quickly alter any watch. It’s one of the most affordable and varied straps in existence, and it’s one way to change the look of your watch for less. Single pass or double pass versions abound, and you can choose from myriad materials, colorways, hardware finishes, and even custom decorations.
The Zulu’s origins aren’t totally clear, but they likely stem from early single-pass versions of the Nato. They’re distinguished mostly by thicker nylon webbing and thicker, rounded hardware for an overall beefier and tougher look. You can find single and double pass versions, as well as three- and five-ring models. They’re not as prevalent as traditional Nato straps, but there’s still a good amount of variety out there in terms of materials, color, and hardware. These look great with thicker timepieces, especially those with dive or military leanings.
Perlon is less common than many of the straps here, but it is no less worthy of your watch strap rotation. It’s differentiated by an elegant nylon weave that also imparts a high degree of comfort thanks to tremendous breathability. It also takes nylon watch fabric to the next level by interlacing the strands, thereby giving it a totally different look, bordering on dressy. It’s a strap that can make just about any timepiece more refined, even an Apple Watch.
Perhaps the most copied metal bracelet on earth, the Oyster was made famous by Rolex back in the ’30s and ’40s. The three-link stainless steel bracelet is distinguished by three flat links across its width, with a large center link flanked by a smaller slightly offset link on each side. It feels good, looks even better, and it works beautifully for dress or sport. These days, you can find aftermarket versions in steel, titanium, bronze, and yes, even real gold.
The Bonklip, otherwise known as the Bamboo or ladder-style bracelet, is the precursor to the aforementioned Oyster. It was created in the late ’20s and was one of the first widely used metal bracelets. The center link was very wide and thin with two much smaller links in the outboard positions. The Bonklip’s links are well-spaced vertically, and the bracelet’s on-the-fly adjustability make it very practical.
The engineer is a bracelet you don’t see often, but it’s a great one thanks to 5 uniformly sized links across its width. The links are smaller than the ones found on the Oyster, and the result is a refined but still sporty appearance, as well as a high level of comfort. They look great with field and pilot’s watches.
Milanese Mesh Bracelet
If you want a very sophisticated metal bracelet that’s also supremely comfortable and breathable, look no further than the Milanese with its fine mesh layout. With Italian origins, Milanese mesh emulates mesh armor from the same region. The fine mesh is typically attached to flat bar end links for easy swapping. Length adjustability typically occurs at the clasp, which makes things easier than removing links.
Shark Mesh Bracelet
Shark mesh is a bit newer than Milanese, and it stems from the famous 1970s Omega Seamaster Ploprof diver. The links are thicker and fewer, but the look is still stunning on the wrist. The only issue is the difficulty of link removal since shark mesh bracelets usually don’t have flat bar end links or significant clasp adjustability. They look especially good on chunky dive watches, for which they were originally created.
Another metal bracelet credit goes to Swiss juggernaut Rolex, who put it on their Datejust model from the ’40s. The Jubilee is a five-link bracelet with rounded links. The center links are smaller than the outer links, and the center links are usually polished with the outer links finished with brushing. The Jubilee style is very popular due to excellent comfort and a classic look. You’ll find that many models adopt gold for the center links and silver for the outer links, which adds a new dimension to the bracelet.
Beads of Rice Bracelet
The beads of rice bracelet emerged in the ’40s, and it can now take a few forms. The links are elongated with rounded ends and sides, situated in an offset pattern. They can span the entire width of the bracelet or occupy the center swath of the bracelet, flanked by flat links like Doxa dive watches. They’re attractive with a blend of sport and dress, and they’re very comfortable due to the rounded links.