Life Skills

Watch Straps: The Complete Guide To Every Great Style

  • Aug 30, 2023
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Watch Straps: The Complete Guide To Every Great Style

Unlike the stack-em-high, sell-em-low mantra of the high street, you don’t buy a watch on impulse. Whether it’s Swiss-made or built in Stoke, anything handcrafted, from minuscule cogs, is going to hit your bank balance hard.

Which means that, unlike your T-shirt rotation, it’s unlikely you switch watches every day. But precisely like your T-shirt rotation, one style won’t work everywhere. You’re not James Dean. Nor did you inherit his royalty cheques. So you need a budget-friendly way to switch up what’s strapped to your wrist. Or, even better, what straps it to your wrist.

Simply swapping out a watch strap can transform its look, breathing new life into a piece you’ve had for years or dialling up or down the formality of a new purchase. “Today, much of the expense of having a sports, an everyday and a dress watch can be avoided by just switching out the watch band”, says says Tracey Llewellyn, editor-in-chief of watch bible Revolution UK. “Even the big watch brands are jumping on the gravy train of ‘new strap, new look’ with the likes of Tudor supplying alternative straps as standard, while Hublot, Baume & Mercier, Jaeger-LeCoultre and scores of others have developed quick release mechanisms for easy changing without the need for tools.”

But if you want to do the job yourself, there’s never been more choice and it couldn’t be easier. From the opulent nature of an alligator leather strap to the uniformity of a NATO, these are the best watch straps to consider.

NATO Strap

Like tees, chinos and field jackets, the NATO strap went AWOL from military ranks, crossing to the fashion pack. Originally created for British soldiers in the 1970s, it embodies a ready-for-anything aesthetic, even if your personal battles are only with your email password.

It’s also the cheapest and easiest way to change straps. Because the NATO is crafted from a single piece of fabric – normally nylon – you don’t need to take off both your watch’s spring bars to switch one in. And if one of the bars pops open, its extra ‘watch keeper’ strap keeps your Rolex Daytona on your wrist. Handy whether you’re dangling from a parachute, or chasing down a forehand.

“Changing your strap is a clever way of changing your watch for different occasions,” says Simon Spiteri, accessories buyer at Mr Porter. “A NATO strap is perfect for sport and performance activity.” Durable, swappable and easy-to-clean, you can click in your NATO post-locker room without sacrificing the style aesthetic.

Zulu is a specialist brand that offers a vast yet affordable portfolio – everything from ravey neons to military-nodding khakis. Daniel Wellington, although more famed for the watches themselves, also boasts a range of NATO straps that are more Ivy League than in-the-trenches; think repp tie stripes that encircle your wrist, not your neck.

Pros: Easy to switch out, versatile, durable

Cons: Too casual for some watches

Wear It With: Military watches, sports watches

Cost: £10 – £30

Daniel Wellington

ZULU Nylon 5 Steel Ring Watch Strap - click to buyZULU Nylon 5 Steel Ring Watch Strap - click to buyDW CLASSIC 36MM CANTERBURY watch strap - click to buyBoxing Club 18mm Grosgrain Watch Strap - click to buy

Leather Strap

When pocket watches moved onto men’s wrists, leather was the obvious way to hold them on. It was soft, supple, and kept the look luxurious. As then, so today. Only now, cowhide is joined by exotic skins like alligator and ostrich, coruscating colours and huge variety in texture and pattern.

Alligator leather (the preferred choice of your Swiss big hitters) is hard-wearing, but takes a bite out of bank balance and conscience. Calfskin is usually cheaper, with a softer look and feel. Tuscan, nappa and even non-allergenic camel-grain leathers offer different textures to experiment with.

When considering which works where, the strap’s style can have an effect too. “A leather band can make any watch more ‘everyday’ depending, of course, on the choice of style – cuffs and rally-style being more casual than simple leather or exotic skins”, says Llewellyn. And generally, when it comes to colour, the darker it is the more formal it is.

One thing to consider is matching your watch strap’s leather to other leather goods on your person – shoes or a belt, perhaps. Black is an obvious, easy to wear option but try dark browns, oxblood or navy for something subtly different. Hirsch offers a massive range of leather straps that are both well made and affordable, so you can mix and match (and experiment with more left-field choices) to your wrist’s content.

Pros: Smart, easy to wear

Cons: Not very durable

Wear It With: Dress watches, sports watches

Cost: £20 – £100

Shinola Leather Strap WatchesShinola

`The Best Leather Watch Straps

Hirsch SIENA Tuscan Leather Watch Strap - click to buyHirsch CAMELGRAIN Open Ended Leather Watch Strap - click to buyBUND STRAP - click to buyshinola 20MM OCEAN LEATHER STRAP - click to buy

Rubber Strap

The rubber strap is often favoured by younger brands in a bid to target new wearers – it’s ‘sporty’, modern and has always been associated with more affordable watches the likes of Casio. The rubber strap is hardly aspirational, so it’s interesting that many high-end Swiss watch brands now produce their own takes.

One of the most baffling examples of this is with Richard Mille, whose watches regularly exceed the £100,000 barrier yet nearly always come adorned with a bog standard rubber strap. Why, you may ask? The answer is the same reason your boss now wears Japanese denim to work – it’s to do with the rise of luxury things that are made to look casual. It subtly says you can own special things without treating them like they’re special.

Ludicrously expensive watches aside, rubber has its functions; gym fans will appreciate the fact it’s hard-wearing and doesn’t take on that deathly stench of leather and sweat. Some Swiss brands have already tacked on to the fitness watch trend, with both Breitling and Hublot often providing an additional strap to interchange. If you want something more bespoke, however, ZRC Watch Straps craft specialised options that ensure a perfect, non-slip fit. Elsewhere, you can pick one up for as little as a tenner.

Pros: Durable, gym-friendly

Cons: Informal, won’t suit all watch types

Wear It With: Sports watches

Cost: £10 – £150

Uniform WaresUniform Wares

The Best Rubber Watch Straps

uniform wares Nitrile rubber watch strap - Click to buyISOFRANE RUBBER DIVE WATCH STRAP - Click to buytimex Metropolitan+ Strap - Click to buyZRC 896 Silicone Rubber Watch Strap - Click to buy

Metal Bracelet

Although not considered a strap per se, a metal bracelet can still be seamlessly interchanged with your favourite dial – the only issue is that you’ll often require the help of your local jeweller.

Bracelets are durable and – most importantly – versatile. Whether you’re suiting up for work or play, a glint on the wrist always looks best beneath a shirt cuff. Golds contrast well with monochrome, while neutral steel suits navy and other colours. Stick to your watch brand’s own bracelets to ensure all the edges sit flush, or go for one of the below.

Pros: Versatile, grown up

Cons: Only work with watches made to be worn with one

Wear It With: Dress watches, sports watches

Cost: £10 – £150


The Best Watch Bracelets

watch gecko solid stainless steel warrington strap - click to buyYISUYA Sliver 22mm Solid Stainless Steel Watch Strap - click to buyJSDDE Solid Stainless Steel Watch Strap - click to buyin time Silver Clasp Bracelet - click to buy

Mesh Strap

The Milanese or mesh strap has had a bit of a renaissance in recent years – its popularity has seen it soar from the obscure to the mainstream, which can be attributed to its inherent good looks, but also due to the way the beads of metal ‘rice’ are constructed, making it infinitely more comfortable than its metal bracelet cousins. Where a metal bracelet might pinch or get caught on hair, the mesh strap’s fluid design ensures it sits flush on the wrist and moves with it.

It’s a bit of a chameleon in the style stakes too – it’s more than at home at the office or the pub on the weekend and will suit a wide range of outfit choices from summer suits to jeans and a T-shirt. In short, if you want a strap that is neither too formal or casual and will remain comfortable throughout the day, mesh could be the way to go.

Pros: Rarer than standard metal bracelets, comfortable

Cons: Stylistically, not for everyone

Wear It With: Dress watches, sports watches

Cost: £15 – £80


The Best Milanese Watch Straps

watch gecko quick adjust milanese mesh strap - click to buyYISUYA 20mm Solid Milanese Mesh Stainless Steel Strap - click to buyGeckota Stainless Steel Milanese Watch Strap - click to buytriwa STAINLESS STEEL MESH - click to buy

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