Recently I’ve been on a streak talking about watch straps. I first looked at what kind of watch straps exist and why and then made recommendations for winter watch straps. Today I want to talk to you about rubber as a watch strap material: when it was first used, what makes it unique, and good examples of rubber straps. There is a lot of history to cover which, as per my usual, I will keep short. What is the most interesting, at least to me, is to look at the different types of rubber straps that have been made and for what type of watches. So, without further ado, let’s talk about rubber straps.
Picture above is of the Everest Rubber Strap for the Tudor Black Bay 58
History: When Was Rubber First Used for Straps?
It seems that the earliest examples of rubber straps date from the 1950s when brands such as Rolex and Tudor sold their divers with rubber straps as an alternative to stainless steel bracelets. They did so because bracelets were not always the most practical to use for diving as they could not be adjusted on the fly and were heavy. Even if Rolex and Tudor (amongst other brands) made the best dive watches, they nevertheless had to offer them on something else than a stainless steel bracelet. They choose rubber most likely due to its natural ability to repel water and resist sweat.
However, the rubber straps made in the 1950s were very different from the ones made today.
Indeed, rubber straps—just like the first rubber gaskets made to seal a watch case-back and crown—were prone to drying up and cracking, and instead of repelling sweat, they would absorb it. I know, this all sounds pretty gross and it was. Rubber straps had to be replaced on a regular basis while today a good rubber strap, like an Everest one can last for many years of intense use. Globally, rubber straps are made of synthetic materials (the cheaper ones) or natural rubber (the more expensive ones.) And, by experience, the latter are much better and worth paying the premium price for.
Advantages of Rubber Watch Straps
Even though the first rubber straps were not long lasting, they did have the advantage of being the best for underwater activities. Rubber repels water and dries quickly, which are two key elements a strap must have for diving. Indeed, when one is finished diving, one doesn’t want to walk around with a wet strap for the rest of the day. Even though some people use Marine National straps that are made of nylon (like NATO,) they are not the best for diving. Rubber straps, therefore, were first and now still primarily used for diving.
Another major advantage of rubber watch straps is that they are flexible and comfortable to wear. At least, they are now and although it wasn’t necessarily the case 50 years ago. A strap made of natural rubber is hypoallergenic and supple, conforming to the counter of the wrist naturally. I’ve worn cheap rubber straps that are stiff and brash, so I suggest spending the extra bucks to buy a nicely made natural rubber strap which will last you a very, very long time.
Best Examples of Rubber Straps
Lastly, I wanted to share a few good examples of rubber straps and their style. Perhaps the most iconic is the Tropic strap that equipped Rolex and Blancpain divers back starting in the 1960s. Tropic is the actual name of a brand although today it is widely used to describe this type of rubber strap. Tropic straps have the advantage of having many holes to adjust the length of the strap, to the wearer’s heat content, and to have a honeycomb pattern on the underside to help water drain faster. The original Tropic straps were made of natural rubber, then many brands made cheap knock-offs using synthetic materials. Now the standard is to make Tropic straps using natural vulcanized (hardened) rubber.
Besides the Tropic strap, there is a more general style of rubber strap that is best exemplified looking at the Everest offering. The latter makes a general-purpose rubber strap that matches the case of various Rolex and Tudor models. These straps are made of FKM rubber, which stands for Fluorine Kautschuk Material; in other words, a high-density rubber that is soft to the touch and particularly good at repelling water, sweat, and resisting UV rays, dust, and stains. In other words, it's tough as nails and will last you a very, very long time and it looks quite sleek.
Whenever I buy a new watch, especially a sports one, I immediately think of what straps I should buy for it. Since I generally buy watches on a bracelet, I then think I must have a good rubber strap because, as indicated above, they are versatile and best for high-intensity sports or anything that has to do with water. Since I’m a diver and love spending time by the water, I find that rubber straps are one of the most versatile types of straps one can have. So if you don’t have one yet, I recommend you get yourself a nice rubber strap.