Ever since the very first wristwatch was created in the 1860s, we had to find ways to strap our beloved timepieces to our wrists. Otherwise they would have remained pocket watches. While at the beginning most straps were made of leather, soon the particular needs of certain branches of the armed forces—for which many of the modern tool watches were developed—required the usage of different materials to make straps. Nowadays, we can find straps made of many materials, from rubber to leather to nylon to recycled plastic. There are a few types of straps that have become classic staples of any enthusiast collection which we will take a look at in this article.
Mostly seen as dressy, leather straps are perhaps the most common type of straps available worldwide. Leather is a noble material that has been used for centuries to make everything from clothes, belts, handbags, saddles, and of course watch straps. They come in a variety of colors and finish and therefore offer a wide variety of styles to match everybody’s personal tastes and needs. Having a good leather strap can be expensive as higher-end ones cost up to $300. For this price, you get a strap that will last a long time and patina in a way that is unique to your lifestyle.
Perhaps the only downside of leather straps is the fact that they don’t get along well with water because it takes a long time for leather to dry and the edges can fret. Because of that, leather straps are also not best friends with hot weather as they will absorb sweat and eventually the delicate smell of a brand new leather strap will be released by that of an old rag. So leather straps should be used in mostly cool and dressier conditions. With that said, owning a good leather strap is a must for any watch collector as they easily dress up any watch.
For those amateurs of Rolex, Tudor, and Panerai, be sure to check out Everest’ extensive collection of dedicated leather straps, for example this one.
As soon as the first military-issued watches appeared, it was clear that they couldn’t be worn on leather straps. As we saw above, leather doesn’t do well in humid and sweaty environments and we can rightfully assume that members of the armed forces face these kinds of conditions on a regular basis. There come fabric straps that are lighter than leather, that dry quicker, and that are generally much cheaper too. Back in the old days of the First World Wars, service men were known to use fabric NATO-style straps on the battlefield. To keep things simple, I would include here elastic fabric straps such as the ubiquitous Marine Nationale ones historically made of repurposed parachute material.
While nowadays one can get a good fabric strap for as little as $5 online, there are differences in terms of quality and fabrication when spending a little more. You do get what you pay for after all. Although a higher-end fabric strap only costs a fraction of a luxury leather strap, the more you spend, the better the quality. Everest now offers a wide range of NATO-style straps that can be had for $30 approximately. Even if you were to spend $30 or more, I love fabric straps because they are overall cheap and give watches a nice rugged/weekend look.
Perhaps the only downside of fabric straps is that they look more casual than dressy and therefore wouldn’t look best in an office setting or at a black-tie event, unless your name is James Bond.
Rubber straps are by far the most specialized types of watch straps out there. They were initially created in the 1950s to accompany the first professional dive watches. Being made of rubber, they are naturally the best option for diving or any situation that requires getting wet. Most famous are the original Tropic straps that many Rolex and other Swiss divers could be bought with. Again, the biggest advantage is that rubber straps (which also include silicone, to keep things simple, although I know these are technically two different types of materials) are great when you know you’ll get wet and/or sweat a lot.
Some might think that a downside of rubber straps is that they are highly specialized and only look good with sports watches and anywhere but in any fancy setting, however this could not be more flase. Doctors, lawyers, and the like have worn Everest rubber straps in both casual and proper settings and it has been appropriate and stylish everywhere. While Everest makes dedicated rubber straps with matching end-links for Rolex, Tudor, and Panerai, the brand recently released a universal vulcanized rubber strap that I bet looks amazing on any serious tool watch of any brand.
Other Types of Straps
I would be remiss if I were to not mention that nowadays brands use a variety of materials to make straps, especially by recycling plastic and fabrics to create their own designs and variety of straps. (I’ve seen more and more genres of straps popping out in the past few years.) Their incentive is to participate in creating less waste or to remove it from natural habitats like the oceans. Making recycled straps is not an easy process and I applaud any brand that goes through this hurdle.
We have no choice but to use a strap to wear our watches. By the way and as I know you noticed, I did not include bracelets in this article because they constitute an entire genre in themselves. One that is to me equally interesting as the one of straps made of leather and rubber and that I hope to talk about in the future. Anyway, in this short article I wanted to talk about common types of straps and their pluses and minuses. I do want to leave you with some friendly advice: don’t go cheap on your straps as they will last you a long time and bear the signs of times with equal elegance as your watch will.