Watch Strap Types – Buyers Guide
Originally straps were added to pocket watches during WWI; so, soldiers could quickly and easily get the time, whilst being shot at by their enemies, without the hassle of fumbling inside pockets for the time. Since then watch straps have come a long way and the materials used to make them have vastly widened. Each strap type has unique characteristics making them better suited to different environments, and should be considered when selecting one for a watch.
Perhaps one the most versatile strap materials, they can be worn casually with jeans one day, then with a business suite and tie the next.
Some are treated differently for varying finishes, some will be constructed from a single layer whereas others will have padding in-between two leather layers. There are also different types of buckles used on leather straps, to keep the watch safely on your wrist – some more comfy then others.
Leather straps are ill-suited to a life in humid conditions or to be submersed in water, even if the maker says otherwise; if they are, then they will need to be replaced frequently. Also to consider is that once a leather strap has been ordered, extra links cannot be added to increase their length as can be done with a metal bracelet. Men will usually need to get an extra long strap if their wrist circumference is over 20cm, and a women’s standard watch strap will usually end at between 17.5 to 19cm.
In the luxury watch world, straps don’t just end at calf leather. Watch makers will frequently pair an alligator hide strap with their watches, for the aesthetically pleasing texture that they give, and for a slight increase in durability. On a select number of watches it is not unusual to find leather from an: alligator, ostrich, buffalo, shark, snake or lizard.
Perhaps the most durable of the lot, metal watch bracelets were first popularised by Rolex in their range of sport watches for their legendary toughness and good looks. Style wise, a bracelet strap may be shunned by traditionalist if worn in a formal setting and should be left to a leather, Milanese mesh or perhaps a NATO strap.
The majority of metal bracelets are made from stainless steel, but they also come in variants of titanium, gold or platinum. Buyers should be wary of bracelets with two or more metals with different hardness as if they are poorly designed (or corners cut by the manufacturer), the harder metal may cut away at the softer metal such as gold. A buyer should also consider any metal allergies to nickel; which can be found as a base metal to be electro plated over, and as an additive to some precious metals. If in doubt, buy stainless steel, titanium, platinum or yellow gold as white gold may contain nickel.
When buying a watch with a metal bracelet, additional weight is being sacrificed for increased toughness. Gold is denser that stainless steel and platinum is twice that of gold – but once gold has been alloyed, a platinum watch will be about 30% heavier on the wrist than a similar gold watch.
The metal itself can be finished in a number of styles including: brushed, polished, variants between the two, coated in PVD of any colour or metal, DLC (diamond like coating) and rubber.
Avoid PVD gold-plated bracelets as they simply don’t stand up to the abuse a solid one can, and they show their age significantly more. A solid metal bracelet is superior in that the surface can be re-finished, should it take a beating, to make it look like new.
Metal watch bracelets, particularly in stainless steel are perfectly suited to a life of diving and swimming as there hard-wearing and non water absorbent – unlike leather. Many feature a diving extension on the buckle to accommodate the additional girth a wetsuit adds.
If needed extra links can be added or removed to fit the wearer by a jeweller, or with easily sourced tools. Brands commonly add a micro adjusting clasp into the buckle. Such as Rolex’s patented Gridlock Extension System, that allows the wearer to adjust the straps length in 2mm increments to a total of 20mm without the need of tools.
Metal Mesh bracelet
Was originally developed in Milan in the 13th century as an exotic form of chain mail. Today their commonly seen on vintage dress watches, and are characterised by tightly woven loops which are intertwined together into a continuous length of mesh. The fine Milanese mesh does come at a cost of decreased durability but luckily there mainly worn in a formal environment.
Is a variant of a Milanese mesh but beefier and stronger, becoming famous when Omega added one to the ProPlof 600 in the 70’s. A Shark Mesh bracelet is seen as a precursor to the modern rubber strap for use with diving. And was considered the ideal strap for continued submersion under water; as, it retains no water and the mesh is one continuous piece, unlike a bracelet where each link is connected to each other by pins that are seen as potential failure points.
Rubber, Silicon or Plastic
First formulated to replace heavy and expensive metal bracelets made for diving, they quickly began to corner the diving market in the 70s.
Not only are rubber straps great for diving; but, also in humid environments and sports where the wearers perspiration would damage a leather strap. And because it’s much lighter on the wrist that a metal strap being less fatiguing during use.
They are also very soft and flexible being very comfortable to wear . Can be produced in any colour you could care to think of, instantly dressing down any watch it’s added to ready for casual use.
G10 or NATO
Original produced for the British Ministry of Defence for it’s soldiers. The functional watch strap could be obtained by filling out a G1098 form of requisition, or just G10 for short. The reason why the NATO name stuck was due to it having a NSN or NATO Stock Number, stating it’s purpose as a watch strap. Classically there made from a single length of nylon, with a 20mm width, coloured an ’Admiralty Grey’, with a chrome plated brass buckle and stoppers.
The strap was unique at the time of invention, that it gives the wearer a fail-safe redundancy; that should a lug connecting the watch to the strap break, it won’t end up flying off the wrist.
Today they are seen as a fun, versatile strap that are seen on inexpensive Timex Weekender’s all the way to Rolex Submariners and beyond. They are relatively inexpensive, and very easy to change one strap for another, lending themselves to be changed daily to match the cloths and situation