It’s a curious thing, the impact that a strap or bracelet has on the aesthetics of a watch.
A blingy yellow gold bracelet when worn on a Rolex Day-Date may conjure images of Tony Soprano and his crew idling in front of a Newark pork store. However, that very same watch paired with, say, a cognac brown calfskin strap, with tone on tone hand stitching, becomes elegant and even understated. In the same way, a plain and simple Timex can go from pedestrian to dapper by dawning an exotic hide.
So how do you go about styling your watch?
Watch straps are made in a dizzying array of materials, from vegetable tanned leather and alligator skin to woven nylon and vulcanized rubber.
How Are You Going to Use Your Watch?
Thus, when embarking on the mission of choosing a strap, or a wardrobe of straps for your watch, the question that must first be asked is, ‘How am I going to use this watch?’
Is this rugged dive watch ever going to see salt water, or will it be more of a desk diver? Is my slim time only watch going to accompany me to a black tie dinner, or brunch the morning after? Perhaps you’re one of the lucky enthusiasts who is content with a one watch collection and need your piece to transition effortlessly from day to night.
The secret to having a dynamic watch collection is knowing how to pair a timepiece with different materials for different settings. After all, your selection is really only limited to your imagination and budget, or certain international trade restrictions. (We can probably all agree it’s best to avoid the hides of endangered species.)
Non-Leather Watch Strap Options
The most casual options are going to be synthetic materials: woven NATO-style nylon, vulcanized or silicone rubber, plastic. The straps are all going to sit squarely in the realm of sporty. While there are some fun and subversive ways to wear these straps on dress watches, you will often see them on dive, pilot, or field watches.
Calfskin Leather: The Best Leather for Watch Straps?
For leather straps, calf skin leather is a safe go to for daytime or nighttime wear. Think of it as the Oxford cap toe of watch bands: a bit dressed up, but generally appropriate anywhere you’d want to go as long as it’s not too formal. Most of the premium leather straps you’ll find on the market are calf skin because it is comfortable and classic.
Other Leather Watch Straps
Other forms of cow leather are commonly used for watch straps as well, including vegetable tanned, suede or texturized leathers.
Suede Watch Straps
Suede tends to offer a more casual, yet still considerate look and can be worn in a very similar way to suede boots or shoes.
Textured Leathers for Watch Straps
Waxed cowhide stamped with texture, such as Saffiano leather, offer a more chic way to dress up a timepiece without going full on evening wear. Think of these as the Chelsea boots or wingtips of the strap world.
Exotic Leather Watch Straps
Yet more formal still are the exotic leathers – this is where alligator, crocodile, stingray, and others come into play. Gator hide is a common go to for many luxury watch manufacturers, but can also be custom made by some high end strap or leather goods companies.
How to Avoid Overpaying for Watch Straps
Once you’ve picked the desired aesthetic, it’s time to learn what many have learned before: watch straps can be unbelievably expensive.
If you’ve ever purchased a well-made belt and paid a couple hundred dollars and then turned around to buy a watch strap, you may be surprised to find that it too can cost a couple hundred dollars. So what’s going on here?
The fact of the matter is sometimes watch straps are overpriced. Plain and simple. Often times, if you’re on a budget and looking to mix up the look of your timepieces, the brand or manufacturer of your watch is probably not where you want to go to buy a strap. When you buy a name-brand strap, you’re usually just paying for that name. As such, it behooves you to look a further afield to third part brands that offer similar, if not superior quality materials, at far more reasonable prices.
Great options include:
- Analog/Shift for a broad selection
- Toxic NATOs for NATO style nylon straps
- Tropic Strap for diving watches, and
- Jean Rousseau for custom exotic leather straps
This is where the discerning buyer has to look closer to find the quality because the details make the difference: hand stitching vs machine stitching, wrapped edges vs painted edges, bonded leather vs genuine leather. All of these factors can mean the difference between something that is worth spending a bit more or not. (The second example in each “vs” here is the cheaper option.)
The truth is, whether you have multiple watches in your collection or one old reliable timepiece, you can drastically change the impact of your favorite wrist bound accessory. For many watch enthusiasts out there, the question is less ‘Which strap one strap should I wear?’ and more ‘Which strap should I wear today?’ And in the very same way shoes, bags or other accessories can and bring variety to your overall style, watch straps can give a timepiece a wardrobe all its own.
Troy Barmore is a Senior Timepiece Specialist at Analog Shift. All images courtesy of Troy Barmore.