Pitfalls of re-strapping a vintage watch

Pitfalls of re-strapping a vintage watch

5 min read
Richard Brown



Richard Brown



We have recently released a fascinating video where Anthony and myself ponder the phenomenon of a rapidly disintegrating Oyster bracelet on his vintage Rolex Date.

We cover in great detail the frustration that comes with old Rolex bracelets and how there inevitably comes a time when you need to make a tough call. Replace the bracelet with something else or stop wearing the watch?

As you will see on the video Anthony tried several straps, all of which looked fantastic on the watch, from a Classic Bond Military Nylon to a Sailcloth, but the one that really worked was a Vintage Highley leather in light tan, which really complemented the Champagne colour of the 50+-year-old dial.

Oyster Perpectual Date Vintage HighleyRolex Oyster Perpectual Date on Vintage Highley - Credit WatchGecko

Indeed, the general consensus round the office was that the watch had never looked better and now we struggle to get it off his wrist just to photograph it!

The sheer enjoyment in choosing this new strap, and an identical process I went through on a family heirloom – a 1961 Eterna Centenaire Chronometer, which you can read about here – has made us think that it may be worth putting a few words together regarding things to look out for when re-strapping a vintage watch.

Dial colour

The dial may not be the colour you think it is. Sounds odd but take a long and close look at the watch. If it’s genuinely vintage, then the dial and crystal will have changed. Right up until he started to look closely at the Rolex, Anthony believed his dial was silver and would have bought a strap online under that assumption. His dial may have been silver when he was given the watch at the tender age of 16 but it most certainly is not now. The best description of the dial is “Champagne”. Which is a nice way of saying it has gone slightly beige through the passage of time and now resembles the unmistakable tone of a glass of vintage Dom Pérignon Brut.

Eterna Centenaire Chronometer - Credit WatchGecko

The dial on my Eterna is (was) a white or ivory colour but due to the longevity of the armoured plexiglass and its parallel aging, the whole dial has a tan appearance.

Interestingly Anthony and I both initially thought about putting a grey or black strap on his Rolex due to stainless steel case, but the “sepia” colour of the dial left those plans slightly lacking. They were nice, a vast improvement on the dying steel bracelet, but “nice” was not good enough for that watch: we needed a ‘wow’ moment. Then we tried a Vintage Highley in light brown with even lighter stitching and a polished buckle. It was a match made in heaven, with the light colour complementing the dial and the stitching (by a stroke of luck) being the same colour as the vintage Rolex plexiglass. The polished buckle matched the case and suddenly the watch was alive and begging to be worn.

My re-strapping journey was back in 2020. The case on my Eterna was gold so I was planning to put an equally light tan strap on it, as I thought it would be soft against the gold. But that didn’t work at all as the light tan, against my already tan crystal, made the entire Eterna package all look 360 degrees the same insipid colour.

After much experimentation, I finally settled on a beautiful deep mahogany Hinxhill Premium Quality Horween Leather Watch Strap costing £80, which we have sadly discontinued now, but we have other very close alternatives. To this day the quality of the strap shows through, and as it bends around my wrist there is a perceivable red finish within the leather, which is still stunning against the watch.

Eterna Centenaire Chronometer - Credit WatchGecko

Strap style

I am always conscious not to state the obvious in features, but the style of a strap really can make or break a vintage watch. If you have a tool watch, like Anthony’s Rolex you can probably pull off a Military Nylon. And he did. The watch looked good on it. We even tried on a modern Sailcloth Mayday from ZULUDIVER and the watch surprisingly ate that up too. Just goes to show the versatility of a simple steel Rolex!

However had I tried either of those on my Eterna, which is to all intents and purposes another 1960s everyday watch, they would have looked frankly ridiculous. Had we attempted to fit rubber or silicone to either watch they would equally have been awful. When you look through our extensive strap portfolio there are several materials that may at first seem suitable but in reality would kill the appearance.

Oyster Perpectual Date - Credit WatchGecko

Anything with elastic or seatbelt material would stand poorly against a vintage watch. Modern materials like Velcro would be just weird and let’s not even entertain cutting-edge 21st century creations like the Octopod.

Also with metal you have to be careful. A temptation that Anthony mused was a new metal bracelet, probably Oyster style. But that too just didn’t work. Mesh style looked all wrong with the watch and an Oyster copy failed for two reasons. Firstly, it was much more polished and pristine than the watch case (so didn’t match), and secondly, it was not compatible with the original Rolex end pieces.

Strap shape

Unless you are in the enviable position to own something like a vintage Rolex Submariner then an older watch in your collection will probably be small in diameter and slim. And your new strap must complement this. We have found that tapered rather than straight designs work better against old cases and smaller buckles add better symmetry. Stitching on leather is best subtle, and not bold.

Talking of symmetry, don’t be afraid to swap out the buckle. While my Hinxhill came on a quality buckle, it was silver! Therefore I went online and after much searching I found an aftermarket gold Eterna buckle, which now brings a beautiful holistic balance to the watch.

Oyster Perpectual Date Maverick Padded SailclothOyster Perpectual Date - Credit WatchGecko

Finally, enjoy the journey

This process is all about bringing new life to an old watch. It is about embarking on what may be a new journey. First and foremost it should be fun but it is worth doing some homework as to what strap the watch may have originally been supplied on. Manufacturers tend not to get the original strap wrong (there are exceptions) so research old sales images if you can. Then look closely at the watch in the cold light of day and take careful note of its real and honest appearance. Is it the same as your mind thought it was?

If you do bring a new lease of life to an old watch we’d love to know and see your pictures. If we have examples that happen to be on our straps we will certainly try to put them up on our social media platforms to inspire others.

Another example - Tudor Oyster  restrapped on WatchGecko Radstock - Credit WatchGecko

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Richard Brown

About the Author: Richard Brown

I truly believe one of the best partners in exploration and adventure is a fine watch. Over 30 years of collecting, my fascination with the technical capabilities of both vintage and modern timepieces has never abated and it is a privilege to be able to share this passion through writing.

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