So, it’s time to get a new watch strap for a treasured timepiece in your collection...

Maybe you want to give the watch a new look, or perhaps you need to smarten it up for a special occasion? Whatever the reason that you need a new watch strap, you’ll of course want to get the best value for your money – something that looks great, fits your watch and will last more than a few weeks without starting to fall apart. The all-important question then, is how much should you spend on a watch strap? Is going for the budget option a false economy when it comes to watch straps, or can cheap watch straps be good quality too?

Well, obviously everything is relative and of course it depends what you mean by cheap. There’s a difference between materials as well: some materials do generally tend to be much cheaper than others.

Tudor GMT - Image Credit: WatchGecko Online Magazine

In this post we’ll talk about what makes good value for money in the most common watch strap materials, and give some examples of affordable but good quality watch straps. We’ll also share how to spot a cheap watch strap that isn’t good quality. Because price and criteria vary so much between materials, we’ll talk about each different watch strap material separately.

Before we do, it’s worth mentioning one (maybe obvious) but important point. Straps from high end, luxury names will almost always come with a higher price tag, as you are of course, paying for the brand. If that’s important to you, then that’s what you should do, as at the end of the day pairing a strap with your watch is all about what you feel most comfortable with. But we should also say that a number of microbrands (not least WatchGecko) are producing watch straps of similar quality (often with materials coming from the same factories) as the luxury brands, for a much more affordable price. If you can forego the name, then you may well be able to pick up a bargain.

So let’s break down the question with a look at some of the most popular types of watch strap

Rubber

Tudor GMT and Sailcloth Watch Straps - Image Credit: WatchGecko Online Magazine

At its best, a rubber watch strap is durable, comfortable and suitable for use in the toughest of conditions; there’s a reason that most dive watches come with a rubber option as standard. At their worst, they are the polar opposite: sweaty, uncomfortable and prone to cracking or snapping. So why the difference?

You may or may not know that there are actually a number of different types of rubber, all with different chemical make ups and properties. At the high end of the market are synthetic rubbers such as neoprene and isoprene. These are the rubbers of choice for many high-end brands, and offer a high degree of comfort, but they can cost several times more than other types of rubber watch straps.

For a similar feel and performance at a more affordable price, look for a natural vulcanised nitrile rubber. Some manufacturers have made a name for themselves producing high quality rubber of this kind, with one example being the Italian firm Bonetto Cinturini. They supply many of the world’s most well-known brands, as well as microbrands such as ours. One example of their work in action can be found in our extremely popular ZULUDIVER 328, an affordable yet extremely high quality strap that wouldn’t look out of place on a high-end dive watch.

Another common type of rubber used for watch straps is silicone, though this is more likely to feel sticky on the wrist than a natural rubber strap, and is also more prone to tearing.

PVC rubber is more durable, but the shiny qualities of this type of rubber makes it less suited to more high-end and fashionable watches.

The verdict on rubber? Yes – it’s definitely possible to get a good quality, rubber watch strap at an affordable price, with our choice being a natural, vulcanised rubber from an established manufacturer.

Browse our collection of rubber watch straps here

NATO

The Vintage Watch Company NATO on the Tudor Black Bay 58- Image Credit: WatchGecko Online Magazine

OK, not strictly a material, as NATO watch straps can be made from everything from nylon to sailcloth, from Perlon to rubber. But NATO watch straps deserve their own mention in a blog that poses a question like this, as they provide a definitive “yes!”

Inspired by the military, NATO watch straps combine the perfect balance of durability, style and affordable pricing. Though best suited to adventure watches, they complement any style of watch, and it is not uncommon to see someone wearing a high-end, luxury brand with a cheap NATO strap – a true statement of casual wealth if ever there was one! That’s not to say that NATO watch straps are always cheap; branded straps like this one from Omega come in at well over £100, but it’s easy to pick up a cheap NATO watch strap from a microbrand with very little difference in quality.

The cheapest NATO straps can come in at less than £20 – ideal if you want to get more than one to mix and match your style. If you’re looking for a cheap watch strap for a daily wearer, something to keep your favourite adventure watch safe, or a cool way to make a statement with your favourite dress watch, it’s well worth considering a NATO strap.

Browse our collection of NATO and ZULU watch straps here.

Metal

Tudor Black Bay 58 on Slim Warrington - Image Credit: WatchGecko Online Magazine

Compared to the previous two styles, metal watch straps have a higher degree of craftsmanship and are made from a more expensive material. For that reason, it’s possible to spend hundreds, and even thousands of pounds on a metal watch strap, and what constitutes ‘cheap’ in this category will still be most likely be the price of two or three good NATO straps. That said, if metal is your style (and a very good choice it is too), it is still possible to pick up a good quality metal strap at an accessible price point.

The first thing to mention here: if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Because it takes more to make a metal watch strap than a rubber or NATO strap, there is more that can go wrong too. For a start, not all metals are equal. Most affordable straps will be made from stainless steel, though you should look for a quality 316L stainless steel as opposed to a less corrosion resistant 304L.

Poor quality metal straps are less likely to have durable links, and therefore may fall apart over time. Even worse, a poor quality strap might well not have such a secure buckle, which could result in your watch coming off your wrist.

Finally, it’s important to be sure the strap will fit your watch. A $5 metal watch strap from your favourite online retailer might say it is made for your particular model, but chances are that at that price there’s very little testing has gone on. Paying a little more will help ensure you get a watch strap that really does

Our advice would be to start looking for a metal strap in the £45 and upwards range, to be sure you are getting quality that will last and design that looks great. Compared to the four figures that some metal watch straps can set you back, this is relatively cheap, so we’ll say yes for this category as well.

Browse our range of metal watch straps here.

Leather

The Geckota C-01 Gen 2 - Image Credit: WatchGecko Online Magazine

Type ‘cheap leather watch strap’ into any search engine and you’ll see endless pages of results, but chances are that many won’t be particularly high quality – or even real leather. Faux-leather is a plastic based alternative that has been treated and made to look like leather, but often lacks the qualities of the real thing. Being plastic based, it tends to make the wrist sweat, and the material can crack and become stiff over time as well.

Real leather – made from animal hides – tends to be far softer and more flexible. It does change over time, but in a subtler way, with the leather gently shifting hue over the years, making it truly unique to the wearer.

All these attractive qualities of course, come at a price, but while leather watch straps occupy a prominent position at the higher end of the market, it is possible to pick up a genuine leather watch strap at an affordable price.

The leather watch straps in our range are an example of this, with a number of options from £20 and upwards. Whether you want a retro, perforated strap to complement your favourite racing watch, or something more classic to set off a stylish dress watch, genuine leather straps can be comfortable, of good quality and still affordable.

Browse our collection of genuine leather straps to see what we mean.

So there we have it – affordable watch straps can indeed be good quality, and this is true whatever type of strap you are looking for.

At WatchGecko, we pride ourselves on providing high quality watchstraps of every style and design, at an affordable price point. Have a look at our full collection of watch straps here to find the perfect complement to your favourite time piece – at a great price!