What should you consider when choosing the best watch straps for your watch and your lifestyle? Our guide will help. Click to discover more…
When it comes to choosing and matching watchstraps and metal bracelets with watch heads, there’s lots to consider. For a start, there’s the watch brand and type; the strap or bracelet material, the security required from the strap; and how you’ll use the watch and strap. Personal taste also plays a major part in choosing the best watch straps for your watch (or watches). Of course, you’ll find guidelines and supposedly-correct combinations – everyone has an opinion on different straps, bracelets and types of watch clasps!
Just like drinking Sauternes dessert wine with your steak, if you like the idea of pairing an IWC Portofino or a Schwartz Etienne Fly-Back chronograph with that white rubber NATO, do it! Wearing watches and straps, if nothing else, is about expressing your personality and individuality. And a couple of new straps or bracelets are a great way to quickly, and cheaply, give your watch collection a new dimension…
When looking for the best replacement watch bands, the type of watch will inevitably influence your choice of strap or bracelet. It makes sense to take a lead from the manufacturer’s supplied strap or bracelet. Thus, a deeply padded, prominently-stitched black leather strap reminiscent of 1980s ‘Breitling-style watch bands should complement anything from a 1940s Tutima to Orient Star’s current JC00002D World Time.
Historic precedent matters
Historical precedent is another good indicator: you rock a classic 1930s–1940s pilot or aviator watch such as a Laco or a Hanhart pilot’s chronograph? A nice leather strap with double period-rivets is the perfect aviator watch strap – equally for a respectful homage such as Geckota’s K-01 or Citizen’s Eco-Drive Aviator GMT.
So here’s a representative selection of the main watch types that we’ll refer back to as we think about choosing the best watch straps:
Classic dress watch: Rolex Datejust
Iconic divers’ watch: Rolex Submariner
Affordable sports/field watch: Seiko 5 SNZG15K1
Modern pilot watch: Citizen Eco-Drive Aviator GMT
Racing chronograph: Geckota C1 Racing Chrono
The Seiko comes with a black textile ‘field watch strap’ and the Geckota is supplied on a handmade vintage racing leather strap. The other three come on stainless steel bracelets. Not surprisingly, the Rolex bracelets are superb. The Citizen’s is a perfectly serviceable standard Japanese offering but easily upgraded for under £50 with an independent replacement.
You can often improve on standard straps
And there’s one of the first things to consider. Even if you don’t change the strap type from the standard one, it’s easy and cost-effective to improve on it. A case in point is the disappointing standard leather strap supplied with Seiko’s otherwise-sublime JDM SARG005 field watch.
While we’re on watch brands and types, an obvious consideration is whether your watch will be immersed in water. Standard stainless steel bracelets that come with divers as diverse as Omega’s PloProf or Invicta’s ProDiver range from superb to adequate. It’s worth considering rubber or fabric dive watch straps too – including NATO and ZULU straps with their more secure double attachment. For rubber, Italian Bonetto Cinturini really is among the best watch strap makers. As well as marketing under their own name, they manufacture for independent brands (including Geckota) and supply OEM straps for many Swiss luxury brands.
Type of strap or bracelet material
Talk of rubber, stainless steel and other materials brings us to preferences for strap or bracelet material. And questions like ‘What is the best leather watch strap?’ or ‘What kind of security clasp is best on a stainless steel bracelet?’
If water immersion isn’t an issue and you want a change from stainless steel on the dress watch, diver or Citizen, a quality leather strap can work well. Prepare to be spoiled for choice! Options range from the casual, practicality of Horween leather NATOs and smart-casual handmade Italian leather, to padded alligator-style or other similarly luxurious watch straps for more formal occasions.
Most stainless steel straps come with a fold over and push-button release mechanism such as a deployment clasp or butterfly clasp. However, if yours doesn’t have a security clasp and you want extra on-wrist security, this is something to look at. You can’t go wrong with a well-chosen independent aftermarket stainless steel oyster, jubilee, super engineer or similar-style bracelet. Unless your watch is a super-luxury model, the likelihood is that you’ll also improve the bracelet’s quality.
Of course, for the security of two separate attachments to your watchband, classic NATO or ZULU straps (available in a wide range of leather, nylon and rubber) are hard to beat. For more on the history and benefits of these versatile military-inspired straps, read our NATO straps article.
How will you use your watch?
With technical considerations, such as water immersion, covered, you can have fun choosing your strap or bracelet. Will you use it for an all-action lifestyle of diving, sports, rock-climbing or military manoeuvres? Or will it be your everyday office wear, a ‘desk diver’ (nothing wrong with that at all), a strap for socialising and gentle activity, or a stylish accessory for the most formal occasions.
Several watches; several straps
If you're anything like us, your lifestyle includes a mixture of different occasions and formality. Budget allowing, one way to address this is to own several watches, each matched to an activity and a carefully chosen strap.
Referring back to the above examples, you could keep your two Rolexes on the original stainless steel bracelet (Datejust) and, perhaps, a stylish-but-practical NATO (Submariner). The Seiko goes well with a nice leather or nylon NATO, while the Citizen will look fantastic on Breitling-style black leather or a handmade Italian pull-up leather strap.
Meanwhile, how about treating the Geckota racing chronograph to a super-stylish German Milanese mesh. By the way, they’re made by Staib, one of the best watch strap brands in the world and supplier of mesh bracelets to luxury brands such as Breitling!
One watch; several ‘best watch straps’
Alternatively, perhaps you haven’t yet ventured over the lip of the watch-collecting void to build a collection (you will). Or you consciously choose to own one really special luxury watch – maybe a Rolex Submariner or Omega Seamaster. In that case, for a fraction of your watch’s cost, how about investing in several amazing straps and a spring-bar tool and swapping out straps for different occasions? Keep the original stainless steel bracelet but add a rubber NATO and, maybe, a stylish Bond or Swiss-style black and grey NATO. For more formality, how about an understated, simple handmade Italian leather strap?
It’s easy when some of the best watch straps are so reasonably priced. Yet such prices needn’t mean embarrassment when you put a quality affordable strap on your Rolex, TAG Heuer, Longines, IWC or Breitling. Just look at the WatchGecko Instagram feed to see the luxury watches that people match to Geckota straps. If anything, the understatement will enhance your luxury watch.
Has your original strap worn out?
You may just need a replacement leather strap or metal bracelet because the original has worn out, been badly scratched or damaged. It happens. In that case, a reputable specialist selling watch straps online is your new best friend. Even better if they offer a wide range of nylon, leather, rubber and replacement metal watch bands. The best independents offer straps and bracelets that match luxury brands’ original equipment quality. The most important difference is that independents’ products are a fraction of the price of signed ‘big brand’ counterparts. Milanese mesh bracelets and Swiss-style grey and black NATO straps demonstrate this perfectly.
Follow your instincts and do your own thing
This brings us back to that bottle of Sauternes and the steak dinner that the author recalls from entertaining a client many years ago. It wasn’t a conventional combination and purists might sneer, but it was what my guest adored. The same applies to watches, straps and different types of watch clasps.
So you’ve achieved the technical performance you require (secure wrist attachment and water resistance). And you’ve made sure you’re comfortable wearing a particular material (some people react negatively to certain metals). Now your strap or bracelet choice is down to personal preference.
Naturally, you’ll bear in mind the need to match the style of your watch to the strap type. And to use the strap to complement, or contrast with, the watch’s colours and materials of the watch as well as picking up on colour and texture accents. You’ll also consider the relationship between the watch head’s size, the strap width and its thickness.
That done, it’s down to what you like. Will you make a confident statement with a Seiko SKX007 yellow dial on a yellow rubber NATO? Or will you be ultra-conservative with something like Geckota’s Vintage Oxford padded Italian genuine leather and matching tang buckle on your Rolex Submariner?
Talk to other fans about the best watch straps
Mixing and matching straps, bracelets and watches is made harder by the huge range of types and styles available in both – and wide ranging prices.
Generally, with watch straps and bracelets, you get what you pay for – up to a surprisingly accessible price point. There’s cheap and nasty and there’s nice-but-ridiculously-expensive (signed luxury-brand straps and bracelets – £150 for a nylon NATO!). If you’re prepared to forgo that OMEGA, Breitling, Longines, IWC or Bell & Ross logo, some of the best watch bands are available for less than 50 notes!
Are you prepared to experiment? If so, use the aforementioned guidelines and trust your instincts. Rest assured that you’ll find some really cool watch bands to work for you and your watch collection, make a unique personal statement and give years of wearing pleasure.
Remember too, that any reputable watch strap shop, whether a ‘bricks and mortar’ store or selling watch straps online like Geckota, should be staffed by watch fanatics who understand what you’re trying to achieve. For a start, follow their Instagram feeds and see which straps watch owners match with different timepieces. It’s a great way to learn about the best replacement watch bands.
Then email the company, engage with them on social media or phone and ask for advice about the best watch straps for different watches. They’re watch and strap enthusiasts too and should welcome the opportunity to share their passion.
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