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All you need to know about watch straps

There’s nothing humble about the watch strap or bracelet – they’re every bit as essential as the movement they hold.

Watch straps don’t typically get much ink, but this certainly isn’t reflective of their role in the realm of horological appreciation. You can’t look at a watch without looking at the part that’s going to keep it on your wrist, and changing the strap can give the accessory – yes, it is ultimately still an accessory – an entirely different look and feel.

Everyone loves variety, and brands are catching on. Some of them aren’t just rolling out multiple additional bands (like Panerai did with 11 new alligator straps in 2014), but making them remarkably simple to switch at home, tools not required. Stylish women’s models like Bulgari’s Serpenti and Hublot’s colourful Big Bang Pop Art One Click are among the early adopters, but this trend isn’t just for the ladies. Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Atelier Reverso customisation programme lets clients choose their Reverso straps, while Vacheron Constantin’s Overseas masculine models come with three bands – metal bracelet, leather strap and rubber strap. All held in place, again, by mechanisms designed for easy fitting and removal.

And they can’t just look good; they have to be comfortable. This is especially true for metal bracelets, as links have to be carefully engineered to rest perfectly on your skin. That doesn’t mean makers of leather straps have it easy. An Hermes watch strap, which is made from the same leather as its bags, goes through a 12-step process. IWC and Roger Dubuis have turned to shoemakers Santoni and Massaro respectively for leather and unique designs. Even the workhorse rubber strap has been taken to the next level – Hublot, for one, has jazzed up its versions by combining rubber with unlikely materials like denim and leather.

The possibilities are endless, but here’s a primer on what’s out there.

(RELATED: 7 classic and minimalist watches that suit every occasion.)

SECOND SKIN

Leave it to these experts when you need just the right look.

  • Atelier du Bracelet Parisien

    01: ATELIER DU BRACELET PARISIEN

    This family-owned, Paris- based strap specialist offers a staggering number of options for your ideal strap. Aside from the standard calf and alligator skin, Atelier du Bracelet Parisien has leathers made from sea bass, pangolin, toad, and countless other exotic creatures. You get to choose the material and colour of the lining, the amount of padding, the shape of the end of the strap and whether you want it stitched by hand or machine.

BAND AID

From basic to iconic, these are the bracelets and straps you need to know about.

  • OMEGA SEAMASTER DIVER 300M “COMMANDER’S WATCH”

    01: NATO

    The Nato strap made its first appearance in 1973 and was created by the British Ministry of Defence. Those straps were characterised by 20mm wide double nylon straps with spring bars, in a colour called Admiralty Grey, though their popularity led to the adoption of more colours and a slimmer 18mm version. They are often confused with Zulu straps, which differ from Nato ones by having only one long strap made of thicker nylon.

    OMEGA SEAMASTER DIVER 300M “COMMANDER’S WATCH”

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A HELPING HAND

General tips for the strap-shifting DIY enthusiast.

  • HAVE PROPER TOOLS

    01: HAVE PROPER TOOLS

    Most watches use spring bars to hold the straps to the watch, so use a spring bar tool for watches with drilled lugs. It also won’t hurt to have some spare spring bars, in case you break or lose the one you’re using. For watches with screw bars instead of spring ones, a set of jeweller’s screwdrivers should do the trick. These come in different sizes so get a complete set if you’re unsure of what size you need.