The Spring Bar = Genius!

spring bar uber allesEnough cannot be said of watch bands, the different types, how much a watch’s look or comfort can be affected by changing them. Before the Timex Weekender made the one-piece woven strap ubiquitous and the Apple Watch put the quick-change spring bars in the hands of everyday consumers, the average nobody thought of a watch band as a sneaker sole, an integral and irreplaceable part of the assembly. When the band wears out, they replace the whole watch. Rubes don’t know about spring bars . . .

Somewhere in early adulthood I learned not only that bands can be replaced, but that I could do it – with chipped thumbnails or the edge of a butter knife. It was a different time, when the internet was not flooded with tutorials on every subject. Needless to say, this was a bit of a nuisance, but it revealed to me the previously hidden miniature marvel that is the spring bar.

Although a splendid article on the origins of the device succinctly describes them as “a telescoping tube with two pins held inside watch lug holes by an internal spring” I’d explain by comparison. They work the same way as the toilet paper roll holder on the bathroom wall.

The aforementioned article cites the first verifiable patent for the spring bar for use securing a wrist watch way back to 1915, so this wonder has been with us from almost the very beginning. Without them, we’d be stuck with fixed lugs or screws or some other inferior method.

Allow me a word on drilled lugs, a term I’ve only recently learned despite encountering the concept. If the drilled holes for the spring bar are blind (not through), you are stuck fishing the little fork between the lug and the watchband to remove it. That space is theoretically zero. You’ll be working blind yourself, risking damage to both the watch case and the band while playing a game of Operation to depress the shoulder and eke the bar out.

Drill that hole in the lug straight through, and you get a visible external hole. Tiny, innocuous, but there. Aesthetically one may want to find some metal putty and cover that, but as an access hole (I should really go back and find synonyms for “hole” because it sounds dirty, as Courtney Love knew) it has a purpose. 

Instead of spearfishing a lug shoulder buried in a watch band, you can depress the drilled lugs at the end of the spring bar directly by, well, pushing it with a stick. Through the hole. It’s much easier, in fact sometimes too easy, as this method seems more apt to allow the spring bar to turn into a self-launching projectile.

How to spring bar
courtesty eternaltools.com (click on image for link)

There are two types of people: those that have never removed a spring bar, and those that have witnessed that the spring pressure and the bar’s light weight allow it to go faster and further than you can follow in an onosecond

Were these proprietary little screws or some other rare or expensive to irreplaceable part, this scenario would be tragic. Spring bars for a certain lug width are almost entirely interchangeable and cheap as chips. Replacement bands tend to come with a spare pair, as it’s less trouble to do so than to hear from customers that lost one.

So fail-proof are they that loss is certainly the main failure mode. That’s operator error if we are being honest. In my decades, I may have mangled one or two with ham-fisted removal attempts before getting the proper tool, which can be had for a few bucks online. I think one watch had them survive while whatever inferior watch case material crumbled around the spring bars.

I’ve never seen one rust, or the spring lose resilience. The generic little commodity items just do their job tirelessly with near perfect reliability. Compare that to those automotive trunk lid shocks that start to deliver surprise drops on the head after a few years. 

Did I mention that the simple spring bar is usually also serving on the buckle? It’s true. You can transfer the original matching buckle over to replace whatever comes on the replacement band.

Okay, some watches still use something else. The cheap Casio F-91W seems to rely on friction fit pins. Presumably economy is the motive. Every damned Swatch sticks with the multi-lug interlock with the band, which is a literal barrier to entry for spring bars.

Speculation is that the plastic case of the early 1980’s wasn’t strong enough for a traditional two lug span. They perpetuate this, even with metal cases. One is left to ponder whether this is vestiges of brand identity or if it is about screwing customers into buying proprietary bands. 

The perfect spring bar

The spring bar, friend of the watch wearer for over a century, has yet to be obsoleted. The little handles that allow tool-less changes are fine improvement, but the underlying principle remains the same. And thank God for that. 

6 comments

  1. Spring bars, and more importantly, realizing that they can be removed and put back on, are a game changer. I probably have as many, or maybe even more straps than watches. Putting a new strap on a old watch is sometimes a smarter (and cheaper) move than buying a new watch to add to the collection.

    1. Spend any amount of time reading customer reviews of watches and Amazon and you’ll see gobs of gripes about bands being uncomfortable or falling apart prematurely. Both valid complaints, but you want to yell through the screen to these people that the watch is easily saved. It’s like the old joke about replacing the Cadillac when the ashtray got full.

      For the people that want to be noticed for their watch I’ll note that, besides a literal Mickey Mouse watch, the only time people seem to notice and compliment is when a colorful striped fabric strap is in use. They will tellingly say “nice watch” even if the actual watch is cruddy and nondescript, because band and case and all are a single unit to their mind. I always wanted to explain that I got a dozen bands for a few bucks a pop and so can you, but I realize that most people don’t really care that much.

      1. Yeah, and the weird thing is that the fabric strap trick has been around for awhile. It gets mentions in “Class” by Paul Fussell and The Complete Preppy Handbook, so it isn’t just an affectation unique to James Bond. I agree that the fabric straps can make a boring watch or a watch with a small case stand out. I bought an “Adventure Time” watch after seeing Deadpool, and it has a relatively small case. The one time I got a complement on it was after I’d removed the plastic strap it came on and put it on a navy blue fabric strap. I’ve also got two nato straps that use the carpet pattern and colors from The Shining.

        1. My aversion to watches that wont accept standard replacement bands might be a topic for another day. It is usually a total dealbreaker, although I don’t care so much with plastic fantastic digitals.

          I recently removed the Fussell quote about black leather (“Only six things can be made of black leather without causing class damage to the owner: belts, shoes, handbags, gloves, camera cases, and dog leashes”) in an upcoming review. That watch, same as a couple others I still own, came on a black leather band that was promptly swapped out.

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