Watch Bands Explained

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watch bandsRead a typical watch review. The watch band’s lucky to get a single sentence. There’s a reason for that: watch bands are the most expendable, replaceable and inexpensive component. And yet they’re also one of the most important. Like tires on a car, changing a watch band can drastically transform the feel of a watch . . .

Whereas tires are all black rubber, visually indistinguishable from a few paces away, the watch bands styles offer a veritable garage of variety. That’s it for that analogy. Oops, I lied. Some wheels enable a huge range of tire options, others are extremely limited, and some screw you with a Hobson’s choice. Same with watches.

Before we delve into the different types, here’s a short pre-game warm-up.

Watch Bands – Even the Odds

Before you buy a watch, check the case’s lugs (a.k.a., ears or horns) – the bits that hold the band to the case. If the gap between the lugs spans a nice even millimeter size between 16mm and 22mm with a spring bar then Bob’s your uncle. Replacing the band with an aftermarket band is easy enough – with a spring bar tool (no commission on link).

If you buy a Seiko with 19mm lug width or some other odd size, your options for a replacement/alternative watch band are fewer. Fancier watches often offer less leeway still, which brings us to the beginning of our watch band listicle . . .

Integrated Bracelets

Justin Beiber's Audemars Piguet Royal Oak

Ever since Gerald Genta and Audemars Piguet introduced the Royal Oak (left) in 1972, followed by the Patek Philippe Nautilus (right), “luxury steel sports watches with integrated bracelets” have been a big thing.

Now, more than ever (e.g., Bell & Ross BR05, H. Moser & Cie Streamliner). If you like your bracelet, you can keep your bracelet. You have no choice in the matter.

Watch Bands – T-Bar

Some watches come equipped with classy T-Bars. Hope the original manufacturer supplied a proprietary replacement option. No aftermarket band for you! Without some crafty bodging, that is. At least the T-Bar has some screws to work with, unlike the integrated metal bracelet.

Metal Linked Bracelet

There’s a huge range of metal bracelet styles. The chances of an aftermarket metal bracelet matching your watch case aesthetically depends of how picky you are – meaning it will not be perfect. Is it worth the hassle to swap? Maybe avoid them in the first place?

I’ve never had to deal with any sharp edges, but apparently it’s a thing. My problem: the folded links scrape up dead skin and grime and sweat and leave a black filth ring on my wrist. More hirsute people are also known to have problems with the bracelet pinching their wrist hair between the links of certain makes and styles.

My other main complaint: the metal bracelet’s lack of “give.” When your wrist swells a bit in the heat, a metal linked bracelet can suddenly become a horological zip tie.

Milanese Metal Bracelet

Inexpensive Rolex alternatives - Mr. Jones watches A perfectly useless afternoon

To me, the Milanese (a.k.a., “chain mail”) bracelet looks effeminate. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (especially if you’re female, identify as a female or are in touch with your feminine side). Milanese bracelets have a lot more flex – and thus comfort – than chunky linked metal bracelets.

Not so wonderful: finer wire mesh Milanese bracelets can deform with one good solid whack, leaving an irreparable flat spot. Another catch: metal bracelets are only as good as their clasp. With cheap metal clasps, I’ve spent way too much time tweaking till they to open and close with an acceptable amount of pressure.

Watch Bands – Leather with a Pin Buckle

watch bands

Ye olde pin buckle system is pretty much faultless: stylish, secure, easily swappable. But not entirely. Cheaper leather watch bands are hideous to look at, uncomfortable and self-destruct almost as quickly as a Mission Impossible’s reel-to-reel tape. Leather watch bands collect sweat till they smell like the animal whence they came (cows, sheep, pigs, goats, etc.)

Bottom line: if you’re watch isn’t equipped with a top-notch leather watch band, it pays to “invest” in an upgrade. Click here for an excellent primer on leather grades.

If you can’t be bothered, know this: “bonded leather” is lowest of all the leather grades, usually formed from reconstituted scrap, like particle board. “Genuine leather” is only a small step up. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Literally.

Watch Bands – Cloth with a Pin Buckle

Timex cloth fabric watch strap

Cloth watch bands are usually made of some sort of canvas – think canvas sneakers or plimsolls. Cloth watch bands absorb stains, moisture and odors almost instantly. If the holes are punched in the woven fabric, they will spread. Metal grommets will fail too. Synthetics forsake breathability but are utterly superior in most other ways.

Perlon with a Pin Buckle

Perlon watch strap
Courtesy waabistraps.com (click on image for link)

Perlon watch straps are made of braided Nylon 6, open enough to add airflow. You just stick the buckle’s pin through anyplace in the material you wish. “Nylon 6 fibres are tough, possessing high tensile strength, as well as elasticity and lustre,” wikipedia.org advises.

Leather Watch Band with Deployant Clasp

watch bands include delployant clasp

Deployant clasps are a great idea – at least on paper – solving the problem of leather wear at the buckle prong by adding a bracelet clasp.The reality is more like grandma’s plastic covered chairs: preservation at the expense of comfort.

I’m gonna say it. aBlogtoWatch’s Ariel Adams is right about deployant clasps. They have become an obligatory hallmark of an expensive watch, expected but not necessarily wanted. Just monkey see, monkey do.

NATO Strap

Stührling Original Cobia DiverThe NATO strap is a single piece of material that fits under the watch case. The official NATO (a.k.a., G10) has two fabric layers. One goes through the lugs, the other sporting a metal hoop to keep the watch from sliding off onto the ground. They also provide tacticool extra strap length for all those times you wear watches over a wetsuit. (You tuck those extra inches into the other two metal keepers.) 

People will claim that NATO straps are awesome because the watch doesn’t go walkies if a spring bar breaks – ignoring the fact that this is also the case with any one piece strap. NATO straps are fairly inexpensive with countless color and pattern options. I’m not a fan.

Watch Bands – Velcro Closure

Velcro watch band

On the plus side, velcro watch bands offer unmatched micro-adjustability. On the downside: ugliness, bulkiness, noise, snagging knits and delicates, collecting lint. Unless you’re a child or are suffering impaired motor skills, it’s best to avoid velcro watch bands.

bund strap is a watch band

Bund

The Bund band places a big leather trivet under the watch case. They tend to look like they were made at summer camp.

I was puzzled by the one worn by my gym teacher growing up, and they make anyone look like a leather fetishist. I was unable to confirm that Glenn Hughes of The Village People wore a Bund strap, but it’s of that spirit. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, either

Barton Watch bands

Polymer Watch Bands (Rubber, Resin, Silicone)

Polymer watch straps are impervious to moisture. They’re usually a tad grippy, so they don’t slide around. Like vinyl seats, they can be cleaned with a damp cloth. In theory, these don’t breathe, but it’s never been a problem for me. How do I say that my experience with silicone was favorable without that sounding dirty?

Watch Bands – Another Addiction?

Many watch enthusiasts begin amassing “replacement” watch bands with the justification that a new band/strap/bracelet is cheaper than buying a new watch. Which it certainly is! Until, at some point, it isn’t.

Once you see how a watch band changes the character of an old friend, it’s easy to disappear into the rabbit hole of a larger and larger collection of increasingly expensive watch bands. If you are a frugalist or suffer from an acquisition disorder, you’ve been warned.

20 COMMENTS

  1. Great article and great idea for an article.

    I’ve not been able to understand the need for “breathability” of watch bands / straps. We’re talking about approximately 5 – 6 square inches of body surface in the context of about 3,000 square inches for a person who is 5′ 10″ and 160 pounds. So, if 0.17% of my body surface “can’t breathe,” will I really notice it?

    My biggest challenge is so often I’m “between holes” on a pin-buckle type strap.

    • BTW, I wish I was 5-10 and 160 lbs. I am neither. Just used that as an “average human” to calculate body surface area.

    • The ventilation is for moisture dispersal usually, as it gets muggy when sweat collects under there. Worse yet with absorbent bands as it turns into a real wet bathing suit feel.

    • I’ve got the “between holes problem” and large wrists, so nato straps are a game changer, so much so that I won’t buy a watch with an integrated bracelet.

        • True, it doesn’t solve the between holes problem, but it is an easy fix for the “wrist too large for the bracelet or strap the watch came with issue”. The “between holes” problem pales in comparison : )

          • easy fix for the “wrist too large for the bracelet or strap the watch came with issue”.

            Ah…. with a 7-inch wrist, I don’t have that issue.

  2. Note that WWI trench watches had fairly narrow bands. This may have helped to prevent trench wrist, a form of trench foot.

    • Haha… yeah… no. There is no “trench wrist.” Trench foot comes from constant immersion in water…. or a constant exposure to moisture, usually enabled by the enclosure of the feet in boots. The same cannot happen with a wrist band, which will dry out on its own due to a much smaller surface area and exposure to air.

      • I am shocked to learn about the lack of humidity in your area, especially in the summer months. People that haven’t gotten swampy under a watch band are either not getting very warm or aren’t sweating for some reason, and I’m not a particularly sweaty guy.

        • I’m in south Florida. Plenty of heat and humidity. But, my watch bands / straps are simply not an issue, including rubber straps. Yes… I sweat. But, sweat dries, which is how it works to cool the body. The sweat under my watch strap is not so isolated or enclosed (like a boot on a foot) that it never dries (I don’t wear my watches that tightly). Believe me… I don’t get “swamp wrist.” 🙂

          I’ve been out on the rifle range, prone position under the Florida summer sun, sweating so much that it literally looks like I jumped into a pool… soaking wet. After I’m done, I have to change shirts before I go into a restaurant for lunch. But, my wrist under my watch is just fine. Because it dries out without a problem.

          Now… if I was wearing a cloth-type / canvas strap, I bet that might get “swampy.” I don’t have any of those type straps… yet.

  3. A well made, solid, with solid end links, metal bracelet wins the day. After that single pass fabric. It can be easily taken off and washed without messing with the spring bars. Then probably silicone, then leather, which gets nasty quick but can look nice, then rubber.

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