One watch, many looks: a primer on watch straps

By Jason Swire, September 20 2018
One watch, many looks: a primer on watch straps

Replacing the strap is a quick and inexpensive way to dramatically change the style of your watch. A new strap can dress a watch up or down, make it more comfortable in hot and humid weather, and look the part while driving a vintage car.

And for frequent flyers in particular, it's far easier to carry around a pouch full of strap options and a spring bar tool than several expensive timepieces for all occasions.

Here are some key options for you to consider taking with you on your next trip.

The classic leather strap

While a steel bracelet offers versatility and a professional look, you can dress up even the sportiest of watches by switching to a classic two-piece leather strap.

The best leather options are shell cordovan (as pictured above), which is a high quality equine leather with a glossy finish, or alligator leather for a textured and traditional look.

Rally straps

A rally strap usually features multiple perforations or large holes in the leather, both to increase the breathability of the strap and to mimic early race cars which often had unnecessary mass cut away to decrease weight. Brightly coloured contrast stitching is also common.

Rally straps are best paired with a chronograph or automotive-inspired watch to enhance both their sportiness and comfort.

Aviation straps

These are typically brown or black cowhide leather straps which feature either a single or double rivet just below the lugs, based on the design of German Flieger watches from World War 2. Aviation straps are often quite durable as a result, and can add some vintage flair to any flight-themed timepiece.

Bund straps

Another strap which owes its lineage to German pilots, the Bund strap was designed to prevent the watch cases from freezing or searing the wearer’s skin from the cold of high altitudes or in the event of a cockpit fire.

The recent trend for bronze watches has led to another great use for the Bund strap; it prevents the bronze from touching the wearer's skin and leaving green oxidisation marks. American actor and race car driver Paul Newman also famously wore his Rolex Daytona on a Bund strap, which popularised this as a motor sports style strap.

Tropic straps

Tropic straps are a kind of stamped rubber strap released in the 60's as an alternative to metal bracelets for dive watches. They are characterised by patterns like woven baskets or tire treads and extensive perforation to increase breathability.

Tropic straps particularly associated with vintage Seiko diving watches. These straps feel great on the wrist, are suitable for water sports, and can add a lot of charm to your favourite dive watch.

Milanese straps

As the name suggests, these finely woven steel or gold mesh straps were first invented in Milan.

Although popularised in mainstream consciousness by the Apple Watch, Milanese straps are mostly associated with vintage dress watches, and can be used as an alternative to leather for dressing up a classic timepiece.

Unlike leather a Milanese strap is waterproof, making this a great option for a dress watch that might end up taking a dip in the pool.

NATO straps

First used by the British military in the 1970's, NATO straps are notable for their single-piece construction which passes under the spring bars of a watch. This design makes the watch more secure to the wearer's wrist under adverse conditions; both spring bars would need to break in order for the watch to fall off.

Because a NATO strap passes through the gap between the case and spring bars it is also very easy (and tool-free) to swap out one NATO strap for a different one. This adds a great deal of style versatility to a sports watch, as well as being waterproof, durable, and comfortable.

Jason Swire

Jason Swire is a Sydney-based writer, watch collector and author of 'Timely Advice', a beginner's guide to fine timepieces. His non-watch passions include hi-fi and whiskey, in that order.


Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 732

I like a good quality patent leather watch strap, none of this metal stuff.

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