One of the best parts of owning a watch is their stylistic and functional versatility. The same watch that you might wear to a formal occasion could serve you just as well 100 meters beneath the ocean’s surface. A big part of that versatility, however, is derived from the thing that keeps that watch on your wrist: the strap. And pretty much every worthwhile watch nowadays has the added benefit of removable straps.
Sure, you could feasibly buy a bunch of different watches for every occasion. Or you could rely on a select few to get the job done. All you have to do is swap out the band whenever it calls for a switch. It’s far cheaper than purchasing a litany of full timepieces and serves to illustrate your situational preparedness. But with the hundreds of options available today, where do you start? Well, rather than traversing the internet or trudging through the shopping malls, you could start right here. We’ve done the leg work and put together this list of the 15 best watch straps you can get right now.
Whenever anyone thinks of a classically styled leather watch strap, they’re imagining an aviator watch band – or at least something likely based on it. Originally popularized during WWII, these watch straps were designed for German pilots with simple functionality in mind. They were easy to attach to the arm and were secure enough that they would stay put during flight. These watch bands typically come in one of two basic styles. The standard style – like the Worn & Wound pictured above – is made of leather, sewn and/or riveted together, and comes equipped with a simple metal or synthetic buckle. The other, known as a bund strap, is very similar in nearly every way, but also comes with a secondary piece of leather that fits beneath the watch case. The reason for this was to protect the wearer’s wrist from burning in the case that flames from a plane crash caused the watch to become superheated. Nowadays either of these straps are handsome and comfortable additions to any watch – and, by proxy, any set of everyday carry gear.
Though it doesn’t quite fit into the aviator style, these button-stud fastening watchbands from Form Function Form are incredibly handsome, comfortable, durable, and relatively inexpensive. Best of all, they’re made from high quality Horween top-shelf leather – made here in the USA.
Metal Link Band
The natural and more formal counterpart to the Aviator strap, this type of watch band consists of a number of interlocking metal links that wrap around the wrist. They lend a dressy look to any watch, are very tough, and have the extra benefit of being adjustable by adding or removing links and come in a variety of styles, but the four most popular include (clockwise from the left) the President, Engineer, Jubilee, and Oyster.
The President style first appeared in 1956 and was named for its inclusion by Rolex on a watch that was gifted to American president Dwight D. Eisenhower – a token of respect which the president happily accepted. The Engineer style is thought to have been invented by Seiko and is the chunkiest and most unwieldy of all link style watch bands, but pairs well with large-case watches. Like the President, the Jubilee was also created by Rolex. It is perhaps the most stylistically unique of all the link-style watch straps, but has a tendency to be less durable than its counterparts. Lastly, the Oyster style band was yet another that was first introduced by Rolex. For its balance of simplicity, stylishness, and durability, the Oyster style is the most popular metal link watch band of all time.
Like the link style, mesh watch straps are also most frequently crafted from metal. In fact, they’re sort of the next logical step, as they are comprised of a greater number of far smaller links. These watch bands tend to be a bit more refined and more appropriate for pairing with a nice suit, but they’re also less resilient than their larger-link counterparts – just a result of having more and smaller moving parts. Of the two prevailing styles, the first (on the left) is called Milanese, because it was developed, you guessed it, in Milan, Italy. Reminiscent of and developed much in the same manner as the chain-mail that made Milan’s armories famous in years long gone, these bands lend a measure of refinement to any watch case. The second style, Shark Mesh, is named for its appearance in an Omega watch advertisement claiming that one of their dive watches was tough enough to survive a shark attack. While that’s not actually true, these bands, while chunkier, are certainly more durable than their Milanese counterpoints.
The NATO strap is easily the cheapest, most accessible, and most versatile of all other watch bands. Typically crafted from nylon, these straps received their name as a shortening of “NATO Stock Number” – which is a 13-digit code used to identify salable products between NATO member nations. These watch bands originally gained popularity, however, amongst British soldiers during WWII (at which time it was known as a G10 strap for its association with the G1098 requisition form that had to be filled out in order to get one). Since then, the more tactical style watch strap has remained virtually unchanged, but for color variations and the improvements made its construction materials over the years. The most notable difference between a NATO strap and other band styles (apart from the nylon construction) is that it features a single-piece design – making them far easier to remove and reattach.
With inspiration drawn from classic racing gloves, the rally strap differs from an aviator in one very notable way: it features three or more circular perforations in the center of the band. There are two schools of thought to this style. First, it is believed that – like driving gloves – the rally watch band was perforated as a tribute to early race cars (which features parts with holes drilled in them to save on weight). The other belief is that the holes were added as a means of ventilation for the wearer. In any case, these watches are a handsome and unique style addition to just about any watch – especially if the wearer likes to incorporate their fondness for quality vehicles into their style.
Most frequently made from rubber (or some variation therein), synthetic straps originated as a means to make diving watches lighter and less cumbersome for actual underwater use. They’re durable, waterproof, flexible, comfortable, and – because they are most frequently black – still offer a clean and handsome style. And, although they are relatively inexpensive and easily replaced, they can also last for an incredibly long time with the right care. If you like the look of a classic dive watch, but you’re not too hot on the idea of carrying around a heavy metal band everywhere you go, these synthetic straps are definitely worth considering.
Best Watches For Any Budget
Since you’re going to need a watch if you want to make use of your new strap, check out our picks for the 40 best watches for any budget.