The humble watch strap is often overlooked, but is actually an important factor that ties your style together.

However, just like how a good suit maketh a man, a good watch relies on the right strap to make as bold, masculine or sophisticated a statement as the precision instrument attached to it. With this in mind, we dive into the wondrous and (considerably less) complicated world of this lesser-recognised component.

A brief history

If you know your history, you’d know that watches didn’t start off by sitting pretty on wrists. Gentlemen wore what we know today as pocket watches, which saw the timekeepers being attached to end of long Albert chains and kept snugly within coat pockets. Anything small enough to be worn on the wrist were regarded to be less precise and more prone to damage.

The ladies, on the other hand, embraced the convenience and status-signalling virtues of wearing their timepieces on their wrists, and sported dainty accessories that were discreetly held with finely-wrought chains and bracelets. The tradition even dates back to the 19th century, when women were only just beginning to appreciate timepieces even though it was considered impolite for them to check the time in social or business settings. Secret watches — timepieces subtly incorporated into jewellery pieces — made it possible for the ladies to keep the status quo without being frowned upon.

This gender-biased perception saw a seismic change when Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont worked with his close friend Cartier to create the Santos de Cartier in 1904 for easier readings while flying. The purpose-built wristwatch would go on to serve in the trenches of wars, dive into unprecedented depths in the ocean, and soar to new heights in cockpits. Just as how they required different features and case materials, the watches needed different straps to perform their duties best.

Types of straps

Bracelets

Known for its innate durability and industrial good looks, the bracelet has been regarded as the default strap of choice for watches in just about every segment — from sports models to dress watches — in the market. Besides its ability to take a few knocks, bracelets are also a way of adding more value to the watch; one fully made of precious metal such as gold, for example, is often viewed as the ultimate power-dressing move. 

The Rolex GMT-Master II. (Image credit: Rolex)

But not everyone can afford a good chunk of pure gold, so steel watches it is, then. This breed of watches have become increasingly sought-after for its low maintenance and affordability, and often comes with substantial folding clasps that can tolerate micro-adjustments for the perfect fit. The steel bracelet is a lasting and stylish everyday-wear option, especially for beginner collectors, with one of the most sought-after options now being the Jubilee bracelet on the fairly new Rolex GMT-Master II. Other popular bracelet materials include titanium (prized for being strong and lightweight), and even ceramic.

Leather straps

Leather straps are easily one of the most exciting ways to spruce up a timepiece. Whether it’s calfskin, alligator or Nomos Glashütte’s Horween Cordovan (horse, if you were curious), these straps are an extension of the firm’s promise of craftsmanship. With colours that span the rainbow, leather straps walk the fine line between casual and smart effortlessly, so expect plenty of mileage out of this one.

(Image credit: Mr. Porter)

Like every leather product, leather straps wear with age and requires careful maintenance for them to age gracefully. Your best bet for quality comes from Europe, with Switzerland and Italy being two of the biggest suppliers.

Rubber straps

As a waterproof, lightweight, and comfortable option, it’s easy to see how rubber straps became a top choice for diving watches, and — by virtue of the genre’s booming popularity today — a respected smart-casual choice too. We’re particularly fond of Panerai’s Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days Automatic 47mm.

The Panerai’s Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days Automatic 47mm. (Image credit: Mr. Porter)

Beyond aquatic-based entertainment, they’re also good for people who sweat profusely and who have no qualms about exercising with a S$20,000 watch. They’re much easier to wash than bracelet and leather straps, and won’t smell over time.

Fabric straps

Those looking to inject some fun into a serious timepiece without breaking the bank should look no further than a NATO strap. 

The new Tudor Black bay Fifty Eight in Navy Blue. (Image credit: Tudor)

First developed in 1973 for the British Ministry of Defence Standard 66-15, the NATO strap is recognisable by its folded loop design, and was only available to soldiers who filled out a form known as the G1098 — hence the strap’s nickname, the “G10”.

The functional nylon strap has since grown out of its utilitarian roots to become one of the trendiest casual dressing accessories. Even the world’s most famous spy couldn’t resist wearing one; in Goldfinger, Sean Connery’s Bond sported a Submariner that was paired with a green, navy blue, and red striped Nato strap, which has since been referred to as the “Bond NATO”. Fabric straps are usually inexpensive, durable and can be easily switched to fit whatever mood you’re in — just don’t hit the gym with it, trust us.

Here are few of our favourite watches with the coolest straps today.

This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Singapore.

1
Santos de Cartier Automatic in 18K Pink Gold

Immediately recognisable by its signature curved horns and exposed screws — inspired by the Eiffel Tower, no less — the Santos de Cartier is really where it all started for the modern gentleman’s wristwatch. This 39.8mm 18K pink gold version is outfitted with a chain link bracelet, but also comes with an interchangeable alligator strap that can be easily swapped thanks to an innovative “QuickSwitch” feature. 

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2
Panerai Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days Automatic Titanio

Embodying the design and utility inspired by the original Luminor 1950 that was worn by commandos, this 47mm version comes paired with a rippled “accordion” rubber strap that was made to stretch over a wetsuit, although it still looks just as good out of the water. The highly precise watch is driven by the widely lauded calibre P.9010 automatic movement, and sees a brushed titanium case that’s been made to withstand corrosion and external shocks, with a water resistance of up to 30 bar.

Price
Approx. RM38,384
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3
Bell & Ross BR03-92 Diver Full Lum

Bell & Ross has had a history of diver-oriented timepieces. This year, it’s transformed the iconic “circle within a square” with its ‘Full Lum’ treatment, applying Super-LumiNova to not only the hands and markers on the dial, but to its entire face. Paired with a black textured rubber strap with a PVD-coated pin buckle, the watch is a functional (and fun) riff amongst a sea of serious diving watches. An additional ultra-resilient black synthetic fabric strap is also included for more casual occasions.

Price
RM19,900
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4
IWC Pilot’s Top Gun Automatic Chronograph

Originally created to withstand the missions of US Navy jet pilots, this robust chronograph watch joins IWC’s ‘Pilot’s’ collection as a highly functional modern accessory. The murdered-out timepiece — in a corrosion-resistant matte black ceramic and titanium — features a stopwatch function, day and date, as well as 30-minute, 12-hour and second counting sub-dials, all powered by the house’s calibre 69380 automatic movement. The watch comes with a matching fabric strap with an easily adjustable buckle.

Price
Approx. RM34,780
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5
Vacheron Constantin Fiftysix Automatic Complete Calendar 40mm

A polished and very much classical take on complete calendar wristwatch, this 18K pink gold FiftySix features a rich chocolatey brown dial behind elegant luminescent hands and indices, a calendar with displays for date, day and month and a precise moon-phase indicator. Powered by the calibre 2460 QCL/1 automatic movement, the dress watch wears exceptional well with a suit, especially with its matching leather strap.

Price
Approx. RM161,172
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Shatricia Nair
Deputy Editor
Shatricia Nair is a motoring, watches, and wellness writer who is perpetually knee-deep in the world of V8s, tourbillons, and the latest fitness trends. She is fuelled by peanut butter and three cups of coffee a day.