Watchbands & straps 101

What's what for holding the watch on your wrist.

Not buying a watch because you don’t like the band is like not buying a house because you don’t like the paint on the walls.  Both situations are relatively easy to change and the new-look to cost ratio is heavily in your favor.  Like those paint swatches at Home Depot, there’s a seemingly endless variety of watch bands out there.  Most of which are affordable enough that you won’t feel like you’re shoveling cash down a money pit.

Styling (from left – right above)

Croc Embossed - Probably the dressiest of the bunch.  Standard leather that has had a pattern stamped on it to make it look more like immensely expensive crocodile leather.  Unlike most other “faked” things in men’s style, this crock-like-look is widely accepted.

Rally - Large holes that start near the lugs which are intended to make the strap more breathable.  Y’know, so when you’re slicing through those hairpin turns on mountain roads your wrists don’t get too sweaty.  Right.

Double Ridge - Maybe the most underrated style out there.  Two esker-like ridges of raised padding that can subtly sportify (not a word) a watch.

Links/Bracelet - Stainless, gold, titanium, etc…  More durable than leather and understandably found on dive style watches.  Simply saying the two words “wet leather” aloud is uncomfortable enough, let alone actually feeling it against your skin.  Not as difficult to change out as most would think.

Contrast Stitching - A detail that plenty of watch bands have.  Contrast stitching almost always = more casual.

NATO / ZULU -  Usually nylon fabric style straps that slip through the space between the watch case and the spring bars.  NATO straps are usually thinner and have an extra watch keeper strap.  Most guys would call ZULU straps “slip-thru” (like the hugely popular Timex Weekender slip-thru series), although a true ZULU strap has a thicker band/rounded hardware.

Rubber/ Silicone - Extremely casual.  Most rubber watch straps aren’t nearly as pliable or flexible as the softer silicone.  Which makes sense since they often use silicone for, well… nevermind.

Canvas - (not shown) Attaches to the watch via the spring bars like a standard leather strap.  Often backed with leather for structure/strength.  Very casual.

Pilot/Aviator - (also not shown) Rivets near the lugs add extra strength so the watch doesn’t come shooting off when you’re pulling 9 G’s during an evasive maneuver.  Right… again (see rally straps.  Doesn’t mean they don’t look cool.)

Other Basics

Deployment/Deployant Clasp -  Method of securing your watch to the wrist found on metal bracelet style watches as well as some leather band versions.   Instead of a traditional buckle, a hinged metal mechanism closes the two ends and can be released by pushing buttons on either side.  A note on the terminology: most use “deployment” (including some watchmakers) but plenty will argue that “deployant” is the correct term.

Spring Bars - The critical unseen component to holding your strap to the case of the watch.  These are the small rods that slip into the holes of your watch band.  Slightly depressing the spring as you replace the band is something that takes practice.  Changing a spring bar is like changing a roll of toilet paper, only at 1/100 the scale.  Same concept.  Having extra spring bars on hand in case you lose one (they like to jump and go flying) is a good idea.

Spring Bar Tool - You’re going to want to get a good one of these.  In fact, get a kit (this one looks good for the price.)  This is the small forked tool you’ll use to access the spring bar between the band and lug.  Much more effective and safe compared to a steak knife on the back porch after a couple of beers.

Lug width - This is the width between the two small extensions (lugs) that come down off the watch.  The spring bar attaches here by way of small holes on the interior of each lug.  You’ll need to match this width to the width of any future watch bands for a good fit.  Some bands, despite matching the width, might be a hair too large.  A steady hand with a razor blade can shave off just enough.  When in doubt, size down.  But you risk showing off some of the lugs.

Where to Buy

Crown & Buckle – Has an extremely strong following.  Everything on their site is $50 or under.
Wood & Faulk – A splurge, but their pass-through watch straps are terrific.  Full review here.
Target – For cheap slip-thru straps.  Lots of colors in store.  For the real deal try here.
Your local mall watch kiosk – Most carry a good selection of bands at decent prices.
Michael’s, JoAnne Fabrics, Etc… – For leather NATO style bands.  Michael’s especially.
Make your own – There are lots of DIY plans out there.  Here’s one example, also from Wood & Faulk.

Your turn fellas.  Where have you bought replacement straps?  Is there a certain style you favor, or alternatively just can’t bring yourself to wear?  Leave it all in the comments below…