Game Changer: An Expert Guide To Watch Straps

Watch Straps

Some people out there have a watch for every season; some for each day of the week. Some even have one for each bloody outfit they have. That’s great, good for them – I wish I had one for each of my many, many (3) sartorial ensembles. But that approach quickly gets expensive – at least, it does if you have good taste. Why bother, when all you need to do is switch around your watch straps?

That’s right, the sexiest horological topic of them all: watch straps. Aww yeah, straps. Well, why not? Every watch has one (we call bracelets straps in the biz too) and it’s probably the easiest way to switch things up without dropping another few thousand. Plus, it makes a hell of a lot more of a difference than you might think.

Hublot’s quick-change system

Look how many watch brands are offering different straps now. And I don’t just mean the usual Sophie’s choice of leather or metal, either – there’s a huge and growing array of different colours and materials available these days. Omega has a whole straps catalogue, Hublot designed their entire quick-change system around buying new straps over watches, and Tudor tends to offer at least three different straps as standard.

The only problem is that this makes you beholden to the brands. That’s not so bad considering they’re probably where you got the watch from in the first place, but it does limit your choices slightly. Let’s say you want something a little more out there than black or brown leather. Let’s say you want bright green snakeskin with painfully lurid pink stitching; where do you go then? It’s not something Omega’s ever going to do unless you ask really, really nicely… and hell freezes over.

Monkey Swag Nato and Zulu straps from £10.80 >

Fortunately, there are plenty of places you can get something a bit more striking. Want something sporty? Look no further than the amazingly named Monkey Swag and their military-style NATO and Zulu straps. Classic construction in seasonal colours? Try Parisian leather specialist Camille Fournet.

Camille Fournet Watch strap in gold grained calfskin, $118 >
Camille Fournet Watch strap in deep brown alligator, $284 >

More locally, take a wander down Prince’s Arcade to check out Jean Rousseau. Yes, they’re Parisian, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more quintessentially, traditionally London store than theirs. And hey, they use the same leather in their straps as their phone cases, bags and other wares, just in case you felt the pressing need to match everything. I’m not sure why you would, but then I want a bright green snakeskin strap so who am I to judge?

Jean Rousseau Watch Strap Alligator 3.5 Blue Jean, £210 >

Despite my seemingly terrible taste, the strap of my dreams isn’t an impossibility – I can go to The Strapsmith. Don’t be fooled by their admittedly poor website, they do the job and they do it well. Just let them know what you want, be that a replacement for an unusually small vintage piece or a Panerai diving watch in dire need of some baseball glove leather. Canvas, denim and textured leather, sure, but how about ostrich? Shark maybe?

The StrapSmith Black Vintage Pre-made with Brown Stitch, $159 >
The StrapSmith Distressed Brown Pre-made with Beige Stitch, $159 >

There are limits; they’re not really going to be able to include Hublot’s quick-change system, so sorry if you happen to have one of them. Other than that, it’s entirely up to you. If that’s not broad enough for you, you can try ordering off-menu. They won’t even judge you if your choice is, to put it mildly, disgusting – even though you probably deserve it.

Bespoke aside, there are a few things you need to bear in mind when deciding on your strap. It’s not all fun and games playing wristwatch dress-up. Obviously, it needs to complement the watch, but I’ll leave that particular ball entirely in your court. Sometimes the best thing about a watch is that its strap stands out so unapologetically.

The one thing you can’t ignore is size. Get too small a strap and the watch will slide around; too big and it just won’t fit. No matter what you were told as a teenager, size does matter. The same goes for thickness (stop it), as there needs to be enough room in the lugs for you to actually get the pins back in. Leather five layers thick just isn’t going to fit a 32mm Patek Philippe.

Patek Philippe Calatrava unisex 3520D-J watch with 32mm case size in 18k yellow gold, white enamel dial on a black crocodile leather bracelet

Size is a pretty easy thing to figure out, though. If you don’t have the original specs from when you bought it, just take a ruler to your watch and measure between the lugs. That’s all you need. Many (incorrectly) assume that the case size is correct – but that’s a different measurement entirely and will be far too big.

The bigger issue is wear and tear. I have a nasty habit of using exotic leather on my everyday watches and as anyone with a pair of Vegas drug dealer boots knows, snakeskin doesn’t last well. It means I need to swap straps far more often than I’d like, whereas if I went for normal leather I’d likely still be on my first. You can wear any strap you want with any watch you want… but sometimes you just shouldn’t.

If you insist on having an exotic strap for your everyday watch, do yourself a favour and get a few to rotate regularly. It’s what I’ve ended up doing and, to be honest, it’s what I’d advise anyone doing, whether they have one watch or a hundred. All it takes is a couple of minutes fiddling and you can dress your watch up or down to suit the occasion or your mood.

Match it with the time of day, where you’re going for dinner, match it to your damn tie if you want to. It doesn’t matter how you decide which strap to take out the drawer, just remember that you get to decide. Watchmakers might know how to make a damn fine timepiece, but how you wear it is personal preference. Plus, anything that saves on buying 365 watches for the year is fine by me.

Samuel Kessler

Mr. Sam Kessler is Ape's Watch Editor, alongside being Digital Editor of watch and lifestyle magazine Oracle Time. He's also a self-proclaimed writer of luxurious temperament.