A watch strap can be a fantastic way to give your accessory game a whole new watch aesthetic and at just a fraction of a price of a new timepiece. However, there are all kinds of straps out there, so just how do you decide what kind is best for which watch? There’s a lot to consider, from strap colours and materials to the nature of your daily activities and your general personal style.
Here, you’ll find a handy guide to pairing straps with a wide range of watches and outfits so that you can look your best no matter the occasion. Check out the advice below, and before you know it, you’ll have a burgeoning watch strap collection of your own!
Metal Watch Bands
A fairly dressy, refined choice of watch strap, the Milanese strap has its origins in Milan, and it’s a great pick for adding a little bit of European flair to any outfit. Thanks to its luxurious appearance, the Milanese bracelet uses a very fine mesh of stainless steel links and goes well with formal clothes and smart-casual weekend outfits. In terms of pairing it with a watch, it suits small to medium-sized watches best, as a large watch can overpower the effect of the streamlined band.
The Engineer / Super Engineer
At the opposite end of the metal watch band spectrum, we have the Engineer. This is perhaps the best watch strap type for those seeking to make a real statement with a watch. It has a chunky 5-link design, with equally sized links that give a functional, powerful look while really drawing the eye. It’s great for adding a bit of metal to an otherwise fabric-based outfit without becoming overly flashy.
Named for President Eisenhower, the President bracelet is a great type of metal watch strap that goes well with any small to medium-sized watch. It consists of three links in a row, with denser links than the traditional Rolex Oyster bracelet. This makes for a semi-formal strap that suits any medium-sized watch. As such, it’s perfect for matching with dinner and evening wear, as well as laid-back outfits for weekends on the golf course.
The Oyster is the classic Rolex watch strap, recognizable even to the layman, with a silhouette that’s been iconic ever since its inception in the 1940s. A true classic, the Oyster is a chunky 3-link bracelet that suits just about any watch face and can be worn for pretty much any activity. It’s very durable, if a little bit stiffer than some other metal bracelets, and works especially well with sporty, smart-casual looks.
With three small alternating links and two larger outer links, the Jubilee is an interesting watch strap on a visual level. It’s also very practical, thanks to the flexible engineering of the design and the extra breathability that the high link count adds. While the Jubilee strap is beautiful in its own right, it really sits back and gives precedence to the watch itself, so it’s a good pick for more decorative watches that deserve a good stage to stand on.
Named for its intelligent shark-tooth design, the Shark Mesh is a type of metal watch strap originally designed to be used with dive watches. The super-high link count makes for a very breathable watch with an almost fabric-like drape. This makes it a good fit for any wrist and means it goes well with smart, relaxed outfits and loose summer garments like linen suits and cotton shirts.
Nylon Watch Bands
Nylon NATO and Zulu
The NATO and Zulu straps have a lot in common. They’re both single-piece watch straps available in various materials, and they both go the whole way around the wrist, connecting to the watch’s spring bars. This means they’re great for active use, as if one spring bar breaks, the other one will save the watch thanks to the wraparound strap. The key difference is that the NATO strap uses two lengths of webbing in a thinner material to achieve this, whereas the Zulu only uses one thicker stretch.
When worn in Nylon, the NATO and Zulu are some of the best watch strap types out there. They are extremely versatile and can be worn in pretty much any situation. They’re great activewear, they don’t get cold in the winter, and they don’t get hot in the summer. They’re breathable and drape nicely around any wrist and go with all manner of occasion outfits and casual clothing styles – just ask James Bond! Plus, the inexpensive material means you can buy a few colours to mix and match, and if you wear out or misplace one, then it’s not the end of the world.
Perlon is a reliable and wearer-friendly material to pick when choosing a watch strap. It’s made from a Nylon blend, with a super lightweight weave and a naturally thick, organic look. It’s a great choice of watch strap for casual wear and suits any kind of watch face. It’s also a great summer pick, thanks to its breathability and supple, airy feel.
Leather Watch Bands
The original Pilot strap has gone down in history as one of the most versatile types of leather watch straps ever invented. It takes its aesthetics from classic aviation watches, with two rivets just below the watch casing and an otherwise minimalist leather look. These straps were historically oversized to fit around pilots’ jackets. Hence the rivets for extra grip and the overall design perfectly complements any aviation watch. It’s a good pick for smart casual outfits and semi-formal occasion wear, as well as everyday office and lifestyle wear, thanks to its versatile, understated style.
Leather NATO and Zulu
Leather variants of the NATO and Zulu strap design bring all of the practical features of these straps across to a slightly more formal space. The leather versions of these straps often use thin, pared-down pieces of material that start off rigid and eventually work into a soft, pliable shape to make the wraparound design work. This gives the strap a nice drape, and the weathered leather can build up a beautiful patina over time. Overall, they’re still great practical straps and go that extra mile when paired with matching shoes and belts, unlike the Nylon originals.
Originally worn by German pilots in the Bundesrepublik air force, the Bund strap became iconic in the 70s thanks to Hollywood movie stars like Steve McQueen incorporating it into their everyday wardrobe. This strap has a vintage, old-fashioned look, thanks to the insulative leather patch that sits underneath the watch. Designed to prevent injuries due to altitude chill or aircraft fires, this strap is now a good pick for those with a metal allergy, as it prevents metal-on-skin contact. It looks great with any vintage-style outfit and works well for everyday sportswear too.
Perhaps the sportiest type of leather watch strap, the Rally strap earned its fame on the European rally circuit throughout the 20th century. It’s visually iconic, with different models having either many small perforations or a few large perforations, respectively, which originally provided more airflow to drivers’ hands during high-intensity races. Nowadays, it’s a great choice of strap for pairing with sportswear and smart casual outfits, and it looks great with any late 1900s chronograph or racing watch.
If you like the look of animal skin watch straps but you’re after something a little more affordable, then an embossed leather strap is a great alternative. These straps look just like real animal skins, like ostrich, crocodile, and alligator, but come at a fraction of the price as they’re made from embossed calfskin. These straps go very nicely with formal outfits and weekend wear and can turn your watch into a snazzy accoutrement or a refined accessory, depending on what sort of style you choose.
A standard, plain rubber strap can go well with many an outfit and suit any casual occasion. There’s no decoration here – but that can be a good thing. The stripped-back look means a standard rubber strap can go with any watch without looking out of place. Simply match the colour and choose a material; some rubbers are nice and breathable, like rubber nitrite, whereas others are glossy or give more friction, like PVC and silicone.
When looking at various rubber watch straps, you’ll often come across the classic Tropic strap. This strap was one of the original rubber straps and came about as an inexpensive alternative to mesh and metal options. It’s primarily designed to go with dive watches, but it looks great with any modern watch face, and the basketweave pattern makes it a nice casual choice. It’s breathable too, thanks to perforations in the weave, so it’s fantastic for hot weather and beachwear.