An Effortless Guide To The Different Types of Watch Bands

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We put together a comprehensive, easy, and fun guide to the different types of watch bands — what they’re made of, the styles they come in, and how you can pair them with your favorite watch cases.

Like pairing the right wine with the right entrée, you can fundamentally change the feel of the watch by simply switching bands.

Join us as we dive into the best types of watch bands because after all, watch bands do more than strap a watch to your wrist.

 

How Do I Choose a Watch Band?

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There are three aesthetic qualities to consider:

  • Size: The length is, of course, based on your wrist size. The width is a style choice. In general, thinner bands are dressier, while thicker bands look sportier.
  • Material: We’ll explore the following band materials in this guide: Metal, leather, nylon, and rubber. Metal and leather can be dressy or casual, depending on the style. Nylon and rubber are typically casual.
  • Style: Watch bands come in a plethora of styles. Our guide is organized first by material, then by the different styles that each material usually comes in.

Let’s find the right watch bands for you! 

Types of Watch Bands

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We’re going to dive into each type of watch band below, but here’s a quick, high-level list of all the different watch bands and straps we’re covering:

Metal Watch Bands (stainless steel, titanium, and precious metals)

  • The Jubilee
  • The Oyster
  • The President
  • The Pearlmaster
  • Other Metal Watch Band Bracelet Styles
  • Super Engineer
  • Shark Mesh
  • Milanese

Leather Watch Bands (genuine leather, faux leather, and full grain leather)

  • Rally Strap
  • Bund Strap
  • Leather NATO and Zulu Straps
  • Pilot Strap
  • Embossed Leather Strap

Nylon Watch Bands

  • Nylon NATO and Zulu Straps
  • Nylon Perlon Strap

Rubber Watch Bands

  • Standard Rubber Watch Strap
  • Tropic Strap

So strap in (zing!), we have lots of different types of watch bands to discuss.

Metal Watch Strap Guide

Stainless Steel Watch Bands

Stainless steel is the granddaddy of watch metals, being the most common and sought after.

Ironically, stainless steel watches were considered too utilitarian for social occasions before the 1960s. Rolex, however, focused on tool watches. As the brand’s star rose, so did that of tool watches, and so did heavy, complex stainless steel bands.

Watch specialists love complexity. It’s why automatics are so esteemed, despite how unnecessarily complicated they are compared to an equally as respectable and often more accurate quartz.

closeup of steel audemars piguet watch on wrist under shirt cuff
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak

For example, Audemars Piguet Royal Oak’s stainless steel wristband has 250 edges to be rounded and an intricate array of surfaces to be individually brushed or polished, all by hand. Many stainless steel bands require this kind of hands-on artistry today.

304L vs 316L

  • 316L stainless steel has more nickel and molybdenum, an alloy that increases strength and hardness, in its make-up. It’s a higher-quality watch bracelet that’s more resistant to corrosion.
  • 304L is perfectly strong, but definitely the inferior alloy.

Titanium Watch Bands

Titanium is three times as strong as steel, much lighter, and doesn’t contain any nickel which some may be allergic to.

It’s also far more expensive and not as shiny.

The net result of these qualities is a band metal rarely used outside of aeronautical and astronautical testing.

Usually weightiness is considered a sign of a good men’s timepiece. We’re all about buying what you love though, and if you like a lighter, stronger band, and are willing to spend the extra bucks, titanium is a great option.

The quartz Tag Heuer Formula 1 with a titanium band is a favorite in the watch community. The high price of the titanium is balanced out with the affordability of a quartz movement, making for a high-end timepiece that’s pragmatically strong and accurate.

Tag Heuer Formula 1

Precious Metals Watch Bands

Precious metals are an impressive fashion statement and make watches more akin to men’s jewelry. They’re definitely beautiful though, so if you’re not in it for the investment value, go for it!

Platinum is the strongest option, followed by white gold, then yellow gold, though none are tougher than stainless steel.

Metal Watch Band Bracelet Styles

We can’t talk about metal styles without talking about Rolex specifically. No other brand gives their bracelets as much attention as Rolex does. They use a proprietary Oystersteel, an especially sturdy and rust-resistant stainless steel.

In 1998, Rolex bought out Gay Frère, the renowned bracelet supplier famous for the previously mentioned Royal Oak bracelet. Frère and Rolex have four in-house bracelets that inspire look-alikes throughout the industry.

These are the types of watch bands you can’t miss.

The Jubilee

Rolex’s first in-house bracelet came out in 1945 paired with the Datejust.

It’s their most classic dress watch bracelet, though it goes great with any Rolex face. It’s a complex pattern of five pieces linked together, with the narrower middle pieces forming an iconic x-pattern.

Seiko 22mm Jubilee Watch Band
$42.00

This Seiko metal watch band features a Jubilee-style design. It may also be worn on other watches with 22mm distance between the lugs (view chart). Genuine Seiko stainless-steel watch band: Curved end pieces to fit 22mm distance between watch lugs Jubilee-style design

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07/24/2021 02:58 am GMT

These middle links bring your attention directly to the face.

Since this is a dress watch bracelet, you may be tempted to try it with a precious metal. If that’s your taste, go for it. But I think that the pattern is complex enough, and that stainless steel gives its elegant design the attention it deserves.

Seiko even makes a great stainless steel Jubilee style band.

The Oyster

Rolex is known for combining functionality and lore.

Rolex Oyster Watch Strap Band

The Oyster is a robust bracelet with flat three‑piece links. It was first produced in the 1930s, and is Rolex’s sportiest and most casual option

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Instantly recognizable, the Oyster is a robust bracelet with flat three‑piece links. First produced in the 1930s, this is Rolex’s sportiest and most casual option. It typically comes on the brand’s professional watches, like the Submariner, Daytona, or Explorer.

It wears its functionality on its sleeve, so I think the Oyster goes with literally any case. It’s the most versatile metal band.

Today’s Oyster is a descendant of a 1930s design, though Rolex patented the 1947 iteration.

The President

In terms of formalness, the President is somewhere in between the Oyster and the Jubilee, design-wise. Like the Oyster, it’s a three-link bracelet, but the links are thinner and semi-circular, so it has far more links and a curvature to its sheen.

However, the President bracelet is made exclusively for the Rolex Day-Date and mainly in precious metals.

Check out this Stainless steel version:

President Watch Band Bracelet
$62.95

A President-style homage-type bracelet. The original President bracelet is made exclusively for the Rolex Day-Date, and mainly in precious metals.

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07/24/2021 02:47 am GMT

The Pearlmaster

The Pearlmaster is always made from gold or platinum, but its design is far flashier than that of the President.

gold pearlmaster bracelet day date rolex watch from bob's watches
The Gold Day-Date Masterpiece with Pearlmaster bracelet. Photo via Bob’s Watches

It’s a five-piece link bracelet made from slightly rounded pieces. The center link is the widest and is framed by slim links, which are often blinged out. The Pearlmaster is popularly used for faces set with diamonds and precious gems.

The President has a simple design, but is often made from precious metals to add a touch of decadence. The Jubilee is a complex design, best balanced out with stainless steel. The Pearlmaster doesn’t hold back, with its complex design and flashy material.

Other Metal Watch Band Bracelet Styles

Rolex aside, there are other beautiful, recognizable metal band styles out there!

Super Engineer

At almost 5mm thick, this is a hefty bracelet that doesn’t let you forget it’s on your wrist. It’s five links long, and each piece is hexagonally cut so it has a centipede effect when you flex it.

Because there are so many lines in just a small surface area of the bracelet, this checkered band fully transforms any watch you put it on.

Super Engineer II Watch Bracelet, 316L Stainless Steel
$72.99
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07/24/2021 05:31 pm GMT

Legend has it Seiko built it, which is probably why it looks so great on Seiko dive watches.

Since the multiple surfaces make it sparkle, I’m of the controversial opinion that it can go with a small dress face too. The combination reminds me of a Cartier dress watch, but one that is appropriate for men.

One downside is that the small links easily trap dirt, so clean your Engineer regularly! 

Shark Mesh

Like its namesake, the Shark Mesh is one of the toughest bands out there, first introduced by Omega.

Zakball Shark Mesh Watch Strap Band

Milanese SHARK watch band interweaved mesh construction no sharp edges, no fade, not scratch the hand, looks great on sports, diving & vintage watches.

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Because the band is made up of small loops that create a chainmail design, there are less places it can break from, making it exceedingly durable.

This also makes the Shark Mesh a lighter, breathable wear than the Engineer bracelet. Since it’s so light though, it should fit pretty tightly to avoid jingling.

I would pair this bracelet with a diver, as it was designed for.

Milanese

The Milanese is also a chainmail design, but with much smaller, closer pieces, for a denser look. It’s a smoother bracelet overall compared to the Shark Mesh.

Skagen Milanese Watch Band

The Milanese has a delicate, antiquey look and pairs well with dress watches and small faces in general.

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It also has a delicate, antiquey look and pairs well with dress watches and small faces in general. When it comes to formal vs casual, I think it’s more versatile than people give it credit for as long as you stick to case sizes in the 30mms.

Leather Watch Straps Guide

The origins of the leather watch strap are a bit murky, but they’ve been seen as early as the 1880s on the wrists of British soldiers during the Anglo-Burmese War.

Regardless, they are stylish and timeless, and a great way to bring a tool watch from the daytime into the evening.

Artificial vs Genuine

Actual genuine leathers, like full-grain and top-grain leather, are definitely higher quality, distinguished with a more organic imperfect grain if you look closely. Genuine leathers are also treated with oils.

Faux leathers, however, are more environmentally friendly and more affordable. They’re also way more durable since they don’t retain moisture or crack.

Leather Watch Strap Styles

Rally Strap

Auto-racing, along with diving and aviation, always inspired innovations and designs in the watch industry. No strap represents this more than the Rally.

Rally Racing Watch Leather Band
$19.95 - $24.95

The Rally strap’s defining features are the large perforations on either side, which were originally put there to match the racing gloves of the 1960s, which were perforated for ventilation.

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07/24/2021 02:39 am GMT

The Rally strap’s defining features are the large perforations on either side, which were originally put there to match the racing gloves of the 1960s, which were perforated for ventilation.

It’s a distinct and breathable option that goes great with large chronographs. Not only do they have a similar racing-related history, but visually, the perforations are reminiscent of the chronograph’s subdials.

Bund Strap

The German army adopted Bund straps in the 1940s as a way to put a barrier between the watchcase and the wearers’ wrist in the event the watch should get hot or the wearer get sweaty.

HDT Design Bund Strap
$39.95

Bund straps are large, bulky, and very warm. Some would say that it isn’t for men with small wrists, but I think it wears like a leather cuff bracelet a la Johnny Depp. If that’s your style, I’d say go for it despite your wrist size.

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After the 1960s, the strap became popular in the European mainstream then beyond.

Bund straps are large, bulky, and very warm. Some would say that it isn’t for men with small wrists, but I think it wears like a leather cuff bracelet a la Johnny Depp. If that’s your style, I’d say go for it despite your wrist size.

Since it takes up so much real estate on your wrist though, I recommend sticking to genuine, high-quality leather.

Leather NATO and Zulu Straps

Another strap style we can thank the military for! After the Cold War, NATO straps were in high demand at military surplus shops all over the US and Europe.

A NATO is woven through the spring bars so that wearers can switch watch cases on and off of it much faster than with typical two-piece watch straps. They have an overt military style about them, which gives them a cool factor that even James Bond couldn’t resist.

Barton Leather NATO Watch Straps
$20.00

The design implements leather loops where others typically use metal. The result is a cleaner look that is less bulky, weighs less and does not get in the way.

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time+ Zulu Watch Strap
$27.99

Zulu straps are like larger versions of NATOs. They are thicker with bigger hardware. Also, NATOs feature an additional strap that slides through the lugs as a sort of insurance policy in case a spring bar should pop out. Zulus don’t have this.

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07/24/2021 02:22 am GMT

Zulu straps are like larger versions of NATOs. They are thicker with bigger hardware. Also, NATOs feature an additional strap that slides through the lugs as a sort of insurance policy in case a spring bar should pop out. Zulus don’t have this.

I personally love leather NATO and Zulu straps with stitching on it. The extra dimension elevates the style and adds complexity.

Pilot Strap

Originally designed for oversized aviator watches, Pilot straps are distinguished by their rivets.

Dassari Leather Watch Band Strap
$24.99

Originally designed for oversized aviator watches, Pilot straps are distinguished by their rivets.

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There are usually two metal rivets on each side of the strap near the lugs, and often one more rivet at the bottom of the strap.

They were originally placed there to ensure the straps didn’t slide off the Pilot’s wrist, but today are a classic design highlight that goes great with chronographs and military style watch faces.

Embossed Leather Strap

Genuine or artificial, embossing is another distinct style feature for leather straps.

Ritche Embossed Leather Watch Straps
$12.99 - $18.99

Ritche leather watch band adopts a standard four-layer process. The top layer and it is made of top grain cowhide leather watch band with embossed alligator or crocodile styling. The middle layer uses padding layer and adds a special shaping layer to ensure that the watch strap is moisture-proof and durability. The bottom layer reinforced matte lining ensures soft and breathable

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While actual ostrich or alligator may be controversial these days, embossing leather to get that effect adds an old-world luxury to dress watches and a safari adventurer look to sport watches.

Nylon Watch Bands Guide

Nylon is great for rugged conditions due to its durability and moisture-wicking qualities. Most military watch bands are made out of nylon, and they have a cool-kid aesthetic about them.

They come in a Perlon style, and like leather straps, in NATO and Zulu styles as well.

Nylon NATO and Zulu Straps

Unlike leather NATO and Zulu styles, the Nylon versions are less dressy, and I think more adventurous looking.

As such, they pair well with sport watches and military watches. They’re super popular with oversized dives.

Carty Nylon NATO Watch Band Strap
$16.99

Soft, breathable, comfortable, waterproof, Stink resistant and machine washable. What else could you ask for?

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Barton Jetson Nylon NATO Watch Strap
$19.50

Perfect to fit the vast majority of watches while remaining lightweight, breathable and very sturdy. Buckle fabricated from 316L surgical grade stainless steel.

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07/24/2021 04:26 pm GMT
Binlun Nylon Zulu Watch Strap
$13.99

The surface of the watch band is smooth, feels soft and comfortable, will never scratch your skin. With its superior features such as lightweight, breathable, sweat absorption ability, perfect craftsmanship.

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07/24/2021 03:31 pm GMT

Nylon Perlon Strap

Perlon is weaved from thick nylon threads making them stronger than a regular nylon band, and almost impossible to rip.  It’s essentially a nylon chainmail.

Eulit Perlon Watch Strap
$28.00

Lightweight, breathable and washable, the strap is 100% waterproof and sealed at the end to prevent fraying.

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Aesthetically, the basket weaving texture gives Perlon more dimension than a regular nylon strap. It’s also very cool, breathable, and a great strap option for the summer.

Since the buckle tongue is slipped through the weavings, sizing is really easy. You don’t need predetermined holes as you do with a regular nylon strap.

Perlon is a casual style that elevates sport and field watches, but keeps it fun.

Rubber Watch Bands Guide

Rubber watch straps were made for divers who thought metal bracelets were too heavy and expensive. Today, rubber is a durable, flexible option that has a cool utilitarian look for casual watches.

Different brands have different styles of rubber straps. For example, Uncle Seiko has a popular textured rubber strap and Everest has made a name for themselves creating high-end rubber straps just for Rolexes specifically.

The original rubber strap though is the tropic.

Tropic Strap

The Tropic style is known for its basket weave pattern on the outside of the band. Rubber straps are always casual, but this added layer of texture elevates it, style-wise.

Tropic Rubber Watch Band

This waterproof watch strap is made in Italy from 100% vulcanized rubber. It features TROPIC’s iconic ‘tapestry’ texture.

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With a Tropic, high-end sport watches retain their casual yet luxurious look.

It’s also the most legendary rubber style. Every watch lover will recognize the waffle pattern.

I love it with Seiko and Citizen dives, as well as with Timex military style watches.

What Tools are Needed to Change a Watch Strap?

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Changing a watch strap is a lot easier than many believe.

First, check if the watch strap you’re buying has “quick release” functionality. This should be clearly stated on the sales page, because it’s a good selling point.

Quick release straps have a nub attached to the spring bar, allowing you to detach the strap from your watch case with your fingernail! Super easy. All my Barton watch bands, for example, have quick release functionality.

If your bands don’t have the quick release function, here’s what you need to know to change your straps:

Typically, a watch’s strap or bracelet is fastened by two steel, spring-loaded bars at the lugs. At the very least, all you need is a spring bar tool to remove or adjust these fasteners. Tweezers are also helpful in handling tiny watch pins.

This affordable EFIXTK Spring Bar Tool Set comes with extra pins and tweezers.

This mid-range set of micro-drivers comes with two Philips sizes and eight flat-head sizes to accommodate every watch spring band and pin. A ten-piece kit like this would usually cost about double.

This EZ watch tool repair kit comes with tools for everything from strap replacement to even gasket replacement.

It’s certainly ambitious, but considering its affordability and that it literally comes with every tool you’ll need for your watches, it’s worth a shot — who knows, you may never need to go to a professional watch repairer again.

The Best Types of Watch Bands

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Having different types of watch bands allow you to turn one watch into five watches. It can also elevate or dress down watch faces.

Watch bands are a great accessory to do some risky experimentation with. After all, you can always switch it up.

We hope you’ve discovered new watch bands or combinations that you love! Which material and style is your favorite?

Was that helpful?

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