Buying a watch is an exercise involving multiple choices. Not only do you have to decide on style, function, and aesthetics, but you also have to choose among a wide variety of materials. And when it comes to straps, there is something for everyone. For some people, strap material ultimately determines the watch purchased.
If you don't know much about strap types and materials, this guide is for you. You are about to learn everything you need to know about watch straps. This guide will cover the 10 most frequently utilised materials now being used by watchmakers.
Genuine leather is essentially a tanned animal hide. Cowhide is the norm, but strap makers have other options to work with. You can identify leather by its unique look and feel. Leather is a permeable material, so it tends to absorb water if not treated with a chemical additive. Nonetheless, leather is soft, comfortable, and quite durable.
There are different types of leather straps, defined by their embellishments:
A classic leather strap is a single piece of leather with no embellishments. There is no stitching, embossing, etc. It is as plain as plain can be, with the designer choosing to emphasize the visual texture of the leather over any embellishments.
A leather strap with contrast stitching features visible stitching all along the outside edge. Contrast stitching is so named because the thread colour is chosen specifically to contrast with the colour of the leather. No other embellishments are added.
A rally strap also features contrast stitching on the perimeter. However, what makes it unique are the small holes punched in the leather throughout. It is called a rally strap because it evokes images of a rally driver wearing a leather watch and matching leather gloves.
A double ridge leather strap is embellished with two ridges of equal width running along the entire length of the strap. The ridges add a bit of texture. Stitching can be seen around the perimeter, but it is generally the same colour as the leather itself.
Genuine leather is expensive. To accommodate customers who want the look of leather without the extra expense, strap makers utilise faux leather. What is faux leather? It is a material made to look like leather even though it is not. Most faux leather is a polymer material – like polyvinyl chloride (PVC), for example – with a secondary layer that looks and feels like genuine leather. Faux leather straps can be made with embellishments to improve their aesthetic appeal. Embellishments are similar to what you would find with a genuine leather strap. If purchasing a leather strap watch, we would take into account the wearing of the leather, as this does happen a little faster than a stainless steel watch.
There is another leather-like material commonly referred to as cruelty-free leather or vegan leather. This material is intended for consumers that appreciate the look and feel of genuine leather but are not pleased about the fact that it is an animal product. Cruelty-free leather is either plant-based or biomedically synthesized in a lab. A plant-based cruelty-free leather is made by combining multiple layers of plant material and bonding them with a polymer. The plant material might be flax, for example. It turns out that plant fibres make very strong fabrics when combined in just the right way. It is possible to make a plant-based cruelty-free leather that's just as beautiful and durable as genuine leather.
In terms of metal straps, the most commonly utilised material is stainless steel. A stainless-steel strap is strong, durable, and resistant to corrosion. The one downside to stainless steel is that it is easily scratched. Stainless-steel straps can be solid or plated. Watch straps boasting precious metals like gold and silver are rarely solid through and through. In other words, most gold straps are not solid gold. They are actually stainless steel with a gold plating. Solid gold would be much too expensive and too soft to be the only material for a watch strap. In some cases, a watchmaker wants to offer consumers solid pieces of precious metal. To do so, they might create a stainless-steel bracelet with alternating links of stainless steel and solid gold. This gives the consumer a bit more gold while still offering a bracelet that is strong and durable.
Titanium is another choice for fans of metal straps. Titanium is actually a chemical element with the atomic number 22. It is grey in colour, and it can be buffed to a lustrous shine if so desired. Titanium's biggest advantage is its exceptional strength-to-weight ratio. It is lighter than stainless steel yet still stronger. Titanium does not corrode either.
The final two materials, beginning with ceramic, are used less often than all the others to make watch straps. As you may already know, ceramic materials are inorganic, non-metallic materials that are baked or fired to make them hard. Watchmakers appreciate working with ceramic because of its hardness. Ceramic is very difficult to scratch or otherwise blemish. It is also resistant to low impact. The downside of ceramic is its lack of flexibility. A ceramic strap worn too tightly can be quite uncomfortable. On the other hand, ceramic is a beautiful material to look at; ceramic straps are quite pleasing to the eye.
Canvas is an excellent material for straps intended for sport, aviator, and dive watches. Canvas itself is a plain-woven fabric used to make everything from boat sales to camping tents. Its tight weave makes it naturally water-resistant. Adding a special coating can make canvas waterproof. You find canvas straps on watches intended for active people. Indeed, it is the perfect material for such watches as canvas is extremely flexible and comfortable. It is also soft and breathable. Despite properties that make it one of the most comfortable materials for watch straps, canvas is still pretty durable. It is especially resistant to rips and tears. One of the nice things about working with canvas is that it comes in different colours. Canvas is typically made from cotton or linen, combined with polyvinyl chloride for extra strength. The cotton or linen can be dyed in just about any colour prior to weaving. Thus, you can have a canvas strap that is brown, blue, red, or any other colour you prefer.
Nylon is a synthetic material often confused with canvas. It is actually a thermoplastic material with a soft, silky texture – as opposed to the rougher texture of canvas. What makes it ideal for watch straps is its durability. You can stretch nylon in any direction and you will not rip it. It holds up very well to everything from bright sunlight to temperature extremes. There are two specific types of nylon straps that stand out in the modern marketplace: firstly the Nato Strap. The NATO strap takes its name from its original use in the military. Conventional thinking suggests that the first NATO straps were issued to British military personnel in the 1970s. At any rate, the straps were intended to be all-purpose straps capable of withstanding the rigours of active military duty. Modern NATO straps come in a variety of colours and designs. From a plain nylon fabric to one embellished with different colours and geometric designs, you really have a great selection to choose from. Secondly, the Zulu strap. This is a modified version of the NATO strap. Its claim to fame is stronger materials that are more resistant to rips, tears, and environmental influences. You can generally tell the difference between a Zulu and NATO strap by looking for the extra loop on the Zulu. That extra loop is there to accommodate excess strap material.
Rubber is a strap material frequently associated with dive, sport, and racing watches. Rubber is also fairly common for budget watches. It is cheap to produce, easy to work with, and comfortable for most wrists. Its biggest downside is that it doesn't breathe well. Rubber straps are not the best choice for people prone to excessive perspiration. Although it is possible to make a watch strap out of natural rubber, doing so is rare. Synthetic rubber is more cost-effective. There are two types of synthetic rubber being used in our industry right now: Firstly, Silicone rubber is a very comfortable kind of rubber with a soft texture. More importantly, it is non-toxic and environmentally friendly. Silicone is known for its elasticity. In other words, it stretches easily enough to fit comfortably around the wrist without biting or applying undue pressure. But because of its elasticity, it has low tensile strength. Stretch silicone too far and it will break. Secondly, polyurethane rubber is stronger than silicone. It is also less expensive. Thus, the majority of rubber watch straps are made from polyurethane. You will find polyurethane extremely flexible and comfortable as a strap material. However, it is not as soft as silicone. If durability is important to you, choose polyurethane over silicone.
Last but not least is wood. Believe it or not, wood is among the more trendy materials for watch cases and straps. There is no questioning why for people who appreciate the beauty of real wood. There is something about wood's visual texture that just cannot be replicated by other materials. Working with wood is not so easy in the watchmaking business. In fact, making a wood bracelet is one of the more difficult tasks craftsman face. Each individual link has to be given significant attention to ensure that it is properly cut, machined, and finished. A lot of work goes into wood bracelets. That's why they are so expensive.
You now know more about the 10 most popular materials for watch straps. Does one material appeal to you more than the others? Regardless of your answer, remember this one thing: reputable watchmakers use high-quality materials for their straps and bracelets. It is worth paying a bit more to get a quality strap you know will last, its also important to select the right type of watch glass to match your prefered watch material.