When it comes to choosing your watch straps, one can easily get overwhelmed by the input of information about the materials and styles. Here’s a quick guide on watch strap materials you can’t go wrong with and for every budget, whether you own a classy timekeeper or a robust dive watch. We’ve also covered some of the main characteristics of each material, so you know what you get when you choose one of these and so you can fix a nice match to your beloved watches.
1. Leather watch bands
Leather is like a definition of a classic among the watch strap materials. There is no wrong time to wear a leather watch strap in social situations. Not only leather is one of the oldest materials used to make watch bands, but products made of leather are durable and long lasting. When it comes to leather, it is important to pay attention to the two categories that fall under the “leather” term on the market. The first is the so-called faux leather, which means it isn’t truly leather, but only carries such a name. Basically, it is mostly a material with plastic at its core and the only good thing about it is that no harm is done to animals. There are also other types of cruelty-free leather options that are PVC free, such as watch bands made of flexible wood fibers, etc.
Speaking of the “real” leather, the material called genuine leather goes covers the cruelty-free version and may not be made for vegans. The full grain leather is the leather material with the highest price, but also of the best quality, meaning the watch bands made of it will last decades if cared for properly. It uses a top layer of animal hides and includes natural grains that come with them. The top grain leather, another type of genuine leather is basically a full grain leather without the outer layer, which makes it thinner than the full grain and easier to work with. Even if the price of the top grain leather is lower than the former, this type of genuine leather is also very durable, so you won’t go wrong if you choose a watch strap made of it.
When it comes to genuine leather, the most commonly used is probably cow leather, but also watch straps can be made from buffalo, camel, goat, deer and pig hides, etc.
Besides the common genuine leather watch straps, there are so-called exotic leather materials, whose sources are more expensive, hence their higher price. Alligator and crocodile leather may be the most popular exotic leather materials among watch strap enthusiasts. Plus, you can find a lot of other, exotic leather watch bands, such as kangaroo leather watch bands sourced from Australia, ostrich straps sourced from Africa, lizard leather watch straps (the majority of them coming from Iguanas), snakeskin watch straps (most often coming from pythons because they have various patterns and usually sewn or glued onto the cowhide, due to their thinness), stingray leather watch bands (with their exceptional patterns reminding on pearls) and so on.
Horween leather is a branded type of genuine leather made by the Horween tannery, an old family business from Chicago, Illinois. The Horween leather stands for one of the best genuine leather on the globe and is a vegetable-tanned, premium leather. There are several types of Horween leather, such as Genuine Shell Cordovan, Football leather, Chromexcel and their famous Baseball glove. Whatever the type, the Horween leather has a distinctive, pleasant smell, due to the way of processing hides, which makes it a super-desirable genuine leather brand.
Shell Cordovan is a material made from the back side of a horse hide and it goes through several processes of refining, which take around 6 months at least. Favored among the luxury shoemakers, it has also become an interesting material for watch strap manufacturers. It is a non-creasing, non-porous, durable material that develops an interesting patina over time.
Another popular Horween subbrand is Chromexcel, often simply labeled as CXL, which goes through one of the most complicated leather tanning processes, 89 of them to be exact, that take 28 days of work. The name Chromexcel refers to using chrome salts for base tanning. The CXL is based on a 100 years old recipe and made in several varieties, such as Beaufort, Cavalier, Huntsman, Kudu, etc. There is also a waterproof version of Chromexcel.
Rubber watch bands were first made to replace the heavy and expensive metal watch straps on dive watches. The first rubber watch band was released in the 1960s and was called Tropic strap, made with the printed mesh pattern. It was also perforated for more breathability, which was a kind of pioneer move at the time. There are several categories of rubber materials used to make watch straps, but we’ll only mention some. The original, natural rubber, also called vulcanized rubber, is usually labeled as NR. Polyurethane is a type of synthetic rubber, but with better durability in terms of wearing out. Among the synthetics, there are also silicone watch straps, that also offer great temperature resistance and are a better choice for people prone to allergic reactions. Then there is the FKM rubber, which translates to Fluoroelastomer, but can be referred to as “vulcanized rubber on steroids” because it has excellent resistance to harsh chemicals, weather conditions and its durability is extraordinaire. Watch straps made of rubber are commonly used for diving watches, but FKM rubber beats all other categories.
The fabric watch straps are actually the roof term for a wide variety of watch straps made of materials falling into the textile/canvas category. They can be made of almost every textile material strong enough to hold a timepiece and ranging from silk over denim to military-grade fibers, but also a huge variety of styles and sizes. The textile watch bands are also among the most comfortable ones, especially gently to the wrist on hot summer days. Watch straps made of textile are the best choice for you if you like to change your straps often (hello fashionistas!), plus they are usually on the more affordable end, compared to other types of materials mentioned here.
Nylon belongs to the textile group of materials but we’ll mention it separately here, as it is another material commonly used to make watch straps due to their lightness and exquisite characteristics when it comes to moisture or time. That’s why most military-style watch straps are made of nylon. Also, nylon watch bands have some cool look to them, which makes them extremely popular among young people and they are also a perfect match to the wide range of sports watches. One category of nylon watch bands is extremely popular and that is a perlon watch strap. It is basically a watch band made of thick, weaved nylon, which makes it a lot stronger than ordinary nylon and super-resistant to ripping.
When it comes to watch strap manufacturing, the most commonly used types of stainless steel are types 304, 316L and 904L, sorted per both quality and price, meaning the 304 type is the most affordable, which reflects on the prices of watch bands made of it, compared to the two latter types. Type 304 is widely used in the kitchen and home products, such as cookware and pipes. Its price is relatively low because it is quite easily bent and shaped into end products compared to its pricier relatives, but it is also more prone to corrosion. The stainless-steel type 316L often called surgical steel is of marine grade type, meaning it is highly resistant to corrosion and acids, due to the larger percentage of carbon in it. The 316L is, hence, used in most of the high-end stainless-steel watch bands and has an excellent price-quality ratio. The Type 904L can be considered as a luxury type of stainless steel as it is super resistant to harsh chemicals and other environmental factors and is, besides heat and pollution piping systems and bleaching equipment, used for luxury stainless steel watch straps. However, it may not be the best choice for people with sensitive skin, due to the large percent of nickel in it.
Having several replacement watch bands not only gives you options when it comes to style but also has you equipped for different adventures. For example, you probably don’t want to take your Suede watch strap to your exploration underwater or your rubber watch band to a classy meeting. By owning just one timepiece and several replacement watch straps, you can have a perfect accessory for every moment of your time.