Here's a thought: don't collect watches. Instead, make one or two versatile watches feel like a collection by swapping straps. It's a far cheaper way to add variety to your wristwear, and you might even find that it's more fun.
From straps of all materials and designs to different kinds of metal bracelets, there are more watch strap types out there than can be named or counted. You're encouraged to explore, but no matter how deep you get into collecting watch straps — and many of us have drawers full of them — a few essentials from each of the categories below will always be options you'll appreciate having on hand (so to speak).
With that in mind — and with the reminder to check your watch's lug width and get the right size strap — get your strap-changing tool ready: here are some basic straps any collection should have, and some favorite examples of each type.
(But first, here are a few examples of our favorite watches that'll look good on a wide variety of straps:)
In time, you might end up with multiple leather straps because this is, in fact, a broad category that's not really a single category at all. It comprises different types of leather with different qualities, textures and stitching in an endless variety of styles. Some might have rivets, others might have padding or perforations. At the very least, every watch or strap collection should have a solid option for dressing up as well as something with a rugged feel for those tool watches. There's a lot to explore, but here are some basic styles to start with.
Go ahead and just buy dozens of NATO straps — or any other similar type of "single-pass" fabric (often nylon) straps. What's the harm? Seriously, they're so cheap, fun and easy to change, it's not a huge financial commitment and you won't regret it. Try bright colors and patterns if it strikes your fancy, but you'll also want to have some basics in your arsenal. NATO straps, after all, have military origins and can offer a striking look even in drab colors. Since they tend to add some bulk between the watch and your wrist as well as from the long end that you tuck into the keeper, NATOs are a great way to give a small watch more wrist presence.
The rubber watch strap fills an important niche, and this is its ability to get wet and then dry quickly. Since many are designed for sweaty or water-related activities, they'll often lend a sporty or modern feel to a watch as well. Depending on the rubber material itself (silicon included), these bands can also be quite comfortable and lightweight. You can get colorful with rubber straps, too, but they also make for a more sport-ready alternative for any watch that normally takes a classic black leather band.
It's typical and fun to amass leather and NATO straps, but you might only want a couple of aftermarket bracelets — since the best watch bracelet is often the one that was designed specifically for it, with end links that fit the watch case exactly (there are companies making aftermarket bracelet options for popular watch models like Rolex, Seiko, Omega and others). There are a few types, however, that can be swapped in and out as easily as a strap and which look perfectly at home even without sitting flush against the case.