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:)
Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical
Junghans Max Bill Hand Wound
Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight
Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch
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.
Analog/Shift Laika Black Alpine Strap
Black leather like Analog/Shift's Laika Black Alpine is the perfect way to dress up a daily wearer without making it look overly formal. That elegant grained texture has just the right level of detail, and the texture will soften a tool watch's look and effortlessly complement a dress watch.
Analog / Shift
Hodinkee Crocodile Watch Strap
You need one fancy crocodile strap for those occasions where you need to present yourself as polished and poised as possible. Hodinkee's ain't cheap, but it's going to elevate your watch in the right way. Either black or honey brown like this one is the way to go.
B&R Bands Horween Classic Vintage
Lest you think leather straps are all fuss and formality, something like B&R Bands' Classic Vintage strap made from Horween leather is perfect for a rugged tool watch. Plus, it'll only get better over time and with wear.
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.
Hodinkee UTE Nylon Watch Strap Grey
The original NATO strap made for the British military was in "Admiralty Grey," and Hodinkee's version captures it perfectly. What its originators possibly didn't realize that it goes with literally (almost) anything.
Crown & Buckle Matte Supreme
Got a black- or white-dialed tool watch? Diver or chronograph? An olive NATO will make it feel instantly serious, earth-toned and military-chic. Try the Supreme collection straps from Crown & Buckle, which are made from a tough but comfortable seatbelt-like material.
Crown & Buckle
B&R Bands Original Bond "Seat Belt" NATO
You can get all kinds of creative and colorful with NATO straps — sometimes it works, other times it doesn't. This particular design, however, is an utter classic and a tribute to the way Sean Connery wore his Submariner as James Bond back in 1962.
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.
Tropic Rubber Dive Strap
Though many companies produce a strap in this style today, the original Tropic company was resurrected specifically to offer the real thing to modern consumers. Waterproof and breathable, it's perfect for just about any dive watch with a tinge of retro inspiration.
B&R Bands Aqua-Vent FKM Rubber Quick Release
With ridges underneath to let water drain and air flow, B&R Bands' FKM straps are practical, durable and comfortable. They might be designed for rugged use, but they've got a sleek look that's perfect for a modern, sporty feel and the rubber is soft and highly pliable.
Like Tropic, ISOfrane is a '60s dive watch classic that was resurrected for modern buyers. This is a relatively premium rubber strap with some great history and an unbeatable sporty look that can be either a bit retro or contemporary depending how it's worn.
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.
B&R Bands Retro Beads Of Rice Stainless Steel Bracelet
One of the most classic, retro styles of bracelet — the "beads of rice" — has made a comeback along with vintage watch reissues, and it's hard not to like. This version from B&R Bands has polished "rice bead" links in the center while the outer links have a brushed finish.
Strap Code Quick Release Classic Milanese Superfine
A Milanese mesh bracelet is not only an elegant look for the right watch, but super comfortable, to boot. Another benefit it offers is the ability to adjust it to exactly the right fit, as one end that clips on can be slid and secured to almost anywhere along the strap's length.
Watch Gecko H Link Shark Mesh
It's a kind of mesh like the Milanese above, but with a thicker wire and looser weave "shark mesh" takes on a wholly different character. This is for your dive and tool watches when you want to make them rugged-feeling — back in the day it was advertised as being "shark-proof," hence its badass name.