There’s not a whole lot of sexiness to a rubber watch strap. While it’s true that certain watch collectors and aficionados have been known to argue the finer points of vintage Tropic and Isofrane straps until their significant others file for divorce, generally the fervor surrounding rubber straps never comes near to that surrounding, say, vintage, folded-link Oyster bracelet, or Gay Freres beads-of-rice bracelets. Even modern leather straps seem to attract more attention from the watch community.
All of this is interesting given the fervor surrounding dive watches, and especially vintage ones — after all, rubber straps were meant to be the perfect strap for, you know, actually taking your watch in the water, which was their intended use. However, given that most dive watches sold today tend to spend their lives as “desk divers” and never actually see any underwater time, it’s not so surprising that modern watch enthusiasts aren’t as keen on utilizing rubber straps and debating their merits.
Of course, a rubber strap is good for more than merely aquatic-based entertainment. Do you sweat profusely during physical activity, such as pickup basketball games or impromptu physical altercations with your younger brother over who gets possession of the TV remote for the evening? Well then, do we have the strap for you. Rubber in all its various natural and synthetic forms is the perfect sweat-wicking material, and it’s the easiest strap type to wash — while you can certainly dunk a NATO strap, have fun waiting for it to dry in anything but 90-degree heat. And we wouldn’t exactly recommend taking your $150 leather strap in the drink, either.
What follows, then, is a guide to eight of the best rubber straps available at various price points. Because whatever your budget, you should be able to afford a good rubber.
The Elite Silicone Quick Release from Barton is modern, affordable strap available in myriad colorways and buckle options. They come in 18mm, 20mm and 22mm lug widths and feature quick-release bars for easy strap changing without the need for tools. The silicone used is incredibly comfortable and features a premium textured top with a smooth bottom in either a matching or contrasting color. Two lengths, a long and a short, are included with each strap, meaning that there’s no way you should end up with a strap that doesn’t fit, no matter your wrist size. Each strap features a 2mm taper from watch head to buckle as well as two floating rubber keepers.
For $20, there’s a ton of choice and value here. Five different buckle colors are available with each strap, including stainless steel, black, rose gold, gold and gunmetal. There are also 20 different colorways to choose from, meaning that no matter what kind of watch you own, you should be able to find a Barton to go with it.
The Swiss-made Tropic strap is one of the most beloved rubber models of the 1960s. With its thin size, diamond-shaped outer pattern and waffle pattern on the reverse side, a Tropic is instantly recognizable. Used as an alternative to the stainless steel bracelets of the era, Tropics often shipped on Blaincpain’s Fifty Fathoms, the LIP Nautic and various Super Compressor-cased watches, including the original IWC Aquatimer. Unfortunately, most original models from the 1960s haven’t held up well over time, meaning that finding a vintage one can be a difficult, costly proposition.
In response to the growing popularity of the vintage models, various companies have resurrected the design and begun producing their own variants. In recent years, however, Tropic returned as a brand produced by the Synchron Watch Group which also makes Isofrane straps and Aquadive watches. Available for 20mm lug widths in black, brown, navy and olive colors, the straps are made in Italy from vulcanized rubber which is hypoallergenic and resistant to temperature changes.
While not as supple as an Isofrane or certain other modern designs, the Tropic is a classic, and its comparative thinness means that it helps a smaller-diameter watch maintain a slim profile on the wrist. While several companies are making Tropic-style straps these days, the dedicated Tropic variant is well-made, robust and packs a ton of ’60s style.
Isofrane straps from the 1960s represented the pinnacle of functional, comfortable strap technology aimed at professional divers. The company was the OEM strap manufacturer for models from Omega, Aquastar, Squale, Scubapro and Tissot, and it was professional scuba divers who trusted Isofrane to keep their timepieces attached firmly to their wrists. Their iconic “ladder” strap shipped with the Omega PloProf and represented one of the first usages of synthetic rubber compounds outside of the automotive industry.
However, sometime in the 1980s Isofrane went out of business, and in recent years, vintage models have seen their prices skyrocket on auction sites. Because many Isofranes were cleaned using chemicals that actually ruined the synthetic rubber, very few survived in good condition.
Thankfully, in 2010, Isofrane was resurrected, and now you can get your hands on an updated version of the classic ladder strap, called the 1968. The new strap, which is available in various colors, uses a hypoallergenic synthetic rubber blend and is engineered in Switzerland and manufactured in Europe. Multiple buckle types in different finishes are available, including the RS, which is forged and hand-finished, and the IN, which is stamped and then bead-blasted. You can even order the strap with a wetsuit extension should you so choose.
The Isofrane 1968 is a strap made for the serious diver, and the price reflects this. Then again, you don’t have to be a scuba diver to appreciate the kind of thought and quality that went into this ultra-comfortable strap, and anyone who plays sports or takes his or her watch in the water can use one.
Rubber is a unique strap medium in several respects, one of them being that you can print text on it and include useful information on the strap itself. The Zuludiver PU NDL strap (not the sexiest name out there, but it’s descriptive) actually has a no-decompression limits table printed on the strap for quick reference (no-deco limits give you the elapsed time you can spend at a given depth underwater without having to make a decompression stop upon ascending). While your dive computer can more easily and automatically compute these limits and stops for you, it’s nice to have them handy, and provides a cool throwback to the days when there were no wrist-borne computers to give you this info.
The straps themselves are available in black, blue, orange and red in 20mm and 22mm sizes, and all feature brushed stainless steel buckles and floating keepers. The rubber utilized here is a water-resistant polyurethane perforated with a Tropic/racing-style hole pattern. While the design with its ribbed, wave-like pattern near the lugs is likely not for everyone, these are flexible, comfortable straps, and the N.D.L. table is a very cool touch — you can even flip over the strap to have it visible or hide it against your skin, as the lower half of the strap is essentially reversible.
Most rubber straps impart a sporty, casual look to a watch in addition to being a practical choice for activities that actually involve getting wet or sweaty. Often, however, they’re not the most stylistically versatile. B&R sells a range of synthetic straps, but its sailcloth-textured Waterproof strap helps dress a sport watch up. Handsome and truly comfortable, it’s also fully appropriate for use in the water, of course, as its name implies.
Produced in in 20mm, 22mm and 24mm widths, it’s available with several stitching color options to potentially match any sporty dial highlights. We found the version with white stitching to be highly adaptable. With a steel buckle, the short end has a length of 80mm while the longer end is 120mm, which should be suitable for most wrist sizes. These are soft, pliable polyurethane straps that offer a versatile wearing experience perfect for various watches as well as various situations.
The “waffle strap” (technically the ZLM01) was a Seiko invention and the first in-house, dedicated diver strap developed by the brand, way back in 1967 (Seiko divers previous to the release of the 62MAS sometimes came on a Tropic strap). Looking over a waffle strap, it’s easy to see where the nickname comes from — there is a distinctive waffle-iron shape on the top that’s difficult to miss. Similar to the Tropic, vintage examples of waffle straps were prone to cracking and breakage, and thus finding one today in good condition that doesn’t cost quite a bit of money is tough.
Uncle Seiko’s black version of the waffle comes in several variants and sizes: the 19mm and 20mm models measure 126mm on the long side by 75mm on the short end and ship with 2.5mm “fat” spring bars, while the 22mm version is available in two sizes, including a shorter version (75mm/125mm) and a longer version (80mm/130mm). You also have the choice of single or double keepers with the 22mm version, and all versions utilize a brushed stainless steel buckle.
As with the Tropic strap, it’s difficult to claim that there aren’t more modern, ergonomic designs out there, but if that vintage style is what you’re after, then the waffle is an excellent choice. What’s more, the Uncle Seiko version has been through two iterations already, meaning that customer feedback has informed the improvement of the second version, rendering it more comfortable and wearable.
A thoroughly modern strap, the Hirsch Urbane Natural Rubber is notable for looking very much like a leather model with respect to its size and taper, with a complex shape that becomes thicker at the lugs as well as wider. The Urbane is water-resistant, tear-proof and resistant to UV light, chemicals and temperature extremes. According to Hirsch, it’s also perfect for people with sensitive skin. With an integrated as well as a floating keeper and a precision edge, this is a supple, super-comfortable rubber strap that’s much more elegant than technical-looking.
The Urbane is made from premium caoutchouc (unvulcanized rubber) and is approximately 120mm X 80mm long — the 20mm variant tapers to 16mm at the buckle, while the 22mm tapers to 18mm. Either option gives you plenty of buckle choices, including silver, gold, black or brushed. While the Urbane will function perfectly well as a dive strap, it’s also a good option for someone with sensitive skin who’s looking for a rubber alternative to a leather or alligator/lizard strap on a dress watch.
Ah, the king of rubber straps, the venerable Everest band. Company founder Mike DiMartini was willing to leave his previous job to begin manufacturing what he believed to be the most comfortable, over-engineered aftermarket strap available for Rolex sport models, and several million straps later, his decision has proven to be a prudent one. The curved ends on the Everest are made specifically to fit a Rolex case, and as such, they have a very particular curvature and ship with heavy-duty, Rolex-style spring bars. Simply pick out which Rolex model you own on the Everest website, and you’ll be shown the proper strap option for your watch.
Swiss-made and available in six custom colors, an Everest rubber strap is vulcanized, hypoallergenic, UV-, dust-, water- and chemical-resistant and is 120mm x 80mm long. The rubber is incredibly comfortable, and each strap ships with a heavy-duty, 316L stainless steel buckle and two floating keepers. The straps arrive in a thick plastic envelope with two velcro enclosures, which is itself packed in an envelope with replacement spring bars.
There are plenty of great aftermarket rubber strap options out there for Rolex (currently only certain Rolex models come on the brand’s own Oysterflex elastomer strap), but Everest’s quality and attention to detail make it competitive even at premium prices.