How to Buy a Watch Strap

A new strap can make a single watch feel almost like a collection. But make sure that you’re buying the right type.

Chase Pellerin

Editor’s Note: So you’re ready to make a watch purchase? Not so fast. Before committing, it’s worth thinking carefully about your needs to make sure you’re truly buying the right timepiece for you. Our series Five Questions aims to help you do just that.

You can make a single watch feel almost like a collection with a few different strap options. But there are so many styles, materials and other factors to consider that buying a new strap can be a confusing proposition. So before you buy, consider the following five questions:

What activities will I be doing with this watch?

There is the question of dressy or casual, of course, but there are physical considerations for your strap as well: For instance, dive watches that you plan to actually wear in the water need an appropriate strap. Metal bracelets, rubber, nylon, etc. are all fine for this, but no leather. The same is generally true for sweaty activities.

Climate and weather might also be an issue, as some materials and strap types are especially designed to be breathable, for example. If you’re engaging in a particularly rough activity where you and your watch are getting significantly banged around, even the strap’s durability might be a factor.


What type of strap should I get?

What kind of watch are you outfitting? Start by determining if the watch itself is of the casual or formal variety, and then whether you are looking to dress it up or down. A dressy watch gets a leather strap, you may think. Alas, if only it were that simple: Alligator, suede, nubuck, ostrich…delve more into great leather strap options here. With sport watches, it gets even more complicated, but also fun.

You should first determine the type of watch you have — i.e., what its design was intended for: diving, racing, flying, military use? Different genres of watches often have associated strap styles, and while these straps are a good place to start, there’s still plenty of room to be creative.

What will look best with my watch?

Once you’ve established the type of strap that’s right for your watch, consider the colors involved. If you’ve got a monochromatic watch with a simple design and black dial like, say, an Omega Speedmaster, Panerai or Rolex Submariner…well, the choices are endless.

The colors of the dial (or even the case) and the strap’s primary material are the obvious factors that will influence your choice, but also think about highlights — like a sporty red seconds hand potentially matching a strap’s stitching. Finally, materials are make a big difference. That means not only the strap material itself, but the hardware — many strap companies offer different types of buckles, but offer them in different finishes — like brushed or polished — as well as with black or gold coatings.

What size strap does my watch/wrist need?

This is crucial, but it’s a two-part question of width and length.

First, the width. You’ll need to know the measurement between your watch’s lugs in millimeters — the part of the watch where the strap attached. For most mens watches, 18mm, 20mm or 22mm is standard — though odd numbers like 19mm can be found on some vintage watches, and a giant Panerai or the like might feature a 24mm or 26mm lug width. (Many straps then taper toward the buckle.)


Next, consider the length of the strap. You’ll want to known the diameter of your wrist — or you can measure a strap you already have that fits well. Ask or check the strap’s description carefully: the length information can usually be found. It’s a bummer to get a strap that looks great on the watch only to find that it’s either too loose or too tight on your wrist — punching an additional hole on long strap doesn’t always work out well, though it can be done in a pinch.

How much should I spend?

The hobby of strap swapping is fun in part because it doesn’t have to cost a lot — as so many watches themselves do. NATO straps are an incredibly popular and inexpensive (often starting under $10) way to change up the feel of your watch regularly and add some fun and color to it. They’re super easy to swap out, and they look great, to boot.

However, don’t discount the idea of spending more for something nicer. Many watch nerds will expound on how a high-quality strap can elevate the look and feel of even a simple and inexpensive watch. Thankfully, there are nearly endless strap choices at every budget.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
More From Watches