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The Many Types of Watch Bands

To really get the most out of your watch, pay attention to what it's set on.

Much like a suit, a man’s watch needs to be complemented correctly. The right shirt, tie, and fit can make an affordable off-the-peg number look like a million bucks. And if you’re tailoring your two-piece, why not tailor your timepiece in the same way?

While the face of your watch is the real showstopper, tweaking the band it's set on can make a big style difference. Choosing the right combo can not only bring the watch into focus, but also tie together your entire ensemble as a whole. But first, you've got to know your options.


The Classic Two-Piece

The classic two-piece leather strap is normally attached via a standard spring-loaded double-ended pin and is relatively easy to swap out with a spring bar tool or a humble pocket knife. While it's a fairly standard design, there are a huge number of variations that can tweak your watch's vibe.

You obviously can't go wrong with a smooth, simple leather. For everyday wear, we recommend sticking to a strap with muted, masculine, earth-toned leather – think blacks, browns, or even crimson.


The Unique Two-Piece

If you want a simple leather two-piece, but also want to show a bit of individuality, you've got plenty of options. You can go with:

  • A simple strap with contrast stitching. If you've got a watch face with a black dial and white numbers, for example, grab a black leather strap with white contrast stitching. It’s a little less dressy, but for everyday wear it’ll add a touch of visual interest to your wrist.

  • A double ridge strap, where padding underneath the strap’s leather lifts up into two ridges running lengthways along the band. It offers a touch of aerodynamic flair without being too showy, and works especially well on rectangular-faced watches.

  • A Panerai-style strap, which are extra thick with heavy-duty fittings. They were originally developed for Italian military divers in the 1930s, and add a sense of ruggedness to your look.

  • If you're ok with being a bit ostentations, try an exotic leather like croc or python. But with that comes the precarious situation of the strap overshadowing the watch face itself, or looking out of place with a more casual outfit. Bold colors or exotic leathers will work best with a smaller faced timepiece, for evening wear or formal occasions. That said, Steve McQueen did rock a jumpsuit while wearing a Tag Heuer chronograph with a crocodile watchstrap in Le Mans, so the precedent is there if you want to bend the rules.

Any one of those will make for a nice change of pace from the same old standard that every other guy is wearing.


The Rally Band

Usually crafted from leather (but this isn’t a firm rule), the rally band is most notable for the large perforations that start at the watch lugs and run down the length of the strap, like this. The design hails from the racetrack, since those holes make the strap more breathable and maneuverable on the wrist (hardly essential, but favorable to GT drivers). They also serve as a sly design nod to the cut-out knuckles of driving gloves, and the weight-saving chassis of rallying cars.

For the purposes of style, they give off a real hit of gritty panache to larger chronograph watches, but might be a bit too much for smaller and simpler timepieces. Whether wearing one will help in thrashing your buds at Mario Kart is a question yet to be answered.


The Bracelet

The bracelet strap has a rich history, given that a version of it was used on one of the first ever examples of wristwatches, way back in 1571 when Queen Elizabeth was gifted an elaborately jeweled cuff with a small clock set into the design. From then until the early 1900s, what few wristwatches did exist were more popular with women of the time, while blokes favored the pocket fob.

In the modern era, wristwatch bracelets are most commonly found on diving watches, since the water-repellant metal strap prevents you from having a soggy wrist post-swim. While a bracelet gives off an impression of the scuba-diving man of action for casual wear, it works well to contribute a professional air to power suits, too – like Bond and his Omega Seamaster. Perfect for swimming with sharks in both the sea and the boardroom, so to speak.

Unlike a standard adjustable band, though, a bracelet has to fit perfectly, and removing or adding links to tweak the fit usually requires a trip to the jewler.


The NATO

The nylon strap has had a huge resurgence in popularity in the past few years, giving a preppy and utilitarian pop to the wrist of many a stylish dude.

It first appeared in 1973 when the British Army issued a nylon watchstrap (succinctly catalogued as "Strap, Wrist Watch") for their troops. For soldiers to get one, they had to fill out a G1098 form, or G10 for short, and the nickname stuck. Over time they also became to be known as NATO straps, named for the NATO Stock Number (a military gear ID number that's used by member countries) that was printed onto the bands. So G10 and NATO straps are the same thing – it's just a matter of which military nickname you prefer.

They're usually nylon, and available in a huge variety of colors and designs. The simple slip-through design, affordability, and inherent hardwearing characteristics of nylon have made the NATO a firm favorite with guys that like to pay a little more attention to their accessories – and you can also find quality leather versions if that's your preference.


The ZULU

If you want to up the sheer ruggedness of a NATO band, going even further than military spec, you want a ZULU strap. It's a more recent design, originally created by watch brand Maratac but since adapted by lots of other manufacturers, as an upgrade to the NATO strap. Thicker nylon was used, more robust and rounded stainless steel fittings were added, and the notch holes were cut by laser, ensuring a perfect circle each time. Usually, these have five rings, rather than the four found on NATO straps.

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