Watch straps are like the frame on a masterpiece painting: they compliment and add to the beauty. Figure out how to perfectly frame any watch in our post “Strapped!”.
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Think Of The Watch As The Canvas And The Strap As The Frame
Note: No straps or compensation were given to me for writing this article. All straps shown from StrapsCo have been returned to the company. This is not an endorsement of StrapsCo and they only serve as a case study or example.
I love watches. To me they are like artwork; I frequently refer to them as “art for the wrist”. Have you ever been to an art museum? They have a wonderful collection of beautiful paintings and sculptures, but not every piece speaks to every person. When my wife and I go to a museum, we both go to different sections to enjoy. I like medieval art while my wife likes impressionist paintings. It occurred to me that watches are somewhat the same. While you might like the modern look of Hublot or Audemars Piguet, I like the simplicity and classicism offered by A Lange & Sohne or Patek Philippe. Yet with a painting, the painting itself is only part of the artwork, the frame is the rest. Each painting has a frame that defines its character, its era, and vision (even if you aren’t an art person, you have to admit some of the frames really complete the painting). Just as a painting has its frame, so does a watch have its straps.
Some watches have iconic bands/bracelets. Rolex has the much-copied Oyster and Jubilee bands. Omega’s Seamaster & Speedmaster bands are equally recognizable. There are purists who want to wear their watch with everything from the original stock band to Rolex-made spring-bars. If you are one of these people, please bear with me — I am not one of these people. I call myself a pragmatist, but I am ok if you view me as an iconoclast. I view the band as the frame on a painting; it may require a new “frame” with each new environment.
Why Consider a New Strap?
I got my start with straps defining a watch when I met Shashi Mara, who started the Mara Watch & Company. He created bespoke pieces for the University of Michigan and his pieces are on the wrists of some of the most famous former U of M athletes and graduates. He showed me how a different band changes the whole watch. It can turn a watch from formal jewelry to a casual accessory, all with the same watch. His watches are all equipped with the Patek Philippe quick-release pins that allow you to change your bands out in less than 30 seconds. He provides all of his watches with at least 2-3 individually tailored, hand-made bands from genuine football leather to ostrich skin to luxury Cayman Crocodile. I was inspired by his vision and reached out to someone who seemed to have the right ingredients.
My theory is that almost any watch can work in any environment with the right band. We all have varying outfits; sometimes we have the suit for a meeting, business casual for events, and casual when we go to the Red Sox game. Some people buy multiple watches while others have the watch they love and would rather change the strap or band. Others have the watch they love but hate the band that came with it. I think this ok; while some purists would never put an off-brand strap on their watch, most of us are ok with the pragmatic approach of a new band for a new look. The hardest part of the new look is finding a band that looks good but also fits your personal brand (see our post on personal brand).
Transforming The Watch
The highest barrier to putting on a new strap is that it can be hard to do by yourself. How many of you go to a jewelry store just to get a band changed out? Surprisingly, it’s not that hard to change a band; all you need is a small $8 tool and then see how to do it on youtube. If you have a leather strap, watch this video on how to take off a leather strap. If you have a metal band, watch this video. Once you practice it a few times, you can change a band out in 2 minutes or less. Some bands are even starting to integrate the quick-release pins that make it so you can change out a band with no more than your fingers and it takes about 30 seconds. If you commit to learning how to change your bands, you open yourself to a whole new world of options to express or “frame” your watch experience.
When brainstorming this post, I emailed Martin at StrapsCo said that my goal was to take an easy example and a difficult example and show how each watch could take on multiple great looks just by changing the bands. The “easy” watch I chose is the IWC Pilot Watch 3777-01, which if you’ve followed Watch Ponder on our website or Instagram, you know it’s a personal favorite. For the “hard” watch, Martin picked a challenge for us: the Rolex Submariner in Green (a.k.a. The Hulk). We debated multiple different styles and options for each and then settled on three bands for each in addition to a few random bands I had lying around from previous watches.
IWC Pilot Chronograph 3777-01
The IWC was easy. The 3777-01 is the perfect size watch at 43mm, and it looks good with just about anything. You can put on a nice black croc strap and wear it with a suit, or swap in a brown calfskin strap for a more casual feel. I normally wear the watch with a brown calfskin strap, so I made my first move to a nylon olive-drab green with stainless steel rivets. This strap is designed for the larger IWC 48mm watch, so the strap fits a bit on the small side, but with my deployment clasp, it still works great. If you want to use IWC 48mm straps on a 43mm watch, make sure to ask your strap provider for recommendations so you can make sure they fit as not all will work (this is true anytime you deviate from what is designed for the watch). The olive nylon strap looked awesome and reminded me of a military look. Though I never had a strap like this on a watch, I wish I would have. The strap gives it the characteristic vintage military issue look, which is quite popular these days (don’t believe me? “Watch” for all your friends wearing clothes that have some made-up military symbols on them).
Next came my personal favorite. I asked Martin for a beige croc strap,. The strap was designed for Panerai, so the style is different than IWC straps, but I love the look of beige croc straps so I wanted to try. I had to trim it down from 22mm to 21mm to fit the IWC. This can be an unforgiving process; if you ever do it, start with a single micro adjustment (<.3mm) and test fit, then repeat it necessary. However, once it was done, it looked awesome. One of the comments on Instagram was “sick!!”. It truly looks awesome. If I was strap seller for a day, I’d make beige or white croc straps in every size for every watch because I think they make the perfect look for summer.
Finally came the most popular offering on Instagram: the brown suede leather with white stitching and stainless rivets. I am not surprised this was so popular; it’s the quintessential pilot strap. When I describe it in words (brown leather with white stitching) it doesn’t sound much different than the IWC calfskin strap I have, yet it is a much more casual look and classic feel. The stainless steel rivets really add to its curb appeal. It expresses the classic aviator look and feel. Again, this is a strap intended for a 48mm IWC, so it fit a bit on the small side, but as you can see, it looks awesome.
Overall, I tried 5 straps for the IWC 3777-01 that all look great with the watch but each give it a feel and an image that is unique to the strap. The “frame” literally helps create the picture. The beige is my favorite for summer, while the olive nylon is great for casual days where I want the retro-military look (I say retro because olive drab-colored camouflage went away years ago for most militaries). Lastly, the brown leather straps give the watch a perfect business casual feel, but also perfect for straight casual days. With a the simple tool, you can change out your band daily or weekly, depending on how often you want to change and what your watch rotation looks like. However, with bands being this easy to change and making the watch look drastically different, you don’t need multiple watches for different occasions — the same watch can work for any “gallery” — just change the “frame”. Martin and I both came to love the different looks we could achieve with the same watch.
Rolex Submariner in Green
Now, the difficult one — the Rolex Hulk. We tried 3 bands for the Hulk (@ 20mm). To start them off, I tried the vintage-style distressed brown leather. I was skeptical this would be a good look until I wore it the first day (I wore each band for 2 days to get a feel for it and test the quality). I had a friend tell me it looked awesome. I think my skepticism arose because I am a Rolex purist at heart; I don’t want anything except the stock Oyster band. Yet, the distressed leather looked good. It made an eye-catching watch into an unassuming yet elegant piece for casual environments.
Next, I tried the black kevlar strap. I will start this off by saying that I have bought kevlar straps before and they all suck. I hate them because they are too stiff and very uncomfortable. This one was better than others (softer), but still not my favorite strap. Kevlar is a difficult material and is very coarse by nature (after all, enough of it in layers will stop bullets). This band probably looked the most natural of the straps I tried on the Hulk, but it looked too natural; it didn’t add any character. The black band with this watch looks great. But, if I wanted that look, I would rather wear the stock oyster band (like I said, I’m a purist at heart when it comes to Rolex).
Overall, I think the Hulk is harder. A lot of people that buy Rolex want to show their Rolex and don’t want to take away from it in any way. However, for those willing to add a new “frame” to help create your personal brand, there is a lot of room. I strongly recommend checking out the distressed leather strap and the forest green strap (also, a brown or black croc strap would look great). Beyond that, unless others have better ideas, I think the Oyster bracelet is hard to beat.