For all the wizardry watch companies put into their timepieces—exotic case materials, unique functions, innovative movements—the real magic is often in the bands. Wristwatches began replacing pocket watches during the first World War, when pilots and infantryman found advantages in being able to read the time with a quick glance. Ever since then, bands have evolved. Leather straps, metal bracelets, and fabric bands have all been used to hold watches securely, comfortably, and attractively. Some straps were born out of specific needs, like fitting over a diving suit or protecting the wrist from burns. But today, with the wristwatch largely a stylish accessory, straps have become a way to set a watch apart.
While the aftermarket strap business is booming, watch companies have upped their game, and some of the highest-quality straps and bands come on watches right from the factory. Here are five of the best.
Seiko Prospex Automatic Diver SRPC44 ($525)
As a scuba diver descends below the surface, water pressure compresses her neoprene wetsuit sleeve, which can cause a tight watch strap to become loose on the wrist. In 1975, Seiko introduced a simple but effective solution for this problem: a rubber strap with accordion-like ripples that can be pulled tight on the surface but then take up the slack as the water pressure increases. Other brands followed Seiko’s lead, but the Japanese brand still makes the best rubber straps and they’ve become a bit of a calling card for the company’s dive watches. The strap on the Prospex Automatic Diver is the latest version, made from a rubber and silicone blend that is supple yet durable—and ready to go deep.
Tudor Black Bay 58 ($3,250)
In the 1970s, French military divers improvised straps for their issued Tudor watches by using excess elastic webbing from reserve parachute packs and crudely sewing it together. Tudor has improved on the concept, using jacquard fabric woven in the same factory that makes robes for the Vatican while keeping the telltale central stripe of those old parachute straps. The result is a soft one-piece strap that’s treads the line between tactical and luxurious.
Mido Multifort Escape Horween - leather ($1,090)
Chicago’s Horween tannery produces perhaps the world’s best known leather, which has a reputation for a lustrous finish and excellent durability (NFL footballs are made from the stuff). Mido offers a limited edition of its Multifort Escape with two interchangeable Horween leather straps, one a smooth brown version that sets off nicely against the watch’s gunmetal finish, and the other, a rugged black strap with the same pebbled texture as the old pigskin.
Omega Seamaster Ploprof ($9,700)
A big, bold watch needs a big, bold strap, and Omega’s Seamaster Ploprof, short for Plongeur Professionel (“professional diver” en français) is perhaps the biggest and boldest of them all. Originally developed for commercial divers, the Ploprof can be worn with a strap made from what looks like a knight’s chain mail, a woven metal that Omega calls sharkproof mesh. This band is finished off with a folding clasp that ratchets out to a full 26 millimeters of adjustability for fitting over a diving suit. If you run into sharks… well, at least your wrist will be safe.
Victorinox INOX Mechanical ($795)
And now for something completely different. Yes, Victorinox Swiss Army has created a wooden watch strap, which is actually a thin flexible veneer of sustainably sourced wood cross-hatched to match the hobnail pattern of the watch’s dial. There’s no telling how well the strap will hold up long term but it’s sure to be a conversation starter, if not a bit of kindling in a pinch.