How to Choose a Watch Strap - Complete Guide

How to Choose a Watch Strap - Complete Guide

The strap is an important part of a watch’s look, feel, and comfort. It plays an important role in how you perceive your watch on your wrist and how well it matches your overall outfit.

And the fact of the matter is that there are today more strap options than ever, and the industry for watch straps has grown a lot in recent years. Watches usually come with one strap (or bracelet) when you buy them, but for most watches, you have the opportunity to switch and change them depending on your mood and preference.

Because a watch strap has an important effect on how a watch looks, changing different straps will allow you to give it a completely new look and make your timepiece feel just like new. But with that said, it is good to have an idea of what kinds of watch straps and how you should think when selecting straps for your watch.

Watch strap sizing guide

When choosing a watch strap for your watch, the first and most important part you need to consider is the lug width of your watch, and in turn the lug width of the strap. This is to ensure the strap fits perfectly into your watch.

The most common lug widths on watches are:

  • 16mm
  • 18mm
  • 19mm
  • 20mm
  • 21mm
  • 22mm
  • 23mm
  • 24mm

The lug width of your watch is usually indicated on the product specifications. If you don’t have the specifications on your watch, you can always measure the distance between the inside of your lugs to know what size on the watch strap you need.

Choosing a watch strap- consider the style

As you may know, there are plenty of different watch straps that you can choose from (which we’ll look closer at further on). Different straps are suitable for different purposes and preferences. Depending on the strap you choose, it will give the watch a particular personality. So depending on how you intend to use it, you need to find a watch strap that goes well with the purpose.

The most important factors to consider when choosing a watch strap are:

  • Occasion and purpose
  • Usage area and physical work - if you are active and wear your watch in demanding situations, you need to choose a durable strap that withstands this situation
  • Your outfit and how the watch matches it

Rubber watch strap

Rubber straps have become increasingly popular in recent years. They naturally work best for sports watches, and in particular dive watches. Partially because of their sporty nature and partially because of their water-resistant properties.

You should stay away from rubber straps when it comes to dress watches, but apart from that, most other types of watches work well with rubber straps if you’re looking to achieve a more sporty look.

Rubber straps are extremely tough and durable and will last for a long time. A potential downside is that they are usually not the most comfortable strap type if you are in a warm climate and sweat a lot as rubber straps are not breathable.

But together with dive watches, they usually look amazing. Plus, they’re available in any color you can imagine.

Leather watch strap

Leather straps are the most classic and elegant option and they’re available in an endless selection of styles, colors, and styles. This is great news because they can pair with essentially any watch and essentially any occasion.

The downside is of course that leather straps are not water-resistant, so you should stay away from water when you have a leather strap.

Also, leather straps tend to give watches a more elegant and classic appearance, so if that’s what you are trying to achieve, they make for a great option.

If you have a dress watch, leather should be the go-to option, and having different types of leather in different colors allows you to pair them with your outfit and other details such as your shoes and your belt.

Leather straps are normally also very comfortable, making them a great choice for everyday wear. As a matter of fact, you can even use a leather strap on your sports or dive watch to make it more versatile and to give it a more elegant look. In that sense, a leather strap has the power to really transform a watch’s appearance depending on how you intend to use it.

Fabric watch strap

Fabric straps have become increasingly popular in recent years. They tend to be really versatile as they are not too sporty, nor too dressy. In addition, nylon is a relatively robust and durable material that tends to last for a long time.

Fabric straps are usually not the first choice for most people, but if you want to try something different, you may find fabric straps to be really stylish and comfortable.

Nylon strap/NATO strap

The NATO strap is for the most part the first type of strap they think of when they hear ”watch straps”. NATO-straps originally came about as the British Ministry of Defence Standard in 1973 where the NATO straps were given to soldiers who requested them. In order to get a NATO strap, they had to fill out a requisition form called a G1098. The straps then became known as ”G10 straps”, and their popularity increased as more and more soldiers started using them.

The NATO strap is made to be extremely robust and durable. They are made of nylon and can thus be subject to water, they’re really robust and durable, and are also attached to the watch in a way that ensures the watch is kept on the wrist even if one spring bar would accidentally break.

The market of NATO watch bands today is huge. There’s literally ten of thousands of different NATO strap designs in all kinds of different colors, patterns, and materials.

Nato straps give watches a rather casual and versatile look, which is why they are mainly suitable for sports and everyday watches, and not dress watches. Because they are so affordable, they’re a great way to give your watch a new look and to mix and match the strap with your outfit consistently. In addition, NATO straps are very comfortable as well and can be adjusted for a perfect size.

Worth mentioning is that there are also other types of nylon straps that are not NATO straps, and also straps that have the same design as the NATO strap, but in a different material than nylon, such as leather.

Metal watch bracelet

Choosing a metal bracelet for your watch is generally not as straightforward as when buying a watch strap. This is because the requirements to make sure the bracelet fits your watch well are greater than with any other kind of strap. To buy a metal bracelet for your watch, you need to make sure that the end links fit well into the case, and normally, you cannot just choose any type of watch bracelet for your watch. If you want to buy a watch bracelet for your watch, there are plenty of sites that specialize in making watch bracelets. Just make sure that you buy a bracelet that is made to fit your watch otherwise you may have a poor fit, or the bracelet may not fit at all.

Metal bracelets are a great alternative for a sporty and versatile look. Although some dress watches do have metal bracelets from factory, it’s usually not the ideal choice to buy a bracelet for a dress watch that is not meant to have one. In addition, if you buy a ”no-brand” bracelet for a dress watch, meaning a bracelet that is not original to the watch, it’s oftentimes hard to find a good fit.

Tips for choosing watch straps

Consider the style of your watch

Different watches have different designs and styles. And equally so, watch straps. With that said, different straps pair differently well with different types of watches. Keep the things we discussed above in terms of sportiness/elegance. For example, an elegant dress watch may not look very good together with a NATO strap because the sporty nature of a NATO strap doesn’t pair well with the elegant style of a dress watch.

Note that these are only general guidelines and you are of course free to choose any watch strap you want for your watch.

In general, the following types of watches pair best with these types of straps:

  • Dress watches: Pairs best with leather straps. May also work with a fabric strap
  • Sports watches pair best with rubber straps, NATO straps, or metal bracelets.
  • Versatile/everyday watches: work well with all types of straps depending on your outfit and purpose. If you want to achieve a more casual look, you can opt for a NATO strap. If you want to wear it on formal occasions, a leather strap can give it an enhanced elegance and classiness
  • Vintage watches - tend to work best with vintage-style, worn straps. Depending on their style, a NATO strap or leather strap may work best.

With this said, it’s important to understand the purpose and style of a watch in order to pair it accordingly with a suitable strap. You can think of the strap almost as your shoes. If you wear a black suit, you probably wouldn’t opt for white jogging shoes. And if you wear a sports outfit, you probably wouldn’t wear formal leather shoes. A similar principle is true for watch straps.

Choose a watch strap that goes well with your style

In addition to the style of your watch, you want to consider the style of your outfit and the occasion for which you will wear it. This naturally goes hand-in-hand with the watch you choose, but then also comes the strap option. For example, if you are going to a formal event, you’ll first consider the type of watch that will work best. And chances are, you will come to the conclusion that a dress watch will be best. Once you have chosen the watch for the occasion, think about the type of strap that will work best. Perhaps you’ll then come to the conclusion that a leather strap will be the most appropriate.

But in addition to the type of strap, it is also good to consider the color. For example, if you wear a black suit with brown leather shoes and a brown leather belt, a brown leather strap on your watch can be a nice touch to your outfit that subtly gives a coherent look. Subtle matching is often a really great idea as it shows you care about details and takes your outfit to a different level - but in a very subtle way. This brings us to the next point.

Consider the color of your strap

Obviously, the color of your strap is a really important aspect. And the color you should opt for depends on the type of watch you have, as well as the occasion on which you will wear it.

A general piece of advice is that you should stay away from bright and colorful straps when it comes to dress watches. This is simply because of the fact that bright colors don’t go very well with the purpose and style that a dress watch is trying to achieve.

In contrast, if you are wearing a sports watch/dive watch and plan to go to the beach, a bright and colorful rubber strap, for example in turquoise or yellow may look amazing together with some swim trunks to give a casual and sporty look.

Consider the strap quality and finish

This is quite self-explanatory, but obviously, not all watch straps or bracelets are made equal. Watch straps come in all kinds of price ranges and quality, so this is something you want to consider.

First and foremost, you want to consider the material that is used for the strap. If you opt for a cheap leather strap, for example, it may even be fake PU leather that not only won’t look very good but will likely not last very long. If you, on the other hand, choose a qualitative leather strap, you’ll get premium leather that can last for a long time and also look great over time.

Look at the details when it comes to things like stitching and the quality of the hardware and consider if they reflect a quality product.

If you have an expensive luxury watch, it only makes sense that you also pair it with a quality strap. Just like with watches, it is truly the details that make the difference.


Tapering is something that you want to consider in a watch strap. Tapering means that the strap is wider at the lugs and becomes more narrow at the ends. Tapering straps and bracelets are in general a very popular aspect of any type of strap and bracelet because it increases the comfort and makes the strap look less clumsy on the wrist. In general, a tapering strap looks much more elegant and refined than a non-tapering strap.

Ideally, you should look for a strap or bracelet that tapers, but it is also a matter of preference.

Also, there are some exceptions where a non-tapering strap may be a better alternative, for example, if you have a really large watch, a non-tapering strap may help create a better balance.

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