The timepiece made a giant leap of a transition when it jumped out of the pocket and onto our wrists, about a century ago. Movements had been honed to the point that whether a watch was held parallel or perpendicular to the ground, it didn’t affect the time-keeping properties of the oscillating/unwinding parts. Add to this a basic shock-proof case within which all this could be assembled, and the pocket watch was soon being outshone by the wrist variant. Also, the decline of the waistcoat as an essential part of a wardrobe was perhaps the most important reason why people started preferring to wear their timepiece on their wrists.

Ever since, as watches have evolved and redefined the way time has been told, straps have stayed more or less modest, constant and rather inconspicuous. Metal and leather have remained the popular choices, since the early days. Fashioning a bracelet out of metal, with links and clasps, allows for some intricacy and design to be incorporated, which has in turn allowed brands to adopt signature styles and patterns for their wares. The Oyster and the President are synonymous with Rolex, and a million brands have tried to copy the pattern (with much success and yet with not half the panache). The Milanese bracelet weave was most recently revived on the Apple watch when it released, and since then, luxury brands are rediscovering the joys of this supple, soft form in metal. Leather has remained the epitome of luxury, with watch straps and various finishes, colours and textures possible with it. It’s only in tropical settings that leather has been less popular than metal bracelets.

Tropic
Tropic
Shark Mesh
Shark Mesh
President
President

Another popular material, and perhaps the most controversial one, has been rubber. Hublot changed the way luxury watches would look by launching their iconic hard-to-miss styles with a rubber strap back in the 1980s. This wasn’t just a piece of car tyre stuck around your wrist — it was strong, like metal, and soft like leather, and it was equally durable, if not more. Just like that, a third material had been inducted into the hallowed halls of watch accoutrements.

And now, the recent comeback of canvas is the most talked about strap story. The new-brand-on-the-block, Daniel Wellington, which makes affordable yet elegant wrist watches, saw a certain practicality and style in reviving the old school NATO (aka G10, after the form which needed to be filled to procure it) straps. These military issue straps were striped and fashioned out of fabric (or canvas). The strap is unique in that it loops around the two ends of the watch in a manner such that even if one loop breaks, the watch will still stay on your wrist. But this wasn’t the primary reason for their popularity. The stripes often indicated rank in the armed (British) forces and first became popular with a certain regiment as a way of wearing their allegiance on their wrist. Over time, others aped the idea, replacing the pattern with their squadron colours. Today, the pattern is purely a matter of design and has no bearing on a person’s place in (civic) life, but the aesthetic remains irreplaceably relevant.

Oyster
Oyster
Canvas
Canvas

Watch straps continue to evolve and find new and more ingenious materials to incorporate as ideal wristcandy. There’s no telling what the future holds for us. With wearable technology on the rise, anything is possible, and we may soon find ourselves wearing everything from our mobile phone to our personal payment history wrapped around our wrist, in some unfathomably fancy format.

 

Types of Straps

Milanese loop
Milanese loop
Waffle
Waffle
Hublot rubber strap
Hublot rubber strap

President

Similar to Oyster but with shorter links, this was first created for the Rolex Day-Date in 1956. Named after US President Dwight Eisenhower, who was among the first people to wear the watch.

Shark Mesh

Sturdy steel strap first developed by Omega in the 1960s for their famous Ploprof 600 divers watches.

Nato

This uniquely single-piece strap, though named after the western military alliance, was developed by the British army for its soldiers in the 1970s, and has since become a cult favourite.

Oyster

A thick three-piece link strap that was originally created by Rolex in the 1930s for its legendary watch of the same name.

Waffle

Developed by Seiko in the early 1970s for their 6105 Diver series, it became popular with US servicemen in Vietnam because of its durability in the tropical jungles. They took it home and it became a worldwide sensation.

Jubilee

Its main feature is the three smaller links in between the two thicker ones at the sides. Developed in the 1940s by Rolex for Datejust.

Engineer

With five links stacked horizontally, this chunky bracelet is believed to have been first created by Seiko for their divers watches.

Tropic

The first rubber strap that was created in the 1960s as an alternate to steel bracelets used on sports watches.

Double Ridge Leather

Durable leather strap seen on both luxury and high street watches.

Hublot Rubber Strap

Hublot founder Carlo Crocco pioneered the use of rubber straps on luxury watches in the early 1980s, a trend that has since become universal. Hublot now offers rubber straps in a variety of colours and also combines rubber with other materials like calf and alligator leather and flameproof Nomex to create their own distinctive bracelet.

Milanese Loop

Popularised in recent time by Apple watches, these are smooth, stainless steel mesh straps that wrap around fluidly on the wrist. Because they are fully magnetic, clipping them on or adjusting their length is never a problem. The name comes from the fact that they are made on Italian weaving machines.

Silicone Straps

Straps made from silicone, popularized by the likes of G-Shock and Fossil.

Canvas Straps

The latest trend, even among luxury watches.

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