The most traditional and popular choice of watch band material is leather. There are many different types of animal hides used in the production of genuine leather straps, with cowhide as the most common. Other popular animal leathers are crocodile, alligator, ostrich, lizard, and horse (used to make shell cordovan straps). Other less common types include giraffe, tree frog, and horn-back toad.
There are also alternatives available for those who like the style and look of leather straps but object to the use of animal products. Some forward thinking manufacturers have started creating sustainable watch straps out of cork. The results are fantastic, and the future of these environmentally-conscious straps is bright.
Rubber straps are becoming increasingly common but do vary massively in quality. India rubber and FKM (fluoroelastomer category) rubbers are particularly nice on the wrist, but cheaper rubber straps can just cause you to sweat excessively. To combat this, many brands have started infusing their rubber straps with a strong scent of vanilla, which is delightful after a little time, but can be quite overpowering out of the box (especially if you’re unprepared for it). These watch straps are popular with a wide range of wearers, but particularly so with divers.
Fabric is a catchall term for any material that is not rubber, leather, or metal. There are many different types of fabric used in watch straps, such as canvas, kevlar, and nylon.
NATO and ZULU straps are very similar, though are differentiated by the shape of the metal hardware they use and the general thickness of the straps. ZULU straps (which come in three, four, or five ring varieties) tend to be thicker. They also are also more often made of leather and use rounded, usually brushed “loop” style hardware.
Meanwhile, NATO straps - or G10 straps because of their original inventory reference - were issued to military staff as part of their active duty kit. The watch will stay on your wrist even if one spring bar breaks, due to the way the G10 threads between the lugs and the case on both sides to create an unbroken loop. This feature is particularly handy for life or death situations for when you might need your watch to survive. G10 straps tend to made of nylon, are traditionally Admiral Gray in color, and have low profile, angular hardware.
Although the term bracelet may connote a piece of jewelry, it is in fact the catchall term for a metal “strap” when used on a watch. Bracelets come in several different styles. Most bracelets are constructed with links, which are small, articulated pieces of metal that fit together like a jigsaw snake. It is possible to get expandable bracelets, which use spring-loaded links to ensure a perfectly snug fit on the wrist.
As with a strap, if you hear a bracelet described as “integrated” it means it fits exclusively to the watch it has been designed to fit to (check out the unusual end links of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak for an example).
The ardillon buckle may have a fancy name, but it’s actually the most common type of buckle in the industry. The strap fastening looks very much like a little belt. It has almost certainly featured on a watch you’ve worn at some point in your life. The watch band used with an ardillon buckle is normally leather, rubber, or fabric. These types of buckles are also called pin buckles.
There are many different types of deployant clasps, all with slightly different names.
The fold-over deployant clasp means the strap is never under the same stress or strain as it is when using an ardillon buckle. It’s also a security mechanism, because once the clasp has been correctly fitted to the watch is forms an unbroken loop.
Another type of deployant is the butterfly clasp, which folds out in two directions instead of one. This is particularly good for those with thin wrists and larger hands, because you’re able to massively increase the size of the bracelet when you’re putting it on.
There are many more types of buckle and strap varieties emerging every day. These elements of watchmaking are fun to dig into because they do increase your wearing comfort and thus your relationship with and the enjoyment taken from your timepiece. It’s worth experimenting and finding a combination that works for you.