Leather, Fabric, Rubber or Metal? That Is the Question

*Originally published August 2014

With summer comes activity, heat, moisture, water sports and more. All of these things play a role in the lifespan of your watch and, more importantly, your watchstrap. Knowing what type of watchstrap to wear (if your strap is interchangeable), or what type of strap to buy, can go a long way in preserving your summer-wear timepieces.
Are you all about staying indoors and remaining cool? Taking in some movies, art galleries or museums? If so, a leather strap will suit you just fine. Leather straps offer comfort on the wrist and give a dimension to the watch that offers certain style flair. Dark, distressed leather can impart a vintage feel, while bright colorful hues exude a fashion-forward summery feel. Leather straps are made of all sorts of hides, ranging from calfskin to snake skin, crocodile, alligator, ostrich, stingray and more. Leather is relatively easy to take care of in the right temperatures, but – in heat and humidity – these straps tend to get a bit sticky on the wrist.
If you are a water person – enjoying sun, fun, lakes, pools and oceans – you may want to wear a metal bracelet or, even better, a rubber strap. Rubber weathers the elements beautifully. It dries quickly after getting out of the water, does not stick to the wrist and does not fade or turn colors in the sun. Today’s vulcanized rubber straps are often infused with vanilla scents so they never smell badly when wet, or are blends of polycarbonate and other materials to keep them at top performance levels without getting dry and brittle.

One of the hottest trends on the market today is the use of NATO straps. These fabric straps – offered in a huge variety of colors and patterns – converts any watch from serious to sporty in an instant. Today, so many watch brands – across all price points – use NATO straps on their watches. Also referred to as military straps, NATO straps have their origins firmly rooted about four decades ago when nylon straps were offered to soldiers because they were durable, could be easily cleaned and were not expensive to buy. Interestingly, while NATO straps are also referred to as military straps, there were not made for NATO troops, instead they garnered their name from the G10 form British soldiers had to use to requisition a strap. They were first referred to, in the early 1970s, as G10 straps.
Typically made of nylon (though also offered in leather), these straps are usually easy to change and extremely functional. They typically feature a keeper through which the end of the strap is passed after looping though the watch lugs and across the back of the case. This double security offers peace of mind that if a spring bar or other lug element breaks, the case is still held in place by the other lug. Stripes have become the typical pattern for NATO straps, with the color combinations often denoting some special meaning.  The great thing about these straps is that they can get wet, dry pretty quickly and usually don’t stick to the wrist. With constant water and sun, they may fade a little but that is part of the charm of a NATO strap. They are meant to be worn and are particularly good for rugged or extreme sports.
If you are the type who prefers the look and feel of a metal bracelet, that’s a good thing in summertime. Most of today’s metals are extremely sturdy. In fact, among the advantages of metal over fabric or rubber is that it holds up well in rugged outdoor terrains. The type of metal used naturally plays a role in the lifespan of a bracelet, but typically bracelets are long lasting. Titanium offers lightweight appeal, but steel and other metals offer a weight that some people enjoy feeling on the wrist. Naturally, metal is more expensive than most other materials (except for truly exotic leathers).
Generally, metal bracelets are created using individual links that are held together with either pins or screws, or both, and they can be sized to fit the wrist. Today’s steel watches are often coated with black or other colors via a variety of processes, such as PVD (physical vapor deposit). Bracelets are easy to care for, and typically can just be rinsed with water and dried with a soft cloth. Of course, bracelets can scratch – making them perhaps not the most ideal choice for mountain climbing or cave exploration. In short, summer activities and lifestyles may play a role in your material of choice. However, fit, craftsmanship and – most important – personal taste should also be considered.