Here's an in-depth look at the different types of leather watch straps and see which type of leather is the best. We've also included some tips on how to choose a leather watch strap that would go well with your personality.
Not all leather watch straps are made equal, and new alternatives appear daily. While we watch collectors typically divide bands into many categories based on design and material (NATO, leather, bracelet, etc.), lumping all leather watch bands (or straps, if you prefer) together is an oversimplification. So, what types are there?
NATO, as well as Zulu straps made of leather, straps in the rally-style, leather watch straps with perforations, straps for bundling, straps for watches with padding, and leather straps that are stitched, are some of the best leather strap types to consider when in the market for a new watch.
These criteria influence which watch the band is suitable for, and not all watches are made equal. Leather watch straps represent themselves as timeless and stylish pieces. With that said, what makes all these leather types important?
Different Sources of Leather Watch Straps
Leather watch straps are available in various sizes, materials, and designs and at different pricing points. I love perusing new brands, materials, and the most common leather watch straps. Some pairs well with a variety of watch styles, while others are better suited to certain timepieces. When it comes to watches and straps, go for the combo you like best!
After water resistance, the essential item to remember is that the watch head requires detachable spring bars, also known as lug bars, to fit an aftermarket strap.
Watch straps are unquestionably fashionable pieces that may alter the overall appearance and feel of the watch to which they’re attached. Still, they’re also the components that transform a watch into a wristwatch.
When people look for the perfect strap for their watch, their minds often go to one word synonymous with quality: leather.
Understanding Your Leather
If you’re thinking about buying a leather watch strap, you should be aware of what you’re getting yourself into. It is essential to discover everything there is to know about leather, including its origins, its grade, and its use in watch straps.
It will most definitely help understand where leather originates from to ensure that the leather watch strap you choose is ethical. While cows generate the most leather, the industry also employs leather from other species. These are some of the other animals:
But why is it immoral to use one animal’s leather but not another’s? Consider the animal’s additional ‘uses.’ An animal’s byproduct leather is considered ethical and promotes nose-to-tail sustainability, but killing an animal only to create leather is unethical.
Leather from a cow, for example, is considered ethical since it is an ecological byproduct of meat slaughter, but leather from a snake is not.
Do you believe that buying a watch strap that says “Genuine Leather” implies you’re getting the best of the best? Reconsider your position. When you buy a genuine leather strap, you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel.
There are many grades of leather, just as there are various sources of leather. Here’s a rundown of the five different leather grades available, from premium to lowest quality, as well as what each one signifies.
1. Full-Grain Leather
Full-grain leather is made from the most durable portion of the animal’s hide and has excellent grain.
In full-grain leather, all of the inherent features of the leather—imperfections and all—are evident. A full-grain leather watch strap will last longer and resist wearing out better than any other type of leather.
2. Top-Grain Leather
The second finest quality of the leather is top-grain. As the name indicates, this grade of leather originates from the top cut of the animal skin, much as full-grain leather.
Top-grain leather, unlike full-grain leather, is processed to remove blemishes, scars, and other defects. Top-grain leather watch straps will endure a long time, but they will not age as well as full-grain leather watch straps due to the manufacturing procedure.
3. Split-Grain Leather
The term “suede” also applies to split-grain leather. Split-grain leather comes from the top of the hide but is four to five layers deeper, making it less durable than higher grades of leather.
Split-grain leather watch straps are ideal if you value comfort above quality or simply like suede. Split-grain leather watch straps are incredibly soft, smooth, and flexible.
4. Genuine Leather
Genuine leather seems appealing, but that’s just because it’s a fancy term for low-quality leather.
What is the origin of actual leather? Simple! Genuine leather, made from the scraps of leather, is used in the production of higher-end goods. Genuine leather watch straps will not endure as long as those produced from the better grades of leather mentioned above.
5. Bonded Leather
In terms of quality, bonded leather is the worst of the bad. Plastic, vinyl, and glue are glued together with leather waste and a sprinkle of leather dust to create bonded leather goods.
Different Leather Strap Designs and Brands
Watch straps come in various textures and patterns, making it difficult to choose the ideal one for your watch. In general, a leather watch strap will nearly always have a solid leather design with visible stitching. I understand that wearing the same watch with the same strap every day might become monotonous.
As a collector and watch lover, I value having choices, and you know how putting on a different style can ultimately rekindle your passion for a timepiece.
But, as I’ve discovered the hard way, the strap game may be challenging. From quality to sustainable manufacturing, new design, and affordable price, there’s something for everyone.
Black Le Mans Racing Watch Strap from B&R Brands
Every self-respecting watch nerd should have a “rally” strap in their collection. This kind of strap, which is essentially a leather strap perforated with holes, was popular in the 1960s with classic Heuer and Omega racing chronographs but also looks fantastic on just about any hefty tool watch.
The Le Mans is a modern twist on a traditional design by B&R Bands, created in 2009. It comes in three sizes (18mm, 19mm, and 20mm), two lengths, and various colors. What looks great is the Russet variant, a dark brown with contrasting top–stitching and brushed metal that looks well with darker dials.
Vintage motorsports have a significant influence on today’s watch straps. Perforations were added to the steering wheel, leather seats, and even the driver’s gloves to reduce the racing car’s weight to a bare minimum. With such a rich history, it is once again no surprise that these straps go so well with chronographs from Heuer and Omega.
With a waxed finish and full-grain Italian leather, you’ll be able to see how the strap matures wonderfully with use.
American Made Walnut Boxcalf by Crown & Buckle
Source: Crown & Buckle
The two-piece Walnut Boxcalf strap is a two-layer strap with the exact bottom (lining) as the topside.
This leather is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s a chrome-tanned, full-grain calfskin leather in the “Boxcalf” design. This leather is highly durable and has little elasticity.
When new, Boxcalf is a little stiff, but the break-in time is well worth it! The Walnut coloring is a medium-tan dye applied to the grain and the leather’s underneath the flesh. It looks like natural veg tan leather that has been exposed to the sun for a year or more.
This leather is made in France and imported from there.
This hue lends itself to a wide variety of watches. A machine-stitched ecru thread runs the length of this strap, while the edges are dyed a slightly darker brown. One is a fixed goalie, while the other is a floating keeper.
The strap includes a 304L stainless steel buckle in your choice of finish.
Single Red Alpine Calf Strap by Analog/Shift
Analog/Shift nailed the winning formula after a series of limited-run capsule collections with various suppliers from across the world. They were delighted to unveil their new line of unique leather straps – handcrafted in Italy!
The Alpine line includes a variety of go-anywhere, do-anything straps appropriate for casual and formal occasions. I believe these lovely straps are the perfect addition for your everyday excursions, drawing their names from actual and legendary explorers!
The ‘Single Red’ Alpine strap is the second in the Analog/Shift alpine brand series of limited-edition leather straps created just for Rolex Reference 1680 ‘Red Submariners!
Analog/Shift created this strap with a dark grey textured base, black contrast stitching, and a vivid red floating keeper to go with antique objects with patina and ghosting. In contrast, the single red keeper respects that singular line of text that is nothing short of legendary!
They are made entirely by hand in Italy. A stainless-steel pin buckle is attached to a 20mm strap with a 16mm taper. Please note that these straps are all handmade with high-quality leather. As a result, color and texture will vary somewhat from strap to strap and may differ significantly from those others.
These straps, like your watches, will develop their unique patina qualities as they age and wear.
Silas Textured Leather NATO Watch Strap by Bas and Lokes
Source: Bas and Lokes
Among leather straps, a NATO or Zulu single-pass design provides an intriguing alternative. To keep the weight down and for comfort, you’ll want something soft and thin, which is the Silas, a semi-bespoke strap from Australian firm Bas & Lokes.
It’s manufactured in Sydney from American cow skin and has a pebbled texture that will give this normally tough (military) kind of strap a luxury feel – the edges even have a beautiful groove. This strap can dress up a tool watch or give a small timepiece a bit of wrist presence.
With so many lengths, widths, and buckle finishes to choose from, and you may semi-customize a Bas & Lokes strap to feel like it was fashioned just for you.
Their strap NATO product specs:
- Handcrafted from matte black American cow leather with a pebbled texture.
- The interior is lined with smooth, black American vegetable-tanned leather for a refined appearance, feel, and comfort.
- The thin buckle lends the product a sleek appearance.
- Hand-stitched with French waxed linen black thread for long-lasting sturdiness.
- The floating keepers incorporate two black textures contrasting with one smooth black vegetable-tanned leather and textured black leather.
- The edges have a decorative groove for a nice look.
- Their 11″ NATO one-piece straps are one size fits all.
Grained Calf Strap in Taupe by Molequin
Taupe has to be the most often asked about color. It’s a color that allows you to make a statement without going overboard. It’s a one-of-a-kind watch strap that goes with almost anything.
Stainless steel or solid gold, contemporary or vintage, this piece is equally at home.
In Brussels, Belgium, Michael Luther’s Molequin company creates straps from various leathers, but their strong, thinly cut Grained Calf is undoubtedly the best. The Grained Calf is very flexible in taupe since it comes in nine different colors, two lengths, five widths, two spring bar options, and two buckle options.
They manufacture their Grained Calf Skin in France. It’s a unique leather that they can cut extremely thin. Despite this, the straps are durable and maintain their shape nicely over time. The leather is scratch-resistant and easy to care for, requiring just a simple wipe with a wet cloth to clean.
Combine this strap with a monochrome watch for a more understated look, or use it to balance a watch with a louder dial.
What are the Best Types of Leather for Watch Straps?
Leather is a traditional and popular material for watch straps. As aforementioned, Top-grain leather and Full-grain leather are unrivaled as the best leathers to be used as your straps.
Unlike full-grain leather, top-grain leather is treated to eliminate blemishes, scars, and other flaws. Top-grain leather watch straps will last a long time, but owing to the production process, they will not age as well as full-grain leather watch straps., leather is irreplaceable due to its traditional, beautiful look and one-of-a-kind quality.
Genuine Leather is Not What it Seems
The words “Genuine Leather” are frequently written on the rear of watch straps. While “Genuine Leather” literally implies “genuine leather” rather than “synthetic leather,” it refers to the leather’s grade, which is far from the best.
Genuine leather is inexpensive, and because the attention is typically on the watch, manufacturers can often use the term “Genuine Leather” as the industry standard for watch straps.
Should You Choose Genuine or Faux Leather?
Should you get a watch strap made of fake or genuine leather? It’s a personal choice, but if you’re okay with animal hide ethics and can locate one that’s appropriate with the area where you’ll use it (for example, in water or humid settings), I recommend going genuine wherever possible. Ultimately, it is your decision.
However, while considering the usage of leather watch straps for tool watches such as divers, it’s important to remember the following. It’s not costly to place a leather strap on your Sub, Seamaster, or even a vintage DOXA, with so many high-quality straps available in various natural and synthetic materials.
You may switch to a stainless steel bracelet or a practical Italian rubber strap when you get in the water.
The Best Leathers
“Full Grain” leather is the highest grade, followed by “Top Grain” leather. These are the leather layers that sit on top of Genuine Leather. The most substantial parts of the leather are the upper surfaces, which are made up of fabric molecules that are tightly linked to one another.
Genuine leather is more profound in the layer closer to the animal’s skin, where the substance is softer and less durable. Genuine leather watch straps are soft and comfy, but they require an outer layer of artificial coating for strength and design. Genuine Leather straps, on the other hand, frequently break apart over time.
How to Choose a Leather Watch Strap
A man’s wardrobe is incomplete without watches, as you may already know. It’s one of those standout elements that may elevate or detract from your overall appearance, thereby transforming an outfit from “very fine” to “wow, looking fantastic Sir,” or vice versa.
To avoid the second case scenario, here are some Dos and Don’ts when choosing watches and straps to wear in the morning. You wouldn’t want to undo all of your hard work by ruining your clothing, would you?
- Respect the nature of your watch. Rule No. 1: Understanding the multiple worlds of any watch you want to wear is the first step in dressing around it. The same goes for watches and straps. If you want to keep the elegance of your antique watch, don’t wear it with a thick electric blue sharkskin strap.
It will help to consider if genuine leather is appropriate for the purposes you intend to use your watch. If you are spending the entire day in the water or outside in hot and humid regions, it might not be. A specialty leather strap, or perhaps a different material, may be more appropriate in this situation.
Timeworn leather and NATO straps in leather, preferably not too fresh or washed-out to reflect the character of the old piece, work best for chronographs and military timepieces. Poorly sewn or low-quality leather straps are not advised.
- Adapt to your unique style. Once a watch is on a wrist, it becomes an extension of your personality, style, and self, as you may have noticed on yourself or others. If you don’t grasp the harmony in this picture, it won’t appear well. For an artistic touch, add a splash of color to a neutral ensemble.
The straps listed above would look great with a work suit or jeans and a smart-casual shirt. That’s what makes leather so appealing. It’s a natural textile that blends everywhere and develops personality with each use until it becomes an intimate companion on life’s journey.
Of course, the same concepts apply to microbrand watches at a whole other price range, even if super-luxury watches illustrate them so seductively. There’s an exquisite case to be made for adding a gorgeous luxury strap to a simple watch to elevate it in the eyes of any admirer. You should give it a go!
Don’t go overboard with the bright yellow trousers and a pink button-down. We’re not going for a human version of a tropical drink. For an artistic touch, add a splash of color to a neutral ensemble.
Don’t go overboard with the bright yellow trousers and a pink button-down. We’re not going for a human version of a tropical drink.
- Be sure to pay attention to the strap’s finish. A keen eye for detail will make all the difference in this situation. I recommend inspecting the quality and fine details of the strap in the same manner that you would inspect the condition and fine details of a vintage watch before acquiring it.
Finishing is coarse, the stitching is haphazard, and the color connections are questionable.
Enthusiasts, take note. The composition and fineness of the leather, in addition to the other materials, would help you make an informed decision. Concentrate on the needlework and the color.
Is it all right? Is there any evidence of machine marks? After the expert hands of an artist apply two coats, the edge dye should be uniform and preferably matt.
A well-finished strap will improve any case and any ensemble when it is in accord with the rest. Unfortunately, it does not work the other way around: damaging a high-end watch with a cheap or mismatched strap would be a disgrace.
Have I piqued your interest in this flexible and fashionable natural material? Perhaps I’ve inspired you to dig out an old leather strap and put it on your most recent outfit? Perhaps a gorgeous brown leather NATO or ZULU will breathe fresh life into an antique diver or a chronograph that hasn’t been worn in a long time?
Leather straps are elegant, classic, and incredibly affordable for how much they can change a watch’s personality, no matter how you prefer to enjoy your watch collection. There’s never a wrong moment to start a collection or add to an existing one. And your favorite timepieces will be even more enjoyable.
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