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Know Your Watch: Watch Straps

February 12, 2014.

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Moving on from watch movements, today's the day you learn about watch straps. At first sight, you may think that there's not much to know about watch straps, but this short guide should open your eyes to the number of different watch strap designs that are out there.

You'll also learn a little about the history of watch straps and about the spring bar tool, a handy piece of kit that will let you change the strap on your watch, a common feature with many modern watch designs.

A Short History of Watch Straps

When watches were first "invented" they were essentially smaller versions of clocks, using the same kind of mechanical movements, but on a much smaller scale. However, they didn't come with straps and certainly weren't designed to be worn on wrists. They were pocket watches, stored in pouches or attached to people's clothes via metal chains, leather strips or fabric. While there is some evidence to suggest that wristwatches existed as long ago as in the 1500s - Queen Elizabeth I was said to have owned at least one - wristwatches were not widely available until the 1800s when they were most often worn by aristocratic women, due to the watch element being built into elaborate jewellery designs for bracelets. It was actually the First World War that catapulted the need for watches to be more easily accessible and so the "military watch" as worn by the British forces was one of the first mass produced watches with straps. It wasn't until some time later that wristwatches as we now and love them were made available to the mass market.

Leather Watch Straps

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The earliest patent for a wrist mounted watch in the UK was filed in 1900 and featured a strap made of leather, not too dissimilar from the leather strap watches you see today. The key difference with this design was that the watch was still essentially a pocket watch but it had the option to be mounted into the strap. This design made of leather was referred to as a "wristlet" and certainly paved the way for leather to be one of the most popular strap materials thanks to its natural durability and flexibility.

The wristlet's leather strap design, and most others that have followed since, feature a traditional buckle for securing the strap through holes punched in the leather. Nowadays, leather straps come in many shapes, sizes and styles but still carry the same classic charm and allure of the earliest wristwatches, just like the Miró watch pictured.

NATO Watch Straps

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The next key step in the history of watch straps was the introduction of "watches with handles", which referred to the introduction of two metal handles - or "lugs" - added to the top and the bottom of the watch case. These would eventually accommodate a strap and came as a direct response to the growing trend among gentlemen to wear their watches on their wrists as the new watch case design aimed to make watches more compact and lighter. It was this watch design that became known as the "military watch".

Staying with the military theme, the NATO watch strap is one of the most popular watch straps and certainly has memorable roots as this style of strap was created and issued by the British Ministry of Defense. In line with the MOD's inventory documenting requirements, each strap was given a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) stock number and that name has stuck to this watch strap design.

NATO straps are a one piece strap most often made from canvas or man-made materials such as nylon and polyester, but they also come in leather. They are designed to go behind the watch strap and through a series of other metal loops so the strap can be secured flat once secured with a traditional buckle, often made from metal. This offers the advantage of being able to interchange the straps quickly and easily without the need for any tools.  The NATO strap shouldn't be confused with Zulu straps or Waterborne straps which have subtle differences. One of our watch brands, HyperGrand recently launched a range of watches, the main feature of which are the brightly coloured NATO watch straps, all of which are interchangeable.

Rubber Watch Straps

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Rubber, plastic and silicone are some of the most modern materials to be used as watch straps in recent years. Cheap to manufacture, malleable to work with and boasting plenty of possibility when it comes to colour and design, silicone and rubber are used in a wide range of increasingly unusual designs. While the traditional buckle clasp is often used with rubber straps, it's also possible to see other designs being used to secure the strap of a watch like in the design of Lexon's Take Time watches. Silicone can also be used with other materials to create other strap designs, like the fixed metal and silicone bracelet design strap of the ZIIIRO Gravity watch.

Metal Watch Straps

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Metal watch straps have existed for many decades and are still a popular type of watch strap. When they first entered the market they allowed for different types of watch strap and  also for new watch buckle designs. The deployant clasp - often misnamed as deployment - is a type of hinge that allows a metal watch strap to fold back on itself and click shut. It's released by pushing in buttons on either side of the clasp and the strap will then extend to allow the wearer to take the watch off. Other types of metal clasps have also been used with metal watch straps.

One of the most popular types of metal watch strap is the "links" style, so-called because of its structure of links which allow for a watch strap that fits around the wrist. You can often add or remove links to ensure the best fit. This is also occasionally called a bracelet strap, but should not be confused with the traditional bracelet strap referred to in the above short history of watch straps. You can see metal being in used in other strap designs, like the woven metal chain strap in the pictured TRIWA watch which is secured with a traditional buckle. The most common type of metal used is stainless steel due to its hypoallergenic qualities, but of course more expensive watches will use silver or even gold.

The Spring Bar Tool

The Spring Bar Tool should be an essential part of any watch lover's kit. This simple metal contraption allows you to change straps easily on almost any watch. The spring bar tool is designed to be small enough so that it can push down on the spring bars (pins) so that they come loose and can be removed without damaging the metal, the watch case or the strap. Here's a video showing how to do this.

And more...

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There are, of course, many other watch strap designs and materials, however, the ones mentioned above are perhaps the most common and most popular styles. At Twisted Time we're proud to stock some of the quirkiest watch designs out there and these often feature unusual materials like the WeWood range, made with wooden watch straps, and Alessi's NEKO range which have polyurethane straps.

Check back in for another Know Your Watch post next month!

Additional information found here.

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