Watch Straps - Bracelet Vs. Leather Vs. Nylon Vs. Rubber [2024]

Strap Type Featured Image

As I see it, there are four possible ways to wear a wristwatch. Now, I don't mean location on your body, but rather ways to attach it to your arm. They are:

  1. Metal bracelet.
  2. Leather strap.
  3. Nylon strap.
  4. Rubber strap.

Each method has uses, but I don't necessarily think that any one method is all-encompassing. Each has a place to be used, and I'll be outlining that in this article. I've worn watches on all four methods, and have a lot of feedback on what I prefer. Preference does play a big part of choosing the attachment method that you like, but some things are still pretty universal.

As an aside that pertains to this, I really won't be discussing watches with integrated bracelets or straps. With those, you're generally stuck with what comes on the watch, and as such, I won't really be covering them here. In addition, quality is everything with watch straps. A crappy NATO may turn you off of Nylon, which isn't really representative of all NATO straps, for example.

Well, lets dive into it!

A Look Into Metal Bracelets

Metal Bracelet Front
A stretchy bracelet on the Glycine, jubilee style on the Momentum, and an Omega Seamaster 300 Pro bracelet.

Starting off, we've got the metal bracelet. These come in many forms, with some using solid bracelets (normal), and some using more elastic, stretchy bracelets. Bracelets come in many designs and vary in build quality, but as you look at common watches, you'll see a handful of popular types. On the topic of the stretchy bracelet, that style is very much out of vogue, and is not common these days. I've got two watches with them, but both are vintage watches with 1960s stretchy bracelets.

For the common types of bracelets, most are fairly old designs, just executed well. Designs such as the Rolex Oyster & Jubilee inspired a lot of other brands, but we've had more iterations since then. The Beads of Rice and Omega "Railroad track" bracelets come to mind, but there's plenty more out there.

Metal Bracelet Back 2
The same bracelets, but with a view at the clasp/back of the bracelet.

Sizing a bracelet requires removing or adding links to get a rough size, and then doing smaller adjustments from there. Most watches have "micro" adjustments in the clasp, or in Omega's case, half links for the bracelets. Bracelets use either pins, or screws to retain links, with screws generally being more favorable due to the ease of using them.

Generally, bracelets are considered to be fairly sporty, and sometimes dressy. Plenty of dress watches come on bracelets, but so do a ton of divers. I'm in the camp that the bracelet can be dressy, as long as the watch pairs well with your clothes. However, I don't find myself wearing watches on bracelets all that much.

My Take On Metal Bracelets

For me, there are two hang-ups to bracelets. They are the weight, and the sizing of them.

A bracelet will always be heavier than the other options for your watch. Even with a titanium bracelet, it's gonna be chonky. As an example, my Omega Seamaster 300 Pro came on a metal bracelet. Without any strap or bracelet, the watch itself weighs 70 grams. On the bracelet (when sized to my 7.25" wrist), the weight goes up to 157 grams. That means that the bracelet weighs more than the watch itself, at 87 grams. Jumping the gun a little, that same watch only weighs 84 grams on my preferred nylon NATO strap.

Islander Port Jefferson GMT
I like a good bracelet, but I don't find myself seeking them out.

On top of that, sizing bracelets can be hard. Most bracelets have micro adjustments in the clasp, but most require tools to adjust. Your wrist swells and shrinks when the temperature changes, so I've found that bracelets are generally loose in the cold seasons, and fit better when it's hot. Many modern micro-brand and big-brand watches have quick-adjusts in the clasp that don't require tools, but that is not standard across the board. Hell, the Omega's require the use of half links, with no micro adjusts at all.

Overall, I don't find myself favoring a metal bracelet. Between the added weight and fitment that can be spotty, I find myself gravitating towards other offerings.

The Leather Strap

Leather Strap Front Facing
A single piece WCWC leather strap, and an Islander Aviator on a two piece leather strap.

Leather is one of the oldest methods to attach a watch to your arm. Dating back to leather bracers to which men would mount pocket watches onto, the leather strap is classic, and very popular. I would say that they've kind of become a more dressy option over the last few decades, with the influx of rubber straps taking over leather's position. However, leather certainly still has a place.

Much like the bracelet, it's also versatile, as you can get quite dressy leather for a nice watch, or something a little more durable for a field or pilot's watch. Leather quality certainly varies, as cheap leather just won't be as nice as more expensive stuff. Most straps use two pieces of leather that are glued and stitched together, with more expensive straps being made from higher quality leather. Generally, leather straps are two pieces that attach to the watch, however, single piece straps do exist too.

Leather Straps Closeup
At the top, we can see the more traditional attachment of the two piece strap, and the less traditional single piece strap.

Sizing leather is very simple, using a buckle & pin system, with holes in the strap to size it. These are very easy to size on the fly, and generally get a good fit. Leather can also have a little stretch to it, which can assist in getting a nice, proper fit.

I've got more experience wearing leather in the dress watch world, however, I've been giving the more outdoorsy leather a try. In this, I've formed my opinions on this material.

My Take On Leather Straps

Seamaster Quartz 1
An old Omega Seamaster Quartz Dress on a leather strap.

For me, I prefer leather on dress watches, rather than on sportier timepieces. Quality leather is really classy looking, and when attached to a dress watch, can really make the look pop. I'm also not going to (generally) be wearing a dress watch out in harsh environments, where leather tends to stumble. Well, that leads into my take on leather for non-dress watches.

I do think that rubber has kind of eaten leather's lunch. Even with treated leather, it's going to perform worse in wet environments, such as rain, snow, water, or sweat. I'll take a nylon NATO or a rubber strap over leather for those instances. Additionally, leather can shrink and expand when exposed to moisture, so it may not fit amazingly when it starts to get a lot of wear. I do like leather for pilot's watches, since those don't generally get rained on too much, but again, I'd rather have rubber. Even with treated leather, it's not going to perform as well in the long term as rubber.

That being said, if someone likes leather on sports watches, I get that. Just keep in mind that it'll get a little nasty if you are sweating on it, or going into saltwater with it, and could change in size too.

The Nylon Strap

NATO Watches
The DW-5600 and my Seamaster on nylon NATO straps.

Nylon is one of my favorite materials for watch straps. Generally, you see ballistic nylon, canvas, or sailcloth categorized as nylon. You'll also see quite a few one piece and two piece designs within nylon, such as the single or double pass NATO, or a standard two piece strap. Additionally, you'll see other one piece designs, like velco/hook & loop straps, generally on things like arm mounted GPS units.

Sizing is very easy to do, as the majority of nylon straps use a simple pin and buckle system. As such, you can quickly loosen the watch when it gets hot, or tighten it when it's cold. Some do use a "deployant" system, which I'm not very fond of (looking at you Seiko and Omega). With the nylon being well, nylon, it's easy to clean too. When mine get dirty, a quick bath in the sink or run through the washer cleans them right up.

NATO Strap
The venerable NATO strap.

When it comes to nylon straps, the NATO is extremely common. The style may seem a little complicated at first, but it's pretty simple. Essentially, we've got a loop that goes around your wrist, and the watch rides on that loop. If it is a NATO, it has a secondary piece of fabric, to help keep the springbars off of your arm. There are "single pass" NATOs, which forgo the extra material, for a lower profile fit.

Nylon straps are generally very easy to fit to most watches, as they don't require mating an endlink to the case, or anything of that nature. However, these are strictly sport/outdoor/military straps, as they really don't work in dressy situations. Bond might be able to pull off a NATO with a suit, but most of us can't. I've worn a lot of NATOs over the last few years, which has helped with forming my opinion on nylon straps.

My Take On Nylon Straps

I love nylon straps. Between these and the next category, they are my favorite style to wear. Within nylons, I like standard NATO straps, as they combine a great look, with a ton of usability.

Glycine Combat Sub 42 Strap Monster
The (previously reviewed) Glycine Combat Sub, with a few NATOs and a rubber strap.

The comfort of a good NATO is hard to beat. My only gripe with the NATO is that depending on thickness, it can really add a whole lot more height to your watch. For thin watches, this is fine, but it really makes tall watches feel even larger. That being said, variety is the spice of life, so knowing what works with a NATO is part of the game.

Durability is something that I've come to enjoy too. NATO straps better protect the watch (in the case of a springbar failure), and are just more rugged than leather or a bracelet. Additionally, the ability to wash nylon easily is quite nice too.

Sure, the NATO isn't dressy, but I'm not in dress clothes all that much. However, when I'm in daily life, I've either got a NATO strap on my wrist, or a rubber strap.

The Rubber Strap

Rubber Watch Straps
Two different types of rubber straps.

Last, (but certainly not least), is the rubber strap. These are the most common type of watch strap out there, coming on Casios, traditional watches, and plenty of smart watches. These types of straps are colloquially called "rubber", but can be made from various materials. Casio uses the same resin plastic from their watches as the material for the straps, for example. Even within normal rubber, you've got different types of rubber, like FKM or vulcanized rubber. I'll use the word as an all-encompassing phrase, but I'm generally referring to either Casio resin, or a more traditional rubber.

Rubber straps generally attach in a two piece format, and use a pin and buckle system for sizing. As such, they're easy to put on your watch, and easy to size to your wrist. Compared to leather or nylon, we can also have a strap with far more adjustment holes, and as such, can really fine tune the fitment.

Rubber Back
The same rubber straps, showing the back, and how they interface with the lugs.

In addition to being easy to size, rubber is very durable. It's a weatherproof, sweatproof, and very durable material. Aside from a few chemicals that can hurt rubber, it takes a solid beating and keeps working. Rubber is also generally comfortable, however, the material used really makes a difference.

Aside from the durability, ease of sizing, and comfort, rubber also tends to be fairly low profile. By this, I mean that we've got nothing keeping the caseback off of our arm, so we've got no extra thickness added by the strap. Rubber is very sporty, so keeping it closer to the arm is great.

I really enjoy rubber, but it's not perfect.

My Take On Rubber Straps

Rubber fights nylon for my most worn watch strap material. I really enjoy the comfort of rubber, the durability, and the ease of sizing. However, there are certainly some downsides.

Rubber Watch Strap Example
The Casio G-Shock GBA-800 & Islander Port Jeff GMT.

Rubber is very sporty, and does not work in a dressy setting. This isn't a major issue for me, but of all of the materials, rubber is certainly the least dressy.

Additionally, rubber is very hit-or-miss for quality. The physical material makes a big difference, as lower quality rubber can cause irritation and issues. I've had some Casio straps that cause pretty bad irritation, and some that don't.  Generally, vulcanized or FKM rubber work well for me, and are very comfy.

Sizing is pretty easy to do, however, many straps have strange hole spacing on the female end. As such, it can be hard to get a proper fitment on the wrist. Some straps (like that on the G-Shock GBA-800) have a ton of sizing holes, which makes sizing very easy. However, most aren't that generous, so you might need to deal with a loose or extra tight fit.

Momentum SQ30 LRRP 4.3
The Momentum Sea Quartz 30 on an FKM Tropic strap.

While rubber is very durable, it generally has issue with one specific, commonly used chemical: DEET. DEET is a common chemical found in bugspray, and well, I've used a lot of it over the years. I've never fully killed a strap due to using DEET on my body, but I have caused discoloration and partial erosion from it. Prolonged exposure could break down a strap, but it takes time. In addition to receiving UV light, the rubber will have issues in the long term with DEET exposure. That being said, most rubber straps aren't super expensive, so swapping it isn't too bad.

While I've been a bit critical, I really do love rubber. I find myself gravitating towards it a ton this year, and I don't see that changing.

Verdict

Regardless of what you prefer, knowing the situation that best suites each style is good to know. I prefer nylon and rubber straps, but understand the place for leather and bracelets. I've got each style in my collection, and certainly enjoy them as appropriate. I bet that you'll do the same!

Further Reading & Patreon Link

Once you've decided to try out a style of watch strap, check out some previous watch articles I've written.

If you'd like to support me on Patreon, I've got the link for that here. Nearly everything that I do on Primer Peak is paid for out of my own pocket, and my content is not shilled or driven by manufacturers or companies. If you decide to donate, I'd really appreciate it, as it would allow for me to continue to bring you quality work.

About Paul Whaley 194 Articles
Paul Whaley is a guy with an interest in practical and defensive pistol shooting techniques with an eye for quality gear. He has received training from Holistic Solutions Group, John Johnston of Citizens Defense Research, Darryl Bolke, Cecil Birch, and Chuck Haggard. When not trying to become a better shooter, he can be found enjoying a Resident Evil game or listening to Warren Zevon.

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