It’s easy to change the look of your timepiece by experimenting with wristband materials like leather, rubber, and nylon. Some watch bands have even managed to step out of the shadow of dials, bezels, and cases to send watch fans’ hearts racing. Need an example? If I say “President watch”, what do you think of first? The bezel? I doubt it.
In this article, we’re going to dive into the world of watch bands and bracelets and take a look at the diverse options with the help of a few famous examples.
The Elegant Option – The Jubilee Bracelet
The rather elegant looking Jubilee bracelet was first introduced in 1945. It was created by Rolex for their Oyster Perpetual Datejust in celebration of the brand’s 40th anniversary. The concealed Crownclasp and the five-piece link metal bracelet ooze pure elegance and are very comfortable on the wrist. Over time, the Jubilee bracelet has been affixed to other Rolex models, such as the GMT-Master. However, most watch enthusiasts will always associate it with the Datejust. Fans of vintage pieces get excited at the mere sight of a bicolor Jubilee bracelet in yellow gold and stainless steel from the mid-1950s.
The Sporty Oyster Bracelet
If the Jubilee bracelet is the first choice for any fashionable evening out on the town, the Oyster bracelet is the champion of the everyday watch. Rolex’s roots are in the “tool watch” industry, and the Oyster bracelet is always mentioned in conjunction with the robustness and water resistance of the Oyster Perpetual models. Developed in 1947, this durable, three-piece link bracelet usually shows up on sporty Rolex models, such as the Submariner, Daytona, and GMT-Master. It also appears on their diving watches, including the Sea-Dweller and Deepsea.
The Pilot Strap
The pilot strap has its origins in WWII and the German military. These military watches had to fit over a pilot’s jacket, which is why their leather straps were usually quite long. Rivets stopped the watch from falling off the pilot’s wrist. Some famous pilot’s watch brands, such as IWC, have outfitted a few of their models with these straps. Even if the rivets no longer serve a major function today, they still hold an unmistakable military aesthetic and are full of history.
The “President” Bracelet
As previously mentioned, this bracelet is representative of a particular watch: the Rolex Day-Date from 1956. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the US President at the time, is responsible for the “President” name to a certain extent. Though his watch was “only” a solid gold Datejust, it is often mistaken for a Day-Date, as the Day-Date is the only Rolex model available exclusively in gold. Countless articles on the internet continue to spread this falsehood, turning confusion into fact. However, the Day-Date’s true beginnings followed soon thereafter. Lyndon B. Johnson wore a Rolex Day-Date, and John F. Kennedy apparently received one as a gift from Marilyn Monroe. What’s more, Rolex had an ad campaign in the 1960s that touted the Day-Date as “the President’s watch”.
The most obvious difference, especially when compared to the Oyster bracelet, is its shorter and more numerous links, giving the bracelet unrivaled elegance. This bracelet is certainly responsible for the watch being so famous!
The “Shark Mesh” Bracelet
Despite its name, the Shark Mesh bracelet has nothing to do with the sea-dwelling predator, neither optically nor in its material. The term actually arose out of a 1973 Omega ad campaign for the Ploprof 600. At the time, it was Omega’s flagship diving watch, and its bracelet promised to even withstand a shark attack. Its metal links are chunkier than those found on a Milanese bracelet. The small gaps between said links makes this bracelet especially flexible and exceptionally robust.
The Milanese (Mesh) Bracelet
The Milanese bracelet also falls under the category of mesh bracelets. Its name comes from its birthplace, as it was originally developed in Milan. The style and craft of its net-like construction date back to the 13th century, when it was used to make chain mail shirts. Over the last few years, this bracelet has been popping up on more and more fashion watches.
However, even some renowned manufacturers of mechanical timepieces, such as IWC, Omega, and Breitling, are utilizing this classic-looking watch bracelet once more, giving their watches a cool, sixties vibe. For example, Breitling outfitted their Superocean Heritage 46 with this bracelet. Due to its finely woven appearance and delicate links, the Milanese mesh bracelet is best suited for slightly less adventurous occasions.
The Rally or Racing Strap
This strap is usually made of leather and is inspired by racing gloves. Unsurprisingly, it tends to be paired with (vintage) chronographs. Whether the strap’s small and large perforations are purely aesthetic or allow for better air circulation in the heat of a race has been the subject of debate for some time. One thing, however, is certain: Both “petrol heads” and fans of vintage pieces go nuts for this watch strap. The rally strap is the perfect match for the TAG Heuer Monaco, which became the stuff of legend after Steve McQueen wore one the in 1971 movie “Le Mans”.
The NASA or Velcro Strap
The Velcro, or “NASA”, strap is the first choice of astronauts. This is a direct result of the famous Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch and its wearer, Buzz Aldrin. Thanks to the durable textile strap’s length and Velcro fastener, astronauts could wear this chronograph over their space suits. The NASA strap won’t exactly be the first choice for your next dinner party, nor will many people get to explore the cosmos with it; however, there are also shorter versions of this strap that are fit for daily wear and help to bring a hint of adventure to your life.
The Integrated Bracelet
As its name implies, this metal bracelet integrates into the watch’s case. You have to really be in love with a timepiece to choose one with an integrated bracelet. Due to the lack of lugs, you are foregoing the option of changing out the bracelet and giving your watch a new look, at least for most models. These bracelets are also anything but easy to service and shorten. However, sometimes this is what makes a timepiece special.
Think of Gérald Genta’s masterpiece, the Royal Oak. Its unique, integrated bracelet gives the watch the illusion of being one solid piece and is one of the reasons this watch is so easily recognizable.
The Rubber Strap
More and more manufacturers are offering this strap option. This move comes down to more than just the strap’s functionality during the annual dive taken on your summer vacation. Rubber watch straps are appearing on sporty models, such as those of the Hublot Big Bang collection, and on Richard Mille’s high-end luxury watches.
A timepiece with precious materials like gold, carbon, and ceramic on a rubber strap? How does that work? Well, this rubber isn’t the standard rubber. For his RM 50-03 McLaren F1 Split-Seconds Tourbillon Chronograph with an official list price of 980,000 USD, Richard Mille developed a rubber strap with graphene (carbon) for optimal comfort and reliability. Its extraordinary materials and colors also break with the convention of monotone metal bracelets. Like other rubber straps, it absorbs neither sweat nor dirt and is extremely flexible. It’s no wonder that athletes like Rafael Nadal keep their Richard Mille on their wrists while on Centre Court.