The joy of straps: How to give your watch a smart upgrade on a budget

One of the great pleasures of watch ownership is how a simple strap change can transform the look

Watch straps
(Image credit: Future)

Buying the best watch is one thing, but have you tried changing the strap? Seriously, give it a go. Swap out that stainless steel band for a fabric NATO number, or maybe even switch the three-link bracelet for a Milanese mesh-style strap, and you have a whole new watch.

Replacing the strap of any watch can completely transform it, changing the look, the character and the outfit it suits best. I’m probably quite late to the party here, but now I can't get enough of shopping for new straps for my modest watch collection. It’s cheaper than buying new timepieces, of course, but has the potential to bring just as much joy.

I’ve always been drawn to watches with interesting straps, but my habit of buying and swapping them only began recently. My first was a blue NATO strap with a white stripe along its middle, to be fitted to my Tudor Black Bay 58 with navy dial. Admittedly, this is a small step into the world of strap-swapping, as a band just like it is offered for the 58 by Tudor itself.

Omega Seamaster Diver 300m 60th Anniversary Edition

(Image credit: Omega)

But here’s the thing. Instead of paying a significant premium for a strap from the manufacturer itself, I paid £24 for my NATO from WatchGecko. It arrived with its own lug bars and a soft case large enough to store the replacement bracelet and several others.

Next came an aforementioned Milanese bracelet, also for the Tudor. For this one I was inspired by Omega’s latest take on James Bond’s Seamaster, pictured above, which blends the retro 90s look of Pierce Brosnan’s timepiece with a mesh-style band. Fitted to my similarly blue Tudor, I think it looks fantastic and gives the watch a whole new look for about £30.

A quick word on quality. Many straps sold by third-party companies are much cheaper than those offered by the biggest Swiss watchmakers – sometimes by a factor of 10. But, in my experience at least, they come with quality lug bars that feel like they are made to last – and, crucially, made to keep a secure hold on your treasured timepiece. I have only ever had one near-miss, concerning a lug bar that failed and almost detached itself from the watch case, and that was the manufacturer’s own, not from a third party.

Christopher Ward

(Image credit: Christopher Ward)

Other straps to shout about are the colourful leather numbers bundled with Christopher Ward’s C63 Sealander. I opted for the Lucerne green version (we all know it’s Tiffany Blue, really) which came with a stainless steel bracelet and green leather strap to match the dial. Thanks to quick-release lug bars, the watch transforms from a subtle, smart steel watch with a flashy dial, into a full-on summer watch with a look-at-me strap and dial combo. I love it. The green strap is a bit strong for my usual style, but when taken on a summer holiday it works perfectly.

For the even braver, there’s the G6 by Newgate. In this case, I went for the Oxford and its in-your-face multi-coloured strap and dial. I’ll be the first to say it’s not for everyone, but like the C63 it works wonderfully at a summer barbecue or by the pool on a Mediterranean holiday.

Next on my list is a burgundy leather strap with white stitching – only this time I need to actually buy the watch too, which being the ‘Mission to Pluto’ version of Swatch MoonSwatch, is proving difficult. Should MoonSwatches ever get any easier to buy, I also quite fancy a striped fabric NATO strap, in black and grey, for the Mission to The Moon edition.

Alistair Charlton

Alistair is a freelance automotive and technology journalist. He has bylines on esteemed sites such as the BBC, Forbes, TechRadar, and of best of all, T3, where he covers topics ranging from classic cars and men's lifestyle, to smart home technology, phones, electric cars, autonomy, Swiss watches, and much more besides. He is an experienced journalist, writing news, features, interviews and product reviews. If that didn't make him busy enough, he is also the co-host of the AutoChat podcast.