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I think that watches have more in common with pocket squares than cars. And so for me they are part of my wardrobe, as I’ve written about before. That’s why I’m the kind of guy who will carefully consider (read: obsess over) my watch straps. Thanks to suppliers around the world, the options are nearly endless. And that means you can dress up or dress down your watch as much as you’d like. Following my guidelines for watch-wardrobe pairings can help you decide which straps to invest in but really, like anything I write about, it ultimately depends on your personal sense of style and your own wardrobe. And, of course, the watch itself.
Some watches do best with different straps and bracelets. Many sport or tool watches can look great on nylon, leather or steel. Many dress watches, however, are limited to fine leather or metal while super-rugged sport watches can look odd on a polished crocodile strap. But once again, thanks to the internet, chances are someone has tried putting all sorts of straps on all sorts of watches. There is plenty of inspiration out there.
And I think it’s well worth the extra effort of swapping your straps. I love my watches but I love them more because they change. They can go from dressy to sporty depending on my mood and wardrobe. And they can adjust to conditions: cozy leather in the winter or stainless steel on the beach. With a suit I may go with alligator but on the weekend, roughly stitched calfskin. With enough straps, one watch becomes many. That has been my experience with my Seiko Sarb017 Alpinist. This watch is meant for mountaineering, with a built-in bezel to help determine true north. That, plus the double crowns and chunky, Mercedes hands mean it leans to the sporty side. But its elegant, retro design also pairs well with less formal tailored clothes. And the watch’s inherent versatility makes it a perfect candidate for a number of straps.
Synthetic croc strap
This is the strap that came with my Sarb017 and I now understand why it is so disliked by Alpinist owners. The strap arrives stiff stiff stiff and it took me weeks of wear to soften it. And it’s still not ideal. Since this is a mountaineering watch, I believe the strap was constructed of synthetic materials so it could be all-weather while keeping a classy leather look. I do have to thank this strap for one thing: it is so problematic it demanded a replacement.
Black and Olive “Bond” NATO
This was the first strap I bought for the Alpinist because of the sporty nature of the watch and the green/green combination. I also like how the red stripes pick up the small red indicators on the compass bezel. I chose brushed not polished rings to compliment the finish on the watch lugs. This is a great strap for wearing on hot summer days full of activity. Source: Crown & Buckle
Burgundy Tuscan Leather
I added this strap as a less casual option for my watch. The leather is smooth, the construction is high quality and it wears very comfortably. Overall, this strap brings out the inherent dressiness of the Alpinist and I use it when wearing sport jackets and ties but not suits. Source: Hirsch Straps
Vintage-style Chestnut Leather
This strap was a Christmas present from my family and it’s my favourite leather band of the bunch. It clearly takes the watch in a much more rugged direction but is so harmonious with the watch’s design that I don’t limit it to weekends and casual wear, just not with a suit. And I really like how the ecru colour of the stitching brings out the off-white of the watch’s lume. Source: B & R Bands
Stainless Steel Super Oyster
The Sarb017 should arrive with a steel bracelet, in my opinion. The Alpinist looks so natural and right on stainless steel, especially with a matte finish which matches the lugs. This bracelet is not an official Seiko version so it does not fit perfectly (the ends are a bit thicker than the lugs). I would strongly recommend either buying the maker’s suggested version or doing plenty of research ahead of time, avoiding anything that “sort of” fits your watch. The great thing about stainless steel is you can wear it with pretty much any outfit, from tailored to casual.
How to swap straps
People are rightly concerned when it comes to changing straps about difficulty and potentially damaging your watch and/or strap. With the right tools, preparation and process, swapping straps is easy. First, make sure you have a spring bar tool which is essentially a tiny flat heat screwdriver with a little notch in the end – it fits perfectly over the spring bars in between your lugs for easy removal. Second, prepare your watch for surgery by resting it on a soft cloth (so you don’t scratch anything) and carefully pushing the existing strap as close to one lug as possible (if you have a leather strap), exposing the other end of the spring bar. Third, slowly and precisely use your watch tool to release the spring bars and remove the current strap. I will admit that steel bracelets can be a bit trickier (for instance, some have pins in the sides of the lugs) but do your research, go slowly and most importantly, try not to scratch your lugs.