If you are a novice watch enthusiast (and I still consider myself a novice), then like me, you are still in the process of expanding your knowledge, your collection, and your taste in timepieces. You understand the basics of watches and collecting, and are now looking to go deeper into that rabbit hole. Congratulations then! It's time to go beyond what you see in the catalogs, and into the world of watch accessories.
There are a great many ways you can move forward and find a greater enjoyment of this hobby, and one of the most accessible is by changing watch straps. I've always said that I was a car guy before I was a watch guy, so an analogy I like to use is changing straps on watches is like installing aftermarket wheels on a car. Sometimes, the right strap will make a great watch even more beautiful. Other times, the strap itself becomes the main attraction. Whether you change your straps yourself or take it to your favorite watchmaker, a good strap definitely adds character and personality to whatever you wear on your wrist.
A simple nylon strap, whether it's a NATO-style or Zulu-style design, can make a huge change in a watch. It's my personal favorite accessory, and over half the timepieces I wear are on a nylon strap. They are comfortable, lightweight, and come in hundreds of styles from plain solid colors all the way to patterned designs. They're durable, washable, and not too expensive, either. I wear this camo design on my G-Shock, and it's gone snorkeling with me in the beach, gotten grease stains while working on my race car, and generally takes a beating. The design is still clear, and I use it quite often. And because they are easy to swap around without the need for tools, I can wear the same watch every day with a different strap and it feels new and fresh each time I put it on.
I first discovered nylon straps as an alternative to leather and steel. I sweat easily, and my work conditions are such that leather and steel will get scratched, gouged, and otherwise damaged. Nylon, however foregoes these disadvantages, and unlike leather or steel, I can have a lot of fun with different colors or patterns. Among my favorites is this BMW-inspired design by Movement 923 that I wear with various watches - this time with a Rolex Explorer 2 that I used to own. It's made in Europe, and the material is soft with colors that don't bleed or easily fade, even after multiple washes.
Some enthusiasts want a strap that's a little more substantial, and you can't go wrong with leather. Leather can both dress a watch up or dress it down, depending on the aesthetic you are after. There are a lot of places you can buy leather straps - you can find kiosks in various malls that sell them. If you're looking for something unique, however, there are a lot of great leather-workers in the Philippines that will do custom straps for you. Among them is Jaquie Ang, whose creations are all done by hand and made to order.
Jaquie only makes full grain cow hide leather straps, but there are a lot of color options. Colors come in small batches, and once that color is gone, that's it. Different buckle hardware and colored stitching further makes each piece unique. Glue or other adhesives aren't used, so the straps are more resistant to heat or being submerged in water. The right color strap can really enhance the character and beauty of a watch, if paired correctly. This Hamilton Jazzmaster Maestro's gold hands and indices have more pop to them against the white dial when matched with this gorgeous green leather strap.
Once limited to just diver's watches and G-Shocks, silicone or rubber straps have grown in popularity for all sorts of watches. Even Rolex offers their own Oysterflex rubber band on select variants of the Daytona. Now you can get aftermarket rubber straps for most watches, with vibrant colors and the durability of rubber. Unlike nylon or leather, choosing a product depends on the kind of watch you have - Rolex, Seiko, Panerai, or something else. For this reason, I'm including here three brands Everest (who make exclusively for Rolex), Crafter Blue and Uncle Seiko (who are Seiko-specific), and Horus (who do straps for AP, Panerai, and Apple Watch) - all of which are available from Horology Matters.
Rubber straps have a certain sportiness to them that lends well to more expensive, or larger case-sized tool watches. This works out well, too, because they aren't cheap - with prices in the five-figure range, you are right to expect a top-quality product. Thankfully, with the three brands mentioned, this isn't a problem. All three are UV, water and chemical resistant, which means durability isn't an issue. A lot of rubber straps also are hard and uncomfortable, but these are nice and pliable, meaning a more comfortable fit. If ever there was a watch-equivalent of "glamping" - that is glamorous camping - this would be it.
There are actually a few more aftermarket strap options, such as perlon and various metal bands. These three - nylon, leather and rubber - however, are the most popular. Which is best? That depends on the user - and the watch it will go on. While each has its own charm and function, and I don't believe that any have a definite advantage over the other. Much like watches themselves, the decision to go with any of these straps is purely a personal choice. The best part is that having different straps means you don't have to choose just one. Right now I could wear a nylon strap on a Seiko, but I might wear a leather strap on an Omega tomorrow, and a rubber strap on a Rolex the day after that. After all, why choose when you can have it all?