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When it comes to watch bands, the sheer variety can be overwhelming. The choice has long since expanded from the classic dilemma of leather versus stainless steel to newer materials such as nylon and rubber, all of which have their own merits. Some people have to consider allergies when choosing a watch band and look for compatible alternatives. For example, titanium bracelets have proven to be particularly effective, as they are made of anti-allergenic titanium and are also extremely light and scratch-resistant.

Here, we provide an introduction to the most common materials and types of watch bracelets, as well as their advantages and disadvantages. Considering the wide assortment of Rolex bracelets and their importance for the history of the brand and its collections, we will not include them here.

Textile wristbands

In the hot summer months, it is common to sweat a lot, which often causes severe wear of leather watch straps. For this reason, manufacturers began to research alternative materials for watch straps and plastic fibres were used to make a durable solution: nylon. Nato, Zulu and Perlon wristbands have recently gained popularity among nylon wristbands because they are very durable and available in many colours.

Nylon watch band with black background

Nato wristbands

  • Names: Nato band, Nato strap
  • Material: Nylon
  • Style: Casual, sport

Specifically developed for British soldiers during the Cold War, the British Ministry of Defence originally introduced this wristband under the name G10. After the war, the nylon straps that were no longer needed were sold in military surplus shops. As a result, each bracelet was given a NATO number, which quickly earned it the nickname "NATO strap". The bracelet became a bestseller in the 70s – also thanks to an appearance in the film "Goldfinger" (1964), in which the Rolex Submariner on Sean Connery's wrist was equipped with a Nato wristband. Watch brands quickly jumped on the trend and also began producing Nato wristbands.

The signature feature of Nato bracelets is that they are made of a single piece. Most wristbands usually have two separate halves, which can make changing them a longer process, as you always have to open and close the spring bar. Nato straps, on the other hand, only pass under the spring bar itself. The locking mechanism secures the watch to the wrist so that it does not lose its grip even if the spring bar is released. A wide range of colours, low price point and high flexibility make Nato wristbands a popular all-rounder. Especially in summer, the Nato wristband is a good alternative for a leather strap.

Zulu straps

  • Names: Zulu wristband, Zulu strap
  • Material: Nylon, leather
  • Style: Casual, sport

Zulu straps gained popularity through the company Maratak and are very similar to Nato straps in appearance. However, there are a few small but crucial differences. On the one hand, Zulu wristbands use more stable nylon or leather, which increases their durability. This is also noticeable in the thickness of the straps. As a rule of thumb, Zulu straps are normally used for larger watches, Nato straps for smaller watches. Zulu wristbands employ three or five rings as the locking mechanism, which also differ in thickness and width from the Nato wristband lock. Due to the more sturdy material, Zulu wristbands are slightly harder and only form when wet. We recommend that you try both Nato and Zulu wristbands to get a feel for the difference.

Perlon wristbands

  • Names: Perlon wristband, Perlon strap
  • Material: Nylon
  • Style: Casual, business casual, diving

Perlon is the name of a specific subgroup of nylon, also known as Nylon 6, which has stronger, more resilient fibres than normal nylon. Perlon straps are woven together like a mesh bracelet from several nylon threads. This wristband became popular as an alternative to stainless steel bracelets in the 60s in particular because it allowed the skin to breathe better and could be easily adjusted to any wrist size. Because perlon dries quickly, does not stretch when wet and therefore guarantees a reliable hold, Perlon straps were mainly used for diving watches. Today, Perlon bracelets are very versatile and especially popular for chronographs and dress watches.

Leather straps

Over the years, there have been a number of very interesting and innovative changes in the field of leather wristbands. Specifically, watch straps for racing drivers and pilots saw important changes that were increasingly adapted for the specific needs of these professions. Even though many of the ideas are now obsolete, they still appear in the design concepts of the bracelets and proudly reference their history. The most popular types of leather are cowhide and crocodile leather.

Black leather watch strap with perforations on black background

Pilot straps

  • Material: Leather
  • Style: Business casual

Pilot wristbands were first worn by the German Air Force in World War II. However, these had little in common with the product sold to the public after the war. The military pilot wristbands were longer, so pilots could wear them over their jackets. Additional rivets were also attached below the parts of the bridge to prevent the watch from flying off. Today, many of the bracelets have retained this aesthetic, although the length has been shortened to a conventional size. Due to their history and unique specifications, these wristbands are particularly well suited to watches by IWC, Sinn or Hamilton.

Bund straps

  • Material: Leather
  • Style: Business casual

Bund watch straps were also used by the German Air Force, but had a different function than the conventional pilot wristbands. Since the greatest dangers when flying are fire and cold and watches are always in direct contact with the skin, they could quickly heat up and burn the skin or freeze to it at colder temperatures. Therefore, wristbands were designed with additional padding on the underside of the case so that the watch never touched the skin directly. The pad could also absorb perspiration, which was especially important with older pilot watches. These were not as tight as more modern models, so sweat was able to penetrate the case and destroy the watch. Bund wristbands are also suitable for people with a metal allergy.

Rally straps

  • Names: Rally strap, Rally racing strap
  • Material: Leather
  • Style: Casual, business casual

Easily recognizable by their large perforations, rally wristbands are still the top choice for racing enthusiasts. The holes in the leather wristbands hint at the early history of racing. Holes were drilled in the metal of the bodywork, which significantly reduced the weight of the cars and also helped with ventilation and heat dissipation. For aesthetic coherence, these holes were also used as a design element in gloves and later in watch bands. The light and breathable design has made the rally strap a popular summer wristband as it allows the skin to breathe better. For a perfect complement, pair the bracelet with a racing watch like the TAG Heuer Carrera or a vintage chronograph like the Heuer Monaco.

Stainless steel bracelets

The stainless steel bracelet is considered an absolute classic among watch bands and is universally popular. When it comes to bracelets for diving watches, there is a wide variety, but stainless steel has really made a name for itself. Stainless steel wristbands with a PVD coating are also a favourite, as this protects the strap from scratches and makes it even more robust. These are recognizable by their mostly black coating.

Silver stainless steel bracelet of a Breitling Superocean Heritage 46 watch with white backgroundBREITLING SUPEROCEAN HERITAGE 46 A1732024.B868.152A

Engineer bracelets

  • Names: Super engineer
  • Material: Stainless steel
  • Style: Business casual, diving

Engineer bracelets are thought to have been developed by Seiko to give their own chunky diving watches, such as the Seiko Monster, a proportionally appropriate bracelet. An engineer bracelet consists of thick, hexagonally-cut stainless steel links. Five of the links form a row, guaranteeing a great presence on the wrist and securing the watch to the arm. The Engineer wristband is, therefore, a little heavier: however, it is particularly well-suited for everyday use due to its robustness. In accordance with its history, an engineer bracelet is best paired with larger diving watches such as the Rolex Deepsea 116660 or the Breitling Superocean Heritage 46. Surprisingly, this bracelet lies flat on the arm itself thanks to its angular design. This also makes it of interest for wearers with narrower wrists, provided the proportions match the watch.

Milanese bracelets

  • Names: Milanese mesh bracelet, mesh bracelet, mesh watch band
  • Material: Stainless steel, gold, silver
  • Style: Business

The Milanese bracelet is a particularly popular type of watch band. This can also be found under the names mesh bracelet or Milanese mesh bracelet, because they are made of intertwined loops (fine mesh). They are available in both fine and sturdy versions to give the watch an elegant or solid look. Since mesh bracelets do not require screws, they’re less susceptible to breakage than conventional bracelets and at the same time conform well to any wrist.

The origin of the name and design of the Milanese bracelet has its origins in the Italian city of Milan, where the bracelet was handmade as early as the 13th century. In the 1920s, the process was revived by the German watch specialists Staib and Vollmer, leading to a new wave of popularity. The Milanese bracelets stand out visually thanks to their dense, close-meshed workmanship, which gives them a smooth, thin surface. Milanese wristbands are extremely comfortable to wear because the fine mesh prevents hair from getting caught in the bracelet and allows the skin to breathe easily. Be sure to buy a high-quality band to ensure that the watch strap does not have any sharp edges and has sufficient flexibility. Also, it is a good idea to consider proportions. Since the bracelet is very thin, it should not be worn with watches over 40 mm in diameter.

Shark mesh bracelets

  • Names:  Shark mesh bracelet, "Sharkproof" bracelet
  • Material: Stainless steel
  • Style: Business casual, diving

As the name suggests, the shark mesh bracelet also belongs to the category of mesh bracelets. When Omega introduced the Ploprof Seamaster 600 in 1970, it claimed that the watch could even withstand a shark bite. Although the Ploprof is one of the most robust and stable diving watches ever developed, it still would not be able to take on a shark. However, the slogan remained the same and gave its name to the famous shark mesh bracelet. This bracelet stands out from the other mesh bracelets because of its widely-braided links. Shark mesh straps let the skin breathe and offer more comfort. This bracelet is best paired with a vintage diver's watch.

Rubber watch straps

Originally launched as an alternative to stainless steel bracelets for diving watches, rubber watch straps quickly developed their own following and are still part of every well-organized wristband collection today. Natural rubber is labelled "natural rubber" or "NR" for consumers.

Black Rolex Oysterflex bracelet made of rubber with black background

Tropic wristband

  • Names: Tropic watch band, Tropic strap
  • Material: Rubber
  • Style: Casual, sport

The Tropic strap is the first bracelet made of rubber in history. In the 60s, it was sold as an alternative to the usual stainless steel bracelets, which were robust and waterproof, but also heavy and expensive to replace. Visually, the bracelet stood out with its mesh pattern, which is reminiscent of woven baskets. Compared to the Perlon strap, however, it is only printed and not actually woven. The bracelet was also perforated and offered breathing holes for the first time, which was a remarkable innovation at the time. While the first models were still somewhat stiff and brittle, the process improved in the 70s and bracelets can now achieve a lifespan of up to several decades.

Waffle strap

  • Names: Waffle strap, Waffle, ZLM01
  • Material: Rubber
  • Style: Casual, diving

The second wristband developed by Seiko is the ZLM01 with the nickname "Waffle", which was the first diving wristband specially designed by Seiko. The bracelet made its debut in 1967 on the 6215-7000 Diver – one of the most important watches in the company's history. Originally it was used as a military watch in Vietnam, but when the veterans returned to the USA and brought their Seiko watches with them, the rest of the population soon embraced them. Waffle straps got their name from the waffle pattern that runs over its surface. On the sides, however, it is pervaded by small air holes that guarantee a good ventilation. Rubber also proved to be waterproof, very easy to clean and flexible, making it the perfect everyday companion. Unfortunately, rubber does not age as well as nylon or stainless steel, which is why most original Waffle straps are brittle today. Since Seiko took the Waffle straps out of production, they can only be bought used – and usually overpriced.

Other materials for watch straps

In addition to the materials we have already discussed, there are other materials used for bracelets that should not go unmentioned. Silicone wristbands, for example, are another variant. Unlike purely natural rubber straps, these are made of synthetic materials. They are often worn for sports activities because they are easy to clean under running water.

Ceramic watch bracelets can also be found in the upper price segment. This material is extremely robust as well as being weather and corrosion-resistant. Compared to a stainless steel bracelet, a ceramic bracelet is much lighter, but also more fragile. Another favourable characteristic of ceramic is its particularly skin-friendly properties.