Here’s Why A Watch Strap Is More Than Just An Accessory
This is the second installment of the “Here’s Why” series in which I tackle an idea that people may have been pondered but never really discussed by enthusiasts. Last time I made the connection between watches and motorcycles, and this time we will be discussing what I consider one of the most critical components of a wristwatch.
Today, we will be discussing watch straps, the ubiquitous “accessory” to a wristwatch that has the almost god-like ability to completely change a person’s feeling about said timepiece. It is as if the soul of a wristwatch lies as much in the strap as it does in the mechanics; the strap is the single most functional component on a wristwatch that you interact with.
Without further ado I present the second edition of “Here’s Why.”
More than just an accessory
Rubber, wings, a shutter, and a watch strap are all intimately related.
“How,” you ask?
They are all “function critical” components for specific machines.
A car can have an absolute engineering marvel of an engine, the most sensitive and responsive suspension ever, and a slew of cutting-edge electronics governing all aspects of performance. But that car is going absolutely nowhere − ever − without a set of rubber tires. The tires are the most functional aspect of a car because it is the same across all platforms: the tires allow the car to get from point A to point B.
The same goes for the wings of an airplane. No matter what style of plane, some sort of wing to create lift is required. Almost every other component can be a variety of designs or concepts, but a wing needs to be a wing if liftoff is desired.
Cameras follow too. The most basic camera in the world, a pinhole camera, only needs one moving component, and that is a shutter slide. Without the ability to open and then shut a hole that allows light (or other electro-magnetic radiation) to hit the light-sensitive media, no camera would ever work.
Now it could be argued that in these examples there are many “function critical” components, and even my stated components can be worked around. But as soon as you do this, it simply creates the need for a different “function critical” component.
In many machines, there is always one, or yes, maybe a few, components without which the machine becomes something fundamentally different.
And so it goes in a wristwatch. You might have noticed that I do not say “watch” and instead say “wristwatch.” This is entirely deliberate as a pocket watch and a wristwatch are two different machines. They share a large amount of components and are definitely related, but one “function critical” component sets them apart.
You can see where I am going with this: it’s the watch strap.
Function critical component
A watch strap is the component that actually makes a watch into a wristwatch. Without this strap (and I am including bracelets in this word) you simply have a miniature pocket watch or clock. If you mounted the watch into a case and hung it from your car dashboard, you would have a dash clock. And if you set it on your desk, then it would be a very small desk clock.
The watch strap is what makes a watch or a clock into a wristwatch. The critical function is to enable a watch to be held to your wrist, securely, so that the time can be discovered at a moment’s notice. It is for this reason that a strap is more than just an accessory to a wristwatch, it is the reason it exists in the first place.
Many things about wristwatches have been designed and developed specifically for the application of a wrist-mounted machine. Any and all of these functions or components rely on the ability of a strap or bracelet to do its job perfectly.
If the strap or bracelet fails, even one time, then the wristwatch is most likely long gone or permanently damaged due to it becoming “unsecured during transit.”
Of course, that would also mean that all of the fancy features of some wristwatches – the screw-down crown, the unidirectional bezel, the chronograph pushers, or the repeater slides – are entirely useless the moment you can’t keep your wristwatch on your wrist.
It isn’t hard to see that straps and bracelets are “function critical” components.
More than just a strip of material
For this reason, there has actually been a large amount of thought, design, engineering, and problem-solving when it comes to the way the watch is kept on your wrist. The first and foremost example is the NATO strap, otherwise known as a G10.
Originally designed as a failsafe, waterproof, nylon watch strap for the military, the G10 was the first concept strap that could be applied to any wristwatch to make a more secure and “elements-proof” strap. The double keeper setup allows for a failure of one of the spring bars without the possibility of losing your wristwatch.
The invention of screw bars, solid link bracelets, and double-locking clasps eventually led to the most recent modern style: the deployant. This is usually featured on a leather strap to provide a classic look while maintaining the security afforded by the permanently attached deployant clasp found on bracelets.
Metal bracelet technology has been varied over the decades, but many designs have focused on added security and durability. Just look to the original (and updated modern versions) of the Rolex oyster bracelet for a sturdy example.
For even more options, one could look to Bovet for a quick-release, stud-based strap connection: the Bovet Fleurier Amadeo models feature a strap with extending studs that are captured by a catch inside the case. Linde Werdelin boasts a variation of that featuring a screwed stud design, based again on a strap with extruding studs that are slid into place and screwed down with two screws.
The most functional component, and I mean it
Now that you see why and how the watch strap is critical to the intended use of a wristwatch, I would like to address my possibly divisive statement that a strap is the single most functional component that you interact with on a wristwatch.
This really is a bit of a semantic argument, but it is true in every case (now that one was an accident). The reason is frequency of use.
There is not a single component you interact with more than the strap. The crown or chronograph pushers? Nah, you only need those when you adjust the time or use the chronograph, which might not be every day or even only every so often. But if you want to put your wristwatch on every day, the one thing that you will interact with every single time without fail is the strap or bracelet.
The first and last thing you touch every day on your watch is the only component that you can’t break and still claim to have a wristwatch. With other components you might not have a working wristwatch, but without a strong and fully supporting strap to attach a timepiece to your wrist, all you have is a desk clock.
The watchstrap can also be an accessory if you want it to, but it is not the only job. In fact, seeing it as an accessory only occurred in the last few years – to a level, anyway, in which the strap is relegated to a choice of style or feeling, not just practicality.
Now with its rise in popularity, NATO straps are available in thousands of patterns and colors and in many different materials. That means that while the NATO strap is one of the most practical (and straightforward) straps on the market, enthusiasts are using them for watches that never will take a beating or come even remotely closely to getting wet.
So, something that has true purpose and intention is now being co-opted by fashion designers and the popular culture.
While I love the upswing in watch interest because of this, I do find myself shaking my head as people forget about an element that is really doing a lot of work – and element that you have to have trust in almost more so than your movement. Like I said before, that trust has to be in your watch strap.
This is why the watch strap is more than just an accessory; it is part of the soul of the wristwatch.
It does, of course, provide flair (and, yes, that is fun), but it also protects from loss, damage, or simply bad luck.
The watch strap is a “function critical” component, and the only thing you interact with every time you use the wristwatch.
Basically, a strap is the most important part of a wristwatch, because without one, you just have a clock.