From basic to iconic, these are the bracelets and straps you need to know about.
The Nato strap made its first appearance in 1973 and was created by the British Ministry of Defence. Those straps were characterised by 20mm wide double nylon straps with spring bars, in a colour called Admiralty Grey, though their popularity led to the adoption of more colours and a slimmer 18mm version.
They are often confused with Zulu straps, which differ from Nato ones by having only one long strap made of thicker nylon.
The perforations in these leather straps – usually three large ones under the lugs on either side, though variations have seen numerous holes across the entire strap – were inspired by old racing gloves and car parts that had holes drilled into them to minimise weight and increase speed. While it’s not necessary in a watch strap, the added ventilation makes them ideal summer accessories.
It may not have as long a history as the Oyster or Jubilee bracelets, but Rolex’s President band, introduced in 1956, is the brand’s most luxurious – and is used only for its highest-end Day-Date models. It combines the Oyster’s three-link design with the Jubilee’s semi-circular links, and is only ever crafted in gold or platinum and paired with the Rolex Crown clasp for a smooth, comfortable fit.
Now purely used as decoration, the rivets located below the lugs on pilot’s watches were originally meant to keep the straps together, particularly during the turbulence of air combat. First popularised by the German air force during World War II, this historical detail can still be found on modern pilot’s watches today.
Derived from Milanese chain mail in the 13th century, the Milanese mesh design now has the less bloody function of keeping watches and jewellery on the wrist. Modern use was pioneered by German strap specialists Staib and Vollmer, and luxury brands like Breitling and Zenith have mesh options in some collections.
Omega’s Shark Mesh bracelet, first found on the Ploprof 600 diving watch, features a similar design with larger links.
While durable and especially suitable for diving, metal bracelets are still a little too heavy and expensive to replace when it comes to serious tool watches. Rubber straps are the obvious answer, and the earliest example is the Tropic, now famous for its basket weave pattern and numerous perforations. Other designs have followed since, such as Seiko’s Waffle strap and Hublot’s fabric or leather covered rubber straps.
Audemars Piguet’s audacious Royal Oak made history by selling itself as a luxury sports watch in steel, but we shouldn’t forget that much of that credit belongs to the meticulously manufactured bracelet as well.
It shocked everyone how much shine could be coaxed from a steel bracelet, not to mention the time taken to both satin brush and polish the link edges.