Spruce up your watch

The 12 Best Leather Watch Straps You Can Buy


September 11, 2018 Watches By Photo by Hunter D. Kelley

While we watch-lovers often categorize straps into several well-established types according to style and material (NATO, leather, bracelet, etc.), in truth it’s an oversimplification to lump all leather watch straps together. What type of leather are we talking about – full grain, top grain, nubuck, suede, cordovan? Is the strap a 1-piece or a 2-piece? Is it top-stitched all around the perimeter or does it feature vintage-style threading near the lugs?

All of these factors dictate which type of watch the strap will be appropriate for, and certainly, not all straps are created equal. What follows are 12 of our favorite leather watch straps from some of the best brands available from 3 continents:

Everest Bands Curved End Link Leather (for Rolex Submariner)

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Michael DiMartini, founder of Everest Horology Products, began his company with one simple aim in mind: namely, to produce the perfect alternative to a Rolex bracelet, both in rubber and in leather. To that end, he and his business partner David conceived of an Italian vegetable-tanned calf leather strap with hypoallergenic lining. The strap features an ABS plastic insert embedded at the case connection point for a precision fit to your Rolex Submariner (there are however several models of Submariner that are not compatible with the curved-end leather model, so we recommend checking the Everest website regarding compatibility).

Though Everest may have begun with a lofty goal, they certainly seem to be hitting it out of the park: the curved-end leather Sub strap (shown also in brown at top), available in nine finishes, is incredibly over-designed and ergonomic, with its precision-fit ends and steel buckle that looks robust enough to use as a weapon in close-quarters combat. For die-hard Rolex enthusiasts, an Everest strap is about as good as you can get.

Hodinkee Camouflage Suede

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Hodinkee is of course one of the best resources out there for watch straps of all different types – in fact, their selection of leather straps alone is so vast as to be somewhat overwhelming. Where does one begin?!

Their camouflage suede strap was one their first offerings from the Shop and has since become a fan favorite (if it’s good enough for Jay-Z, it’s good enough, full stop). Suede, for those of you who are unsure (I was unsure – I had to look this up to verify the difference between suede and nubuck), is (according to the Internet) “leather with the flesh side rubbed to make a velvety nap.” This is opposed to nubuck, on which the outer side of the leather has been rubbed.

The camouflage look on this strap is fantastic, and because each piece is handmade, each features a slightly different pattern. While the suede gives the camo a unique texture, the inner leather surface is incredibly comfortable, making for a highly wearable (if admittedly somewhat loud) way to rock your watch.

Hodinkee Leather Rallye Watch Strap

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Who the hell would we be if we didn’t include a vintage-style racing strap in this roundup? Hodinkee offers more than one variety of racing/rally-type strap, but I chose their Rallye version to review here, as its oversized holes are, to me, emblematic of this type of band (the style is likely modeled after racing components, such as steering wheels on Formula 1 cars, that had holes drilled in them to reduce weight – I can’t seem to confirm this, but this is my internet-educated supposition).

The Rallye strap, available in black and handcrafted in Italy, differs from Hodinkee’s “Racing” straps (available in black and two shades of brown) in the size/design of the holes that perforate the leather (the Rallye features three larger holes in ascending sizes rather than a pattern of smaller holes). The style cues here are pure 1960s vintage racing, so of course the Rallye looks perfectly at home on vintage racing chronographs, such as Daytonas, Carreras and Autavias, but will pair well with many types of watch.

This is another stiff-upon-arrival strap that breaks in well with age, and the top-stitching along the perimeter and corner stitching beneath the buckle is done in black and is a subtle touch, as you have to handle the strap to really notice it. Available in 18, 19, and 20mm lug widths with a brushed steel buckle, this is a simple, classic racing strap from a reputable manufacturer, and if you like the general aesthetic but could do without the large holes through your watch band, there’s always the Racing version, available in three colors.

Hodinkee Textured Hunter Green Calfskin

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An incredibly smooth textured calfskin strap with contrasting white top-stitching available in 5 sizes (including 21mm), this offering from Hodinkee will look great on, well…pretty much anything. Variations of this strap are available in different colors and finishes (with different pricing depending on the leather used), so there’s something here for everyone, but the hunter green version is particularly striking – we paired it here with a vintage skin diver from Le Gran and it really brings out the tritium on the dial.

As with all things Hodinkee, this is another finely made accessory, with matching fixed and floating leather keepers and a second layer of leather backing on the underside of the strap.

Worn & Wound Model 2 Premium Stone

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For fans both design and detail, Worn & Wound has some of the best offerings in watch straps of any manufacturer. Their Model 2 Premium (show here in new the new Stone color) is essentially a refined version of their Model 2 Classic that uses a tapering design made of Wickett & Craig vegetable-tanned lining and Horween top leather. I myself have two Model 2 Classic straps, and while I like them very much, I can safely say that the Premium model is an incredible upgrade in terms of fit and finish (not to mention comfort – that Wickett & Craig lining goes a long way toward making the wearing experience more enjoyable).

The beauty of the Model 2 Premium is really in the details, however. With painted edges in a complimentary color (the strap is available in 12 different colors), waxed cotton braided knots near the lug edges, fixed metal loop and leather keepers, the Model 2 is, for the money, simply one of the best leather watch straps available on the market. With all the different colors to choose from to precisely match the strap to your watch, not to mention available sizes in 18, 20, and 22mm, there’s a Model 2 Premium that’s right for every watch out there (except maybe for that vintage Rolex Oysterdate Precision with 19mm lugs, but we’re getting there). Oh, and did we mention that these straps are cut, assembled and sewn in the USA?

‘Murica!

Worn & Wound Mil-Strap Classic Mohogany

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The leather Nato occupies some interesting territory. By taking a military design that’s nearly always made out of nylon and instead making it out of an animal hide, a manufacturer is removing some of the original utility of the strap, but perhaps adding some sartorial swagger.

Of course, depending upon the thickness of the leather in question, the leather Nato can be difficult to pair well with a variety of watches – the straps themselves can sometimes dwarf the timepiece in question. However, if you can find the right watch to pair with the strap (preferably a larger, beefier one, or one with military heritage), the leather Nato can be the perfect compliment.

Worn & Wound’s leather Mil-Straps are Latigo leather from Wickett & Craig (a cowhide leather) that is dipped in hot wax for a matte-top surface with a beautiful look – they have a subtle sheen that isn’t overwhelmingly shiny but manages to appear elegant and refined nonetheless. Though the Mil-Straps don’t feature a second layer of leather as a lining, they are still thick, substantial straps, and work best when paired with a tool watch like a Speedmaster, Submariner, or, in this case, with a converted pocket watch.

Of course, as with all Worn & Wound products, the small subtleties are really what make the Mil-Strap stand out – the 316L stainless steel hardware is substantial, and the contrast stitching lends an air of sophistication. The four available colors (one is currently sold out) come in 20 and 22mm lug widths and are cut, assembled and sewn in the USA, and as with all quality leather products, these straps will only look better with age.

Crown & Buckle Black Label Ulrich

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If you’re a watch nerd and you’re not familiar with Crown & Buckle, chances are good that you’ve been living under a rock for the past seven or eight years. Founded in 2010 by Thomas Lathrop, a native Floridian, C&B has been churning out some of the best Nato, leather, canvas, and perlon straps in the biz, an at affordable prices to boot (considering the quality you’re getting).

The company has two lines of leather straps, the Black Label Collection (“the world’s finest materials with the spirit of handmade tradition”), and the American Made Collection, which are hand-crafted at C&B HQ in South Florida using Horween and other leathers. Each model in the Black Label collection is given a name (rather than simply being named by its color) – what we’re reviewing here is called the “Ulrich,” which is a medium brown color.

This is truly a beautifully-made strap that will patina over time – out of the box it’s slightly stiff but still malleable, and a quick visual once-over of the grain tells you how it will age. The finish brings out the natural surface grain of the leather and features complimentary natural edge finishing, with a comfortable black backing. Ivory stitching at the corners, beneath the buckle, and at the taper end round out the clean look, and as with many C&B straps, you have a choice of buckle finish (brushed, polished, black PVD, and gold-plated). The Ulrich is also available in multiple widths (18, 20, and 22mm).

There are currently 11 different straps within the Black Label Collection in various styles and colors – some have top-stitching around the perimeter, some are threaded only at the corners and beneath the buckle and at the taper, and some are stitched horizontally across the lug-ends. Each is beautifully made and available in multiple sizes (although it should be noted that C&B does not currently produce straps in 19mm, so for a similar offering in that size, you’ll have to try a different brand).

Crown & Buckle American Made Walnut Boxcalf

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Crown & Buckle’s American Made Collection features five two-piece straps and 12 one-piece straps (as well as travel accessories), all of which are, of course, assembled in the U.S. with leather from Horween Leather Co. and others, and, in certain other cases, with leather from France or Australia (more on this below).

While there are several styles of 2-piece strap available in the American Made Collection, the Walnut Boxcalf is, to my mind, the standout offering. This is a two-layer strap with an underside and topside made from matching “Boxcalf”-style leather, which is chrome-tanned, full-grain calfskin sourced from France. Boxcalf leather is typically used in high-end leather dress shoes, and the Boxcalf used in this strap is “boarded,” a process by which a tight grain is created that closes the hair follicles.

The C&B website describes the Walnut coloration as “a medium-tan dye that is applied to both the grain and underside flesh of the leather. It is similar in color to a natural veg tan leather that has been in the sun for a year+.” This is an incredibly versatile color that will work well with a wide variety of dial types, and the slightly darker edge dying, as well as perimeter top-stitching and corner knots near the buckles, lend this strap a vintage look that doesn’t seem to be going out of style any time soon. There are admittedly several manufacturers that make a strap in this style (and at a very similar price point), but it’s certainly nice in this case having three available sizes and four different possible buckle finishes to choose from. Worth noting also is that the edges on this model are hand-dyed, which is a labor-intensive process that, while it doesn’t yield as even a result as a machine-painted edge, makes for a color that holds up better over time (paints typically used on strap edges are often acrylic, which is easier to apply due to its viscosity, but doesn’t permeate the leather the way a runnier dye does).

Bas & Lokes Camden Medium Brown Suede

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One of the best perks of working in product journalism is getting to spread the word about smaller companies who are really killin’ it, making quality products and knocking it out of the park. One such company that’s been around for a number of years but that I only recently discovered is Bas & Lokes, based in Sydney, Australia.

Bas and Lokes was originally a father-daughter project begun in New York City and has since grown into a small team making high-quality bespoke leather goods in the Land Down Under, including wallets, coasters, key rings, watch rolls, and, of course, watch straps. They have numerous strap types available, including corner-stitch, no-stitch, padded, Nato, natural, and suede, and it’s worth having a look at their extensive selection to peruse all the options.

Because each of Bas & Lokes’s straps is bespoke, you can customize many of the important details of your strap to your specifications, including lug and taper width, wrist size/strap length, and buckle finish. For our review, we received two straps, the first of which is the Camden, a beautiful light oil tan suede strap with hand-finished light brown edges and waxed tan English linen thread at the corners. The strap features a subtle taper, single floating leather keeper, and thick steel buckle that is reminiscent of an OEM Panerai type. Overall, the nap of the brown suede lends the Camden a slightly rough aesthetic that is simultaneously refined via the small finishing details – indeed, it can take the Bas & Lokes team several hours and over 55 individual steps to craft a single strap, which, to my mind, certainly justifies the price point.

If you can afford to wait a few extra days for all of the bespoke work (and for shipping from Australia), what you get is an incredibly well-made product that simply oozes quality.

Bas & Lokes Everett Light Grey Suede

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The Everett is the second bespoke strap we received from Bas & Lokes, and let me tell you – this is by far the most comfortable leather strap I’ve ever worn, period, the end. The suede on this particular strap is so supple that you barely notice it’s on your wrist, and probably wouldn’t notice at all if not for the blunt-force-trauma-weapon-size buckle and the weight of whatever watch you’ve got it sitting on. While the look of this strap is essentially the same rough aesthetic of that of the Camden described above, the feel is completely different, and much, much softer. Also, though the buckle is the same on both straps, the edge paint is in a complimentary grey color and the side stitching utilizes a grey waxed linen.

Molequin Sand Nubuck Calf With Classic Stitch

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Continuing with the theme of “discovering” smaller brands (I put the word “discovering” in quotes as it could very well be that I’m the only schmuck who doesn’t know about these guys), Molequin is a company based in Brussels, Belgium making beautiful, ethically-sourced watch straps in various types and finishes. The company, established in 2016 by Michael Luther, a vintage Rolex enthusiast, sells alligator, smooth calf, grained calf, short calf, nubuck calf, and nubuck buffalo straps from the best tanneries in France, most of which are available to customize with quick-release spring bars and a premium buckle option, if desired.

We received a Sand Nubuck Calf with Classic Stitch for our review, customized with the quick-release spring bars and premium buckle (trust us – this is one nice buckle; it’s made of 316L surgical-grade steel and much thought has clearly gone into its design). Nubuck is a top-grain leather (made from the outer layer of animal hide) and, though similar to suede in look and finish, is much more durable and better retains its shape.

The Sand Nubuck strap is truly a beautiful shade that wonderfully compliments a cream dial with patina (see photo above), and also matches incredibly well with gold. Lined with a premium calf leather, the strap is smooth and highly comfortable on the wrist, and at 2.2mm thick, it’s exceptionally thin. Though the classic stitching on our review model gives the strap an elegant look, and it’s also available in two other colors (Marine Blue and Black). The addition of the quick-release spring bars and premium buckle bring a classic design into the 21st century and make strap-changing a breeze.

If you’re looking for a comfortable, elegant leather strap that’s so light you’ll barely notice it’s on your wrist, look no further than the Nubuck Calf options from Molequin.

Analog/Shift Rich Brown Handmade

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Analog/Shift, purveyors of fine vintage watches based in NYC, recently brought back a line of leather watch straps in several colors and sizes (5 colors available in 4 lug widths), each of which is cut and sewn by hand from American leather.

One of my favorite straps for its simplicity and availability in multiple sizes, the A/S straps are of a go-to, set-and-forget variety – they work in a variety of situations on many different types of watches, and somehow manage to look elegant on, say, your vintage manual-wound Omega, and also robust and weathered on your modern Submariner.

We reviewed the Rich Brown color in 18mm, though each of the available colors has the same features: a smooth calf leather that’s skived, folded over and glued to form a smooth back, white cotton stitching beneath a brushed steel buckle, cream-colored stitching beneath a fixed leather keeper and at the corners, sliding leather keeper, and painted sides in a matching color. The five available colors (which include three shades of brown and two of grey) will pair with almost any dial color out there, and really the only fault I can find with these straps is that there isn’t one available in black (I would personally use as an alternative one of the grey versions on a black-dial watch, such as a Sub, which is a killer combination, by the way).

As I mentioned earlier, finding a strap for your vintage Rolex with 19mm lugs can be a pain the ass, which is something that A/S took into consideration when having these straps made. Each is available in 18, 19, 20, and 22mm, which means they’ll fit everything from Rolex Oysterdate to Panerai.

And of course, they’re comfy as hell.

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