It’s impossible to overstate the importance of a watch strap. It goes well beyond just keeping the thing attached to your wrist; it’s a design statement in and of itself, whether that be a board meeting ready piece of classical, well-polished black leather or a rainbow striped canvas NATO number fit for a rave. Whatever, we don’t judge. Just because your timepiece of choice comes with a specific strap, doesn’t mean that you’re stuck with it forever, either.
Otherwise we’d all be wearing faux alligator in exciting shades of black, blue and navy blue. The only issue is that changing your strap can be a touch intimidating if you’ve never done it before. It’s not that it’s hard, it’s just that if you don’t know what you’re doing then it’s easy to go wrong, which can lead to the watchmaker’s seemingly endless curse of misplaced springbars hidden in every far-flung corner of the house.
First, let’s put integrated bracelets and straps to one side; their construction makes them oddly specialised and options for changing are limited anyway. So that leaves us with two main options, your standard two-piece strap or a NATO number.
Changing a NATO Strap
NATOs (and other canvas, military-based straps) are pretty straightforward and don’t require any tools to switch on and off. Each is made of a forked piece on canvas, with one long and one short prong. Getting it on your watch is a no-brainer.
- Step 1: thread the long piece (which has the holes made for the buckle) through the lug-and-bar combo on one side.
- Step 2: run it underneath the watch and then up and over the bar the other side.
- Step 3: put the long end through the metal keeper on the shorter end. All done.
To remove the strap, it’s even easier. Just take the long end back out from the keeper and gently pull it back through the lugs. It’s a simple yet effective type of strap, designed to make sure that if one spring bar fails, the watch doesn’t fall off your wrist. Nifty, right?
Changing a Two-Piece Strap
First, let me introduce you to the spring bar tool. It looks a little like a small screwdriver with a flat point and a fork on the other end, usually with plenty of grip for working on small objects, which spring bars themselves most certainly are. The end you use depends on the type of lugs you’re working with, i.e. whether they are drilled or not. Most modern watches aren’t drilled; a good number of retro utilitarian watches are. The process is relatively similar between the two, except for the first step.
- Step 1 (drilled lugs): use the pointed end of the springbar tool to push the springbar through the lug until it eases out of the lugs.
- Step 1 (standard lugs): carefully insert the forked end of the springbar tool between the edge of the strap and the lug, catching the fork on the outer lip of the spring bar. One you have a secure grip on it, push the spring down until the bar releases from the lug.
- Step 2: carefully ease the spring bar out of the lugs with your fingers, keeping a firm grip to stop it pinging off into the abyss.
- Step 3: remove the spring bar completely from the strap and put to one side, ideally where it won’t roll off the table.
- Step 4: repeat on the other half of the strap.
Attaching a Two-piece Strap
Attaching a strap again is the same for both types of lug and is, intuitively, the reverse of taking it off. Slot one end of the spring bar into one of the lugs, then gently use the fork tool to push the spring bar down. Once it’s pushed back, you can line up the spring bar until it pings into place in the opposite lug. This part generally runs more of a risk of the spring bar flying out, so stay vigilant. Give the spring bar a wobble, just to check it’s properly in and then you’re good to go, shiny new strap in place.
- Slowly apply and remove pressure on the spring bar to make sure it doesn’t launch itself across the room
- Have spares on hand at all times
- Slow and steady wins the race – and stops unnecessary scratches
- If possible, keep the spring bars in your spare straps; it makes life easier if you want to switch back
- Keep at it; once you’ve done it a handful of times it’ll be second nature; just don’t be surprised if you find yourself changing straps every other day
The Tools for the Job – Paulin Watch Tool Kit, £12
This nifty little set from Scottish watch brand Paulin has three interchangeable heads: a strap tool, a buckle tool and a screwdriver. It’s good-looking, nicely presented in sustainable Portuguese cork and perfect for travelling with if you happen to get that obsessive about your straps.
Available at, Paulin Watches.
Bergeon 6111 Spring Bar Tool, £50
This is something you’ll likely see dotted around any horological workshop. The Swiss-made tool has reversible points for different functions, making it surprisingly versatile, while the knurled finish ensures a solid grip. It’s a watchmaking basic and a necessity in any collectors’ tool box.
Available at Watch Gecko.
Hodinkee Silver Spring Bar Plier, $199
This isn’t your classic, doubleended spring bar tool, not by a long shot. It takes out some of the hassle by depressing both ends of the bar at the same time, allowing you to take it out in one swift movement. It’s adjustable to the lug width too. It doesn’t have the poker for drilled lugs, but then it doesn’t need it either. It is pricey though.
Available at Hodinkee.