What’s the most underrated component of a watch? Some might say it’s the deployment clasp or the hardy sapphire-crystal glass, but for us it’s watch straps.
Pair identical dials with leather, bracelet, mesh, chain link, sequinned, iridescent and woollen watch straps and you’ll see a new timepiece emerge every time.
There is a transformative power to watch straps – something that we are more used to experiencing in beautiful shoes. From a skinny kitten heel, to a wedge, stiletto or 1960s-inspired block heel; a little black shoe is never just a little black shoe.
The right choice of heel, and the right choice of watch strap, can build drama, make a statement or fly under the radar depending on your mood.
Shoe Designers and Horology
The relationship between watches and high heels has been cemented by some interesting collaborations in recent years. Luxury watchmaker Roger Dubuis launched a limited edition trilogy of Velvet Diva watches in collaboration with shoemaker Massaro, while Jaeger-LeCoultre collaborated with shoe legend Christian Louboutin on a special edition Reverso Classic Duetto to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the iconic style (as shown above left to right respectively).
P-Y-O Watch Straps
When it comes to interchangeable strap options, brands have been slow to put them in a cool, contemporary context. If a shoe brand only ever used one kind of heel – affixing it to strappy sandals just as readily as nude courts – there would be more than a few raised eyebrows among customers…so why not for watches? Perhaps it’s because of the traditional image of interchangeable watch straps as something you buy from Claire’s Accessories – more a gimmick than sophisticated solution.
Fortunately, Shore Projects arrived to mix things up, with a huge selection of mesh, wool (as shown above), leather, polka dot, silicone and classic fabric straps, alongside a pared-back collection of dials. The relative ease with which its straps can be changed means that a watch wardrobe was possible for a starting price of £20.
Shore Projects has built its reputation on transformable, seaside chic, but it is not the only brand journeying into interchangeable straps. Timex launched its Timex Archive project earlier this year, with a mix-and-match offering of watch faces and straps from its history books. At the luxury end of the spectrum, Ralph Lauren caused a stir with its RL888 collection.
The RL888 (pictured above) story starts with a chic round case influenced by New York’s Art Deco architecture. Next is a layer of eccentricity; from the combination of Roman and Arabic numerals to the grandfather clock-inspired hands. But what makes the RL888 collection so special is the 40-strong selection of interchangeable watch straps, including leather, alligator, grosgrain and satin options, which can be swiftly clicked on or off.
Although the rainbow colours on offer are enough to make mouths water, it’s the laid-back air this brings to Swiss watchmaking that has changed the game.
Design, Jewellery and Vision
Innovation in the world of watch straps doesn’t just involve swapping one for another though. Orla Kiely – famous for its prints – uses the watch strap as a vehicle to demonstrate its design kudos in its Laurel Green steel bracelet watch (above left). Then look to Swatch for watches that treat both the dial and strap as one single canvas, with motifs snaking their way from strap-to-dial-to-strap in one continuous sweep. This is demonstrated perfectly in the brand’s 2016 Alice in Wonderland-inspired offer shown above.
Swatch isn’t afraid to take a creative leap when it comes to straps, making pieces look more like jewellery than you’re a-typical timepiece. Its Carnavalesco watch, for example, is a glitter-infused plastic cuff that would look more at-home in Studio 54 than department store shelves. More unusual straps are set to play a big role in 2017 too, with Citizen experimenting with futuristic domed designs and traditional ‘Urushi-Drop’ Japanese lacquer in its limited edition L Ambiluna Bangle Bracelet series. We had the chance to road-test both of these watches, and you can see the evidence on our Instagram or in the snaps below.
Just like Roger Dubuis and Jaeger-LeCoultre, international brands have discovered the power of straps to support exciting artistic collaborations. The new Grand Seiko Avant Garde collection fuses the work of two famous Japanese artists onto wraparound leather straps, including this floral print by Nobuyoshi Araki (pictured). Following on from its successful Jean-Michel Basquiat collection (pictured above right), Komono has now adorned straps with the Surrealist art of René Magritte in a six-piece capsule collection (below). With prices around €90, you’ll be more than tempted to create your own art collection with the whole, wearable set.
When it comes to purchasing your next watch, spare a thought for the humble strap. Whether it is reminiscent of an artistic masterpiece, studded with glitter or interchangeable, all straps have an important role to play – just like the perfect pair of shoes.