A good choice of strap can really enhance the looks of a watch. All the same, a badly matched one can make it look odd. How to avoid the latter? That’s the question I’ll attempt to answer by providing a set of three simple guidelines for matching the colour and style of the strap to the watch.

  1. Match the colour with the dial
  2. Match the grain with the watch
  3. Avoid extreme combinations

Match the colour with the dial

Regardless of whether the case is steel or gold, chrome or gold plated, yellow or rose gold, the strap has to complement the dial. A white or silver dial is fairly neutral, it will work with a black or a brown strap alike. Actually, it will work with anything- blue, grey, beige etc.

A silver or white dial gives a lot of room for choice, and there, the only thing to consider is whether or not does your strap colour match your usual outfit colour scheme. Especially the shoes and the belt (though a blue watch strap with an olive green jacket won’t work either).

Watch strap

A white dial with a dark brown watch band

A black dial usually works with brown, grey and black, which means either a contrast, a subtle enhancement, or toning it down. It’s best to match the colour with the purpose of the watch in these cases.

For example, if it’s military/field-style, olive green or khaki works, but for a dress watch… well, nope. Not really.

In my experience, a patinated or a gold dial works best with a brown watch band, but other combinations work fine as well. Sometimes it takes the grain (alligator, calfskin, lizard) of the leather to make it look good.

When you’re dealing with a dial of a more lively colour, it might be a good idea to match it with a similar or only slightly different tone/shade of the same colour. With silver and black dials with colourful accents – for example, blue or red – make sure that the strap colour does not “get in conflict” with the accents. It doesn’t have to match them perfectly, but it can’t be a particularly striking contrast. It’s like choosing a tie to compliment the shirt and suit.

Match the texture with the design of the watch

A gator, croc, ostrich or lizard strap on a vintage diver can look as bad as a thick, bold sports strap on a dress watch. Think of it this way: you don’t put wheels from a vintage Jaguar or Rolls-Royce on a contemporary SUV, just as you don’t put any of these cars on some heavy-duty wheels from a 4×4.

Watch strap

A Maurice Lacroix dress watch with a beautiful ostrich strap

It’s all about the purpose.In terms of watch straps, calfskin seems to be the most universal. A plain brown strap with fine stitching will work with a contemporary Rolex Explorer just as well as with a vintage (or re-issued) Longines Conquest.

Sometimes, a certain “cross-breeding” in terms of the theme of the strap and the watch can look good.

For example, a diver can look good with a rally strap, and a racing chrono can look good on a canvas or Tropic. Sometimes, a slightly aviation-themed watch band can work well with a sports chrono and a diver alike.

As long as you don’t pair one extreme with another, you’re good.

Avoid extreme combinations

From time to time, I see “trends” really get in the way of good taste, and sometimes, certain combinations have neither style, class, nor the good taste.

One example of such a trend is the recent fad for NATOs.

The NATO strap, as a design originating in the military, is a very practical solution in tool watches. It’s rugged, durable, it can go over a coat or a diving suit. The combination of a diver (Rolex Submariner, to be precise) and a single-piece canvas strap (not exactly a NATO, on the contrary to the popular misconception) was made iconic by appearing on the wrist of Sean Connery as James Bond in Goldfinger. A tool watch on a tool strap is perfectly OK.

Watch strap

A Citizen tool watch with a tool strap / NATO

But what if someone puts a dressy watch on a NATO? Well, it’s not really OK any longer. You should avoid this sort of extreme pairing. As much as it’s very practical, it looks very out of place. Think of it: an Omega Constellation Pie Pan on a khaki NATO… Something just doesn’t add up.It’s like wearing flip-flops to a suit.

Huguenin Vintage Watch - on (true) Bond NATO

It’s like wearing flip-flops to a suit.

A NATO can look good with a non-tool watch, especially as it’s often a good option in case of vintage watches with fixed lugs. But even then, if the watch in question is a Bauhaus-style dress watch from the late 1930s, it’s better to spend an hour or two searching for a simple, open-ended strap. The choice of open-ended ones is very limited, unfortunately). A NATO is a long shot in the absence of a better “compromise solution”.

Summary

All in all, a strap is a matter of preference. Personally, I believe that “nothing too fancy” is the way to go. Let simplicity and elegance play the key roles. I’ve seen uncommon or bold combinations give a really stunning final effect though.

Flamboyance, just as anything else, is not a bad thing on its own. It’s like with strong spices; in the right amount, they will really give a nice twist to the dish. but they’ll mess it up big time if you overdo them. A more conservative choice of strap is hardly ever a bad thing, and it certainly is the safer way to go.

Putting it shortly, flamboyance can be good, but you can’t go wrong with keeping things simple.

Do you have any tips on choosing the best watch straps? Leave them in the comments below.

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