3 Simple Tips on Choosing the Best Watch Band

 In Collecting Watches, Tutorials

A good choice of watch band can enhance the looks of a watch. All the same, a poorly 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 color and style of the strap to the watch.

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

Match the color 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 relatively neutral, it’ll 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 band color match your usual outfit color scheme. Especially the shoes and the belt (though a blue watch band with an olive green jacket won’t work either).

3 tips on choosing the best watch band

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 color 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 color, it might be a good idea to match it with a similar or only slightly different tone/shade of the same color. With silver and black dials with colorful accents – for example, blue or red – make sure that the color 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 band 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.

3 tips on choosing the best watch band

A Maurice Lacroix dress watch with a beautiful ostrich strap

It’s all about the purpose. Regarding 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” regarding 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 an efficient solution in tool watches. It’s rugged, durable and 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 precisely 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.

3 tips on choosing the best watch band

A Citizen tool watch with a tool strap / NATO

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

3 tips on choosing the best watch band

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 minimal, unfortunately. A NATO is a long shot in the absence of a better “compromise solution.”


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

Flamboyance, just as anything else, isn’t a bad thing on its own. It’s like with strong spices; in the right amount, they will give a nice twist to the dish. But they’ll mess it up big time if you overdo them. A more conservative choice of a strap is never a bad thing, and it certainly is the safer way to go.

Flamboyance can be good, but you can’t go wrong with keeping things simple.

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

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Showing 4 comments
  • Avatar
    Lars Opalinski

    My challenge is, I inheritted 2 old Omega automatic, gold watches with pearly (off white) dials. they currently have the stretchy metal bands ie Speidel that were popular in those days, which I hate. Its a shame to not wear them, but I cant figure out what colours / textures would go with these smallish, dressier watches and look somewhat contemporary.
    any ideas?

    • Michał Kolwas
      Michał Kolwas

      Anything’s better than a Speidel. Not just because of the looks but they also damage the lugs.
      Brown goes best with gold and off-white, and I’d suggest matching the shade to your belts and shoes. The style of the watch also plays a huge role. Dress watches would look great on smooth or lightly textured calfskin. Genuine lizard could also work.

  • Avatar
    Colin Smith

    I disagree. A quick look at Pinterest and google images shows that thousands of watch enthusiasts are pairing vintage Rolexes, Omegas and Glashuttes with brightly coloured Nato straps. These straps are giving these watches a new lease of life with a younger generation and prevent “old man’s watch’ syndrome by doing away with dowdy leather straps and, even worse, mangled looking steel or gold bracelets. The trick is to pair the colours correctly. I am wearing a silver dial gold Tissot dress watch with a black and grey striped NATO strap – the grey matches the silver dial and gold and black are a classic combination. The photo in your article is a bad example.

    • Michał Kolwas
      Michał Kolwas

      In my considered opinion, colour combinations won’t do the trick alone. The tool/utilitarian nature of nylon isn’t exactly something that goes well with, say, a Cartier Tank. To illustrate the disparity of styles: technically, you could match the colour of a pair of Oxfords to the colour of a tracksuit (or the colour of some heavy-duty boots to that of a suit), but Oxfords and a tracksuit (or a suit and heavy-duty boots) are a mismatched pairing from the start. If someone wants to – sure. But I won’t recommend it in good conscience, as my intention is to help people make the good and safe choices, rather than tell them what they want to hear.

      One indeed can find a lot of pics of dress watches on NATOs on fora and social networks, however all the same it’s often being described at the fora as – at best – a controversial fashion statement.

      Meanwhile, the combination of a vintage dress watch with leather seems to be universally accepted, or at least the cases of shunning it are usually standalone – and rare – incidents. Therefore, in 10 cases out of 10, I will recommend the safe option, and discourage choosing the controversial one.

      If you like wearing your dress watch on a NATO, do so. I may well not like it, and advise people not to go for that sort of thing, but ultimately, what matters is if you feel like it works for you, and if you feel comfortable with it.

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