The Ultimate Guide to Replacing a Watch Band

Whether yours is old and worn out, or you simply want a change of style, there are plenty of reasons to get a new watch band. Replacing your watch band, however, may not be as straightforward as you think. Generally speaking, a sound decision is an informed decision. With that in mind, let this guide inform you of the various options available with regards to watch band replacements.

Choosing a Watch Band Manufacturer

The first thing to note is that it is usually not necessary to buy your watch band from the same manufacturer as your watch. Most – but not all – watches can accept a standard strap, enabling them to accommodate straps from virtually any reputable brand. It is necessary, however, to ensure that the band is of the correct width, and is strong enough to support the watch you’re attaching it to. Although some watches require special straps that are only available from the watch manufacturer, these are rare. See our graphic below to determine what type of band your watch needs. If you have an older watch that uses non-standard size parts, check “Finding a Replacement Band for a Vintage Watch” later in this article.

There are however, advantages to buying a strap from the same manufacturer as your watch. The watch buckle often features the logo of the watch company on it, and many feel that having a both watch and band from the same manufacturer keeps the watch more authentic looking. On the other hand, buying straps from the watch manufacturer is not always easy. Many authorized dealers do not stock a range of fine watchmaker straps in their stores. And some manufacturers require straps be ordered from a service center or dealer, providing no chance for the buyer to see the band, or even a picture of it, beforehand. 

When buying a replacement band, remember that there are a number of different materials that can be used to make them, and each has a very noticeable impact on appearance, level of comfort and price. When shopping for a replacement band, remember the color and material of the original or, if you are interested in making a change, ensure that the materials of the watch and band complement each other. Sometimes using a watch band from the same manufacturer as the watch itself can simplify the decision-making process. 

Watch Band Materials

When choosing a material your watch band, it helps to know a little bit about the pros and cons of each type, and how to care for them. Before purchasing a new strap, it is best to check make sure your watch uses standard lugs, and a standard spring bar, otherwise you may not be able to use it with standard aftermarket straps. 

Here are the common types of watch band materials available:

Metal - Metal watch bands, called bracelets, are made from a series of metal links. Of all watch band types, they are considered the most durable, as they are typically made from a strong metal such as titanium or stainless steel. Bracelets are waterproof, making them popular for diver’s watches. Generally more expensive and heavier than other types of bands, they are also easier to scratch, and can also scratch other things. Due to being comprised of links, it can be more challenging to get the appropriate size - sizing requires adding or removing links with special tools. Bracelets are also generally not considered appropriate for use with dress watches, as they feature a more ‘sporty’ look.

Leather - For a dress watch, a leather watch strap is traditionally considered most appropriate. However, leather has a universal appeal that allows it to look great with a wide variety of casual watches as well. The price of a leather strap can vary widely, with some of the most expensive ones selling for hundreds of dollars. Different types of leather are available. The most popular is crocodile skin, although calf, lizard, ostrich and others are also available. Leather watches also have their drawbacks. They are more easily affected by general wear and the elements, which means they are not likely to last nearly as long as a metal band. Most leather bands are not waterproof, which can make them difficult to clean. They can also become uncomfortable in hot weather.

Rubber - When waterproofing is necessary, rubber is the preferred alternative to bracelets. While it is lighter and more comfortable than metal, it is also not as durable, and generally looks cheaper.

Cloth - There are two main types of cloth straps on the market - NATO and Zulu. NATO straps consist of one piece that passes through thespringbars, sitting between the wrist and the back of the case. They also have an additional strap that slides through the two lugs, so you have two straps of nylon under the watch. Zulu straps generally come in three-ring and five-ring varieties. Three-ring zulu straps have only one long strap, made of nylon cloth that is thicker than a NATO strap, and has thicker rounded buckles. Five-ring zulu straps are similar to NATO straps, however they’re made of thicker nylon cloth, and have larger rounded buckles.

In general, cloth bands are rather inexpensive, and are available in a wide variety of colors and patterns. They are comfortable, lightweight, and easily stretch to fit over bulky clothing if necessary. They are also waterproof, enabling them to be cleaned using soap and water. NATO bands are also notable because they can be changed without any special tools. Cloth bands have their drawbacks, however. Some feel that cloth bands make a watch look cheap or tacky, and they wear out faster than other materials.

From Metal Bracelet to Strap

If you are considering switching out a metal bracelet for a strap, this is usually possible. Most bracelet watches have traditional strap fittings under the bracelet end pieces, hidden from sight. If your watch has these fittings, it can easily accommodate any standard type of strap. Another possibility is that your watch uses a non-standard connection that is unique to your watch model or manufacturer. This would require a custom strap, either provided by the watch manufacturer or made by a specialty strap maker. If your watch has a completely integrated bracelet — as is sometimes found, particularly on ladies’ watches — it cannot be replaced with a strap.  

Sizing a Watch Band

Once you have decided on the material, it is a simple process to size a watch band by yourself. If you have a leather watch band currently, it may be possible to find a number on the back of the strap indicating the size. Even if you can get this number, however, it is recommended that you actually measure the size of your watch case. A simple ruler is usually all that’s required to measure, but it’s important to measure the distance between the lugs, rather than the strap itself. The lugs are located on both ends of the watch case at the twelve and six o’clock ends. The band will fit inside these two metal pieces.


Sizing a Watch


Watch band sizes are in millimeters, so if your ruler only has inches, use the chart below to do the conversion: 

1 1/5" (1.18")

30 Millimeters

1 1/10" (1.10")

28 Millimeters


26 Millimeters


24 Millimeters


22 Millimeters


21 Millimeters


20 Millimeters


19 Millimeters


18 Millimeters


17 Millimeters


16 Millimeters


15 Millimeters


14 Millimeters


13 Millimeters


12 Millimeters


11 Millimeters


10 Millimeters


8 Millimeters


6 Millimeters


As for the watch length, you can measure your existing strap, not including the case. If this is not a feasible option, use these steps to determine the length of the strap:

  1. Use measuring tape to measure your wrist. If you do not have measuring tape but have access to a regular flat ruler, you can wrap a string or something similar around your wrist, then measure that against the ruler.
  2. Measure the length of your watch case from the twelve o’clock side down the six o’clock side, not including the lugs, and then subtract that measurement from your wrist measurement.
  3. Finally, add one and a half inches to the number acquired in the last step. This is the typical distance from the edge of the strap to the middle hole.

Sizing: Watch Bracelets

Watch bracelets for ladies are typically between six and three-quarter to seven inches in length. Men’s are usually seven and a half to eight inches. If you purchase a metal bracelet, you may need to have at least one of the links removed to get a proper fit. Ideally this should be done in your presence, as the shape of your wrist helps the watchmaker choose which links to remove. Depending on how the watch fits, the watchmaker may opt to remove a link from the left or right side of the watch. It may also be best to remove only half a link instead of a full link. If you go to a local jeweler for sizing, which is recommended, expect to pay roughly five or ten dollars for the service. Sizing the bracelet yourself is not recommended, as you may damage it. If you have links removed from your bracelet, remember to save them. This way, in the future, if the bracelet needs to be repaired, the existing links can be used, as oppose to the hassle and expense of ordering replacement ones. In the unusual event that a watch bracelet is too short, it may be possible to order a replacement link from the manufacturer.

Finding a Replacement Band for a Vintage Watch

While a quality watch can last for generations, the same doesn’t always ring true for watch bands, which need to be replaced from time to time. In the case of a vintage watch, the band is often no longer in production. If the watch uses a non-standard connection that is unique to your watch model, this would require a custom band. While it maybe be possible to obtain this from the watch manufacturer, assuming they are still in business, another option would be to have a band made by a specialty maker. If the watch has a completely integrated bracelet, it may not be replaceable and your best option would be to consult someone who specializes in watch repair.

There is more to consider however, than simple physical logistics. Many vintage watches have a unique look that is characteristic of the time period in which they were made. Throwing a modern-style band would completely disrupt the look of the watch and ruin the aesthetic. Make a note of the material and color used for your current watch band, then try to find something similar. There are a number of online dealers that specialize in antique-looking watch straps that may be able to accommodate your needs.


Once you’ve determined the appropriate size and style of your new watch band, you’ve got to attach it to your case without damaging the watch or the band itself. This is likely a process that you can perform on your own with no more than one small tool, but you’ll first want to assess what type of attachment your watch case uses. Most modern watches use straight-end bands, and use a spring bar (w/push pins) attachment. Other possibilities include your watch being attached to the band with small screws, tubes and pins, a fixed spring bar, or a method that’s entirely unique to a particular brand. If your band is attached in a unique manner, (for example, an integrated strap), it is recommended that you take your watch to a professional for a new band installation. However, if your watch uses push pins, it’s entirely possible to change it on your own. 

That being said, you’ll want to consider several things before making the decision to DIY or go with a professional:

Are you naturally good at fixing things, and working with your hands? While replacing a watch band is not an overly complicated procedure, it does require a certain level of finger dexterity and precision to be done correctly.

The costs involved. Changing a watch band yourself isn’t free - there are tools involved including a bracelet holder, to stabilize the watch case, and a spring bar tool, to separate the watch band from the case. If you don’t plan on changing your watch band often, and you don’t already have access to these kinds of tools, you may not see a significant cost savings by changing your watch band on your own.

The watch itself, if the watch is particularly expensive or a family heirloom, you may not want to risk damaging it, and instead entrust it to a more experienced pair of hands.

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