It certainly goes without saying that every watch needs a good strap. Whether it is a metal bracelet, leather watch strap, or a rubber band, every luxury timepiece deserves a suitable watch strap, and no one knows that better than us. However, what makes one watch strap better than the next, and why might a brand or collector decide to opt for one over the other.
Historically, leather watch straps and metal bracelets have long been watchmakers' main two strap options. Leather was the typical watch strap material for dress watches, while metal bracelets donned the cases of sports and tool watches. But, in the 1980s, another watch strap was introduced to the fore, the rubber watch strap.
Introduced to the masses by Hublot as per their "Art of Fusion" vision whereby they mixed materials that seemingly didn't go together, their decision to put a rubber strap on a watch with luxury metals was a unique take on horological design. Today, the idea is less so out-of-the-box thinking and more so a perfectly credible method to attach a watch to its wearer.
So, what did watchmakers and collectors realize, and why do rubber watch straps and luxury watches go so well together? Let's explore below.
Waterproof and Rugged
As rubber watch straps are a direct competitor to leather watch straps, their most obvious benefit is that they are waterproof, and easily washable. While leather watch straps are fantastic for formal occasions or when you want to dress a watch up, rubber watch straps will always be the ideal option when you want to push your watch to its limits.
Rubber watch straps may have been introduced to the masses in the 1980s, but tropic rubber watch straps have a history going back into the 1960s as divers and military agencies used rubber for its affordability and waterproofness, whereas leather watch straps would quickly deteriorate if worn in water.
Feeding off that exact point is that leather watch straps aren't as durable, even when dry, as rubber watch straps. Sure, leather watch straps can be looked after with moisturising and such, but they cannot hold up to repeat long-term wear like a rubber strap can.
Leather watch straps can expand and shrink depending on their water content and the ambient temperature. As such, they can become structurally compromised and tear or fall apart over long periods of time. On the other hand, rubber straps can go 30+ years without the same type of failure as long as they are taken care of.
Greater Design Freedom
One of the most significant benefits of rubber watch straps for watchmakers is the design freedom they provide. Within the manufacturing process, watchmakers can quickly alter how they want the watch strap to look. For example, they can put designs into the strap, use various colors of rubber, add sweat-wicking features such as the fins or gaps on the back of some straps (like our rubber Horus straps), or print designs onto the surface of their rubber watch bands.
Alternatively, watchmakers can ensure perfect uniformity across their products so that their rubber watch straps are all of identical quality and fit their watch perfectly. While these are also features of leather straps, they don't provide quite the same liberties that rubber straps do.
Luxury Watchmakers Using Rubber
It's certainly no secret that rubber watch straps and luxury timepieces go together so well. From Hublot's foray into the world of rubber watch straps or Panerai's use of rubber straps as a means of engaging with their historical use case, brands like Patek Philippe, Rolex, and Audemars Piguet have all embraced what would have once been taboo.
Just take Patek's exploration of rubber in the late 1990s with the Aquanaut as an example. Originally ousted by purists as Patek cheapening their brand, the Aquanaut and its famed rubber strap is now Patek's second most popular timepiece after the Nautilus.
Audemars Piguet have also embraced the humble rubber strap with the Royal Oak Offshore for its robust capabilities. The perfect sports watch strap; rubber bands provide excellent shock resistance for the watch should the strap hit something, and they are a comfortable fit no matter the activity. They can be worn in the water, mountain climbing, in a high-speed car race, or in whatever other situation you can put them in.
Rolex have also expanded into the world of rubber watch straps with their Oysterflex bracelet. While technically a bracelet due to the titanium spine that runs through the Oysterflex, the majority of the bracelet's construction is made from rubber and thus features all of rubber's advantages.
An integral piece of any watchmaker's design arsenal, rubber watch straps have grown from their position as a niche strap option for divers to one of watchmaking's most popular strap options.
Providing an aesthetic unlike any other strap on the market, rubber watch straps will only continue to grow in popularity as they have done for the last 20 years, and it's not a surprise to us at all.