There was a time decades ago when rubber straps played second fiddle to metal and leather straps because during this period, they were of inferior quality and they haven’t found the niche that fits them well in the watch industry.
But now, because of advances in rubber technology, these straps have even become the wristbands of choice in niche sectors of watchmaking like sports and mariners watches.
But you need not be a sportsman or a mariner these days to use rubber straps on your watch. Rather, sometimes, you would just want the sports or sailor look to be seen on your watch. It’s all about versatility, fashion and break from routine.
And rubber straps today are not limited to these niches. They are used as everyday fashion accessories in watches for casual wear and living because they represent a flexibility and style that metal and leather straps can’t give.
They’ve also found a new home in wellness digital watches which give out data on the many health points and statistics of the watch owner every day. This is because these digital watches go well with rubber straps when the owner does his or her exercise routines and sweat and toxins mix with the rubber. If the rubber is of excellent quality, it can easily absorb these elements which otherwise tarnish metal bracelets and destroy leather straps.
Talking about hobbyists and collectors. We might have heard of vintage watch collectors of iconic mechanical and quartz watches. Have you heard of collectors of watch straps? They are a growing herd. Straps of all types: nato, seat belt nato, perlon, sailcloth, leather, metal, canvas and rubber. And when you say rubber, there are many variants today.
TYPES OF RUBBER WATCH STRAPS
Merchandisers of rubber watch straps would just generically mention “rubber” when they refer to their watch straps. But examine the fine print of their accompanying manuals closely and you will realize there are different variants of rubber straps:
- Natural Rubber. In previous decades, natural rubber straps were not taken seriously because they didn’t perform to a high level. Presently, there is this vulcanized nitrile butadiene rubber (NBR) watch strap which is in demand and used for applications which require superior quality. One such example is the iconic Tropic Rubber Strap of the 60s and 70s which were often OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) issue but were paired with different diver brands, Rolex Jenny Caribbean, Enicar and others. Another way of putting it, invest in the brand names, but economy on the straps. But even though they are OEM, the Tropic has a unique rubber formula of pliability and durability. The new edition Tropic of today is made of a new and more advanced proprietary vulcanized rubber that is resilient but also supple and soft to the touch. It also takes care to duplicate the look and feel of the vintage Tropic straps.
- Silicone Rubber. The silicone watch band has a material which is just like rubber. It is not as widely used as a high performance watch strap with the exception of Sinn which dons silicon straps on their watch models like their duo chronograph and the U200 Mission Timer. A silicone watch band is notorious for being sticky and prone to tear, and being an attractive surface for dust and lint. But its plus points are in the departments of being easily shaped and colored on.
- PU Rubber. This is formally called Polyurethene rubber or urethene. It is a polymer with elastic properties (called an elastomer). The feedbacks about it is it not so comfortable to wear on your wrist as compared to natural rubber but its plus points are its durability and functionality.
- PVC Rubber. It is similar to polymers like PU rubber in its shine, but it is even more glowing. It is durable but lacks high end characteristics for extensive use in many applications.
- Isoprene and Neoprene. They are synthetic rubbers produced from petrochemical sources. They both have developed good reputation in the rubber watch strap market but they are very expensive compared to vulcanized rubber.
Other rubber watch straps have tried to overtake NBR vulcanized rubber from its business of dressing up the wrists of watch users and enthusiasts, but they simply can’t compete with the superior quality and reputation of NBR in the rubber watch band niche in the present day. Until other manufacturers present a worthy competitor to NBR rubber, it will continue to lord it over in this market.
Vulcanized rubber has greatly superceded the use of merely pure rubber. It is made by mixing rubber with a range of from 1/40 to 1/2 of its weight in sulfur and they are combined together by heat. The rubber then becomes more elastic and not easily hardened by cold or made viscid by heat. The use of vulcanized rubber has been in demand lately due to the popularity of rubber straps and other uses.
The demand for rubber has outstripped its supply and no substitute yet had been found that is as effective. Thus, vulcanized rubber has been a solution to remedy the scarcity of natural rubber, but at the same time, also improved on the properties of natural rubber.
Due to its scarcity, much care has been furnished to facilitate for better and more efficient rubber collection and also for research and development for better rubber products. This gauges well for the continued sustenance of rubber straps.
Vulcanized rubber quality is evident in Zuludiver 328 Rubber Nato which uses very high quality Italian NBR rubber which has the pleasant scent of vanilla.
Vanilla scented NBR is submerged in the material during the manufacturing process. This is to cover up the typical irritating smells connected to sweaty straps. This pleasant vanilla scent slowly disappears as the NBR strap ages.
Rubber straps will be here to stay. But when did they really enter the picture in the watch industry?
THE HISTORY OF THE RUBBER STRAP
If you’re going to take a look into the coffee table book Watch Ads 1960 to 2000, you will be informed that rubber watch band were already being used in the 1960s, but only on Diver’s watches. Quality then, was questionable – they had inferior quality and comfort.
The prime exception, as taken up here, was the Tropic rubber strap, which was made an alternate and more affordable wrist band for the standard metal straps of the Rolex and Tudor like the French Navy Tudor Submariners) diver watches of this generation. Soon, the Tropic was everywhere, and you could say, it was the real reason why rubber straps sustained their existence well up to the present day.
The Tropic was ubiquitous in France in the 60s and 70s, and you can’t have a dive watch without a Tropic strapped to it or kept somewhere nearby.
The Tudor and Rolex dive watches with Tropic rubber straps were the fashion thing, but other watches entered the picture wanting to be fitted with the Tropic in their lifetime too. They consist of the Blancpain FF, LIP Nautic. the original IWC Aquatimer of 1967 (purchased with both a standard stainless steel strap and a Tropic as its bundle), and the watches that have super compressor cases (with patent by Ervin Piquerez SA).
Also competing in popularity with the Tropic is the iconic ISOfrane rubber straps in the 1960s which stopped production in the 80s. It made a successful resurrection in the present decade which will be explained later.
The rubber watch band didn’t dwindle in popularity in the 70s and 80s at all. It emerged in watches such as the Precimax Superdive and Aquastar Benthos 500 in black rubber versions. If you’ll notice, rubber straps were still associated with mariner and dive watches (observe Superdive and Aquastar) and can’t be released from this kind of identity. But the rubber strap makers were not complaining because sales were brisk. The 70s and 80s predisposition to black rubber straps were in stark contrast to the preference today for bright orange, blue or yellow rubber bracelets for watches that are popular today.
The trend accelerated, and other watch brands joined into the rubber strap bandwagon. In the 90s and 2000s, these watches with maritime themes used rubber straps: IKEPOD, Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore (both 90s), Vulcain Nautical Calibre V-10, Eterna KonTiki Diver and Glycine Lagunare LCC 1000 (last 3 in the 2000s decade).
The decade from 2010 to 2020 saw the rise of the independence in marketing for watch straps, and rubber watch bands are no exception. They are confident enough not to be identified with any one reputable watch brand and stand alone based on their quality and relevance to iconic straps of the yesteryears, or to be more correct, yester decades:
- ISOfrane. Zip back to the 60s when this rubber strap brand reached the peak of practical and relaxing watch band innovation (side by side with the Tropic). It was also a favorite of divers and mariners. It was the OEM rubber strap of choice for Omega, Tissot, Aquastar, Square and Scubapro. Scuba divers were confident that their diver watches were still strapped to their wrists due to the reliability of their ISOfrane straps when they emerge from the deep waters. Special mention goes to the ISOfrane ladder strap that came with the Omega PloProf (which saw a pioneering use of manufactured rubber aside from the tires of the automobile). Sadly, ISOfrane stopped production but their vintage straps lived on in auction sites and their value appreciated. But in 2010, ISOfrane was reestablished and the 1968 edition ladder rubber strap was updated and reissued. They come in various colors and with advanced components of synthetic but hypoallergenic rubber.
- Shinola 24mm Strap. This is America’s answer to the ubiquitous rubber strap. Made in Detroit, Michigan which is known for automobile manufacturing. Its 24mm dark elastic rubber is its best gift to rubber strap enthusiasts everywhere. It brings comfort and toughness through its nitrile base which affords protection from sweat, oil, coldness and heat to the watch owner.
- Nodus Tropic Rubber Strap. The iconic Tropic rubber strap of yesteryears live on through this Nodus watch band in this present decade. As expected from a Tropic, it has a gently scented rubber which avoids dust and lint and opposes effectively water, oil, heat and other bothersome external elements. Get these features plus the added satisfaction of wearing a vintage and iconic rubber strap which contains the reliable NBR rubber technology.
- Everest Curved End Rubber Strap. It has been created to be custom built to fit the exact details instructed by Rolex. These are the color variants: blue, green, orange, white and red. It is dust, water, chemical and UV resistant. It espouses that it contains vulcanized Swiss Rubber, which is the best rubber material for the moment.
- Zuludiver Vintage Tropic Rubber Strap. It brings the iconic Tropic Rubber strap to your wrist. It performs ultraviolet ray protection, environmental obedience and custom made style together. It ran the gamut of the Era of outdoor dive wear to the period when it became a favorite alternative rubber strap for luxury watches. Blancpain, Tudor and Rolex all have given Zuludiver the green light to be one of their reliable alternative watch straps.
- Otto Frei Swiss Tropic Strap. They are beautiful but practical rubber watch straps that are sourced from California USA. Its 20 mm buckle measure and 22 mm buckle size gives predictable measurements all throughout. It’s also a play on the popular 60s and 70s Tropic rubber strap which has sustained its popularity throughout the decades. It’s a multi purpose elastic silicone watch strap that would look good on you.
Rubber straps may have caught your fancy, and you’re starting to look online for replacement bands for your boring metal bracelets and routinary leather straps.
For the young generation today who love watches, their sometimes adamant refusal to use watches with metal and leather straps is not a rebuttal of their parents and grandparents’ legacy with their classic watches. It is rather that they want to establish their own identity, and the trendy and millennial styles of today’s rubber straps fulfills that identity for them.
It sometimes happens that some of their rubber straps develop in them certain skin allergies. What to do?
RUBBER STRAP OF WATCH IRRITATES YOUR SKIN. SOLUTIONS?
No matter how much you love your rubber straps, there are times that your skin may develop a high sensitivity to the specific rubber material of your watch band.
You could apply talcum powder or baby lotion onto the affected wrist. Or anything that you use that could provide lubrication for the rubber strap when it rubs against your skin.
If this doesn’t work, try using a sports towel that fits around your wrist and wear the watch over it. Better still, consult your dermatologist.
SOMETIMES IT’S THE SEASON OF THE YEAR WHICH MAKES YOU CHANGE WATCH STRAPS
During summer, people who treasure their watch change their leather straps to their rubber counterparts. Leather straps easily get damaged by the humidity and also by the sweat generated by the watch user. They also exude a foul and musky smell.
A rubber strap is comfortable. It is actually all about changing the look and feel of the watch as if you are wearing a new watch every day.
By far many people swear that their best fitting, most comfortable strap is a rubber strap. It is not as versatile fashion-wise, granted. But they love to wear it when they get a chance, especially in the summer. It offers them a diversity of choices when it comes to wearing their watches. Just like, you hear people owning up to 50 pairs of sneakers. There are also people who collect watches, from mechanical to quartz watches. The same goes with rubber straps. Watch enthusiasts collect them too.
You don’t really like any type of strap more than another. You love all your watch bands. Anything from a stainless bracelet to a leather, rubber or canvas strap is comfortable for you. It’s just about changing routine. It’s about glancing at your watch and seeing something new to appreciate.
The younger generation like the look and feel of rubber straps because it keeps up more with the millennial or digital age look. Leather and metal are the classic looks, but most youth don’t want to be identified with these features and want to have an updated advanced technology facade for their watches. And rubber straps, with their various creative designs, can give them that sophisticated digital look.
There’s this Omega Planet Ocean watch owner who would showed people when the stainless steel strap is on and also when the black rubber strap is on. Both versions looked elegant and smart. It’s just like having 2 watches rather than one. Rubber silicon straps gives you the option to give yourself a sporty and casual look that stainless steel can’t give you. When you’re in the Boardroom, put on the stainless strap, and after work hours, while painting the town red, put on the black rubber strap. They would think you have 2 different watches with distinct personalities of their own.
RUBBER STRAPS ALSO DRESS UP YOUR LUXURY WATCHES
Break from routine and dress up your Rolex, Omega, Tag Heuer, Tudor or other luxury watches with extra comfortable rubber straps. You would be surprised with how elegant they look with new surprising quality straps.
Your pricey watch deserves vulcanized FKM (rubber with a high degree of heat and chemical resistance) rubber straps like those of Zealande. At the same time, they are probably some of the most comfortable watch straps in the world. The excellent combination of quality and comfort makes the most demanding individuals with the priciest watches to dress up their wrists with Zealande straps. You don’t have to get only one strap but several straps with vibrant colors.
RUBBER STRAPS HAVE REACHED AND SURVIVED THE ENDS OF THE EARTH
In 2013, two Bremont Limited Edition Terra Nova watches with original rubber straps were on the wrists of famous polar explorer Ben Saunders and his colleague Tarka L’Herpiniere. They started a journey by walking from a hut on the northern shore of Ross Island in Antarctica to the South Pole. Then, they turned around and walked again 900 miles back, and at the same time pulled their own supplies by sled the whole time. It was a record breaking 1,795 mile journey in below zero temperatures.
The 2 Bremont Terra Novas withstood the elements of Antarctica and the South Pole together with the rubber straps. Only 300 pieces of the Bremont Terra Nova Limited Edition with original rubber straps will ever be produced.
YOUR RUBBER STRAP AND YOUR WRIST: THEIR LOVE AFFAIR
There are many choices of watch bands, but rubber straps have been some of the most comfortable and convenient for wrists of watch owners. They stretch while you wear them when your body temperature changes and then your wrist grows.
Your wrist doesn’t stay constant with its size the whole day. It has biological matter so it swells or shrinks depending on the temperature change. The comfort of the wearability of the watch is affected when this happens.
It seems that just 10 minutes ago, the watch was a perfect fit, but now it feels tight on your wrist. And also, depending on heat or coldness, and also on the movement of your wrist. Or if you wave your hand regularly in the air, the wrist constantly expand and contract.
The rule of thumb of a watch strap that’s a perfect fit is you can be able to squeeze a finger in under the bracelet. With a rubber strap, this problem is minimized or becomes a non problem because of the strap’s flexibility and elasticity. But still, observe the finger rule for your comfort and for adequate blood circulation too on your wrist.
HOW TO TAKE CARE OF RUBBER STRAPS
Rubber straps require less maintenance than other types of straps, especially the leather ones. Rubber straps are always wise decisions to have if your watch should be conditioned to hard and consistent usage.
They are used to being beaten up without being noticed. They are already around your wrist first thing in the morning, with the metal tongue piercing through the same hole every time.
They absorb messy oils and toxins from your skin for the next several hours as you perform your duties.
They get wet every time you wash your hands. The straps are also exposed to the elements: wind, sun, rain, hail or snow. If might even be ravaged by food stains or coffee smudges.
Or you went for a swim at the pool and you dived right in, forgetting that you still have your watch on.
With all these ravages on the rubber strap, you should know how to take care of it. It’s a combination of the external forces mentioned above and the internal factor which is the chemical reaction of the wrist skin rubbing against the rubber strap. Here are some steps:
- Remove dirt and debris by washing with fresh water that’s mildly soapy.
- Give special attention in rinsing your strap if it was esposed to chlorine, saltwater or too much sweat.
- Dry with soft cloth just by tapping and afterwards let it thoroughly air dry.
- Don’t expose the rubber strap to anything that could make it dry, like rubbing alcohol or perfume. Also, don’t risk applying any cleaning agent to the rubber strap or you might regret it.
- When in doubt, consult the strap manual or people knowledgeable with rubber straps.
- Rubber straps have a lifespan range of 18 months to 2 years. If they last this long or even more, be happy you got your money’s worth.
EVEN TODAY, RUBBER STRAPS ARE STILL SYNONYMOUS TO DIVE WATCHES
Just like how they started in the early years, rubber straps have always been identified with dive or sport watches. Any brochure of reputable watches of these genres should always include rubber strap options or the original straps themselves are rubber. Anything from Breitling Superocean Héritage to Eberhard Scafograf 300 and Carl F. Bucherer Patravi Scubatec – rubber straps are indispensable.
And as we know now, rubber straps on watches are already part of everyday fashion too. And motorsport has made use of rubber straps too through the Mille Miglia watches of Chopard which can be seen on the racetracks.
REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER RUBBER STRAPS TOO
Remember the times (or maybe you’re too young to remember) when rubber straps was a proposition which was easily rejected as a viable option for watches. They had an uncomfortable fit, were sticky and the skin of your wrist can’t breathe through them. And they had this noticeable predictability to be brittle and crack. And their fashion sense was passe. But you probably don’t remember because that was decades ago.
5o years have passed and there has been a rapid revolution in rubber technology. There is a huge selection now of both natural and synthetic rubber watch straps. They’re even more fashionable now than leather and metal bands. And they are second to none as straps of choice for diving and aquatic watches.
According to the data that we have known about what it takes for a rubber strap to be of top quality, it should have the following characteristics :
- It should preferably be waterproof, both in freshwater and saltwater. This is one advantage of rubber over other types of straps.
- Resistance to UVA radiation.
- There should be availability of a wide array of variants in colors and textures.
- Non toxic and non allergenic.
- Easy to maintain and clean.
- Electrical non conductivity.
- Preferably unisex in style. It shouldn’t differentiate whether only men or women can wear the watch.
- It should have a secure fit and also have wide adjustability. This accounts for the strap’s flexibility and elasticity.
- Suppleness, softness and expandability.
- Generally low to medium cost.
- It should be lightweight compared to metal bands.
- Stylish, fashionable and keeps with the trend of the times.
- Scratch resistant.
- Vanilla scented, whenever possible to conceal unpleasant odors when the rubber reacts to sweat and other elements.
.WHAT IS THE RIGHT RUBBER STRAP FOR ME?
Your personality should be the best gauge in what rubber straps are best for you. What are your favorite colors? Do color themes affect your mood?
What about the rubber texture? Is suppleness of the rubber important to you?
Is it important to you that you can bring your rubber strapped watch with you when you are submerged or exposed to water?
Are you athletic or are you just content reading a book but with an elegant rubber strapped watch on your wrist?
Are you watching your vital signs all the time? Are you monitoring how many steps to take every day to be in accordance with your health goals? This means you need a digital watch with a rubber strap that records every vital sign that your body registers (through your watch)
Also consider what type of rubber works well with the chemistry of your skin. Certain rubbers simply don’t react well with your skin type and gives you allergies. Choose from among natural NBR rubber, synthetic polymer rubber, silicon or other rubber materials in the market. You can always find one that’s perfect for your needs from among the myriad choices.
At present, rubber straps don’t play second fiddle anymore to stainless steel and leather watch bands. They’ve occupied a lofty place in the growing niche market of watch straps due to their many admirable characteristics.
Although they still maintain an OEM reputation in the industry due to their still continuous function as replacement straps for original metal or leather straps of established watch brands, especially the luxury types, there are growing numbers of watch models wherein the original strap is rubber or is a dual original strap together with either an also original leather or stainless steel strap.
Either way, rubber straps have come a long way and are already well entrenched in their target markets.