It’s one of my great pleasures and an integral part of my passion for watches: to find a new look for a timepiece by trying out different strap options. Here are some examples from my personal collection and a quick guide on how to successfully create a bespoke strap.
What watch you’re wearing is a very personal choice, in fact it can be a perfect expression of one’s aesthetic preferences, style and passion for fine timepieces. The watch itself can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be altered, but the strap it is worn on not only needs replacement from time to time but can also give the timepiece a different look and character. Let’s dig into some options for straps.
Blancpain OEM straps
There’s no doubt: Blancpain usually picks great straps for the original configuration of their watches. And they have frequently set some trends: by introducing the Fifty Fathoms 5015 in 2007 on a previously unseen sailcloth strap, by giving the Tropic strap a new run, by putting Nato strap hardware to new quality and aesthetics levels.
Over the past two decades there have been a lot of noticeable but not frequently seen strap options created by Blancpain. Using the example of 23/20mm straps for the 45mm Fifty Fathoms and the 43mm Bathyscaphe, you find matte finish alligator straps and black Alcantara straps (from the L‘Evolution line), the long rubber strap that belongs to the FF strap change kit but is available separately as well, and of course the various colors available for sailcloth and Nato straps.
One example is the special sailcloth strap that came with the Fifty Fathoms Tribute to Aqua Lung in 2011. This strap works just as well with the Bathyscaphe Chronographe in my humble opinion. Interestingly, the holes of the strap match the chronograph and small seconds subdials perfectly in diameter!
As a side note: Blancpain have recently changed their sailcloth straps. The new generation sailcloth strap has a matte finish and is more color intense for the blue and green versions. Here are the old and new black sailcloth straps side by side:
Exchanging straps between the model lines can be rewarding, too. With similar dimensions for all 43mm Bathyscaphe and 45mm Fifty Fathoms models the variety has become significant over the years. As an example here’s the green Bathyscaphe Nato strap with satin brushed stainless steel keepers on the Fifty Fathoms Nageurs de combat.
Simply choosing a different color or material for the strap can change the character of the watch significantly: you can dress it up or down, giving an otherwise elegant timepiece a more casual look. Putting a dress watch on a plain calf leather strap does the trick, or vice versa you can put a sports watch on a nice alligator strap to change it’s character. Here’s the platinum Villeret Quantieme Complet 8 Jours on a white alligator strap, corresponding nicely with the calendar windows and letting the black enamel dial stick out more prominently:
Concluding the section on Blancpain OEM straps, here’s a short overview on the 23mm options for the 45mm Fifty Fathoms and 43mm Bathyscaphe timepieces (all straps available in regular length and long (1 cm more) versions:
Sailcloth: black, green, blue, white, dark grey (OC II), cream (Day Date Desert), black with holes (TTAL)
Nato for metal hardware: black, blue, green, dark grey (OC II), beige
Nato with fabric keepers: black, blue, green
Leather: black or brown matte alligator (L’Evolution), dark brown calf, blue calf, brown distressed calf (Jour Date 70s)
Other: black Alcantara (Super Trofeo), Alcantara with carbon inserts (L’Evolution), black FF rubber (one size only)
One example for independent strap makers
There are many independent strap makers in the market, ranging from low cost offerings to highest quality providers. To me, the aesthetics and the quality of the strap need to match the watch, otherwise the strap may compromise the overall appeal of the timepiece.
You have probably noticed my preference for Nato straps with my 40mm Fifty Fathoms watches. This has made me discover the high end manufacturer Jean Rousseau Paris. Their leather or Cordura Nato straps use a black shrunk calf lower element which not only is very smooth and comfortable on the wrist but also corresponds nicely with the black dial and bezel of the watch. The semi-matte finish of the calf leather also works exceptionally well with the timepieces.
There are various reasons for my tendency towards Nato straps:
The watch looks a bit bigger on a Nato than on a regular strap, the Nato also works nicely with the rather wide lugs and protects the edges of those.
One important upside of Nato straps is that they are adding some security: if one spring bars fails, the watch is still held to the strap by the other. If one spring bar fails on a regular strap, the watch will be in free fall.
Besides the standard collection there‘s the option of creating your own bespoke strap. For the Fifty Fathoms OC III I wanted a light tan color with a blue lower element. The strap turned out just as well as I hoped, only I found myself pairing it preferrably with other timepieces, namely the Tribute to FF No Rad and the FF MIL-SPEC.
The Jean Rousseau online bespoke configuration tool does not support Nato straps, but it’s easy to discuss with them via email. For any regular strap, the online configuration leads you through all necessary steps to make sure the strap fits not only the watch lugs: you determine all details from thickness to the aperture dimensions for the buckle pin.
This is vital for many Blancpain timepieces. The typical rounded cases and the typical short lugs of the 40 and 45mm Fifty Fathoms as well as the Villeret watches leave limited space between the lug pin holes and the case flank. A maximum thickness of 3-3.5mm is advisable, as are curved spring bars.
For the 45mm Fifty Fathoms models the strap tunnel needs to be wide enough to allow for the pin/screw attachment system to fit. At the same time the strap holes need to have 2.5-3mm diameter to support the tang or deployant buckle.
Update September 2021:
I now received three more bespoke order Nato straps from Jean Rousseau, each was intended to match a particular timepiece: for the Fifty Fathoms Anniversary I thought a dark brown strap matching the very subtle sunburst finish of the dial would be great, for the Fifty Fathoms OC III the intention was to find a blue Nato strap that compliments the lively dial and also work with the slightly different hue of the sapphire bezel, and for the Fifty Fathoms Barakuda the idea was to match the matte finish and be complementary to the slight brown nuance of the dial.
Well, I could not be any happier and more impressed with the execution of those Jean Rousseau straps. They delivered on every single aspect and the straps turned out even better than I could have wished for:
And I also had a bespoke Alcantara strap made for the Air Command AC01. The charcoal color combined with the slightly rugged finish of the material work very nicely with the sunburst finish of the Air Command dial, but see for yourselves:
How to find the strap you want
There is no online inventory of Blancpain straps, unfortunately. So if you want to get an overview on what’s available, research the original configurations of past models and contact a Boutique to learn whether a specific strap is still in stock or can be ordered.
Besides browsing the offerings from any strap manufacturer you can explore the Jean Rousseau Paris website here. Please note that not all leather and color options are listed, so I suggest you contact them if in doubt. And here is a special offer from Jean Rousseau Paris for all readers of this blog, which I am very grateful for.
I hope you enjoyed this essay on straps, which does only represent my personal choices: again, the variety of options is huge and offers plenty of choices for any taste.