Style

Maximize Versatility: Your Timepiece and Interchangeable Bands

men's watches how to change a watch band

I’m a huge fan of versatile wardrobe pieces. And when it comes to being a jack of all trades, nothing earns higher honors than my wristwatch.

I only own one (for now), but I’ve worn it while camping, running errands, and to fancy downtown cocktail parties.

Just a simple change of the band, which I’ll show you how to do, allows me to completely alter the look and feel of my watch.

But before you can get into the routine of frequently changing out your bands, you’ll need a versatile timepiece as a foundation.

And if you don’t already own one you love, here’s what to look for in a versatile, everyday wristwatch.

Choosing your versatile timepiece

If your intent is to maximize versatility, as it always should be when building your foundation wardrobe, you’re going to want to stay away from the extremes.

Of course, that means no rubber sports watches, but you’ll also want to steer clear of anything with too much of a “bling” factor.

There’ll be plenty of time in the future to buy showy statement pieces or purpose-built watches, but for now, stick to a design that’ll allow you to wear it for any and all occasions.

Here are some decisions you’ll have to make when selecting the perfect watch.

Lug design

A lug is the protruding part of the watch case that “accepts” the band.  Essentially, lugs are the “hinges” of your watch.

This is the most important feature, so make sure to pay attention to the lug style.

Universal lugs will fit any bracelet or band in the correct width (i.e. 20mm), which means your options are essentially limitless.

This is what you want in a versatile timepiece.

watch band universal lugs

A watch case with an integrated bracelet will have lugs that are unique to that particular bracelet. This is the type of watch you want to AVOID, if you intend to change the band.

watch band unique lugs

Watch cases with a unique lug design are compatible only with bracelets that share the exact same design, which is to say very few.

There is a category of watches with removable “end pieces” that give the appearance of unique lugs, but function more as an adaptor between the universal lugs and integrated bracelet.

Once these “adaptors” are removed, the case will be exactly the same as any other universal watch.

If there’s any doubt, just flip the watch over and look at the back or carefully review the photos, if purchasing online.

best watches for men changing band

Size of  your versatile timepiece 

To maximize versatility, around 35 – 40mm is an ideal range.

Anything smaller won’t look quite right with a chunky, rugged leather band and a face that is much larger will look out of place in more formal settings.

Of course, it’s important to take your personal proportions into consideration.

Bigger guys should consider watch faces above the 40mm to avoid looking as though they’re wearing a ladies watch.

Smaller-boned men should pick something a little more appropriate to their frame lest they appear to be in shackles, maybe a little closer to 35mm.

Shape of your versatile timepiece 

I definitely plan on getting a rectangular and maybe an oval-faced watch in the future, but for versatility, nothing beats a classic round face.

Unless something out of the ordinary really speaks to you, invest your money in a watch that’s sure to stand the style test of time.

Movement: Automatic vs. Quartz

While not a factor that has any bearing on versatility, no watch buying guide would be complete without at least mentioning the inner workings of a potential timepiece purchase.

Automatic or quartz simply refers to the type of movement the watch has (meaning what makes it tick).

I review the differences between these two types of movements in my free 10 Timeless Wardrobe Essentials eBook, but I’ll give you a quick overview here.

Quartz watches are battery powered and rely on a circuit board as the inner workings.

Automatic watches are a type of mechanical timepiece, meaning they’re composed of gears and springs like the watches of yesteryear.

They’re termed “automatic” because the spring is wound by the swinging of your wrist rather than manual winding.

So which should you buy?

The simple answer is that if you want a more affordable, low maintenance watch, opt for a quartz.

If you’re looking to get into watches as a hobby or are interested in buying something that can be handed down to your son, automatic is the way to go.

Show your personal style

Unlike a shirt or pair of pants, you’re going wear your watch daily, so even though you will want to consider some elements of classic, versatile style, your personal tastes are important.

Though I wouldn’t generally recommend something as starkly minimal as the single diamond Movado with which most people are familiar, something along those lines could very well be perfect for you.

If your wardrobe consists of mostly black, gray, and more black and your idea of hiking is a 30-second shortcut through the park on your way to the espresso bar, then a vintage military-inspired timepiece likely won’t fit your personality.

Recommended Timepieces

watch bands watches collage

Skagen SKW6175

Everything you need and nothing you don’t.

The sleek Danish design on this elegant timepiece is perfect for the understated sophisticated gentlemen.

Seiko 5 SNZF15

It’s no wonder that the Seiko 5 has a cult following, and even a community of “modders” hellbent on making their Seiko unique in every way.

There are countless incarnations of this model including variations of military, dress, and diver watches.

But the best part? You get into an automatic watch for less than $150 and sometimes as low as $65!

Timex Weekender Chronograph

Even though I don’t use the extra dials, the chronograph style is my favorite watch design. This is the closest I could find to the watch I currently own.

I’ve found this particular watch to be infinitely versatile, and it gets my highest recommendation.

Citizen Nighthawk

Generally, I’m not a fan of designs this busy.

But DAMN this thing is cool!

If you’re the type of man who would describe himself as a “gear junkie”, look no further for your everyday timepiece.

As an added bonus, it looks about 10x better on a leather band or NATO strap.

Choosing your bands

As with anything clothing related, different materials, designs, and colors will determine which environment a watch band is best suited.

Color

Generally, the darker the color, the more formal the band. At least, that’s true for shades of brown and black.

Anything with a bold color, regardless of shade, is going to be more informal.

Black will be more formal than brown, and brown more formal than bright colors.

Material

At the most formal end of the spectrum, you’ll find smooth leather. This is the material of choice for any type of black tie event or for a conservative workplace.

Metal bracelets would be your next most elegant option, provided they aren’t too chunky. A great all-rounder, metal bracelets can bridge the gap between jeans and suites very well.

Next up we have textiles. Anything from nylon, cotton, or even wool will generally be viewed as pretty casual in nature.

Designs

Although most people use the terms interchangeably, there’s a generally accepted difference between watch straps, bands, and bracelets.

 BandsBraceletsStraps
AttachmentAt the spring barsAt the spring barsThreaded through spring bars
ClosureBuckleClaspBuckle
FormalityHighMediumLow

Finishing details play a big role in a band’s formality. Even though a dark leather band would be formal by definition, rough edges and heavy stitching can give it a completely different look.

For example, Sean Connery in his role as James Bond managed to make a nylon strap look very appropriate with a white tuxedo.

So there’s always some wiggle room with style “rules”.

Perfect Band Rotation

Swapping out the bands

Once you’ve selected your watch, it’s time to play with some band combinations.

What you’ll need

Changing bands

The best way to think about removing and installing the spring bar is to imagine it like a tiny toilet paper holder that requires a pry bar to compress the ends.

Removing the old band

men's watches how to change a watch band

NOTE:  Always work from the back when changing watch bands to avoid scratching the face (slips are inevitable).

  1. Lay your watch face down on a soft cloth and insert the spring bar tool in-between the spring bar shoulder (small ridge) and the case lug
  2. Apply pressure towards the strap to compress the spring bar
  3. When the spring bar is free from the lug, it will pop out with a little downward pressure
  4. Once one end is dislodged, the remaining end will slide out

Installing the new band

men's watches how to change band

  1. Match up the buckle end of your strap with 12 o’clock, then turn both face down
  2. Install the spring bar into the band and angle and insert one end of the spring bar into the lug
  3. Use your spring bar tool to compress the other end of the spring bar
  4. Maneuver the free end of the spring bar into the lug and wiggle back and forth until it clicks into place

Changing straps

From band to strap

When going from the original band to a replacement strap, you’ll need to first remove the old band by following the instructions above.

men's watches changing nato

  1. Reinstall the pins minus the band.
  2. Line up the buckle end at 12 o’clock and thread the long end of the strap through the pins.
  3. Then secure the short end of the strap by threading the long end through.

From strap to strap

To change from one replacement strap to another, no tools are required. Simply unthread the strap, leaving the pins in place.

Then follow the procedure above to install the new strap.

The only detail you need to remember is that the side of the strap with the buckle goes at 12 o’clock.

Down the rabbit hole

Once you decide to grab yourself a watch and a few bands, I think you’ll find it’s extremely addicting!

But any investment made in a vintage or quality watch will be just that, an investment.

Not only do timepieces hold their value, you’ll get plenty of use out of them.

I wear my watch every single day.

If you already own a watch you love, check out the lug design to see if you have the ability to change out the band.

If so, you’re in business – buy a few new bands and enjoy the new versatility from your old timepiece!

If you’re in the market for a new watch altogether, you can’t go wrong with the recommendations above.

Any one of them, paired with a collection of interchangeable bands, will be an excellent additional to a versatile wardrobe.

Happy hunting!

Nate

10 Timeless Wardrobe Essentials

GET EMAIL UPDATES + BONUS E-BOOK!

Enter your email below to get my free ebook 10 Timeless Wardrobe Essentials!

You Might Also Like

20 Comments

  • Reply
    Davide
    September 15, 2015 at 6:53 am

    Great article Nate, keep killing it!

  • Reply
    Dan horton
    September 15, 2015 at 4:11 pm

    Great article! Is there any hard rule regarding which hand your watch should go on? I was told it should go on the opposite of your dominate hand, but is that just a preference?

    • Reply
      Nate
      September 15, 2015 at 8:14 pm

      Generally, men wear their watch on the non-dominant hand. One reason is to keep the watch off of your more active hand, thus avoiding damage. You could also make the argument that watches are traditionally (from manual winding days) worn on the left wrist by everyone because it’s easier to reach the crown with your right hand. These days, I think it comes entirely down to preference.

  • Reply
    Anthony
    September 15, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Super informative. Love that weekender.

  • Reply
    Daniel DeMoss
    September 16, 2015 at 1:16 am

    This article is so helpful! I’ve been hesitant to put a “strap” style band on my Seiko 5 because I didn’t really understand how it worked with the spring bars. This answered my questions about that and gave lots of great insight into the wide world of watches. Thanks for the great post!

    • Reply
      Nate
      September 16, 2015 at 2:07 pm

      It really is super simple. Almost as easy as changing your shoe laces. What particular Seiko 5 model do you have? How has your experience been with it so far?

  • Reply
    Mark McCoy
    September 18, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    Awesome post. I currently wear a Relic ZR 15747, and like it a lot. I think it has hidden universal lugs. I was wondering what color/style bands you would recommend for a gunmetal grey colored watch?

    • Reply
      Nate
      September 20, 2015 at 4:47 pm

      Gunmetal will go with just about anything. Depending on your personal preferences, I would recommend a green NATO for a military look and brown leather for a worn-in casual vibe. Just make sure the width is correct. You can measure from the inside of one lug to the inside of the other. Basically the width of the band where it contacts the watch case.

  • Reply
    Kabre
    September 19, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    Nice post as always man.
    I do the poor version of that. I buy the same 3€ watch from aliexpress with different bands each one hahah

  • Reply
    Andrew
    September 19, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    Nate,

    What’s your feel on Daniel Wellington watches? I’m enamoured by the big face- thin (interchangeable!) strap ratio.

    • Reply
      Nate
      September 20, 2015 at 4:33 pm

      I was just trying one on yesterday. They’re elegant, versatile, and appear to be well made. The watch is so thin and light that I could barely tell I was wearing it. I almost bought the watch on the spot because the guy came down to $140 from the sticker price of $229. Good thing I smelled a scam and didn’t let him push me because the moment I walked out of the store I found that they go for around $100 on Amazon. I say go for it if you like the look!

  • Reply
    Tate
    September 24, 2015 at 2:03 am

    Great article, this essentially allows you to have a wardrobe of watches at a fraction of the cost. No one will notice the difference unless they are really paying attention. Also really like the regular weekender as well, they come in a ton of colors. Another interesting one to take a look at is the Seiko SSC081. Big numbers on the watch face with a big dial. A little different, but still could be worn at more dressy events.

    • Reply
      Nate
      September 24, 2015 at 1:49 pm

      I really like that Seiko. It looks great on the factory brown leather band and a quick googled search confirms that it also looks fantastic on a NATO. The weekender really is a great watch. Even if your tastes are more on the high end side, the Timex can be purchased for around $30 which makes it great for wearing to the beach, while camping, or working outside.

  • Reply
    What I Did in September (and the best articles from September) - Bold and Determined
    October 29, 2015 at 8:13 am

    […] Maximize Versatility: Your Timepiece and Interchaangable Bands […]

  • Reply
    Mike
    February 11, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    Hi Nate,

    Would you suggest a gold or silver watch face for being the most versatile. I really get a lot from your site and appreciate what you do.

    Thank you.

  • Reply
    Alex
    April 2, 2016 at 6:20 pm

    For guys with small wrists: go with 60s vintage watches. You can get high quality movements for relatively cheap prices. Those watches look very edgy with nato straps and you will stand out.

  • Leave a Reply

    About Me

    Casual Style 101

    Free style guide