In the 1960s, The sport of scuba diving transitioned into a generally consented public sporting activity. Within the same era prior to advanced technology like the quartz movement, mechanical watches were used to time dive sessions. Divers then needed a strap robust enough for wet-usage, and that’s really it, straps then had only one purpose – function. However, the lack of material advancement made the straps lacking in the comfort department. In this weeks topic, we give a brief history of how the rubber strap came about and some types and styles they come in.
A Brief History Of Rubber Straps
TROPIC Straps were then one of the first adopted idea, but it wasn’t made of rubber, and were instead made of soft plastic composites. If you can imaginine, that feeling of a strap of plastic wouldn’t exactly rank high in comfort and durability.
Over the last 50 years, the revolution of materials changed the entire watch landscape and particularly so for straps. The pioneer of rubber strap though, was Hublot. Following their brand’s expression of the “Art of Fusion”, Hublot fore fathered the rubber strap.
Carlo Crocco, Hublot’s Founder, wanted something water resistant, comfortable with sleek, clean lines for strap options, but materials like metals and leathers just couldn’t cut it. The solution? Working for 3 years, and spending over $1M, to develop a rubber to fit his specifications. The end result was incredibly durable, yet flexible enough to fit comfortably to every wrist. Best of all, instead of smelling like your average rubber, it exuded a subtle vanilla scent. Ultimately, his goal of discovering the perfect blend of rubber for his strap was accomplished.
Back then, The plastic straps were the standard options, with notable swiss Maisons like Rolex and Blancpain offering them additionally for just a small fee. Today, because of Crocco, Rubber took that place of being a sportier alternative. Which is how these soft and stylish straps now replaces a hard-wearing standard-issue item in the 60s and 70s.
Types Of Rubber Straps
The preconceived notion that rubber straps are boring changed with the introduction of new colours and materials. Today, you can find countless of variations which we will touch upon today. Although they offer pretty much the same level of use in a modern world, you find varying degrees of price and quality between each.
In the world of material science, the variances are actually amplified due to the different applications rubber find themselves in. For sport watch owners though, the likelihood of harsh chemicals meeting the watch itself is minuscule. As such, the comparisons below are more of comparing traits important for a strap on a watch rather than a general one.
Natural Rubber is made from Latex comes from plants. While they are found in 10% of all flowering plants, only some plant families produce enough to be harvested from, like the one seen below.
The milky liquid substance you see above is Latex, which is then made into the fitting-name of Natural Rubber.
The Vulcanisation Process
Aside from the formulation process , another common process this material undergo is vulcanisation. Vulcanisation is a chemical process which makes rubber much stronger and rigid, more flexible, and more resistant to environmental conditions. The end-product is commonly referred to as Vulcanised Rubber.
Different brands and factories adopt different formulation to produce their own version of rubber straps. One example would be Rubber B, the brand famous for its development of high-quality curved-end rubber straps for Rolex sport models.
Synthetic Rubber is made from petrochemicals in chemical plants and is stronger and more stable than natural rubber. For most product applications, Synthetic Rubber is more commonly utilised. Let’s look at some forms of Synthetic rubber which you may have heard about.
Silicone can easily be shaped and coloured, making it a suitable material to make rubber straps with. However, it has a reputation for stickiness, a tendency to tear and attract dust and lint. When discussing quality of rubber straps, the specific attraction of lint is highly regarded. If you use a rubber strap just for water and sporty purpose though, that factor shouldn’t be too big of a deal.
PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is a rigid yet flexible. For rubber straps, PVC are usually identifiable as being ‘cheap’ and ‘plasticky’ feeling. While they aren’t the best in terms of quality, they are solid options for actually rough condition.
I wouldn’t ever want to relate to a condition whereby I am compelled to care for my strap, so a cheap one that works is something sufficient. I think of PVC Rubber as something really suitable for a watch in the field, where a few scratches wouldn’t look too bad on it.
FKM is the short form name for Fluro-Elastomer. This class of rubber is in the higher echelon of durability in the rubber strap department. While synthetic rubber straps are commonly compared to natural rubber, FKM on it’s own has little competition to say the least.
This material is not only waterproof, but UV resistance, and less allergy-inducing compared to the likes of a metal bracelet. If you compare FKM with the earlier mentioned rubber types, I would say you should go for FKM if you care about getting a quality material for your strap.
Style Of Rubber Straps
As mentioned, the tropic was a staple of both leisure and professional divers back in the ‘60s. These straps usually come in two styles The first was a ‘basket-weave’ texture with small perforations. The second version was a flat non-embossed leather texture with large holes along the strap, reducing in size towards the buckle-end. I am personally a fan of the latter as it provides a more vintage appearance.
Now, the influx of vulcanized-rubber Tropic strap provides a palpable recollection of that era, without the discomfort of the plastic material back then.
First introduced in 1967 for its tie-ins to dive watches, this design, with the embossed texture reminiscent of waffle iron, brings on just a touch of ruggedness and sporty look to your wristwatch.
First known as the ‘ZLM01’, Seiko released this style for their 62MAS collection, which was on tropic straps instead. The strap, initially a JDM release, quickly gained traction as a popular alternative to the tropic.
My favourite style of rubber strap comes in a form suitable only for the curved end of your watch lugs. The idea is to create a seamless transition between the case and the strap with the material itself.
In modern production of watches, this has to be the most popular adoption of the rubber strap, and with good reason, they provide a really clean integration, bringing-out attention to the watch-head. I only owned aftermarket curved-end straps for Seiko divers like the SKX model, but it’s the only style I keep going back to.
Some people like to mix-and-match vibrant rubber straps, I personally love a simple black/grey one for a monochromatic look. But in any case, it’s hard to go wrong with a rubber strap for your sport(y) watches.
Prices of rubber straps can go anywhere from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars, depending on quality and brand name. In a hot and humid country like Singapore, it doesn’t hurt to spend a little more money on one that will last and feel good on the wrist. My choice had been Belhamel, who specialises their strap offering around the SKX series but unfortunately discontinued their own product. While there aren’t much manufacturers who produces the same quality and colour way as they used to, it’s fun to occasionally scour the internet, looking for someone who is looking to put their strap up for sale.
Are you a fan of rubber straps? If so, which manufacturer produces the best one to your liking? We’re always curious to learn more and this article will grow with our findings. Check out our Instagram Page for our educational infographics as well as our Youtube Channel, which produces a laid-back alternative to the blog, where you can sit back and enjoy our weekly topics.