Most people buying the Apple Watch aren’t seasoned watch experts who understand the nuances of choosing and evaluating watch straps and bracelets. If you are a seasoned watch lover, you might want to pay closer attention to what Apple has done because their watch band options are actually quite impressive – even if the Apple Watch isn’t for you.
At launch, Apple made it clear that the Apple Watch was supposed to be something each owner personalizes for themselves, and thus offered a range of Apple Watch band colors and options. The problem is that aside from a few obvious hints, Apple hasn’t made it easy for consumers to know what straps and bracelets are right for them, or how to choose among the many available options.
Apple Watch bands are also one of the more confusing parts of the Apple Watch buying experience. While you can get bands separately from the Apple Watches, not all bands can be purchased separately, and not all bands work with all watches (or for all wrists). The purpose of this guide and review is to discuss each of the Apple Watch band and bracelet options while also reviewing them and sharing with you our own recommendations based on your lifestyle, needs, and of course, budget.
For generations, watch lovers have known that a quick and cheap way of getting the feeling a “new” watch is to change the strap. This process hasn’t always been simple because changing straps on most watches requires special tools and, of course, finding the right sizes. Some watches make it easy to change straps with various “quick release” systems. However, most of these system make for proprietary strap ends which limit your options. Apple’s system for attaching straps to the Apple Watch is proprietary, but I think we can forgive that, given what Apple set out to create. Also, let’s face it – if Apple can make something that was one generally universal proprietary system… they will.
In any event, the ability to easily change straps on the Apple Watch is a good thing, and consumers benefit from the amount of choices which exist. More so, in addition to the style and look of your Apple Watch changing with a new strap, consumers should think of them like “shoes.” Different shoes are good for different occasions, just like watch straps.
A Note About Apple Watch Band Sizing
There are two primary concerns when it comes to choosing the size for your Apple Watch band. First is making sure the band is designed for your Apple Watch case (either 42mm or 38mm), and second is the length of the strap. The first size consideration is very easy to determine because all you need to do is know the model size of your Apple Watch. The second consideration might require you to measure the circumference of your wrist (in millimeters).
Depending on the strap or bracelet, there will be various size options available. The Apple Watch Modern Buckle, for example, has three length sizes, the Apple Watch Sport Band has either a Small/Medium or a Medium/Large length size, and some are “one size fits all” because of their built in adjustability (such as the Link Bracelet). I, for example, wear a 42mm Apple Watch, and because of my smaller men’s wrists, wear a S/M size band. All I am saying is that use Apple’s watch band sizing guide before buying a new strap or bracelet sight unseen.
Directly inspired by the rubber strap design Marc Newson developed for Ikepod, with the Apple Watch Sport Band, Apple was able to create one of the best sport straps around using a custom “fluoroelastomer” material that, in my opinion, is easily to superior to even the best rubber straps.
The strap closes in a manner that is a bit different from most watch straps, but once on, the slightly elastic and smooth-to-the-touch material is both comfortable and secure. Apple is able to produce the Apple Watch Sport Band in a range of colors which, initially, is black, white, green, coral, and blue. With that said, there is no reason why Apple is not able to come out with any number of new Apple Watch Sport Band colors in the future.
Even though the Apple Watch Sport Band is the least expensive (though still not cheap) of the Apple Watch straps, it is still a very high-end experience and doesn’t need to be “merely” sporty if paired to the right watch in the right way. For instance, the Apple Watch Edition in 18k gold happens to look quite nice on the Sport Band in white.
Apple offers the Sport Band for both the 38mm and 42mm Apple Watch in two lengths – and each length has a good amount of adjustability.
In my opinion, the Apple Watch Sport Band is the most versatile of all the Apple Watch bands and is probably the most all-around comfortable strap. If you are using the Apple Watch for exercise purposes, you are certainly going to want a Sport Band because it is perhaps the only Apple Watch strap that is safe (or desirable) to sweat in and get wet. The Apple Watch Sport Band can be cleaned rather easily, which is a good thing because these will get dirty (especially the white one).
Given the color options, the Apple Watch Sport Band is also very versatile from a fashion perspective, which can make the Apple Watch anything from more visually assertive to playful. Consider the interesting move to purchase Sport Bands of more than one color and then mix and match the strap ends for two-tone bands. Okay, maybe that is just for the rather brave – but it can look cool. If you had to own just one Apple Watch strap, the Sport Band would not be a poor option (but you might want more than one color). The Apple Watch Sport Band is good for any version of the Apple Watch.
The custom material Apple was able to formulate for the Apple Watch Sport Band is amazing and something even watch lovers will want to get their hands on. The legacy of the Marc Newson design is also a welcome detail.
There is a good reason Apple decided to call this strap the “Classic Buckle.” That is because it is the most traditionally designed of all the Apple Watch bands. Produced from a high quality Dutch leather, the “milled” texture of the Apple Watch Classic Buckle strap is very nice, and I appreciate the no stitch, sealed edges of the strap.
I have mentioned that the Apple Watch Classic Buckle is perhaps the Apple Watch’s least “exciting” strap option, but that is merely because it is something people have seen before. With that said, an oldie is a goodie in this regard because not only is the Apple Watch Classic Buckle comfortable, but it also won’t loosen on your wrist and looks pretty good.
Unlike most of the other Apple Watch bands, the Classic Buckle doesn’t attach directly to the Apple Watch. Instead, the strap attaches to metal loop-style lugs which attach to the Apple Watch case. This lug system allows for the strap to freely move up and down, making for a very secure and comfortable fit.
Apple designed their own very curvy buckle to go on the natural leather strap which looks unique but works rather well. Oddly, even though the Apple Watch Classic Buckle is a very competent and marketable strap, Apple only offers the black version for sale. There is a blue leather version of the Apple Watch Classic Buckle as well, but it only comes with one of the Apple Watch Edition models… with gold hardware.
Those looking for the most traditional watch wearing experience will likely prefer the Classic Buckle on the Apple Watch. Apple offers the Classic Buckle for either the 38mm or 42mm Apple Watch, with just one size meant to fit all wrists. That is a positive testament to the versatility of such straps. The Apple Watch Classic Buckle is very secure as well, given the belt buckle strap system, and even when tugged, will not loosen. This is important to note, given that some of Apple’s other bands which use magnetic attachments can loosen if tugged hard enough. Overall, the Apple Watch Classic Buckle is a great default option if you want something safe, simple, and proven. It also works well on any version of the Apple Watch.
Great quality leather and very comfortable fit.
Easily one of the more innovative bands for the Apple Watch, the Leather Loop is a forward thinking means of adopting the traditional leather strap for modern times. I like the Apple Watch Leather Loop in terms of its style and the very cool magnetic attachment system that Apple developed. Apple used a different leather for this strap than the “Dutch Ecco leather” used for the Classic Buckle. The Apple Watch Leather Loop instead uses Italian Venezia leather which has a different feel and texture.
Inside the Apple Watch Leather Loop is a series of magnets which allow for a buckle-free securing system. The strap folds over itself to size, and one is advised to select the proper length, else the Leather Loop strap end might flop right over your Apple Watch screen. Apple makes the Apple Watch Leather Loop exclusively in the 42mm size for the larger of the two Apple Watch case sizes.
With that said, Apple does offer a nice amount of color variety with the Leather Loop coming in black, light brown, blue, or a stone colored gray. Style wise, the Apple Watch Leather Loop is handsome when you properly match the color to your Apple Watch case as well as your wardrobe.
The Apple Watch Leather Loop doesn’t have a totally secure strap because of the magnets, and that means if tugged, it can loosen or come off. That means you should make sure nothing gets snagged on the strap or it might come off your wrist.
Aside from the space black version of the Apple Watch Sport, the Leather Loop has a more formal appearance that best suits the Apple Watch in steel or the Apple Watch Edition in gold. Here, you also have the brightest color leather options which helps these become more fashionably versatile. Given the ability for the straps to loosen, I don’t recommend the Apple Watch Leather Loop for any sports-related activity.
Magnetic closure system throughout entire strap is a very clever design for this Apple Watch band. It is perhaps the most fun band to simply put on and take off.
In some ways, the Apple Watch Leather Loop is simply a leather version of the traditional Milanese watch bracelet. That is, if traditional Milanese “mesh metal” watch bracelets had magnets. Using a magnet to secure the band when closed is perhaps the most innovative element of the Apple Watch Milanese Loop. While this bracelet has the potential of pulling arm hair, it is perhaps bit more pragmatic than the same-priced Leather Loop band. The Apple Watch Milanese Loop also benefits from a “security system,” as the strap end will not come out of the loop, preventing the watch from totally falling off your wrist or being difficult to put on.
While the style of mesh metal bracelets isn’t for everyone, Apple was correct in considering that it looks good on the Apple Watch. Even though this style is classic, being attached to a smartwatch makes it feel fresh again, and the Apple touch is certainly there in the design. Apple produces the Milanese Loop in just one finish, but for the 38mm or 42mm Apple Watch.
Similarly to the Leather Loop, the Apple Watch Milanese Loop can loosen if pulled on. It would have been interesting to see Apple design a locking system so that once sized, the strap will not loosen if it snags on something. Again, that is more an issue for sport reasons if you need a totally secure watch that fits snugs and won’t loosen. So the Apple Watch Milanese Loop is perhaps best for formal or casual wear occasions, but matched with either the Apple Watch in steel or even the Apple Watch Sport in aluminum.
Affordable and high-quality means of enjoying the style of a traditional Milanese style watch bracelet.
Exclusively available for the 38mm Apple Watch and Apple Watch Edition, this is the contemporary analog to the Apple Watch Classic Buckle. The idea here is a magnetic locking buckle. Magnets are used to ensure that upon near contact that buckle closes securely without having to play around with it and wait for a click. One closed, you need to press the pushers on the outside of the buckle to release it – which is a very necessary safety system.
Once again, Apple uses a different kind of leather for this band. The Apple Watch Modern Buckle uses French Granada leather which is the most soft and supple available in any of the Apple Watch bands. The supple nature of the strap is perhaps one of the reasons why there is a $100 premium over the other leather bands for the Apple Watch.
Apple offers three sizes of the Apple Watch Modern Buckle because each version has a limited amount of adjustability – so buyers need to make sure they select the right one for their wrist. Apple does, however, offer four color versions as well as the gold hardware straps for the Apple Watch Edition.
The fun-to-use buckle system will make men jealous of this female focused Modern Buckle, but the style is a bit more decidedly feminine overall. Stuff like this should also make the traditional watch industry a bit jealous, given the very slick visual look and engineering. This is perhaps the most formal and elegant of the bands for women, and is a logical “step up” from the more basic Apple Watch Classic Buckle if something more colorful and interesting is needed. This is also a premium option, given that compared to the $49 – $149 prices of the other Apple Watch straps, the Apple Watch Modern Buckle is $249. Consider this the “lifestyle” strap for women who want their Apple Watch to look classy.
One of the best buckle designs available in any watch today. Brands like Cartier would love to have something like this.
If anything about the Apple Watch is a clear sign to the traditional watch industry that Apple is serious about picking up where they left off, then the Apple Watch Link Bracelet is that. No, it isn’t the back of the Apple Watch case, but rather the thing which you see most and actually touch when you are putting the watch on and taking it off. Easily just as engineered as the Apple Watch case, the Link Bracelet is a very impressive and very modern interpretation of the traditional steel metal bracelet.
At first glance, the Apple Watch Link Bracelet looks like something designed between minds at Ikea and Porsche Design. There is a modern minimal elegance to it, for sure, but there is also a deep sense of complexity which is gracefully hidden from the eye. The Apple Watch Link Bracelet is made up of over 100 parts, according to Apple, and each one is apparently produced after many hours of careful machining. Apple even claims that the bracelets are hand brushed (the type of polishing on the links) – which is something that happens in the traditional luxury watch industry.
I actually believe Apple’s claims because the Apple Watch Link Bracelet uses 316L quality steel with pieces that are individually CNC machine milled. This is what gives the parts their excellent, crisp, sharp look. Most of the best cases and bracelets are the product of CNC machining which takes longer and is more expensive than stamping, but produces really accurate parts. In my opinion, the Apple Watch Link Bracelet – more than any other Apple Watch strap – looks as though it was intentionally designed to go with the Apple Watch product.
Then there is the engineering, which is what really makes the Apple Watch Link Bracelet something the traditional watch industry should be jealous of. I am speaking of the brilliant and secure no-tool link removing system which is how you size it for your wrist and how you remove the bracelet from the case. This is something the traditional watch industry should have done so long ago.
There is also the matter of the deployant clasp. Apple opted to go with a butterfly-style deployant (probably because it is more symmetrical), and designed a solid-feeling mechanism that, when folded, is virtually flush with the bracelet links. I’ve never seen anything like this, and I am also irritated that no one in the traditional watch world (to my knowledge) ever created anything like it. Stuff like this makes it painfully obvious how stuck in the past most people in the luxury watch industry are. It’s literally only been a few years that even Rolex has been producing deployant clasps on their bracelets that I would say belong in the 21st century.
Paired with the Link Bracelet, the Apple Watch looks even more modern. I might even go so far as to say “futuristic” looking. If you want the appearance of wearing the ultimate “today” gadget, then the Apple Watch Link Bracelet is what you need with your Apple Watch. You simply won’t get the same wearing experience with any of the bands – matching the same steel as the case of the Apple Watch, the Link Bracelet is a very tempting yet pricy addition to the Apple Watch.
Apple produces the Apple Watch Link Bracelet in both Space Black and natural steel. You can purchase the natural steel bracelet on its own, but for some reason, not the black one. There is also a $49 premium for the Space Black model over the natural steel. Is it worth it? Apple needs to use a complex chemical bonding process for each of the many parts of the Apple Watch Link Bracelet to make them deep gray in color. That adds time and expense. In the traditional watch world, a black case or bracelet might demand a several thousand-dollar premium, and a few hundred dollars at the least.
I actually found a rather cool and surprising combination for the Space Black Link Bracelet when I matched it to the Apple Watch Edition in 18k yellow gold. I’ve always been a fan of sport watches that combine black and gold colors, and it actually worked out rather well. Highly recommended. The natural steel Apple Watch Link Bracelet works well with the steel-cased Apple Watch, but one issue is that while the case is polished, the bracelet it brushed. That makes for a harsh transition between finishing styles. It doesn’t look bad, but it is something that might have possibly had a more elegant solution.
What I did find is that the Apple Watch Link Bracelet looks equally good on the Apple Watch as it does the Apple Watch Sport (both in the Space Black and natural versions with corresponding case colors). In a sense, the Apple Watch Sport looks a bit better with the Link Bracelets because the matte finishing on the aluminum cases is a bit more harmonious with the brushed finishing on the bracelet. Perhaps the most epic combination is the Apple Watch Sport in black with the Space Black Link Bracelet. With all that said, those people who can afford to spend the extra money for the bracelets will likely get the Apple Watch versus the Apple Watch Sport because of the better case material, the ceramic parts, and of course, the sapphire crystal. Perhaps Apple needs to add even more Apple Watch versions (and, naturally, run the risk of confusing even more consumers who haven’t taken the time to understand the new and admittedly complicated Apple Watch universe).
While the Apple Watch Link Bracelet looks cool with the Apple Watch, it isn’t going to be the type of bracelet you can likely get a super snug fit with. That means you probably don’t want it for sport purposes. As a style item or dress piece, the Apple Watch Link Bracelet is the top choice. Oh, and an important word for watch lovers like me who wear both a traditional mechanical watch and the Apple Watch: it looks weird when you wear the Apple Watch with the Link Bracelet on one wrist and another watch with a bracelet on the other. I recommend two watches with straps or only one with a bracelet.
Tool-less sizing is an amazing feat of engineering – as is the thin deployant clasp. Expensive, but worth it given the effort.