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What Is the Best Way To Change A Watch Strap Or Size A Bracelet?

Matthew B. from Atlanta, GA, USA asks:

Is there an easier way to replace my watch bands? I’ve bought watch tools and even tried making my own. But getting the pins out of the lugs is still a chore. Any Cheats on how to do it?

We wouldn’t say that there is a “cheat” to sizing watch bracelets or changing straps, but there is certainly a set of best practices. When it comes down to it, you need to assess the situation carefully and choose the proper tools. Few people are equipped like watch makers, but there are a few things you can get that will help. Remember that while many watches use similar parts to connect straps or bracelets to cases, there are no universal tools. Below are some budget suggestions, but a lot of the best tools are made by companies such as Swiss Bergeon. Though, unless you are very well well-funded it can be difficult to recommend them over the far (far) cheaper Chinese tools.

One of the first things to ensure is that you don’t scratch your watch. When you use metal-on-metal you run the risk of scratches. If you don’t feel confident then take the watch to a local watch maker or jewelry repair person. While most of them aren’t equipped to fix mechanical watches, they should be able to size bracelets or change straps quickly, and often very cheaply. If you want to do it yourself, it can be a good idea to wrap your watch in layers of thick (the more expensive) plastic cling wrap that will help prevent scratches if your tool slips.

Changing straps is much easier than sizing bracelet. It is a matter of using a tool to depress a spring bar and then release it. One such tool is below, and is typically very helpful. A skilled person can easily use a paper clip. It comes down to practice more than anything. You need to carefully dig the tool between the strap and the case to release it properly. Some straps come with easy-release bars that have a little lever you can move. We tend to like those, but they aren’t as common as we’d like. Use the spring bar tool below, and some finesse.

Some watches use screw bars rather than spring bars to hold straps. These can be a mighty pain because there are often two ends to the bar that you must secure with a screwdriver in order to release the bar. Brands don’t use this all that often (sometimes there is a spring bar hidden inside of what looks like a screw bar), but these will require a vice. Secure the watch in a vice (with plastic or something non-metallic holding the watch), then carefully insert a screwdriver on each side of the watch. Again, tools are available to help, but you do need finesse.

The same method applies to bracelets that use screw bars requiring a screwdriver on each side. Most bracelets, however, use pins in the links that can be easily removed with a simple tool (example below). These are good for most watches, but sometimes you have a piece with a thicker bracelet or stubborn pins that don’t want to come out all the way. Often, it is best not to pull them out with a pair of pliers because it can bend the bar. I recommend getting a small hammer with a plastic head that you can use with a pin removal tool in order to gently tap pins out. We’ve sized 100s of watch bracelets over the years. While some are relatively straight-forward, some have proved to be incredibly frustrating. It is sometimes better to pay someone $10 – $20 to do it for you.

Another important set of tools to have, is a set of jeweler’s screwdrivers. A good set of Swiss ones from Bergeon, for example, can easily cost hundreds of dollars. We love those, but it is difficult to recommend them to most people when you can get sets for $20 or under. A solid set of screwdrivers is essential for anyone wanting to adjust their watches at home. So again, you need a spring bar removal tool, a bracelet pin remover, and some good screwdrivers to start. Don’t forget to get the right items to hold small pieces such and screws and pins, and ensure that you don’t scratch your watch.

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  • DangerussArt

    A vice? You must be joking. I’ve got of a collection of screw lug Panerai, Bell&Ross, and even some Steinhart watches that I change straps on all the time. Never once have I ever felt the need or inclination to use a vice on a watch.

    • DangerussArt Russ, we suggest a vice in instances where the bracelet requires you to hold a screwdriver from each side. Having said that, no doubt you need to ensure that the clamps on the vice are a soft elastic material. I’ve used cork as a buffer between the watch and metal to prevent scratches. If you are clamping just on the bracelet you can tighten the vice more to secure it, but you need to be careful if you are putting the watch itself in a vice.

  • avalaurie86

    Watch straps are pretty easy to change out. I use a knife so that I can take it off the spring catch that hold them together. You might have to be a bit more careful if the watch is more glossy.

  • MaryJanePrincton

    The best way to be able to properly work with your watch is to get professional help. By doing this you be positive that your watch is given proper service. I can’t even imagine trying to change the band on my watch by myself. I have the feeling that I would definitely end up breaking something.