How To Care For Your Leather Or Rubber Watch Strap

Why are watch straps so important?

Watch straps take an absolute beating, often unnoticed. This is a strip of material with an average thickness of 2mm and an average width of 18mm. It is wrapped around your wrist every morning, a metal tongue punching through the same hole on each occasion. It will absorb the oils from your skin for the next 14+ hours; get wet each time you watch your hands; be exposed to sun, wind, rain, hail, or snow (all in the same day if you reside in Scotland like us); not to mention fumes or detritus - while perhaps picking up some food or coffee stains at lunch. There was that one time you went for a swim after work and didn’t take it off, even though we definitely told you that you should. 

In all seriousness, Instrmnt - and by extension our customers - have actually been pretty lucky: in the process of working through four full strap redesigns and countless smaller upgrades since our launch in 2014, we have gone from shipping watches with a good strap to shipping watches with an exceptional one. Our design team’s uncompromising attention to detail and belief in constant evolution has meant that the product has been improved to a level where we know we are offering some of the finest across in the entire industry. It is perhaps also worth noting they are one of the best value natural leather straps on the market - something that has always been important to us.


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This comes primarily from the close relationship we have with our German and Italian workshops. In Bavaria, situated idyllically in a densely forested region near the Czech border, our leather manufacturer has been producing watch straps at their family run atelier for over 80 years, and has worked with us closely and tirelessly to develop our vision for the super high quality unstitched, single piece construction strap that ships with all Instrmnt 01 and T-Series watches today. It treads the fine line of suppleness and simplicity against long term durability to an impressive degree. We think it’s the one to beat, in comparison to our competition. Likewise in Northern Italy, our rubber strap manufacturer is producing a piece that, in form, is visually identical, save the special NBR compound material that gives our K-Series range an even greater level of durability. And yes, the ability to swim with your watch on if you so wish.

Working with incredible craftspeople like those mentioned above doesn’t take away from the fact that customers need to look after your strap though, whether it is leather or rubber. We suggest - in an ideal world - replacing leather straps every 9-12 months, and rubber straps every 18 months. The world is not ideal though (by any means), so we have included some tips and advice below to help you improve the longevity of your purchase and keep it looking as good as possible for the great period of time.

How to clean your leather strap

Follow these steps below:

Firstly, remove the strap from your watch using the forked end of the tool we provided on purchase, then remove the small spring-bars from the strap (the two pins that attach strap to watch). Keep them safe. You do not want to get these small metal components wet as the springs inside can rust through prolonged contact with moisture. 

A simple neutral soap and a warm moist cloth can do wonders. Work in small circular motions focusing on the top side of the strap then turning your attention to any obvious stains. Our leather is naturally veg tanned, so you don’t want to use a very wet cloth or produce too much of a soap lather. Avoid getting the glued seams around the pin holes wet. The rough side of the strap that touches your wrist has a textured quality that means it hides a lot of marks, so ideally you would leave this side alone. As with any naturally porous material, strong stains will be hard to remove: we say embrace them, and enjoy the way the aesthetic of your watch develops throughout the years of its life. These tips are really about removing surface dirt and increasing longevity.


If you want to use a proper leather cleaner you can. Just don’t go crazy. We would suggest products in the Keralux Leather range, which can be particularly good for water based stains. Some of the more advanced Keralux products also contain substances that can give a layer of protection against further stains and UV damage in the future. Likewise, Fiebings Aussie Leather Conditioner can help to breathe new life into a flagging strap. 

It perhaps goes without saying (read: always ignored), but take your watch off when doing anything that you think could get it very wet or permanently damage it. Showering, swimming, dish washing, playing sport, getting in a sauna, climbing a mountain, or going to the beach with your watch on are all heavily advised against. Generally just use common sense in this area. 

When you take your watch off at night, lay it flat rather that one it’s side or with the leather folded. Now and again, gently massaging the leather around the hole where the metal tongue attaches will help to smooth it out. Squeeze it a bit with your fingers but don’t stretch it or bend the leather back in itself. During the day, remember not to wear your watch too tight. This is both uncomfortable and unnecessary (as long as it doesn’t fall down more than about a centimetre when you hold your arm up, it is tight enough) and loosening it a bit will generally lower the strain it has to take.


How to look after your rubber watch straps

Thankfully, rubber straps are easier to look after than their leather counterparts by some margin. A lot of people like the materiality of leather and the way it develops over time, but if you’re looking for the ultimate in simplicity and upkeep, our NBR compound rubber version is the one for you. 

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Once again, remove the strap from your watch using the forked end of the tool we provided on purchase, then remove the small spring-bars from the strap (the two pins that attach strap to watch) to avoid them getting wet. 

The most economical and easy cleaning method is to use some washing-up liquid on a warm moist cloth. It can be a little wetter than what you might use on a leather strap, but you still don’t want a huge amount of foam or total saturation. Rub the cloth in circular motions until you see the dirt or mark start to break up. Avoid the pin holes at the end of strap if you can - you do not want water collecting in them when you re-insert the pins. 

You’ll notice the NBR compound straps have a rather pleasing Vanilla scent. This is impregnated into the material during production and is specifically developed to mask the typical smells associated with sweaty straps. After cleaning, the Vanilla scent should be the main thing you can smell. It will slowly fade over 2-3 years. A surprisingly long time!

As previously noted, rubber straps have much more durability than leather ones and can subsequently face a lot more wear. Still be careful though. If you want to swim with your rubber-strapped watch you can (all our watches have a 5ATM pressure rating, IE more than fine for the pool), but be aware of the spring bar pins and the fact that they shouldn’t be wet for an extended period. A few minutes with a hairdryer should sort that out, or better yet, use the forked tool to pop the straps off, remove the pins, and dry them directly. 

Where to buy your next leather or rubber watch strap

We hope you found some of these tips and directions useful. In reality it is simply common sense, but these things warrant a reminder - it can be easy to forget just how harshly we all treat our watches. If there is one thing to take away: for want of a better phrase, you can’t polish a turd. Start as you mean to go on. Etc. Keep your strap in as good a condition as possible from day one and it should last for many years to come. In our office, across the Instrmnt team there are straps of all ages being worn - from a couple of months to 5 years - and some of the older ones now look the best. A deep patina or a couple of marks can tell a great story, and doesn’t immediately mean your strap is past its best. 

Click here to view our full range of leather watch straps, or alternatively, click here to view all of our rubber straps.

Huw Baynham