Changing a watch strap or bracelet on a watch can give it a fresh, new look. They’re also super easy to swap back and forth, giving you flexibility.
To change a watch strap or bracelet, you need to compress the ends of the spring bars that attach it to the watch case’s lugs. While compressing the end of a spring bar, slide it out of the lug and remove the strap or bracelet.
To replace the strap or bracelet, slide the spring bar into the new one. Then seat one end of the spring bar into the lug and compress the other end while sliding it into the other lug. Once in place, the spring bar will hold the new strap or bracelet.
There’s no need to go to a jeweler to do this.
I’m constantly swapping between leather and NATO straps and metal bracelets. It doesn’t take much time at all once you do it a couple of times.
If I can do it, so can you! You’ll just need an inexpensive tool and a soft surface to work on.
I’m going to go through the process of putting on and taking off a leather and NATO strap and a metal bracelet.
I’ll give you detailed instructions with pictures and some videos to follow so you can learn to quickly swap out your straps and bracelets.
Before we get started, let’s cover some key things. To change a band or bracelet, you’re going to need to have a basic understanding of the parts we’re going to be working with.
You’re also going to need to have some materials.
The Parts of the Watch Involved
To change a watch band or bracelet, we’re going to be working with spring bars. These are thin metal bars that are spring-loaded. The spring inside maintains tension on the compressible ends of these bars. This tension is what keeps them in place.
The spring bars sit in holes drilled into the lugs of the watch case. These are the small arms protruding from the case.
Some lugs are drilled all the way through. If they are, you’ll see holes on the outside of the lug. Most are not drilled through, and the holes where the spring bars sit can only be seen when you remove the bars.
Finally, you’ll need your new watch band or bracelet. There are many places to buy new straps online. Just be sure to purchase the correct size. To figure this out, measure the distance (in millimeters) between the lugs with a metric ruler.
Tools and Materials
You need to buy a spring bar tool to change bands and bracelets. These tools have a small forked end on one side and a pointed end on the other.
The forked end slips in the ridges on the ends of the spring bars so you can compress them. The pointed end is for spring bars and pins that you can push down.
You may have heard of or seen people using a pocket knife to change straps or bracelets.
Is it possible to do this? Sure, but you’ll risk damaging the band, bracelet, or watch, not to mention possibly cut or stab yourself. So, buy the tool. It’ll be worth it.
There are a lot of these available on Amazon. The gold standard of spring bar tools is the Bergeon 6767 model. It comes in either an “F” or “A” version.
The F has a smaller forked end that you’ll need for many bracelets. The “A” version has a wider forked end that is good for working with leather bands, so you don’t cut into them. You can buy the tips separately and change them as needed.
If you plan on swapping bands often, you should get a good spring bar tool that won’t bend or break.
It’s worth paying a bit extra for one that’ll last. If you only want to change a band or bracelet once and can’t justify the price, one of the cheap ones might do the trick.
The other thing you’re going to need is a soft cloth to lay down on your work surface. This will prevent you from scuffing or scratching the watch crystal accidentally.
If it’s your first time changing a strap or bracelet, you might want to consider putting some tape on the lugs. The tape will guard them against scratches due to minor slips of the spring bar tool.
Changing Watch Straps and Bracelets
Now that you know the parts of the watch and you have the tools let’s look at how you remove and attach leather straps, NATO straps, and metal bracelets.
A few things to keep in mind:
- Take your time. Don’t rush, or you’ll risk scratching something.
- Make sure the spring bar is securely in the holes of the lug once the straps are attached.
- Work from the backside of the watch with the dial facing away from you.
If you have a watch with drilled lugs, you’ll be able to remove bands without using the forked end of the spring bar tool.
Because the lugs are drilled through, you can insert your tool’s pointed end into the lug holes to compress the spring bars.
Some watch bands are attached with screws. Notably, older Gucci watches may have bands attached this way. You can use a jeweler’s screwdriver to remove the screws.
Change a Leather Strap
To remove and attach a leather strap, follow these step-by-step instructions:
- Put the wider fork on your spring bar tool.
- Holding the watch firmly, slide the fork of the spring bar tool between the lug and the strap.
- When you feel the fork grab the spring bar, push down to compress the spring bar and away to slide it out of the hole in the lug.
- Once one side of the spring bar is free, the strap will now come off. Do the same on the other side to entirely remove the strap.
- Slide the spring bar into the new leather strap.
- Place one end of the spring bar into the hole of the lug closest to the table.
- Using your spring bar tool, compress the spring bar’s top end and slide the end under the lug.
- Fit the end of the spring bar into the hole on the lug.
- Check that the spring bar is securely in the lug’s holes and repeat the process on the other side.
Change a Metal Bracelet
To remove and attach a metal bracelet, follow these step-by-step instructions:
- (Optional) Use the pointed end of your spring bar tool to depress the spring bar holding the bracelet together. This is found where the bracelet clasp attaches.
- Put the smaller fork on your spring bar tool.
- Notice the gap at the back by each lug where the spring bar attaches. This is where you will be able to access the spring bar.
- Holding the watch firmly, insert the forked end of the spring bar tool at the top of the gap, closest to the lug.
- Feel the fork catch the spring bar’s ridges and gently compress it and slide the end of the bracelet out of the lug. The bracelet will now come out of this side.
- Repeat the process on the other side.
- Slide the spring bar into one end of the new bracelet.
- Seat one end of the spring bar into the hole of the lug closest to the table.
- Using your spring bar tool, compress the spring bar’s top end and slide the bracelet into place. Feel the spring bar snap into the lug.
- Check that the spring bar is securely in the lugs’ holes and repeat the process on the other side.
Some metal bracelets have end caps. These make the bracelet look like it’s part of the watch’s case. With these types of bracelets, there is not a gap between the watch case and the bracelet.
In these cases, you’ll still follow these instructions, but you may need to work a little bit to get the ends of the bracelet loose.
Attach a NATO Strap
To attach a NATO strap, follow these step-by-step instructions:
- Attach the spring bars to the watch by placing one end in a lug hole and compressing the bar to slide it into the other hole.
- Notice the NATO strap has a long layer and a short layer, held together by a metal ring.
- Slide the long layer out of the loop.
- With the top of the clasp on the NATO strap facing up, tread the long layer over the spring bar at the top of the watch and behind the case.
- Slide the watch to the top of the NATO and thread the long layer up through the bottom spring bar.
- Thread the long layer of the NATO through the metal ring on the shorter layer.
Sometimes it’s best to attach the spring bars after putting the watch in place on the strap rather than threading the strap through them.
This is especially true if you have a leather NATO, which could be damaged when threading it through the spring bars. This will also apply if you have a very thick NATO strap.
As you’ve seen, removing and attaching watch straps and bracelets is pretty straightforward. As long as you have the right tools and a bit of patience, you’ll be able to swap straps pretty quickly.
Now you’ll be able to throw your diver on a NATO or soften the look of a watch by adding a leather band.
With so many strap options, it’s important to understand how they can affect a watch’s look.
This is especially true when considering how a watch fits your proportions. Sometimes a metal bracelet can make a watch look too big and chunky on a slender wrist.
To learn more about how watch straps can make a watch appear big or small on your wrist, check out this watch size guide.