Presto Change-O: How Quick-Release Straps Are Changing Luxury Timepieces
From IWC to Cartier, brands are embracing new ways for watch fans to quickly and easily swap out straps and bracelets.
The modern watch enthusiast wants watches with versatility; timepieces fit for the beach and the boardroom. And the easiest way to change up your wrist wardrobe is to swap your watch strap.
It sounds like a simple concept, and there is no end of strap options available to enthusiasts. But the physical act of strap changing itself can be an incredibly frustrating exercise. Flying spring bars, fussy end links that don’t quite fit in between lugs, scratched lugs. For more complex integrated bracelets, you pretty much need to take them to a certified dealer to replace a strap, which takes all the spontaneity out of switching up your style.
That’s where quick-change straps come in.
Some straps feature a clever system that makes all the fuss go away. Variously called things like "quick-change" or "quick-release," these bracelets feature either a spring bar with a tiny knob protruding through a slot or a button hidden on the underside of the strap. To switch, you merely press the button or pull the knob back with your fingernail to retract the spring-loaded bar and pop it into or out of the lug holes.
These systems are not new features – even my Timex Marlin reissue from 2017 came with a quick-release option. But Watches & Wonders 2021 represented a tipping point of popularity for these systems, with luxury brands not only adopting mix and match straps as a bonus feature but as a major marketing point.
Change is Good
Take, for example, Omega’s new Seamaster Diver 300M America’s Cup Chronograph. Released in February, this tool watch comes with a metal bracelet and additional rubber strap, both equipped with OMEGA’s new Quick Change system.
One press of a button releases the pins from the watch-head, enabling the wearer to switch easily between the bracelet and the strap without tools. Not only does this allow you to change straps whenever the mood suits, but this system means your risk of scratching the lugs is minimal.
And Omega plans to make this new system available for all models with a standard 20mm lug width. That means when it comes time to replace the straps on your old Seamaster, you can do so without having to invest in a spring bar tool or having the spring bar fly across the room, never to be found again.
The world is constantly changing, and it seems like watches need to adapt faster than ever before. Makers of high-end tool watches recognize that buyers want timepieces that are not only versatile when it comes to style but need straps that can take on a variety of adventures.
IWC introduced two new timepieces at Watches & Wonders – the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 and Big Pilot’s Watch 43 – featuring its patented EasX-CHANGE system. Available as accessories in IWC boutiques or online, these straps come in the choice of calfskin and rubber in different colors, as well as a new stainless steel bracelet with fine adjustment system and a slimmer shape for improved comfort and ergonomics.
For those afraid of accidentally pressing the EasX-CHANGE button and popping off the watch during strenuous activities, IWC assures us that the placement of the pusher on the wrist side of the strap prevents any inadvertent activation. Plus, it clips on over the existing spring bar, so you can still use non-EasX-CHANGE straps if you wish.
To see how it works, watch this video:
We have seen how the new generation of quick-change straps are built for tool watches, but fancy cases can also benefit from these updates. Piaget’s new Polo Skeleton in plain and diamond-set gold cases both come with the Polo's signature polished and satin-finished 'H' design bracelet as well as a complementary blue alligator leather strap.
Not only is it like having two watches in one, but because there are zero tools required to shape-shift between straps, there is little chance of scratching the finish or damaging the gem-setting.
Even one of the hypest of haute horology houses, Roger Dubuis, is making its Quick Release System part of the brand’s signature Excalibur collection. At Watches & Wonders, Roger Dubuis introduced two new models, the Excalibur Single Flying Tourbillon and Excalibur Glow Me Up. Both models rely on color as an expression, so quick and easy access to a veritable rainbow of straps only makes this family even more desirable.
Mixing and matching leather and rubber straps has always been easier than experimenting with an integrated metal bracelet.
And this year, just before the start of Watches & Wonders, Cartier unveiled a 40mm version of the Ballon Bleu de Cartier with a bracelet and clasp upgrade.
Celebrated for its iconic case shapes (and rightfully so), Cartier also innovates with its accessories (Fun Fact: The brand invented the very first deployant clasp). In 2018, with the revived Santos collection, the brand introduced its QuickSwitch system for tool-less bracelet and strap removal. Now, this technology has been integrated into the new Ballon Bleu de Cartier 40mm.
These new models come with both an alligator leather strap and a metal bracelet that flow seamlessly into the case. The metal bracelet has a small rectangular button underneath the band and a proprietary quick-release end link, called SmartLink by the brand, for no-fuss bracelet resizing, while the alligator strap uses pull-tab spring bars to detach from the lugs. And because the strap sits snugly next to the case, both versions are very secure.
Integrated bracelets are making a big comeback, and Zenith is decided to make it easier to switch between metal and other materials. For example, the DEFY Extreme also introduced a new quick-change strap system this year. Each DEFY Extreme comes on a micro-blasted, large-link titanium bracelet but comes with additional rubber and Velcro straps.
Like many of the 2021 quick-release watches, the DEFY Extreme uses a proprietary tool-less system. For some enthusiasts, the word proprietary raises some red flags. If it’s patented, does it prevent independent strap makers from using or adapting to this technology? And will it become obsolete at some point?
While only time will tell, we can take comfort in the fact that strap makers can usually come up with a workaround for new technology – just check out all the custom straps for the Apple Watch. And I was even able to buy a replacement for the very unique purpose-built strap for my 1970 Omega Dynamic from Omega itself.