John Quinn A former software engineer who admitted to being a watch geek recalls the problem that was involved in replacing the strap of a luxury watch. “I remember years ago taking Breitling to a jeweler and asking if they had a belt for her, the assistant having to search endless catalogs for suitable ones, and then telling me they had to be sent away to be fitted,” he says. “And it would have cost a ridiculous thing.”
Quinn had other ideas. In 2010, after he started buying and selling the individual watch on eBay, he realized he could sell it for more if he put a nicer strap on it. This led to the discovery that buying and selling belts wholesale was a more efficient business, with a growing customer base.
What started as an eBay account has quickly grown into a company, WatchGecko, with annual sales of 2.5 million pounds ($2.8 million) and customers worldwide. The customers are people like him, Quinn says: Wristwatch aficionados are happily armed with a few tools to band the straps in and out of their holding lugs, and are willing to change and upgrade straps according to their mood.
“It’s the act of personalizing and making it your own, like a guy who buys a nice pair of shoes and changes laces,” Quinn says. “Anyone can do it, but most people don’t. Guys who do, they really get into it. And that’s a pretty big niche when you start to look at it.”
The taste of such experiences has always been resented by the watch brands themselves, but they cooler Snow has thawed dramatically in recent years. The mid-2010s first saw a craze for “NATO” color straps, the cheap nylon straps designed for military use but given a high profile by Tudor with its highly successful launch of Black Bay in 2013 – a move Tudor painted directly on the subcultures fueled by WatchGecko and its ilk .
From there, belts of increasingly diverse colors, textures and textures came to the fore, while brands became more relaxed with the idea of chopping and changing. A few, including Omega, Breitling, and Jaeger-LeCoultre, now have website sections dedicated to selling tapes, although they are still in the minority. The release of watches with various strap and bracelet options, which often ship the watch with replacements, is increasingly becoming the norm.
On the other hand, this is a natural effect of broader trends toward more relaxed and diverse styles, where traditional calfskin or crocodile leather straps don’t carry the thread they once did. (In fact, vegan and recycled materials are one of the most prominent trends in watch straps right now.)
But Mike France, CEO of British watchmaker Christopher Ward and a longtime supporter of interchangeable watch straps, believes it’s the Apple Watch that fundamentally changed the bracelet game.
“Jony Ive and Apple have influenced a lot, and Apple will set more directions than the rest of the traditional industry combined in the next 20 years,” he says. “There is an awareness that a well-designed strap like a watch can make wearing this thing on our wrist more interesting. In terms of engineering excellence, no bracelet really touches the Apple bracelet.”