The history of straps and bracelets for diving watches
The development of the new class watches was initiated by the creation of specialized bracelets. Waterproof watches at the beginning of the 20th century were equipped with leather straps impregnated with grease or wax, so that they would absorb less water. The first producer who went seriously to the problem of creating a waterproof strap was Omega while working on the model Marine. The brand from Bienne used a strap made of seal leather with an integrated and adjustable clasp. Leather straps of various types were used during World War II in military watches such as Panerai.
1. Omega Marine strap.
In 1947, Rolex introduced the Oyster bracelet to the collection of its sports watches. In 1952, the design was supplemented with an element commonly known today as a endlinks. This type of bracelet has been used on GMT-Master, Explorer, and most of all since 1954 in Submariner divers. The project turned out to be so successful that it remained on the equipment of the Submariner and Sea-Dweller collections to this day. Over the years, the Oyster design has undergone numerous modifications. In 1969, an additional safety buckle was used to avoid unintentional opening of the bracelet. A regulation system was also introduced, which was then replaced by a microregulation patented under the name Glidelock. Despite these changes, the Oyster bracelet has not lost its original DNA.
2. Oyster bracelet.
In 1957, Breitling was one of the first producers of diving watches to use braided Milanese bracelets (popularly called mesh or shark) on watches from the Superocean collection. One of the early manufacturers of these bracelets was the German company Vollmer operating in Pforzheim from 1922. Vollmer supplied many manufactures producing diving watches. One of the more well-known watches with this type of bracelet was the Omega Seamaster 600 Ploprof.
In the 1950s, steel bracelets became a standard on diver watches and were offered by almost all manufacturers. There were companies specializing in their production on the market, such as the Swiss NSA or the German Expandro. High class bracelets of various types were offered by Gay Frčres S.A. Twisted bracelets of the Twist-O-Flex or Fixo-Flex type of the American-German company Speidel were also very popular.
3. Types of bracelets used in diver watches. From the top: rubber strap, Nato strap, NSA bracelet, expandro bracelet with micro-adjustment, silicone strap and Milanese bracelet. Fig. author
After World War II, rubber became more and more popular in industry. The watchmaking industry quickly used this elastomer for its own needs. The first application was gaskets, then rubber straps appeared. Their unquestionable advantage was total water resistance. Since the late 1950s, Tropic strapes with ventilation holes were very popular. The disadvantage of early rubber straps was their stiffness and susceptibility to cracking.
4. Tropic and Safari rubber straps.
At the end of the 1960s, the Izofrane company started the production of straps using Izoprene. Because it was a colorless compound, it was possible to introduce a different color palette for finished products. The material was also more flexible than regular rubber. In the 1970s, Seiko, in the line of his professional dive watches, used rubber straps with compressive and tensile sections, so that they fit into the suit depending on the water pressure. This types is still used today.
The introduction of silicon into the production increased the resistance of the straps to high temperatures and chemical factors. Other materials used for the production of specialized straps include Cordura, Perlon and various types of synthetic materials.
In 1970, belts with the symbol G10 went to equip the British army. Thanks to their durability they gained great popularity among soldiers. Initially, they were sold from surplus military magazines, from where they entered the civil market. Soon production was started, and due to its origin they gained the general name of NATO. Also, these types of straps are often used on watches that are in contact with water.
5. Nato strap.
Currently, all tested materials are used for the production of specialized diving straps.
Apart from the basic function, the strapes also had an additional purpose. Some manufacturers, such as Citizen, have applied miniaturized decompression tables. It was also a common practice to attach a small compass to the bar.
This is another topic that I move in the book about diving watches history - "Czas na głębokości" ( English version - autumn 2019) #czasnagłębokości