The following instructions for removing and replacing a watch strap are geared toward the typical watch wearer with little-to-no experience changing straps. These instructions do not cover every type of watch and strap combination, but covers only watches without drilled lug holes and with two-piece watch straps made of a flexible material, such as leather, fabric, or rubber (fig. 3).
Changing a watch strap is a process that involves removing the old strap from the watch case and replacing it with a replacement strap. This is advantageous if your current strap is worn out or broken, if you want to change the look of your watch, or if you need to switch your current strap for one which is more appropriate for a certain occasion.
In order to follow these instructions adequately, the following equipment is necessary(fig. 2):
- Replacement strap
- Spring bar tool
- Microfiber cloth or other soft pad
- Barrier such as a piece of paper or other wide, flat bottomed desktop object (optional, but recommended)
Step 1: Setting Up the Work Space
Setting up the work space involves finding a sturdy level surface to ensure that the work space is stable, laying out a soft pad so that the watch is not damaged, and orienting the watch for easy access to the strap and spring bars. The strap consists of two pieces: a short piece which is attached to the buckle and a long piece which is punched with holes for the buckle. The watch is usually placed face down with the strap unbuckled on a soft pad with the lugs pointing out to the sides. Doing so allows easier access to the strap and spring bars and prevents the watch lens from being scratched. Two pairs of lugs extend out from the case of the watch at 12 o’clock (top) and 6 o’clock (bottom) and have small holes on the inside to hold the spring bars (fig. 4). The two strap pieces are held onto the watch case by two spring bars.
Caution: Dust or dirt particles on the cloth or soft pad will cause scratches to appear on the watch. Make sure the cloth or soft pad is clean.
- Unclasp the watch strap from your wrist and place the watch face-down with the strap pieces lying to the sides of the watch case on a clean microfiber cloth or other soft pad (fig. 5).
Step 2: Removing the Strap
Removing the strap involves removing the spring bars, which releases the strap pieces from the watch case. A spring bar is a spring-loaded and telescoping metal rod with double-flanges on each end (fig. 6). The spring bar ends fit into small holes inside a pair of lugs on the watch case. A spring bar tool is a long, thin tool with a forked end which, by engaging and applying pressure to the flanges of the spring bar, compresses the spring bar so that it can be removed and installed(fig. 7).
Caution: Spring bars are spring loaded and may fly off the watch. Additionally, because of their small size, they are easy to lose. Place a barrier, such as a piece of paper folded to stand upright, another wide and flat desktop object, or perhaps one of your fingers behind the watch to prevent spring bars from flying off the work surface.
- With the strap unbuckled and the pieces lying to the left and right of the watch case, firmly grip the watch case with your non-dominant hand (fig. 8).
- Holding the spring bar tool with your dominant hand like a pencil, position the fork end of the spring bar tool between one side of one of the strap pieces and the lug. Make sure that the fork end has purchase on the flanges of the spring bar end. Gently pry one end of the spring bar out of its lug hole and move it out from between the lugs. The strap piece will now be free from the watch case (fig 9).
- Pull the spring bar out through the hole in the end of the strap piece (fig. 10).
Step 3: Repeat Step 2 for the Other Strap Piece
Rotate the watch 180 degrees so that the remaining strap piece is in the same orientation as the one before. Repeat step 2.
Step 4: Installing the Replacement Strap
Installing the replacement strap involves putting the spring bars into the replacement strap pieces and reinstall the spring bars between the lugs. Since the spring bars expand when removed, they are wider than the width between the inside of the lugs. This step requires the spring bar to be compressed again in order to fit back between the lugs. The spring bar ends will then need to be placed into the small holes in the lugs to be completely installed. It is advisable to remember and visualize the lug hole's position on the inside of the lugs because it will not be visible when installing the replacement strap. Generally, the short end of the strap with the buckle is attached to the 12 o’clock (top) side of the watch case, and the long end is attached to the 6 o’clock (bottom) side of the watch case. This positions the buckle in a comfortable spot on the wrist and makes putting on and taking off the watch easier. However, the strap ends can be placed according to user preference.
Caution: This step poses an increased risk of losing a spring bar than step 2 because the spring bar tool may slip off of the spring bar as it is being compressed, or the spring bar may slip out from between the lugs during placement; both scenarios cause the spring bar to fly off. Make sure your spring bar barrier is in place.
- Insert a spring bar into one of the replacement strap pieces. The spring bars ought to protrude equally from both sides of the strap.
- With the spring bar inserted into the replacement strap piece, loosely insert one protruding end of the spring bar into one of the lug holes (fig. 11) and rest the other protruding end of the spring bar on top of the opposite lug (fig. 12).
- Using the spring bar tool, compress the spring bar and lower the end into the inside of the lug, aiming for the lug hole (fig. 13). If the spring bar does not snap into the lug hole, proceed to the next step.
- If the spring bar does snap into the lug hole, skip the next step and go to Step 5. If the spring bar did not snap into the lug hole and did not fly off, it is pressed against the inside of the lug. Put down the spring bar and carefully move the strap around (which moves the spring bar with it) to try to “find” the lug hole. Listen for a click that signals that the spring bar end has snapped into the lug hole (fig. 14).
Step 5: Repeat Step 4 for the Other Strap Piece
Rotate the watch 180 degrees so that the remaining strap piece will be in the same orientation during installation as the last one. Repeat step 4.
Step 6: Conclusion
Finally, pick up the watch with the newly installed strap and, using a microfiber cloth or other soft cloth, wipe away any smudges that have gathered on the watch face.
Changing a watch strap is the solution to a replacing broken strap and can change the look of a watch. It is easily done at home with the proper tools and a steady hand. It involves setting up a work space, removing the old strap, installing the replacement strap, and removing any smudges or dirt from the watch. The attachment system, the spring bars, are very small and easy to loose, so caution should be taken working with them. If followed correctly, these instructions will bring your wristwatch back into service and may even improve its looks.