How To Take Care of Leather Watch Straps

By Montredo in Watch 101
August 11, 2015
How To Take Care of Leather Watch Straps


No other material complies with the everyday demands that can be placed upon the wrist quite like high quality leather. This tanned product of nature is a classic among the different types of watch strap materials and still as popular as it has always been. However, there are a few pointers that should be kept in mind so that this second skin doesn’t get porous or hygienically unclean and ultimately unfit to wear. Venture downwards for some proper advice on how to best care for your watch’s leather strap.

Leather Isn’t Just Leather

Starting out, it’s worth spending a bit more money for a higher grade leather strap. The material as well as the workmanship involved can vary greatly in terms of quality and usually, you really do get exactly what you pay for. For example, straps made from incorrectly tanned leather often have a higher concentration of fat content, which can make it brittle over time. While cheap straps are often unfit for use after just a few months, the wrist-life of high grade ones haven’t even reached their peak after many years of frequent wear.

High quality products such as those from our brand ZOLA which offers leather watch straps handcrafted in Italy, develop the typical patina over time that is so highly prized by watch aficionados. Leather straps rough edged nature and near-perfect charm ensures that each and every individual piece is truly unique.

The brand Officine Panerai is well-known for its rich variety of leather watch straps. Depicted here: watches made from ostrich leather.

Everyday Life-Prolonging Measures

Leather isn’t known for being a natural product that has a high affinity towards the wet element. The problem of moisture permeating lining leather was significantly reduced thanks to the Rembordé procedure. However, as a matter of principle they should generally not be subject to moisture altogether. Even in small doses, a leather strap can significantly both change shape as well as its colour the moment it comes into contact with water. Our suggestion: take off the watch before washing your hands or getting in the shower. Better safe than sorry.

Due to hygenical reasons, a watch with a leather strap should also be removed before playing sports of any kind. It’s best not to wear it all the time and take it off at night to ensure that the leather occasionally has some room to breathe. As thanks, its lifespan will exponentially increase when your wrist jewelry has some downtime for itself.

Proper Care For Smooth Leather

Most leather straps have a smooth grain, which compared to the virtually sealed, pigmented nature of suede leather is significantly easier to clean. All smooth leather types, with the exception of open pour aniline leather, are closed and can be cleaned with a wet cloth. As far as soap goes e.g. saddle soap, it should definitely be taken into consideration whether or not the strap can be cleaned by an alkaline product. In a worst case scenario, damage can form on it over a period of time.

The surface of pigmented smooth leather is water-repellent, but drops can penetrate unhindered into aniline leather.

The surface of pigmented smooth leather is water-repellent, but drops can penetrate unhindered into aniline leather.

Our suggestion: use leather fat, leather spray, or leather milk after a wet cleaning so that a closed, protective film builds up on the strap. It will additionally serve to protect it from dirt, moisture, and even the sun. The care product itself should be thinly applied to the leather and then polished with a clean towel. Alternatively, for added protection against moisture, it can also be treated with a waterproofing spray. Warning: straps made from patent leather should be handled with the utmost care. They are especially sensitive and should only be cleaned carefully with a slightly dampened cloth.

The Appropriate Care for Suede

Suede leather types such as Velour or Nubuck have to be maintained differently than smooth leather. Since suede is open and porous, any direct contact with fattening substances e.g. sun tan cream or leather fat should be avoided altogether as it can easily penetrate the leather. Try to first gently brush out the leather before attempting to clean suede. Also, be aware that any stains or spots that suede might pick up when strapped to the wrist are nearly impossible to get out later.

Nubuck leather (left) has a much finer nap than suede (right).

Nubuck leather (left) has a much finer nap than suede (right).

Manufacturer guidelines vary greatly concerning their own care instructions. For example, the brand Hirsch suggests cleaning the strap under lukewarm, running water and drying it off with a cotton towel.