When is a watch strap more than a watch strap? It’s something that many of us completely overlook — even for the most die-hard horological fans, the strap is seldom the major selling point of any timepiece. No one is likely to clock your wrist and say, “that’s a nice strap you’ve got there!”
Unless, of course, you’re wearing an Apple Watch. From the first release of the watch in 2014, Apple has paid close attention to the straps that would complement the tech. It offered a new avenue for exploration, and an opportunity to align the watch with more established brands in the worlds of fashion and performance — which led to strap-specific partnerships with labels from Nike to Hermès.
What most people see as mundane, Apple sees as a new challenge for reinvention. But aesthetics aside, is there really any difference between each of the straps?
In this installment of What the Tech?, HYPEBEAST speaks with Apple’s VP of Product Marketing Stan Ng, as well as Evans Hankey, Apple’s VP of Industrial Design, to understand what makes Apple Watch’s range of straps more than what they seem at first sight.
What has your work with Apple Watch bands explored, achieved, or made you realize?
Evans Hankey, VP of Industrial Design: From the very beginning of Apple Watch, bands have posed a unique and fascinating design challenge.
Our goal has always been to create something that is beautiful, comfortable, and functional, and both pays homage to the rich history of watchmaking but also reflects the distinct individuality of the wearer.
“For us, the band is not at all about technology — each band expresses our love for materials, craft, and the process of making.”
Since the first Apple Watch to today’s Series 7, the interchangeability of the band has been a cornerstone of the product. Between the band style and color, the material of the Watch housing, and which Watch face you’ve selected and customized, the system affords an unbelievable number of potential combinations, well into the thousands. Each time we have refined Apple Watch’s design, we have pushed ourselves to maintain backward compatibility, which has been no small feat as the display has grown over the years.
For us, the band is not at all about technology — each band expresses our love for materials, craft, and the process of making.
What makes Apple Watch straps and bands different from those found on conventional watches?
Stan Ng, VP of Product Marketing: One differentiator is that the innovations we make to watch bands must support the functionality of Apple Watch.
For example, the velcro tabs on the Sport Loops, magnets on the Milanese Loop and Leather Link, and nine sizes of Solo Loop and Braided Solo Loop make it easy to adjust or find the right band size for a perfect fit.
This ensures the watch is comfortable to wear — not too snug and not too loose — while also enabling features like all-day heart rate tracking, blood oxygen readings, and on-wrist detection that allow you to use Apple Pay or unlock your iPhone securely without authenticating every time.
You also work with brands such as Hermès — why is it good to explore traditional forms such as this?
SN: It’s a collaboration between two brands with very strong design personalities, and while the aesthetics of Hermès and Apple may be quite different, the obsession with details, craftsmanship, and storytelling are deeply shared values.
What does Apple hope to change in the watch market with its design, and straps?
SN: Apple Watch was developed with a deep respect for traditional timepieces, and took inspiration from the history of watchmaking, including the evolution of watch bands from delicate pocket fobs to rugged NATO straps.
We hope that our innovations continue that evolution and that every user can enjoy watch bands that are innovative, unique, and made explicitly to fit their wrist, their style, their interests, and their goals.
With all of this in mind, is it possible to dissect the qualities of each band, to better understand why Apple has made them in such a way?
EH: The Solo Loop is without a doubt the most simple and most ambitious watch band we have made. For possibly the first time in the history of watchmaking, we have eliminated all buckles, clasps, and the excess material necessary for size adjustment. What remains is a soft but durable continuous loop made out of injection molded liquid silicone that fits snugly on the wrist. It comes in multiple sizes to ensure a custom fit for a wide range of people. We have found that Solo Loop is the most comfortable band we’ve made.
The Braided Solo Loop shares the same fundamental architecture, but this one is created by braiding 16,000 recycled polyester yarn filaments around thin silicone threads and then laser cutting to ensure an exact length for a custom fit. And the Sport Loop is a favorite for combining functionality, durability, and color into a single lightweight band.
This year, too, we utilized a jacquard process to integrate Nike’s classic swoosh directly into the woven band. This color combination looks particularly serious and sporty.
And then the Leather Link is another first of its kind. The leather link is made from supple, handcrafted leather with flexible molded magnets embedded within each strap. The nature of the magnetic attraction forces and band geometry enables the top and bottom tails to nest securely together without external fasteners, resulting in a comfortable, snug fit and a dynamic closure.
There’s a stainless link bracelet, too, which is a nod to the wonderful heritage of classic link bracelets. The butterfly deployment mechanism is contained within the thin 2.6mm section of the band. Links can easily be added or subtracted to adjust the size with a simple release button, without the need for a tool.
Lastly, there’s the “Graphite” Milanese, another beloved band since the first Apple Watch. The Milanese Loop is made from magnetic stainless wires that are coiled and intertwined together to create a flexible, fabric-like mesh. The material loops through the lug and fastens to itself. It is easy to adjust and secure thanks to the magnetic closure. Graphite PVD coating adds durability and complements the graphite stainless housing. With the PVD housing, this really is an elegant combination.