Everyone’s got his or her favorite watch. In my case, it’s a 1968 Rolex Explorer I my grandfather gave to me when I graduated high school. Model 1016. Tropical Gilt dial, that’s faded from black-and-tan to just tan. The tritium numbers still glow (a little), 12.3-year half-life be damned. The acrylic crystal (it was the style) shows the dings, scuffs, and nicks of days spent rock climbing in Montana, spelunking in the Philippines, noshing at the French Laundry, skiing in the Italian alps, or rolling the dice in God Knows Where Offshore. I once had it described as “the most laid-back Rolex ever.” It’s the horological crossroads where HST teamed up with 007; the chronopomorphic embodiment of me.
The watch originally came with Rolex’s oyster-style band, it that’s the one that stayed with it through the decades. It’s classic, and it’s timeless. Segments were removed to fit my wrist years ago, and since then, it’s carried me through just fine.
Until one day. I was anchored off the shore of Ambergris Caye, when a tiny, half-century-old metal rod in the clasp decided to give way. Hand wrapped around the rail of the sailboat, I felt the weight on my wrist lighten, and heard a soft plunk into the gentle waters of the Caribbean. A few belts of local firewater were in my belly, and a mask was around my neck, so I put it on and dove straight in. It took a few minutes, and a few trips to the surface for air, but I finally found the damned thing, wrapped around a spiraling length of fire-red wire coral, 30 feet down. Boarding the boat, I vowed: it’s time for a new watchband.
When I got back to the States, I began the search. My original idea of a simple repair was replaced, fairly quickly, when I realized that we’re living smack-dab in the middle of a Watch Strap Renaissance. While I had initially considered a repair or a flat-out replacement, I was given pause for thought—maybe, I thought, I could give new life to this old watch, in ways even I hadn’t expected.
My first visit, thanks to a quick Google search, was to a site called crownandbuckle.com. I quickly determined that the width of the band I would want to find was going to be 20mm, at which point, I was off to the races.
Here’s the rub. I was anticipating plunking down a couple hundred bucks for a repair of the original band; here, new bands, in every shape, color, and size, could be had for about $25-$35 a pop. Stylish bands. The whole range, from casual, to luxe. My mind started whirling. This old watch, beloved as it was, was about to enter a new phase of its life, where its strap could be changed out on a whim, in my living room, to compliment whatever I was wearing (tools are available, but it’s pretty easy to free the spring-loaded rods with a safety pin, if you’re fearless and in a pinch).
My search broadened. I came across the gang at Hodinkee (a must-bookmark for any timepiece enthusiast), whose knowledge on wristwatch-related lifestyle is unsurpassed. Their attention to straps, especially, is of note—there I learned about their NATO strap, a military-grade nylon that would withstand everything my watch itself had, and more (no more unexpected free dives). I came to appreciate the virtue of double-stitched alligator. I garnered fresh knowledge, too, on the intricacies of striped bands—after acquiring a couple of the latter, I realized that this amazing timepiece held inside it a spirit of frivolous, carefree fun. Another visit, this time to Jean-Rousseau, presented the high-end yield of the bunch: against my better judgment, I splurged on a €180, ostrich-skin strap that, as cliché as the term sounds, pulls the whole damned look together for a weekend in Monte Carlo.
Soon enough, I was obsessed. Robins egg-blue button down? Navy snakeskin strap. Canary cashmere sweater? Maybe woven, burnt sienna nylon. In the mood for a shiny pop? Woven silver or platinum. Heading off into the woods for a week of hiking? Good old fashion burgundy-hued calfskin. The sky was the limit. And it worked, every time.
Here’s the magical thing. I don’t want another watch. I love this watch. But how incredible, that after years of use, I’ve been able to garner such a sartorial sense of versatility from the same timepiece. I always knew that my 1016 was as versatile as I was, but wow—does this accessory clean up well with its own accessories.