A well-made watch is all about the details. Of course, there’s the obvious case, dial, and strap, but there’s also an often overlooked, yet integral part of the timepiece to consider — the watch’s fastener. Not only is it a practical piece by allowing the watch to securely strap onto your wrist, but it is also an important part of the timepiece’s aesthetic.
BUCKLE VS CLASPS
The first thing to consider when choosing a watch fastener is whether to go with a buckle or a clasp. A basic tang buckle operates much like a belt does — where the leather or fabric strap threads through the buckle and a pin secures it in place. Easy to operate, it’s a classic choice for elegant dress watches with leather straps or military watches outfitted with nato straps.
A deployant clasp features a more complex construction where there’s a folding metal component to ensure that the wristwatch remains on the wrist even if the closure is opened. Louis Cartier, the grandson of Louis-Francois Cartier, the founder of the House of Cartier, invented the deployant clasp in 1910. The word “deployant” comes from the French word “déployant”, which means to deploy or unfold. Today both the terms deployant clasp and deployment clasp are used interchangeably.
TANG BUCKLE STYLES
Due to its construction, the tang buckle can only be attached to a watch strap and not a watch bracelet. Although they all sport the fundamental two-piece configuration of a buckle and a pin, there are several different design styles of the tang buckle.
The Italian watch brand, Panerai, is responsible for giving us several buckle styles and their vintage straps with their distinct buckles are very much in demand by collectors today. The Panerai GPF Mod Dep buckles are broad, flat, and are engraved with “GPF – Mod Dep” which stands for “Guido Panerai e Figlio – Modello Depositato” — roughly translating to “Guido Panerai and Sons – Registered Trademark”. There are two main types of Panerai GPF Mod Dep buckles available. The brushed finish GPF Mod Dep was used on their leather straps dating back to as early as the 1940s. The second GPF Mod Dep has a matte gray finish and was used on the nylon straps of the Panerai compass instruments from the 1980s.
The Panerai Pre-V, which stands for Pre-Vendôme, buckle refers to the style of buckle produced by the watch brand between 1993 and 1996, prior to the purchase of the company by the Vendôme group (known as the Richemont Group today). They are distinguished by their broad shape and curvy design.
Another common tang buckle style is the Ardillon, ARD, or thumbnail buckle. It features a classic style with curved corners and is most often found on classic leather wrist watches.
DEPLOYANT CLASP STYLES
The deployant clasp is the most popular type of watch fastener, particularly on luxury watches as they are prized for their elegant look and added safety features. They can be used on a range of bracelets and straps including steel, metal, titanium, leather, rubber, and fabric. The most basic deployant, or deployment, clasp unfolds to allow the watch to be slipped onto the wrist then folds back again and locks itself into place with a latch. Normally, there’s a protruding semi-circle on the edge of the clasp to give space for a fingernail to slip under to pull it open.
Alternatively, rather than pulling the clasp open, there’s also a push-button deployant clasp, where, as its name suggests, can be opened by pressing either one (single push-button) or two (double push-button) on the sides of the buckle to release the lock. This is an added safety measure as it reduces the risk of the closure opening up accidently.
The butterfly deployant clasp gives a watch bracelet a seamless look, thus is also known as the hidden deployant clasp. The two connections link together perfectly aligned, which hides the extra folding metal piece within and does away with a bulky external clasp. Butterfly deployant clasps are typically released via pushbuttons on the side of the fastener.
A fold-over push-button deployant clasp is the most secure type as it boasts both a fold over latch that snaps in place and a push-button or pull-latch to open the closure. It’s also important to note that many deployant clasps have a built-in extension system so that wearers can make slight adjustments to their watch straps or watch bracelets for a better fit. Some of the most famous extension systems are the Rolex Glidelock and Rolex Easylink features found on their Oyster bracelets.
Most Swiss watch brands have their own distinct style of deployment clasp which are also available in similar aftermarket models. Some of the more popular OEM deployment clasps are from Panerai, Breitling, IWC and Omega.
SIZES AND ATTACHMENTS
When purchasing a new clasp or buckle, the piece’s size and how it attaches to the watch strap is vital. Some straps remain the same size all the way from lug to end, while other straps carry a tapered style with the end anywhere from 2mm to 4mm slimmer than the lugs.
Once the perfect size has been selected, another thing to think about is what attachment does the watch buckle or clasp require. Some buckles include spring bars or screw bars so they can be selected independently of a strap, while other buckles are actually sewn into the leather or fabric strap.
When selecting a watch buckle or clasp for your timepiece there are so many factors to consider, from styles to materials to finishing to sizes and finally, attachments. The overall look of the particular watch should play a role when deciding on the perfect buckle or clasp. Often regrettably regarded as just a piece of functional equipment, the buckle or clasp can actually change up the style of a watch. So whether you consider yourself more classic or sporty, elegant or avant-garde, there’s the perfect watch clasp or buckle out there for your timepiece.
MATERIALS & FINISHES
Buckles and clasps are offered in a wide range of materials and finishes and often times match the look of the watch case or bezel. For instance, stainless steel, yellow, rose, or white gold, platinum, and titanium are the leading options for watch fasteners. Aside from the actual material used, the finish of the metal is a key aesthetic detail to note. The most common finishes include polished and brushed. A polished finish gives the metal a high sheen, while a brushed finish lends a more textured and matte look. Brushed matte steel clasps are some of the most popular deployant clasps right now. PVD coating is another finish that is prevalent and found most often on military style watches.
PVD, or Physical Vapor Deposition, is a method used to coat a material with a layer of vapored metal. This serves several purposes. From a watch design standpoint, PVD can transform stainless steel into other colors such as black, gunmetal, or gold. From a practicality point of view, PVD reduces wear and tear on the watch since this particular finish is highly resistant. Furthermore, PVD coating eliminates glare and light reflection, which is very important for military use — particularly if they are trying to remain unseen. In terms of watch clasps and buckles, PVD matte black, PVD rose gold, and PVD yellow gold finishes are all the rage right now.