While I’ve never seen myself as a key target for Apple’s fashion-oriented approach to the Apple Watch, I have been surprised. From initially wearing the black sport band full-time, I’ve actually come to enjoy having a variety of bands to change up the look.
I do have one of Apple’s woven nylon bands, as well as a third-party copy of the Space Black Link Bracelet (not available in the U.S. unfortunately), but mostly I like leather bands.
I do like Apple’s blend of the modern and traditional in its own range, but also appreciate more traditional craftsmanship in premium third-party bands. I previously reviewed one from Burkley, and this time I tried out a range of bands from German company BandWerk …
As anyone who has ever compared leather products will know, all leathers are not equal. Some ‘genuine leather’ items may technically meet the description, but use the lowest quality leather with poor finishing, stitching and so on.
BandWerk aims to not only offer high-quality leathers, but also to provide greater choice in the type of leathers available. It also offers some bands in nylon and canvas.
The $95 bands are Russia Leather: a cow leather treated with birch oil to produce something which is hard-wearing and provides a reasonable degree of water-resistance. The oil is applied only to the back of the leather, to avoid discoloration on the grain side. The name derives from the fact that the treatment was developed in Russia and, for a long time, was something other leather workers struggled to replicate.
Lamb’s leather bands cost $131. This is a softer leather, which feels supple almost from the start, in contrast to most leathers which can feel quite stiff when new and gradually soften over time.
Finally, BandWerk offers $143 bands in ostrich or cordovan (horse) leather. Ostrich has the edge in exotic appeal, but cordovan is actually the more exclusive leather. As there are no pores, the leather is naturally water-resistant. It also resists creasing, so doesn’t show the bend marks which typically emerge over time with other leathers. This is the reason that it’s often used in high-end shoes.
Unlike cheap leathers, which are often treated with chemicals, all BandWerk leathers are vegetable tanned, meaning they are fine for sensitive skin and those with allergies. In terms of finishing, there’s a choice of traditional white switching, color-matched stitching and plain (no edge stitching).
As standard, all the bands come with a traditional buckle, with a choice of colors to match the finish of your watch. There’s an option to swap for a butterfly clasp for an extra $22.80 – but I don’t recommend that, for reasons I’ll get to.
I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for nice packaging. I know from an environmental perspective we should aim for minimal materials, but at the same time I can’t deny that when I buy a premium product, I do expect the packaging to reflect that. It’s of course one of the things at which Apple excels.
BandWerk’s bands arrive in a wooden case – a light wood with a sliding top for most bands, and a dark wood with a hinged case for the ostrich and cordovan leathers. Inside the box is a rough cloth bag containing the band. It all looks the part, especially if you’re buying it as a gift.
Look & feel
With such a wide range of leathers and finishes, it’s hard to talk in generalities about the look and feel, but all of the bands I tried both look and feel like high-quality, traditional watch bands. Another difference between cheap and premium leather is the quality of the dye. All the colors I tried had a deep, even color, though all but the Cordovan bands will crease and fade over time, as you can see in the gray band above.
The Russia Leather bands feel quite stiff at first, even a little uncomfortable the first few days. I found that they started to feel comfortable after about three days, and were notably more supple after a couple of weeks of wear. Like all good leather, the longer you use it, the softer it gets.
The lamb’s leather felt supple from day one. If you don’t have the patience to wear in a band, this is the option I’d recommend. Cordovan sits somewhere between the two, and is the best option if you prefer the look leather has when new over the worn look it typically develops over time.
One of the things I like about the BandWerk range is that although they use traditional designs, they do include some funkier colors. One of the bands I tried was turquoise, and I really liked the juxtaposition.
Traditional buckles versus butterfly clasps
Although I like a traditional look in watch bands, I’m also lazy. I thus opted for the butterfly clasp on some of the bands I tried – but quickly changed my mind.
In practice, I found that they weren’t actually quicker to put on and take off, and, more importantly, the edges of the butterfly clasp had a tendency to dig in to my wrist. This ranged from somewhat uncomfortable with one band to actually painful on another, whose clasp seemed to have particularly sharp edges.
BandWerk tells me that its experience is that some people find the clasp comfortable, others don’t – so the traditional buckle is the safer bet. Given that there’s no real difference in speed, I’d say go for the buckle every time.
My personal favorites
My favorite band of the eight I tried was the Lamb/Ochre Brown. This was really comfy straight out of the box, it looks as good as it feels, and it’s a classic color that goes with almost anything.
For a more casual look, the Vintage/Grå is really lovely. It’s slightly stiff when first worn, but still comfortable from the start, and softens within a few days of wear.
I love the color of the Leather/Turquoise. The Russia Leather did take a couple of weeks to break in, but felt great once it had done so, and it’s a shade that stands out without looking garish.
Finally, the Cordovan/Black is the one I’d choose to wear with a suit or tux. It has a very traditional look, feels fantastic and is the one that should continue to look almost new years down the line.
Pricing & conclusions
I mentioned that the bands ranged from $95 to $143. If you compare that with Apple’s standard leather bands at $149, BandWerk’s pricing comes in at around two-thirds the price for an equivalent leather to a touch under Apple’s price for a much higher-quality leather.
In terms of value, it all depends what you’re looking for. Cheap leather bands are available from as little as $10. But you do tend to get what you pay for where leather is concerned. For $10-20, you’re going to get a truly horrible leather than feels like cardboard, with stitching that will fall apart, and an equally nasty buckle that will discolor with use.
At the opposite extreme, you can pay almost $500 for a Hermès band whose design is very much a matter of taste, but which uses a soft and high quality calf leather.
Personally, I’d say that $100-150 is going to be the sweet-spot for most people willing to pay a premium for a high-quality band that will look good, feel comfortable and last – but without paying more for the band than you paid for the Watch. That’s the price-band that BandWerk has hit.
I’d say that at the lower end of the BandWerk range, you’re getting a band of equal quality to an Apple one for a worthwhile saving, while at the high end you’re getting something of significantly higher quality for more-or-less the same price. Just be prepared for a fortnight’s wearing-in of the Russia Leather, and steer clear of the butterfly clasp.
BandWerk Apple Watch bands are available direct from the company’s own website, with pricing ranging from $95 to $143.