5 main types of leather watch bands

As leather is a favorite material for watch straps, there are a lot of aftermarket leather bands out there which claim to be “genuine”, but they’re actually “synthetic”. If you are on the hunt for high-quality leather watch bands to put your beloved diving pieces on, it might be a real challenge to choose the right ones since the imitating techniques are getting more and more delicate.

Perhaps a little information about different types of leather would be of some help to you!

Genuine leather types

Well, leather is not simply categorized as genuine or synthetic. The classification of leather is just as complicated as any other material. Based on the condition of animal hide and the dyeing process, we basically have 3 grades of genuine leather:

Aniline leather

Firstly, let’s make clear “What is aniline?” It’s a dyeing chemistry that helps highlight the natural charm of the hide, so it can be assumed that the main role of aniline is not to protect the hide. Only 5% of all hide can be used right after the aniline dyeing process, and called “aniline leather”.

You shouldn’t expect this type of high-quality leather to be low-priced due to its rarity. Since the surface is not coated with pigment, the leather is vulnerable to external impacts, causing the watch strap to wear out or accumulate scars after a few years of using (if you treat it gingerly).

To compensate for being short-lived, aniline leather gives your strap an unmistakably natural feel & look. It’s so pliable that you can bend and twist it in any direction with ease. Every cranny and crease can be seen clearly. Even the natural smell of animal skin is still there on your strap.  

This type of genuine leather is the easiest to distinguish from the faux:

  • The pliability & softness are superb
  • The surface looks very natural with markings and scars on it
  • The subtle smell of animal skin might float into your nose in a short distance

Most leather NATO/Zulu straps are made of this type of calfskin.

Semi-aniline leather

Since aniline leather is too vulnerable, a better protected type of leather is certainly in demand. Semi -aniline leather is among that kind. Its surface is coated by pigment, but not too much, just enough to defend the strap against minor physical abuses.

The thin topcoat doesn’t bury the natural markings below, you can still see most of them clearly, but the feeling is certainly not as good as aniline leather.

The durability of semi-aniline leather is considerably improved compared to that of aniline leather, but its beauty cannot increase with time. Natural leather would get tainted with oil and sweat from your hand & wrist and look attractively antique.A few minor scars or wear-out signals even give your strap a more appealing appearance. You cannot find these traits on a semi-aniline leather strap!

Pigmented leather

This type of leather is merely for practical use: less natural markings, less softness and no more animal-skin smell. A thick pigment coating on the surface makes the leather loose most of its original characters. There are two main reasons why producers have to sacrifice the leather’s natural traits:

  • To improve the leather’s longevity: as I said above, the leather’s durability increases with the topcoat’s thickness. Different customers have different priorities. Some just want the softness and natural look of leather, others need their items to last as long as possible. Most budget wristwatches, which are massively produced, have their bands made of this type of leather, because it’s quite hard for a natural leather strap to be in brand-new state after one or two years in stock with normal storage condition.
  • To cover up imperfections: if the hide is not in perfect condition to be used nakedly, a face-lifting is needed. A thick topcoat would bury all unwanted markings on the surface, giving the leather a flawless (but characterless) appearance.

Pigmented leather is quite difficult to distinguish from synthetic leather as most of its natural characters have been diminished, so it’s hard to tell the differences externally.

Lots of people said that you can test the watchstrap with fire, or cut it and see the inside, etc…But…who allows you to do such things to their products before taking your money?

Synthetic leather types

Unlike genuine leather which is mainly made from animal skin, synthetic leather can be produced by many different methods, with a variety of materials. Based on the main component elements, we can roughly categorize synthetic leather into 2 types:

PU leather

By covering a fabric layer with a soft polyurethane coating, we can produce a new material that looks and feels much like natural leather:

  • Breathable: PU leather has pores on the surface, so it can absorb water, but it’s still easier to clean than natural leather.
  • Pliable: since the inside of PU leather is mainly made of fabric, it’s certainly very easy to twist and bend in any direction.
  • Natural feel: today’s technologies can make the surface of PU leather feel nearly the same with genuine leather.

On surface level, PU leather feels very much like natural leather, but there’s still one trick you can do to minimize your risk of getting a wrong watchstrap: press it with your nail, natural leather is more resilient, it would regain its original shape right after you lift your finger back. PU leather, on the other hand, takes much longer to fully recover or even never, because its inside is made of fabric, which is not as resilient as skin tissues.

PVC leather

This kind of faux leather is mostly made of plastic, you can easily distinguish it from genuine leather, even pigmented leather. It’s very stiff and lacks pliability. A PVC leather strap would break off or be heavily scrimped due to its stiffness. The smell is just like plastic kids’ toy, I bet you already know this kind of smell. PVC leather watchstraps are mainly featured by cheapest fake watches because of their low-quality.


Choosing a right leather watch band can be quite a challenge as the market offers us so many types of products made of different materials. But it’s worthwhile, isn’t it? A high-quality leather strap would push the beauty of your watch to a much higher level.

The information in this writing is just based on my modest knowledge & experience of leather. Thus it can be of some help to you, but it’s not definitely correct in any case. At the end of the day, the seller’s reputation is the most reliable guarantee of your purchase.

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