The Tropic Topic – The Iconic Rubber Watch Strap
In the 1950s recreational diving became a lot more popular and people were beginning to take the hobby up as a leisure pursuit. Exploring and experiencing the underwater kingdom was becoming a real possibility for everybody – who wouln’t love to watch the fish swimming amongst the reefs? The leading watch brands recognised that there was certainly an opportunity to offer both a necessary safety tool for divers, but also a cool statement watch that could be worn both in and out of the ocean. Rolex launched the Submariner, Blancpain the Fifty Fathoms and Omega unveiled the Seamaster 300. In the pre-wrist-mounted dive computer era, these tool watches were vital for divers to time their dives…real life or death stuff. The default option for the watches were stainless steel bracelets, but for those serious about their diving there was another option available – the Tropic strap…
When thinking about Rolex (which we do…a lot, because we love them!) the original riveted Oyster bracelets were well made but had a number of ‘fail points’. If the average bracelet had 12 links, that’s 24 joins, plus the two spring bars and the clasp. It was for this reason that the military specifications demanded that the watches be worn on an under-over or NATO style strap. Additionally, whilst some rivet bracelets were sprung loaded and all Oyster bracelets allowed some re-sizing on the clasp, it certainly wasn’t a quick and versatile system that could immediately cater for changes of wrist size due to water pressure or the need to strap the watch over the top of one’s wetsuit sleeve. What divers needed was a secure and easily adjustable strap that could also withstand the rigour of regular use and often prolonged periods in salt water. Leather straps could do this but there was a solution. Step forward the Tropic strap. First appearing in the 1950s, the Tropic brand of straps were fashioned in the same way as a regular leather buckle strap but made out of a supple and durable rubber. They could easily be fitted to almost any watch and they were easy to adjust to the required size in a matter of seconds. And they were an instant hit which doesn’t seem to have ever fallen out of favour, with thestraps being as popular today as they were back then. That’s a pretty good six-decade record!
It’s very telling of the high quality of these straps, that many of the brands officially retailed Tropic straps as approved options for customers. In today’s context, changing your strap is a common activity for almost all watch collectors. Its rare or even unheard of now for brands to offer such third-party accessories. Rolex were selling Tropic straps through their official outlets as recently as the late 1990s. I know, anecdotally, that for $19.99 (in the 1990s) you could take your Submariner into a Rolex Service Centre and have your watch put on a black Tropic strap and placed in a green suede Rolex service pouch. Blancpain also officially offered the Tropic as a strap option for the Fifty Fathoms and The French National Navy, the Marine Nationale (MN), also fitted the Tudor Submariners that they issued to their divers.
The Tropic strap is as instantly recognisable as it is versatile. The straps were essentially available in two styles or types. The first and arguably the most popular was the ‘basket-weave’ finish with small perforations and two ‘spines’ on the outer edges. The second version was flat (with out spined edges) with a mock-leather print finish with large punched holes along the strap’s length. The punched holes are largest at the watch end and reduce towards the buckle inline with the narrowing of the strap. The straps could be finished with straight ends or curved ends to fit the contours of the watchcase.
The Tropic is as popular in the 21st century as it was in the 1950, 60s and 70s. Vintage versions and modern interpretations can be seen on both vintage watches and modern watches. Remember that Double Red Seadweller on a white Tropic strap at the Passion Meeting a few years back? And what about the Oris Diver 65 with modern interpretation of the Tropic? It really is as popular and versatile as the nylon NATO strap, which can be seen on every kind of watch at the moment. Whether you want to wear the strap for its original sub-aqua intended use or as a cool style choice, the Tropic packs a punch and is the strap for all seasons.
Bulang Is Tropic
We are delighted have been able to launch our own collection of Tropic straps here on Bulang and Sons. As they are some of our favorite straps over the last 14 years of collecting …