The undermined hero of the watch world: The spring bar
Watch enthusiasts or anyone reading this blog might not think twice before having their watch strap changed. Either we do it ourselves or we have the watch-tinkerer do it. I am sure you have not given much thought to the brilliant idea that holds our watch and interchangeable straps. Yes, you guessed it right! It is the spring bar!
The genius invention was conceived at the dawn of the era of wristwatches. Long before the golden age of watches. Even though wristwatches have been around since the times of Napolean and his sister (One of the earliest examples of wristwatches was when Napolean gifted his sister a Patek Philippe watch), they were largely considered a semi-functional piece of jewelry adorning the wrists of the females of the nobility because they were not as precise as required by men.
When men deemed the wristwatch to have achieved accuracy high enough (and also they wanted to look like their WW1 heroes who started sewing pocket watches with soldered lugs onto their trench coats), they started wearing them. Once the brands took notice of the new trend (then deemed fad by the elite nobles and the older men who would certainly be proved wrong later on), brands started making dedicated wristwatches.
The wristlets (an archaic term for wristwatches), however, were still manufactured in the Do-It-Yourself fashion. Lugs were soldered onto pocket-watches, and Nato or Zulu style leather straps were attached to these as there was no other way of fastening the strap to the watch.
This is one of the earliest brevets for a spring bar granted to Gruen.
Cartier already used another method on their Santos from the early 20th century, but this is still the norm as it is easy to use. Several different patents were also filed after this, but this is one of the oldest ones.
The spring bar, however boring and unserviceable it may be, is an essential part of modern or vintage wristwatches. We have to throw it away once it is unusable, but without it, we would still be most probably stuck on 1 piece straps.
A spring bar works simply. You take a spring bar removing tool and put its toothed mouth between the watch strap and the lug. You pull it inwards and voila! It is out! For drilled lugs, you can use the pin end of the tool. Push the pin end into the drilled lug hole, and tug the strap away!.
I should also mention here quick-release spring bars. They are almost like normal spring bars but have an additional gimmick. These do not require a spring bar tool to remove them! They have a tab underneath the strap, which when pulled, releases the watch strap from the watch easily and without damaging the watch or the strap.
However, spring bar failures are not uncommon! As a solution, people created the Nato strap. But, they do more harm than good! You might think as you see your watch dangling on for life with one spring bar and one failed on a nato strap and wonder "Oh my god! If I were not wearing a nato and were wearing a leather strap or metal bracelet, this watch would have fallen off!"
But you will most probably be wrong! As the spring bar is Not fully encased in the strap, the movement of the watch sliding up and down on your wrist can cause the bar to pop off due to the nato strap rubbing on one side! So you might be better off wearing a leather strap or bracelet.
I am not completely opposing Natos, I love them! However, I am just saying that you should not call a leather strap or a bracelet useless as they may turn out to be more secure than a nato!
So next time, when you change or have your watch strap changed, do appreciate the mechanics, brains, love, and effort put into making a removable bar to enjoy your watch on different straps!
If you have not yet read my story on watch straps, Click here!