September marks the Apple Watch’s sixth month on the market, and there are already plenty of accessories available — great Apple Watch stands and battery packs, interesting cases, and lots of replacement wristbands. As time has gone on, I’ve become increasingly interested in replacement bands, as they do the most to change the way an Apple Watch feels. They can also change how the watch looks, but in a more subtle and tasteful way than any of the Apple Watch cases I’ve seen.

Two companies have just introduced premium Apple Watch bands that promise to deliver atypical style for their prices. Long-time Apple case maker Incipio has chosen to focus on fabric bands, offering the new Premium Leather Band ($60) and woven nylon Nato ($40) as upgrades to Apple’s plasticky Sport Bands. By comparison, a younger company called Wristouch is primarily targeting fans of steel bands with Mesh ($69), Oyster ($99), and Meta ($99-$129), each considerably more affordable than Apple’s Milanese Loop and Stainless Steel Link Band. Wristouch also has a band called Rubber ($49) as a same-priced but sturdier alternative to Apple’s Sport Band…

One note up front on all of these bands: although my photos and hands-on testing should provide you with a pretty good sense of what to expect from each band, this is an unusual collection in that everything you see below is subject to small changes. In recent weeks, I’ve noticed an unusual amount of last-minute tweaking taking place with Apple Watch accessory makers, and companies have advised me that they’re making minor improvements that may or may not be obvious to customers. So consider my comments below to be worst-case scenarios, which is actually a good thing, as most of the bands below are really quite nice even in the forms I saw them in.

Key Details:

  • Wide variety of affordable alternatives to Apple’s premium Apple Watch wrist bands
  • Stainless steel and leather options at less than half Apple’s prices
  • Rubber and fabric bands at Apple-like prices
  • Some details subject to change

Incipio’s Premium Leather Band

Incipio’s $60 Premium Leather Band is halfway between Apple’s Classic and Modern Buckles in both design and feel. It uses smooth-grained leather like the $249 Modern Buckle, but a non-magnetic closure like the $149 Classic Buckle, and has a price that’s well below either of them. While the material feels really nice, Incipio’s clasp isn’t quite as hip: it’s boxy, reflective, and subtly marked with the company’s name — the version shown above was near-final, with the Incipio logo shifting to the center of the clasp in the final version I received later. Unlike the black-only Classic Buckle, Incipio offers the Premium Leather Band in ebony black, espresso, and chestnut colors.

I instantly liked the way the Premium Leather Band looked with my Apple Watch Sport; it’s not as distinctive as the Classic Buckle, but it feels great, and apart from little things other people won’t see — the words “Premium Leather” embossed inside, and the close-but-not-authentic Apple Watch attachment posts — it could easily pass for Apple’s more expensive alternative when viewed from most angles. Considering that it’s only $11 more than Apple’s rubber Sport Band, it offers a nice upgrade path without breaking the bank, yet has none of the telltale “cheap band” signs of the $20 Wearlizer leather strap my wife used on her Apple Watch.

Incipio’s Nato

The other Incipio band I checked out is the $40 Nato, which is made from thick woven nylon. It uses the same stainless steel clasp and Apple Watch attachment points as the Premium Leather Band, but its top adds two narrow O-rings to manage a band that’s much larger. The final black version I tested has matching black stitching that’s most visible near those O-rings; an earlier version (shown in these photos) featured brown stitching, and had a right-shifted Incipio logo rather than the final version’s centered logo. You can also choose from olive green or navy blue colors, with either silver or space gray hardware.

I wasn’t as thrilled with Nato as I was with the Premium Leather Band. My wrist size is around 185mm, and I found Nato’s strap length to be a challenge: there was enough tongue to double back on a wrist, where you’ll need to manage it with the O-rings. While I liked the feel of the material, which seemed perfectly suited to use on a hike through the forest or a rainy day run, the band struck me as in need of some tailoring. But if you want an active band that’s durable at a lower price than Apple’s Sport Band, Nato may appeal to you.

Wristouch’s Rubber

While all of Wristouch’s bands will appeal to Apple Watch users, the $49 Rubber solves a problem many readers have identified: it’s a plastic band that looks and feels better than Apple’s Sport Bands. Offered in red or black with silver hardware, Rubber has a grippy outer diamond texture and a traditional tongue-and-clasp design that make it far easier to strap on than the Sport Band, as well as more rugged-feeling during daily wear. Thicker than the Sport Band, it doesn’t in any way detract from the look of the Apple Watch Sport, shifting it from a unisex look to something decidedly more masculine. I really liked this band, and even though the price could stand to be a little more appealing than Apple’s, it has an unmistakable feeling of quality.

Wristouch’s Mesh

My personal favorite of the Wristouch bands is the $69 Mesh, which is the first metal band I’ve seen that can really go toe to toe with the Milanese Loop in aesthetic appeal. Mesh comes in sandblasted silver, black, or “limited edition” camouflage versions, each a thicker, two-piece alternative to the more pliable closed Milanese Loop — at less than half the price. You can self-adjust its size by using a flat-edged screwdriver to pop open a clasp that slides upwards or downwards on the bottom of the band.

During testing, I felt that Mesh was a legitimately impressive band, though I noticed that its clasp has a tendency to click a little when fully closed — really the only thing that kept me from totally loving it. It’s a superb value, and perfect compliment to the Apple Watch Sport if you want to keep a similar look to the much more expensive Milanese-clad Apple Watch. The black version could go well with the space black Apple Watch, which presently doesn’t have a black Milanese option. The camouflage version? Well, it sells for a higher price of $99, and perhaps it’ll be popular with soldiers or fashion warriors.

Wristouch’s Oyster + Meta

The last two Wristouch options are designed to compete with Apple’s stainless steel Link Bands at much more affordable prices. First, there’s the $99 Oyster (Above), a traditional metal watch band, made from solid stainless steel. You can choose from brushed silver, chrome-polished silver, or brushed black versions, each with the sort of heft you’d expect from genuine 316L stainless steel, and a spring-loaded diver clasp in the center.

Considering how much you save relative to Apple’s Link band prices, it wouldn’t be surprising if these looked or felt a lot worse, but they don’t: they’re really handsome in person, and the clasps feel solid. The only thing that’s a challenge is resizing the bands for your wrists: Wristouch suggests that you have links taken out at a watch store, but plans to include a tool to remove the links in the future. I’d call that worthy of a demerit, but then, Wristouch’s price for Oyster is $350 lower than Apple’s for the Link Band, so it’s hard to complain.

Wristouch’s Meta


Meta ($99-$129) is Wristouch’s other Stainless Steel Link Band alternative, and closer to the look of Apple’s design thanks to softer-looking links made from brushed stainless steel. The price differences are based upon three colors: the silver version is $99, with a black brushed version at $119 and a PVD black carbon fiber brushed finish version at $129.

Of all the bands Wristouch announced, Meta was the one that grabbed my attention first because of the huge delta in price relative to Apple’s $449 Link Bracelet, which it greatly resembles. Like Oyster, it looks and feels really nice thanks to Wristouch’s use of genuine 316L stainless steel. The version I tested again required professional assistance (or a self-supplied tool) to remove links for proper sizing — it arrived too loose, with one link pre-removed when it actually needed two links pulled.

But that issue aside, it’s a much better alternative for the dollar than Apple is offering, and the color choices go beyond Apple’s two options. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it if you’re looking for a professional-quality Apple Watch band.

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