As part of my exploration of the manufacturing techniques behind Apple's leather watch straps, I've been tearing down and performing some (mostly unscientific) tests on a Loop band. This is an intensely constructed item. Apple is deploying some very exotic adhesives, advanced materials (hint: it's really a Vectran strap with leather trim), and manufacturing trickery I still can't quite figure out. In short, this Loop band is one of the most impressive pieces of soft goods engineering I've seen.
In parallel, I'm also working on a somewhat exhaustive guide about caring for the Apple Watch, and thought I would do some experiments with the bits of the Loop band I have to see just what the water resistance is. Mostly unscientific, I'm just performing soak and air dry cycles with room temp, RO filtered tapwater.
For the strap I acquired, I've only disassembled one end of one of the two bands (hoping to uncover better ways of dissecting the other parts without so much destruction). I intentionally used the half of the turnabout band that had already been cut, hoping to test the worst case scenario - water saturation on a large portion of leather where the top skin had been compromised.
So far, this chunk of strap has been through 4 different soak cycles. Three of those cycles were a 10 minute soak, followed by air drying at room temp. The latest cycle was a full 8 hour overnight soak. Drying takes about 3 hours.
The result? The leather shows zero visible signs of damage, zero texture change. As far as these (again, unscientific) tests are showing, the leather on Apple's Loop band is essentially waterproof.
Now, the disclaimer - I would not actually go out of my way to get this strap wet. My theory is, Apple does not caution against getting them wet due to water, but because of the contaminants in most of the water we would soak it in. Your shower? Full of soap that can intrude into the fibers, causing long-term irritation. Pools? Chlorine, which will eat away at the fibers and also cause irritation. Saltwater? Entraps salt particles that act like little saw blades on the fibers over time, weakening them. As such, if you want to participate in those activities, snag a Sport band, Milanese or Link bracelet.
What these tests do tell us though, is a couple of good things:
- If you do fall in a pool, or decide to go for an impromptu swim in the ocean, I would (while it's still wet) immediately rinse your Watch band in fresh water in an attempt to flush chlorine or salt out of it as best you can.
- Rain or incidental full contact with water really won't be a problem for your Apple leather band. Don't go out of your way to soak these things, but don't freak out if it happens on accident.
- Those of you in humid climates, or if you sweat a whole lot (during a workout), you can and should clean your leather straps regularly. The salt and acids from sweat are far worse on your band than water, so I would clean your strap with a damp cloth every few days to get the built-up salt deposits off as frequently as you can.
Apple has an interesting recent history of under-promising and over-delivering when it comes to hardware durability. We've seen the water resistance of the watch repeatedly get pushed far beyond Apple's claims without issue, while the new iPhone 6s seems to be able to take a serious soaking. My belief is that we're seeing Apple responding to the tremendous scale of the enterprise; when you sell a million of something every day, people are going to do stupid things with them. You can fight the PR campaign of destructive YouTube videos and sensationalist reports by showing your testing procedures (not very successful), or you can simply overbuild the product to the point where destroying it takes actions of a true Mr. Bozo to the point where nobody will use individual, sensationalized incidents to paint the product as defective. Apple is clearly on a strategic tear to implement the latter strategy, and the work they are doing is quite impressive.