7 minutes

How to Shorten a Watch Bracelet

By Tim Breining
How to Shorten Metal Watch Bracelets

How to Shorten Metal Watch Bracelets

Metal sports watches with integrated bracelets are more popular than ever before, and stainless steel and titanium timepieces are riding the wave. Unlike leather and fabric straps, getting the right fit is a bit trickier, but if you’re not the type that runs to your watchmaker for every small errand, you’ve toyed with the idea of shortening or extending your watch’s bracelet yourself. We’ve put together instructions on how to do this without scratching or otherwise damaging your bracelet. There are of course different bracelet types, so feel free to skip to the paragraph that interests you.

Tools Needed for Shortening a Metal Bracelet

Before we tell you how to resize your steel watch bracelet, we’ll first have to touch on the tools you’ll need. Although it is possible to adjust the length of some band types with things you have lying around the house, I strongly advise against it. You’ll get frustrated if the paper clip or needle you’re using to push the pins out starts bending, and handling small parts without tweezers is finicky work. Not to mention that it’s pretty much a given that you’ll scratch your watch if you don’t have something stable to put it on while you’re working.

Luckily, you’ll have no trouble finding generic tools or entire tool sets at really low prices. If your watch is expensive, you’d be better off turning to companies like Bergeon or Dumont for professional quality that’s much less likely to result in any unsightly damage.

The recommended tools are:

  • A spring bar tool to remove the bracelet from the watch and to precisely adjust the length of many bracelet types.
  • A pin punch set with a hammer, different punches, and a holding block to keep the bracelet in place.
  • Tweezers to handle the small pieces, like pins and collars.

Whether you go for the most affordable tools or a professional kit, you’ll be glad to have them. These tools will help you resize almost all types of metal bracelets.

If you’re interested, I wrote another article where I go through the top 5 must-have watch tools and accessories.

Teile eines (sehr preisgünstigen) Stiftausschläger-Sets.
Parts of a (very low cost) pin punch set.

Metal Bracelets With Pins

The most common watch bracelet design is the kind where the links are held together by pins, which aren’t screwed or glued, just held in the links by friction. Annoyingly, the most common design is also the most troublesome. There’s a lot to go over, which is why this article will deal mostly with pinned bracelets.

There are two types: bracelets with split pins and bracelets with cylindrical pins and collars. There are small but important nuances when it comes to adjusting them, which is why we’ll mention them several times in this guide.

So, how do you know if your bracelet has pins? Start by check the holes on the links to see if the pins there don’t have a screw head. Look closely: split pins can easily be mistaken for slotted screws at one end, so it’s best to check both sides. What’s more obvious are the engraved arrows typically found on the inside of the bracelet, which indicate the direction in which the pins should be punched out. If your bracelet has these arrows, then you know for sure that you’re dealing with a bracelet with pins.

Instructions for Shortening Your Watch Bracelet

1. Preparation

First ask yourself if you have explored all possibilities for resizing your bracelet without removing any links. This is often a matter of repositioning a spring bar in the clasp, something that can be done with just a spring bar tool. If you can’t get around shortening or lengthening the band, there are a few points to consider before getting started.

Look at the watch on your wrist and think carefully about how many links you want to remove or add, and at which points, so the clasp stays centered on the bracelet. Do you have links of different lengths to adjust the size even more precisely? The less you have to do, the less the risk of scratches and expletives!

2. Remove the bracelet from the watch

Now you need to remove the bracelet from the watch itself, so have your spring bar tool at the ready. If your watch has lug holes, you can go ahead and use the cylindrical side of the spring bar tool to squeeze the spring bar and gently push the bracelet’s end link out. If you don’t see these holes, you’ll have to use the forked end of the spring bar tool on the back of the lugs to push in the collars of the spring bars. Or, if you’re lucky, your watch has a quick release system that you to remove the band without the need for any tools.

3. Remove the pins

Once you’ve removed the bracelet, place it in the holding block that came with the pin punch set. It has valleys for bracelets of different widths and holes for knocking out the pins with a punch and hammer.

The arrows on the bracelet should be pointing down. Remember, the arrows show you the direction the pins should be punched out, not the side that they’re put in! If only some of the links have arrows, this is a fairly sure sign that the others are fixed in place and cannot be removed. Even if it looks like there are pins in the holes, don’t try to get them out.

Der Stift kann jetzt ausgeschlagen werden.
The pin is ready to be punched out.

Now select the punch with the most suitable diameter, i.e., the one that fits best into the hole of the link. You can start to punch out the pin with careful taps. Make sure that the punch is centered, especially for the first few knocks. A well-meaning tap on the punch that then hits the metal link instead of the pin is guaranteed to leave a permanent mark.

Once the pin is poking a good bit out of the other side of the link, see if you can take it out with your fingers or tweezers. Don’t reach for the pliers unless absolutely necessary; you run the risk of bending the pin, especially if it’s a split pin!

Ein gestiftetes Band mit zylindrischem Stift, der nur mithilfe einer kleinen Hülse das Glied zusammenhält.
A bracelet with cylindrical pins that hold the link together with small collars.

The bracelet links separate once the pin is fully removed. This is where the procedure differs depending on the type of pin. Look closely at the one you just took out: If it’s split, continue with step 4.

If it’s completely cylindrical, there’s likely a collar in the link that holds the pin in place. These collars are tiny, and are super easy to lose when fiddling with the pins and links. If this happens, the pins won’t fit snugly when reassembling the bracelet and can even slide right back out again. That said, make sure you know exactly how the collar fits before you take it out, and remember which hole you removed it from.

Using tweezers, remove the collar from the link and carefully put it to the side with the corresponding pin. Most collars are split and very thin, so be gentle.

Repeat this step for every link you want to remove or add.

4. Reassemble the links and pins

The next step is to arrange the bracelet in its new configuration and punch the pins back in. This is always done against the direction of the arrows engraved on the links.

Links ein zylindrischer Stift, rechts ein geschlitzter.
A cylindrical pin is shown on the left, a split pin on the right.

Place two link ends together and, for split pins, insert the pin with the narrower, non-split side until you feel resistance. This should offer enough stability for you to be able to put the bracelet in the holding block. For pins with collars, first place the collar in the corresponding hole in the link. Then insert the pin until you feel resistance.

Place the part of the bracelet you wish to assemble in the holding block, making sure that the hole on the link coincides with the hole in the holding block to avoid accidentally punching the pin into the holder.

Gently tap the pin with the hammer until it is flush with the link. If necessary, use the softer side of the hammer for the last few taps to avoid damaging the surface of the link.

The bracelet might seem relatively stable, but the pin is usually not central enough at this stage, meaning the link is still loose on one side. Use the punch to hammer the pin again. Check to see if the pin appears to be at about the same depth in the hole on both sides. It’s helpful to use one of the other pins that you didn’t remove to help you judge. This step is important, as you definitely don’t want the bracelet to come loose while you’re wearing it.

Watch Bracelets With Screwed Links

This bracelet type requires almost no explanation, and resizing is pretty cut-and-dry. As you might have suspected, the screws on both sides of the links need to be loosened to detach the links, and tightened again to reassemble the bracelet.

The tricky part is handling tiny screwdrivers, as clumsy fumbling can leave scratches or damage the screw head. The screws should be tightened firmly, but not too forcefully, even if temptation is great for fear of loosening the screws.

Eine Grand Seiko SBGA373 mit geschraubten Gliedern.
The bracelet of the Grand Seiko SBGA373, which has screwed links.

Milanese Bracelets and Other Special Types

Some steel mesh Milanese bracelets have a sort of clamp mechanism, which you can simply slide up and down to adjust the overlapping part of the band. Other Milanese bracelets have a few segments with spring bars on their clasps, which can be used to adjust the length. Certain link bracelets have spring bars in each individual link.

Verkettet: Breitling Superocean Heritage 46 mit Milanaise-Armband. The Milanese bracelet seen on the Breitling Superocean Heritage 46.

Folded Link Bracelets

Although rarely seen on luxury watches nowadays, this bracelet type can be found on vintage timepieces such as early Seiko 5 models. While there are arrows engraved on the inside of the bracelet, it has no pins. Instead, you need to use a pointed tool to push a metal piece in the direction of the arrow to remove it from the link, then push it back in when reassembling the bracelet.

So, that’s how you can resize your watch bracelet without going to a professional. Once you know which band type you’re dealing with, all it takes is the right tools and a little patience, and you should be able to get a snug fit without leaving any evidence behind on your timepiece. Good luck!

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About the Author

Tim Breining

My interest in watches first emerged in 2014 while I was studying engineering in Karlsruhe, Germany. My initial curiosity quickly evolved into a full-blown passion. Since …

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