Apple now has an entirely new category of Apple Watch designed for outdoor adventurers and extreme sports enthusiasts: the Apple Watch Ultra. The new wearable is larger, more durable, and more rugged than any model Apple has released in the past. It even comes with some rugged new Apple Watch bands to match the more adventurous design.
However, its 49mm size likely has you asking at least one obvious question: Will my existing Apple Watch bands work with the Apple Watch Ultra?
Thankfully, the short answer to that question is “yes.” All bands made for the prior 42mm, 44mm, and 45mm Apple Watch models will fit the 49mm Apple Watch Ultra. However, if you’re picking up an Apple Watch Ultra for the purpose for which it was designed, the answer is a bit more nuanced.
While older Apple Watch bands will properly mount onto the larger Apple Watch, they may not look quite right. The Apple Watch Ultra is the most significant jump in size to ever come to Apple’s wearable. Many older watch bands will likely appear undersized and out of place against its considerable bulk.
Apple has done a commendable job of maintaining band compatibility across its entire lineup of Apple Watch models. A watch band purchased for the original 2014 Apple Watch can still be used with this year’s Apple Watch Series 8 and even the Apple Watch Ultra.
Apple Watch bands have always come in only two standard widths: small and large. The small bands fit all 38mm, 40mm, and 41mm Apple Watch models, while the larger bands are for the 42mm, 44mm, and 45mm models, plus the 49mm Apple Watch Ultra.
For the first few years after its release, the Apple Watch only came in two sizes: 38mm and 42mm. However, in 2018, Apple released the Apple Watch Series 4 in larger 40mm and 44mm sizes, leading many to fear they’d have to purchase new bands if they wanted to upgrade to Apple’s latest wearable.
However, even though the screen size of each Apple Watch Series 4 model increased by 4mm over its respective predecessor, the Apple Watch casing only grew by 0.7mm on the smaller Apple Watch and 1.6mm on the larger model. The spacing of the band mounts remained the same,
When Apple increased the size of the Apple Watch display again with the Series 7 in 2021, it changed the width of the wearable even less. The 45mm Apple Watch Series 7 is the same 38mm width as the Series 4 through Series 6 models, while the smaller 41mm Series 7 grew only by a single millimeter in that direction. This year’s Apple Watch Series 8 has the same physical dimensions as its predecessor.
With such relatively small increases, there wasn’t a need for Apple or third-party manufacturers to even retool their watch bands. The total difference in width from the first-generation Apple Watch to this year’s Series 8 is 1.7mm on the smaller 41mm model or 1.6mm for the larger 45mm version. Original Apple Watch bands don’t look out of place on an Apple Watch Series 8.
The Apple Watch Ultra is an entirely different beast. The 49mm screen is accompanied by a casing that’s 44mm wide — an increase of 6mm from the Apple Watch Series 8. That’s about a quarter of an inch of extra width.
Despite this increase, Apple has carefully positioned the mounts to fit existing Apple Watch bands without problems. Still, the Apple Watch Ultra is a behemoth compared to prior models. It’s not only wider, but it’s also 3.7mm thicker. A standard Apple Watch band will likely make the Apple Watch Ultra seem more prominent and out of place on your wrist.
There’s a reason why the Apple Watch Ultra comes with entirely new and unique Apple Watch bands. As implied by their names, the Alpine Loop, Trail Loop, and Ocean Band are designed for a rugged outdoor life: mountain climbing, hiking, and diving. The Ocean Loop is even designed to fit over a wetsuit.
The Apple Watch Ultra makes a statement, but there’s a good chance you’ll be making the wrong statement if you try to wear it with a band made for a standard Apple Watch. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. The Apple Watch Ultra is a tool for those who plan to undertake serious and demanding outdoor activities. Don’t settle for a feeble standard Apple Watch band; choose a band that reflects the adventurous lifestyle for which Apple’s premium wearable was made.