Updated: Mar 10, 2021
Watch straps come in many shapes, sizes and styles. In this blog the aim is to uncover some of these variations so that you get a greater understanding of this very unique leather product.
Unlike bags, wallets, shoes, leather jackets or belts, a watch strap serves as a functioning accompaniment to the product that it is holding - a watch.
So, what are the main styles of watch strap construction? Let’s start with a discussion on edges.
The cut edge watch strap.
This is the most popular variety of strap that you will see made, commercially or by individual makers.
The strap is cut to size either by a clicker press and die (think large scale cookie cutter), or by hand with a knife, using a template to follow.
These edges will make use of edge finishing techniques associated with the cut edge, such as a burnish and dye, or edge paint.
Edge paint is the most common here as when applied correctly, will last longer against scuffing than a burnish will on thin leather.
The cut edge is the easiest to complete as it doesn’t require a turnover allowance to be considered during the design stage.
Burnished edges will need to be cut a fraction over size as a burnish compresses the edge.
On the other hand, edge paint will require a cut slightly undersized to allow for various layers of edge paint building up.
Turned edge aka Rembordé.
This is for many, the most luxurious way to finish edges, and it is also the fastest once you acquire the skill of it.
The leather on the surface of the strap is thinned and skived again so that an excess can be wrapped around the filler and tucked under the lining before stitching together.
When executed with the right knowledge, this creates a strap that doesn’t have an edge at all, since it is only the grain layer on show.
The French word Rembordé literally translates to ‘overflow’ or folded edge.
There are other types of edge finish that we could go into, but none that I really believe are worth talking about.
Filler is what gives shape to the body of the strap. This can be a simple taper down to the end, or it can be thinned at the edges to form a raised centre for decoration.
In the video course ‘The Making of Luxury Watch Straps’, I show the techniques to create such a raised centre.
Whereas in the latest video course ‘The Turned Edge Watch Strap’, I keep the filler flat to allow the texture of the small scale alligator to take the design focus.
Filler can be made from various substances, but rarely does one substance alone provide the perfect solution.
Materials range from felt, cork, compressed cotton, high density foam, and of course leather itself.
My preference has always been for a leather filler of vegetable tanned leather, but this can be substituted for combination tanned or even chrome tanned depending on the flexibility required for the finished strap.
Deployant/ deployment clasps, buckles and even sam browne studs can be used to close and secure a leather watch strap.
Buckles are probably the most destructive to a watch strap, even though they are by far the most popular and cheapest option.
No one ever handed over a watch with a buckle strap and uttered the words ‘this used to be your grandfather's daily watch’. They simply don’t last more than a few years of use before becoming a mess.
Buckles do serve to dress down the strap and they can be an appropriate look for more casual watches, especially large watches with a more rugged look.
Deployant clasps are a better better option for luxury watches as they cause much less wear on a strap over time. They offer a neater and more refined look that doesn’t break up the smooth lines of a well constructed strap.
Other more niche closure mechanisms do exist, but not with widespread availability or practicality.
Much like bags, you can tell a premium strap from a casual strap by the presence of a quality lining.
A lining is the interface between the strap and your skin. So it has to be absorbent, breathable, dry out quickly and be hypoallergenic too.
Linings with good compressibility are favoured over stiff linings, and undyed is best as your sweat can cause dye bleed. Leather with a pigment or top finish can also block its breathability.
This means that the ideal leather is delicate and open pored, so care must be taken with glue, dyes and paint during construction.
Matching a strap to a watch
A watch strap design should never visually overpower the watch itself. Otherwise it is like having a very simple piece of art surrounded by an extremely grand and ornate picture frame. The mismatch becomes obvious.
The strap design and colour should ideally accompany the look, design and possibly the colour scheme of the watch that it holds.
The rule of thumb when selecting a strap style is to go with a simple design for a complex or ‘busy’ watch dial.
On the other hand, if your watch face is minimalist, you can be a little more expressive with your strap. Of course, not to the point where it steals the most attention!
For example, the Breitling Navitimer (below), is known for a rather busy dial. But it pairs well with it’s plain black strap and contrast white stitch. This echoes and compliments the dial nicely without adding anymore design 'noise'.
Another consideration is the colour of the dial and any colour details within the dial itself.
For example, you may have a black dial with a red seconds hand. You can then open up your options and create a black strap with red stitching. The strap then becomes a complimentary extension of the watch.
If you wish to play it safe, then black, brown and tan are the best choices, since these will be easier to pair with your shoes, or ideally, your shoes and a belt.
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