Our Journey: Finding the Best Leather Watch Straps

Watches are like motorcycles or cars – you buy them because they express a little part about yourself.  When I had a motorcycle (miss it dearly, it’s just not practical living in New York City), it represented a lot more than just an incredible piece of machinery to me. It was more about getting from one place to another. Rather, especially when I first got the bike, it represented my sense of independence, freedom from a fear of danger and personal expression as a rebel of sorts. As the bike aged with me, I customized it more and more with the slightest of touches to reflect my personal sense of style.

When I consider buying a watch, it reminds me a little bit of my motorcycle. Besides the obvious differences between a motorcycle and a watch, they both have one thing in common, there’s an overall look where a watch will just “speak” to you, just like a bike. And then you can start to customize it and the best way to customize it is by pairing it with the right strap or, better yet, straps.

More Than One

My rule of thumb: you can’t just go with any old strap. It’s too much of an important selection.

In particular, when looking through all of the many (many, many, many) options, I had to balance finding a strap that not only looked good with Diefendorff’s four different dial colors, but also had the right level of detail. The stitching - the threads in the actual leather - had to work will with the design of our 1776 case. As we tried on strap after strap, the stitching in some straps were too “quiet” next to the watch and some were definitely too “noisy.” Then there’s also the color of the strap itself, there’s a surprising variety of browns and even blacks. Some of them just didn’t look right.

And oh yes, as if those weren’t enough options, you can also look into other colors beside brown and black as well. There are grays and oranges and greens. And that’s just leather! There are also so-called NATO straps, usually made of nylon. And then there are alternative animal skins such as crocodile, alligator and not to mention the alternative materials such as rubber. Then, we can forget that there is metal! Gee, have I mentioned that there are a lot of options?

How to Pick a Watch Strap

When things are getting overwhelming, I create a framework to bring focus. First and foremost, there’s the obvious criteria – if we’re going to sell them on our site, the straps have to fit our watches in both size and style. And they have to be high-quality. Those are our non-negotiable items.

But to narrow further, our leather straps will:

  • Be Made in the USA
  • Use vegetable (natural) dyed leather

We’ll explain more about why we made these choices. But in short, we’re choosing Made in the USA straps in order to support American manufacturing and craftsmen and craftswomen. Vegetable dyed leather is much better for the environment and is actually the traditional method of preparing leather, going back – literally – thousands of years. Although wristwatches didn’t exist during Henry Diefendorff’s time, leather of course did and this was the most commonly used dyeing technique.

These two simple additional pieces of criteria narrow things down considerably. It brings down both the number of actual straps to look at, but also the number of potential suppliers, too.

The Surprising Challenge: Finding a Great Strap Supplier

As we looked to start the Diefendorff watch company, we knew that getting our straps right was important.  So, we began reaching out. And that’s where the challenge started. One of the surprises in starting this company has been how difficult it is to line up suppliers. To find one supplier, you usually have to contact a dozen or two dozen different companies. Surprisingly, a number of those emails or phone calls never get returned.

With the two criteria we outlined above, this list of suppliers narrowed even further. A lot of the US-based craftsmen and women we contacted either a) didn’t work with vegetable dyed leather b) couldn’t do the number of straps that we needed c) were not available to make straps on a wholesale basis or d) were not available to do so in a timeframe that we needed.

Where Are We Now?

We began our search for a leather strap supplier in earnest about two months ago. Good times.

Today we’re going to visit a supplier we feel good about. This company, at least through our initial discussions and emails can meet our criteria with materials, process and country of origin. Plus, we’ll be able to visit them and see where and how the actual straps are produced. It’s important to witness that and it’s a great opportunity to learn. In addition, they also have a deep bench of style options and now that we have all of our prototypes in (!), we’ll be able to see how the options look in real life. Nice. 

What About Metal?

Oh yea, and there’s metal bracelets as well.

Without question, this is the number one question we receive from potential customers: are you going to offer it with a metal bracelet, too? Short answer is, yes! The longer answer is… well, we’ll do another blog post on how we’re picking our stainless-steel metal bracelets, it’s just as much as an adventure! Stay tuned…