"Collecting" watches can be expensive, very expensive. So, as much fun as it is to keep rotating through and buying new watches, it isn't always practical (or sustainable). There is, however, a way to fight this and keep you watches fresh: changing straps and bracelets. Simply changing the strap or bracelet of a watch can completely change the look, personality, and feel, and it's the least expensive way to kind of have a "whole new watch"...kind of. The options of straps and bracelets is pretty endless, and even just talking about straps is pretty expansive, so I'm going to proceed mostly referring to the current vogue of "vintage style" leather straps.
These straps are generally pretty simple; no padding, no exotic leathers, and a lot have contrast stitching. Because of the simplicity, a lot of the focus goes into the leather itself, and where it's sourced from as well as who makes it. Also due to the simplicity, there are a lot of individuals that make straps on their own, either selling through Etsy, eBay, watch forums, instagram, etc. The quality, attention to detail, and price can vary quite a bit a result. Those that know me, know I'm usually seeking out a very high quality product, but not at the premium price. Straps can start as low as $40 or so on the forums, with a lot around $60, like these from Holben's Watch Bands and B&R Bands, to $150+ from some of the bigger names in taste making like these from HODINKEE and Bulang & Sons. The leather and the name of the tannery can influence the price (and quality), with one of the biggest names being Horween. Horween Leather Company is one of the oldest leather tanneries in America, and they're still going strong today, making quality leather right in Chicago. Being that I grew up in Northern Illinois, and Hoween's leathers are pretty gorgeous, I decided I wanted these custom straps to be made with one of Horween's best leathers, Shell Cordovan. Shell Cordovan is made from a specific section of equine hindquarters and is known for it's rich appearance, soft feel, and longevity. Horween's Shell Cordovan is regarded as some of the best.
I've had and still have a few vintage style leather straps along the way, but I always held off from getting a shell or really nice leather strap until my small stable of watches settled in and I learned what exactly I wanted in a strap. That time recently came, and knew I wanted the quality and stitching to be very good, able to specify strap length for my smaller wrists, have double keepers for the strap, and I had finally settled on a couple of colors and styles with specific watches in mind. One of the watch forums I regularly visit, OmegaForums.net, has a sales section for straps and accessories, and I had long seen and heard great reports of the straps Jan makes. Jan, from Slovakia, often posts straps for sale on OmegaForums or his own website, www.jankoxxx.eu. He is very responsive and easy to work with, especially given that I had very specific requests of my order (go figure, right?).
I ordered two straps, both in Horween Shell Cordovan, both 105 / 70 mm long, and both with double keepers. The first was a more versatile 18 mm wide at the lugs, 16 mm buckle, vintage side stitch strap in, "whiskey", a lighter brown Jan has trouble keeping in stock, because it's so good. Almost all of my watches are 18 mm lug width and I wanted this to just be a great versatile strap that could easily be interchanged and last for many years, and it delivers. This batch or at least this leather is actually a little more muted in color than I was anticipating, almost a slightly more putty brown, but it is warm and classy nonetheless. And, it works on a lot of watches - I really didn't buy it with this 3647N Carrera in mind, but I'm sure it won't be the last time it sees this watch.
The watch I intended to put it on right away looks great with it. As and aside, I love how versatile this watch is. I have the original beads of rice bracelet, which exudes that 60's class, it's a super compressor diving case, so it works on a rubber Tropic strap, and it's also a GMT watch, so it gets classed up a bit when you hit the skies with it on leather. The side stitching adds just enough contrast for the strap to hold up to the chunky super compressor case, and the leather feels amazing.
The second one was very specific at 17 mm wide for this early 1960's Universal Geneve with Microtor movement. This strap is in Horween's Color #8, which is oxblood, or a very dark reddish brown. I knew I didn't want the usual vintage side stitch on this one, to keep it slightly dressier, and described to Jan that I also didn't want the stitching to contrast too much. He nailed it, the simple stitching in the gold/khaki color compliments the indices on the dial extremely well, and the rich color of the Color #8 really adds a contemporary and very versatile sophistication, in my humble opinion. This strap is replacing one of a lighter shade of a reddish brown, kind of a tobacco, that I actually liked, but was prematurely cracking, since it was on the cheaper side. I love how comfortable this strap is, the leather was so soft and supple from the second I put it on, and it just wears great. I couldn't be happier with how it turned out.
I hope my modest iPhone pictures capture just how much a strap change can really alter the personality and feel of a watch. And on the wrist, it's great to get you excited to wear a piece all over again.
I found Jan's pricing to be very reasonable, and now that I've had them for awhile, that rings even more true. This pricing depends on the leather used an quantity purchased, but being that it's kind of in between the "name brands" and smaller guys, I think it strikes a great balance of quality and price. If you keep an eye on the forums, he will sometimes markdown some existing inventory to make room for new as well. The straps ship all the way from Slovakia, at a very reasonable rate, and in a surprisingly reasonable amount of time. Plus, just look at the care he goes through when shipping them!
If you're looking for Shell Cordovan, or any nice leather watch straps, send Jan an email at xxxStraps@gmail.com, or go to his website, www.jankoxxx.eu, you won't be disappointed.