If you’re like me, and like to choose exactly what you get, then custom is always a good option for when you can’t find that perfect something (even while saving money, as I’ll detail below).
But with that being said, you need to find a skilled craftsman / business in order to achieve your desired look and quality. This is just as true when looking to get custom watch straps made, as it is with a custom suit for example.
The watch strap to the right, worn on my Omega Seamaster 300 Spectre, is just one example of the six (see below) that I recently ordered from Gordon Straps.
Ryan, the owner and artisan watch strap maker, was a pure pleasure to deal with. So much so that I’ve dedicated this article to the process of designing the strap on my (your) end, as well as his process of actually crafting the bespoke watch strap to your exact specifications.
You’ll see it all: from the idea, to selecting the hide, and finally the finished masterpiece(s)!
This article shall focus on three things [click on any to “jump” to that section]:
I hope you find the page helpful in knowing how to order / design a custom strap, while also giving you an eye-opening experience into what goes into the construction of a high-quality watch strap. Finally, I hope that this article gives you some kindling to get your own creative juices flowing for when you order your own custom watch strap(s).
There is no need to have a huge selection of watches, when you have a wide selection of quality watch straps to completely change the look and feel of your watch. In the picture above the watch is transformed from the left, with a brown leather Horween strap, to the right with the black stingray strap with its purple accents.
The Custom Watch Strap Ordering & Design Process
How To Measure Your Wrist & Watch
You will need to measure your wrist correctly.
I personally prefer to have only three holes on my straps, to give the most custom appearance.
My wrist measures in at 7 3/4″ so I usually like to have buckle hole options at 1/8″ more than that, then at 8 1/8″ and 8 3/8″. This allows “room” for a wrist expansion during hot weather. Furthermore, some straps / leathers can be stiff, so this allows a little comfort room if needed while breaking the strap in.
Note: the tailor’s tape should not be tight around your wrist, snug but not loose.
You’ll also need to measure the distance from spring bar to spring bar. On this Omega it’s 44mm, but I have some vintage watches that are in the mid-30mm range. This is where the one shorter hole can come in handy.
Luckily, the two watches I plan to use these straps on have about the same spring bar distance (Rolex GMT Master II “Batman” and the above featured Omega Seamaster 300 Spectre).
Just to to be 100% confident, and to adhere to the measure twice cut once best practice, you can also measure a strap that you currently use for its “on the wrist” fit.
So in my case these measurements totaled: 44 + 86 + 72 = 202mm or 7.95″. So that is exactly where I wanted the middle hole for my strap, as you can see on the purple toad skin strap below.
Using the same measurement tool as the calipers I have above, or just a ruler (hopefully with millimeters, as this is the standard measurement scale for watch straps) measure between the lugs.
On the watch I have above they measure 21mm across, meaning I need to order a 20mm strap. Most modern watches will typically range between 18 – 22mm, but each 2mm on a watch strap is HUGE! So make sure you get the right size.
From this point you have all the measurements for your custom watch strap, so now the real fun can begin and you can start designing.
Leather & Exotic Material Choices
Going with a maker like Gordon Straps shall give you a huge variety of leather options, including but not limited to:
- Horween leathers (all colors)
- Vegetable tan leather (untreated)
- …and may more exotic options
That’s one of the main reasons why I chose to get straps made by Gordon Straps, as Ryan is a true artisan in every sense of the word. From his procurement of different quality hides, to his unrivaled attention to detail while constructing the straps themselves.
It’s also important to note that the leather you select shall impact the thickness and flexibility of the strap. This can be an issue, especially if you have a smaller wrist. The best thing to do is ask for assistance with this choice if you have any concerns.
Another consideration is going to be if you want the strap to be straight i.e. 20mm the entire length of the strap, or taper down towards the buckle. Tapering might be a good option for a smaller wrist, and more suited to dress watches.
Lastly, you will want to select a leather that fits the “vibe” of your watch. A thick vegetable tan leather may not look good on a vintage dress watch, but could be amazing on a tool watch.
Stitching Options & Thread Color
As you can imagine, there are not only many different leather options, but many thread color and stitching options too.
For me I used Instagram, and Gordon Straps Etsy Store [Note: this is no longer open] for creative assistance in picking these options.
If you couldn’t tell I really like purple, so many of my straps included purple accents. My favorite is the the simple side stitch seen on the right black stingray strap above.
Keeper Options & Buckle Options
Keepers or “loops,” do exactly what you think: they keep the strap in place.
You can opt for one, just like the middle strap below, or one plus a free floating one too, like both side straps below.
As you’ll be going custom, this is not as big a deal as you can have the strap length made to your ideal length. I’ve just got used to having a second keeper, and you can always just slide it off the end if not to your liking.
The buckle can make a pretty big impact to the watch, and should be kept inline with the watch. As these straps are going on two fairly large rugged sporty watches, I selected larger more industrial-sized buckles.
You also have the choice of metal color, and might even opt for a deployment buckle. But you’ll need to talk to Ryan or your strap maker, as these need to have a strap that’s thin enough to fit within its recesses.
Edges & Finishing Touches
This is somewhat dictated by the leather choice. There are the options of: nothing, burnished, and pained (as seen below).
It can seem overwhelming with all of these options and to be fair, it can be. So try to stick to some more basic designs at first. Then you can branch out with some exotic leathers and more unique touches as your collection grows.
Where To Find A Custom Strap Maker
As you can imagine, I highly recommend Gordon Straps as the six straps I have thus far are truly amazing. I also like Threaded Leather which is another Etsy seller, as they make some more rustic style straps.
From there, you can ask your watch enthusiast friends if they “have a guy,” or do as I do and head over to Etsy to explore all the quality makers there.
Unfortunately, there are more and more people on Etsy who now sell pre-made crap (and say otherwise). So I suggest reaching out with a message or two asking for certain customization options, turnaround times, etc… and you’ll soon find out if they are the real deal.
Expected Price Range
Finally about price. For a strap like the ones in this article expect to pay $60 – 120 per strap, depending on the leather and finish. As for the custom strap market in general, that can range from $40 – $300, but from my experience Gordon Straps offers by far the best value for money [please note I receive no compensation for this endorsement].
This is a fraction of what you’ll pay going directly to the watch manufactures such as Rolex, Omega, JLC, Patek Philippe, etc… Prices here range from $200 to around $1,000. This way you also get to support an artisan, while getting exactly what you want! For me it’s a 100% win-win.
How To Make A Luxury Watch Strap [Step-By-Step]
Below is a step-by-step guide / process to show you exactly what goes into making a high end strap (and it’s most likely more then you think!).
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Ryan Gordon for taking the time and effort to photograph his process.This is an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at his process, so please enjoy!
Selecting The Perfect Hide / Exotic Leather
As mentioned above, the base material is going to get the tone of the strap, and its longevity.
Working from the entire hide gives the best scope to pick the finest strap orientation.
Cut Strips Of Leather From Selected Hide
Once the hide is selected, strips are cut from the premium sections of the hide.
Leather Reduced To Correct Thickness
The strips are then split to reduce thickness to the customer’s specifications.
It’s a precise operation to maintain the overall quality of the strap, and ultimately, the feel on the wrist of the wearer.
Digital calipers are used to get exact measurements.
Skiving Leather For Spring Bars & Case Separation
The strips are then skived at the folds to reduce bulk and thickness.
This also allows the watch strap to move freely between the spring bars and watch case.
Leather Glued Together For Permanent Hold
After skiving is complete, the strips are glued, folded, and compressed to ensure a permanent bond.
Note: this process will be quite different for exotic leathers such as a stingray or toad, as they will be backed with soft cow hide.
Strap Shapes Die Pressed From Leather Strips
After the glue has completely dried, the folded strips are moved to the manual clicker press where they are cut to shape using a custom made steel rule die.
The dies are used to cut the strap with a taper from 20mm at the spring bar down to 18mm at the buckle.
Strap Form Given Quick Polish For Next Step
The leather is polished, prepping it for the next stage of construction.
Edge Painting [Most Time Consuming Process]
The edge is finished using an Italian edge paint.
The paint is applied, dried, heated, sanded, and repeated a minimum of 3 times. The edge is finished with a light coat of wax.
The edge is finished with a light coat of wax.
Stitch Holes Prepared
The stitch holes are then prepared for stitching using a diamond chisel.
Watch Strap Stitched Together
The strap is then stitched using Ritza 25 or Lin Cable hand sewing thread using a traditional saddle stitch method.
The ends of thread are cut to size.
Keepers Are Measured, Cut & Stitched
The strap keeper is measured, cut, then stitched.
Typically this is done in the same material, but sometimes it is also done in a contrasting color / material.
Buckle Tang Hole Cut
Spring Bar Openings Heat Treated By Awl
The finishing touches are completed.
Watch Strap Polished With Horse Hair Brush & Final Inspection
The strap is polished and inspected one final time for complete satisfaction.
Sitting Back & Admiring The Masterpiece!
And there you have it, the finished strap.
Now all that needs to be done is attaching it to a watch head, and getting it on the wrist.
Strap On The Wrist
As the strap was made from premium Horween leather and was polished several times, it looks and feels great on the wrist.
This strap, along with the other five purchased for this order, are going to make a great addition to my collection.
Final Thoughts On Custom Watch Straps
Ultimately, it’s far cheaper and more fun to make your own, than going with a manufacturer one.
Finding a top quality maker is going to be the main concern you have, and one that is willing to take time to assist you through your first order.
I, for one, shall be making many more orders in the years to come from Ryan!