By LBS on Thu 21 September 2023
Knowledge: What Makes a Leather Watch Strap Premium?
As a watch strap seller, you've likely encountered the question: "Why does this strap cost more than that one, even though they both appear similar?" It's a valid enquiry. Two seemingly identical leather watch straps can possess a world of differences that set them apart in terms of quality and value. To equip you with the knowledge needed to not only distinguish between these straps but also successfully upsell them, this article delves into the characteristics that elevate a watch strap to premium status.
Part 1: Leather Quality
The quality of the leather is one of the main factors in determining the comfort, durability, and overall value of a watch strap.
What are the Different Grades of Leather Used in Watch Straps?
Diagram Showing Different Grades of Leather
Full Grain Leather
Full Grain Leather is at the top of the quality chain and is used for premium watch straps. Only blemish free hides are selected and when the leather is processed, only the hair is removed. The hide then goes straight into the tanning process. The advantage of full grain leather is that all the oil absorbing natural properties are retained. Also, Full Grain Leather is stronger and more durable as the entire thickness of skin is used. Furthermore, it patinas beautifully and is very comfortable to wear.
Top Grain Leather
Top Grain Leather is the second highest quality leather and tends to be used in more affordable watch straps. It’s called Top Grain because the top layer is sanded or buffed away to remove any imperfections. Although this means that the leather looks good, the removal of the top layer inevitably makes it weaker than Full Grain. Also, it won’t patina in the same way. Top Grain Leather is also often used to make grained straps. The leather is embossed with a pattern to resemble alligator, crocodile, or other exotic skins.
Although the term Genuine Leather can be used to describe any type of leather, for watch straps it can be used in economy straps to refer to the lowest level of the hide. A machine is used to split the hide crossways into three layers. The top layer is the Top Grain. The bottom layer is Suede. The middle layer is the least fibrous part and is sometimes known as Genuine Leather. It is leather, but it is by no means the best quality and won’t last or wear as well as higher grades.
What are the Different Animal Leathers Used in Premium Watch Straps?
Cow Hide and Calf Leather
Leather mostly comes from cattle as a byproduct of the meat industry. Leather made from the hide of the adult cow is known as the most versatile leather. Cow leather can be soft, thick and abrasion resistant which makes it a good choice of leather for heavy duty wear.
Calf Leather is made from the hides of young cows. Calfskin leather watch straps are often favoured by luxury watch brands due to their high-quality look and feel.
Sheep and lamb skin is very soft, supple, and light weight making it an ideal choice for premium watch straps.
Leather made from deer skin is tough with high tensile strength. It’s also abrasion resistant and offers high durability. The skin of the deer is extremely soft and comfortable.
Genuine Alligator and Crocodile Leather as well as Stingray are used to make watch straps for the most high-end luxury brands. They should come exclusively from breeding farms and fully respect the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Specifies of Wild Fauna and Flora) rules. This is an international agreement between governments which aim to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival (all LBS straps conform to the CITIES rules).
How Does the Tanning Process Influence the Quality of the Strap?
Tanning is the process that turns animal hides and skins into leather. Tanning prevents decay and leather is the name for the durable, finished article.
There are two types of tanning: chrome (or ‘mineral’) tanning and vegetable tanning.
Chrome tanning is a fast, economical process using chemicals.
Vegetable tanning is more expensive and takes much longer. Vegetable Tanned Leather is a sign of quality. Using only natural materials such as tree bark, fruit, and leaves, the colour of the finished leather has rich tones of natural browns. Also, vegetable-tanned leather is more environmentally friendly than other types of leather as it does not use any harmful chemicals in the tanning process. Best of all, vegetable tanned leather has a wonderful smell!
Part 2: Strap Construction
After the quality of the leather, the construction of the strap is the next most important factor in determining whether it qualifies as a premium accessory.
Cut Edge Watch Strap
The Cut Edge Watch Strap is the most popular strap you’ll see on the market. The leather is either cut by hand or using a die and cutter. The raw edge is then finished either using burnish and dye or edge paint.
Diagrams showing both a flat and a padded strap with a Cut Edge
Although economy straps tend to have a cut edge, this is not to say that a premium strap won’t. A strap made from the highest quality Full Grain Leather could have a beautifully finished cut edge.
The edges of a watch strap being painted by hand. Photo credit: Morellato
Turned Edge or Rembordé Strap
For many, a Rembordé strap is an indicator of a premium watch strap. An excess of leather is wrapped around the filler and tucked under the lining. It is then stitched together. Turning the strap in this way means it doesn’t have an edge as the grain follows seamlessly to the lining. The French word Rembordé literally translates to ‘overflow’ or ‘folded edge’.
Diagrams showing both a flat and a padded strap with a Rembordé Edge
Half Rembordé Strap
A Half Rembordé (or Semi Rembordé) strap is halfway between a cut edge and a Rembordé strap. The top and bottom pieces of leather are cut prior to gluing and then the edges of the strap are pared, making them thinner. The edge of the top piece is then folded over the bottom piece, which is then glued onto the top piece.
Diagrams showing both a flat and a padded strap with a Half Rembordé Edge
Although a Half Rembordé strap looks great and its construction reduces the chance of moisture penetrating the strap, the thinner leather at the edges can make the strap weaker and less durable than a fully turned edge.
Part 3: Other Premium Watch Strap Features – Lining, Stitching, Buffing
The lining is the interface between the wrist and the strap. A quality lining is an indicator of a premium watch strap. A high-quality lining is soft, hypoallergenic, breathable, and absorbent.
Nubuck leather is a popular lining material. Nubuck is leather that is buffed to produce a velvety soft feel. Unlike Suede, it is leather that is sanded on the grain surface of the leather (Suede is sanded on the flesh side of the skin). Since the grain side is the toughest part of the leather, Nubuck tends to be more durable than suede which makes it a more expensive option.
Saddle stitching by hand. Photo credit: Morellato
While not all watch straps incorporate stitching, premium ones typically feature meticulous hand-stitched detailing. This expert craftsmanship is a labour-intensive process, but it guarantees consistently high quality.
Buffing and Hand Finishing
Photo credit: Morellato
Premium watch straps are meticulously buffed by hand to achieve a flawless finish and a luxuriously smooth texture. This hands-on craftsmanship ensures that every strap meets the highest standards of quality and refinement.
Summary: Features of a Premium Watch Strap
- Italian Full Grain Leather – durable yet soft
- Vegetable tanned
- Hand painted cut edge or rolled edge
- Stitched by hand including at the buckle and on the loops
- Hand finished
- Soft Nubuck Lining
- High Stainless Steel quality buckle
Premium Watch Straps at LBS
At LBS we offer an unrivalled range of Premium Watch Straps including a comprehensive selection of Hand-Made straps. Additionally, we are the exclusive U.K. distributor of Morellato Watch Straps. This renowned Italian watch strap brand is celebrated for its artistry in crafting exquisite straps. Explore the Morellato Manufatti collection, a testament to Italian craftsmanship, where every piece is meticulously handcrafted in Italy. For premium straps in exotic skins, you need look no further than the Morellato Pelli Preziose collection.
If you have any questions about premium watch straps or if we can assist you in any way, please contact us. Our friendly team are just a phone call or click away!