Leather watch straps complement the look of a timepiece while securing it comfortably on the wrist. High-end leather straps use exquisite materials like alligator, lizard, ostrich, and shark skins paired with careful stitching, beveled edges, and molded shaping. This article explains the material options and step-by-step techniques used by expert manufacturers to create luxury leather watch straps.
Table of Contents
Leather Materials for Watch Straps
There are many leather materials available for making watch straps, such as alligator, lizard, ostrich, shark, calfskin, distressed leather, etc.
Alligator leather is the best and most luxurious choice for watch straps. The texture and quality of the material is unmatched. For small accessories like watch straps, especially those made from imported American alligator, the leather quality is superior.
American alligators are usually smaller in size, so their hide size is also smaller compared to other species. Because they are not as aggressive as other alligators, the scars on their skin are generally less. There are distinct differences between the rectangular ventral scales and the fine round lateral scales. The skin does not have excess texture, so it is not suitable for large pieces but ideal for watch straps.
This alligator skin has no brown eyes at all. The skin is tough, fine-grained, three-dimensional patterned, and has more beautiful textural details than other alligator leather. The tails of American alligators are wider than all other alligator species. The bamboo-shaped textures on the belly and tail are used to make tables. It is the best choice for belts. Romlicen only selects the optimal belly part for watch straps and does not use other edge materials when making straps.
Of course, other types of alligator leather are not covered here.
Alligator Leather Watch Straps
Shark skin has a very unique texture, presenting longitudinally contracted textures that create a three-dimensional feel. It also has great tensile strength. Unlike most fish skin, shark skin is very flat and has a larger area. It has a unique texture and excellent feel, making it well-suited for watch straps.
Compared to American alligator, shark skin is slightly lower in grade and quality. It does not compare to American alligator leather. The textures and suppleness of alligator surpass what can be achieved from shark skin. So while still an interesting material, shark skin watch straps fall short of the luxuriousness of fine alligator straps.
Lizard skin is also a very high-end leather material with a special texture. This leather is softer and lighter. Compared to alligator leather, it is not as bold and dominant in its look and feel. Many premium watch brands now use lizard skin for their watch straps, such as Emperor Camels and Centennial Spirit.
The supple softness of fine lizard leather provides an understated elegance perfect for the discerning watch enthusiast. Brands like Vacheron Constantin and A. Lange & Söhne craft straps using rare matte Brazilian Hornback lizard skins, prized for their durability and ability to mold comfortably to the wearer’s wrist over time. The subtle cachet of luxury lizard leather allows the timepiece itself to shine as the prime focus, elevated by a strap of refined distinction.
Ostrich leather is also considered one of the more precious types of leather. It is soft, lightweight, solid, breathable, and durable. Ostrich leather has a natural grain pattern formed from follicles, as well as a distinctive motif of natural feather holes that allow air to pass through. This makes ostrich leather a very comfortable skin to wear against the wrist.
Top watchmakers like Rolex and Hermès source premium ostrich leather for its supple feel and alluring puffed tile pattern. Precise laser cutting accentuates the distinct texture while minimizing material waste. Signature montage techniques layer and orient the tessellated tiles for seamless gradient effects across the strap. Ostrich leather offers a contemporary twist on classic luxury, blending exotic allure with everyday wearability.
The biggest characteristics of calfskin watch straps are that they are inexpensive yet durable. Calfskin leather comes in many varieties, with the best being calfskin from animals less than 6 months old. This young calfskin is very soft to the touch, with fine small textures in the hide, which creates very attractive and beautiful watch straps.
However, compared to premier materials like American alligator, the texture and feel of calfskin is far inferior. Thus, calfskin is mostly used in lower-end watch straps. Affordable brands like Fossil, Nixon, and MVMT rely on calfskin and cowhide leathers for their strap materials, which offer good durability per dollar but lack the buttery hand-feel and depth of grain found in luxury alligator and ostrich straps.
Cordovan leather comes from the hindquarter of horses, specifically the Cordovan layer of the hide. It is the inner layer of horsebutt leather. When polished, it achieves a refined glossy finish. Only one-eighth of horse hide is usable as Cordovan. This makes it very rare and highly coveted among high-end custom leather goods. Cordovan leather is also better suited than any other leather for creating single-layer watch straps.
Some famous Cordovan leather brands are New Jubilee from Japan, Ogawa from Japan, and Horween from America. This type of leather is typically used for vintage-style watch straps. Ultra high-end luxury timepieces do not choose this leather material for their straps. The matte porous visual and slight looseness of grain of Cordovan films do not meet the refined elegance demanded by the world’s premier maisons like Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet.
Design and Template Making
Different brands, styles, and sizes of watches require different watch strap dimensions. To match properly, detailed designs must be made on computers and templates produced prior to actual production.
There are two methods of template making – manual carving and die-cutting.
Manual carving involves carving strap templates by hand using engraving knives. This is suitable for small custom batches but slower in production speed and more complex in technique.
Die-cutting is making templates according to previous design drawings and more suited for mass production.
In the past, consumers pursued “handmade” craftsmanship, desiring at a deeper level, more intricate products. Early large-scale industrial manufacturing struggled with such delicate customization. Fundamentally, consumers want exquisite, refined products, a demand die-cutting production has met perfectly. Even small leather goods from luxury maisons like Hermès utilize die-cut components. If a producer eschews die-cutting, that signals miniscule order sizes, as the cost of developing custom dies is far higher than disposable hand carving, and each strap requires distinct data sets.
To create better visual effects across the two strap components, we employ a “contrasting pattern” approach when cutting the material, striving to avoid scars left on the hide during the animal’s growth.
High-quality leather watch straps have high prices because there is a lot of leather wastage generated during cutting, resulting in low material utilization rates. Sections with large scars, chaotic grain patterns, or holes must be discarded. Careful artisanal cutting accentuates the natural beauty and unblemished sections of each hide. For exquisite alligator leather, over 80% of the total hide area may be unusable for discriminating strap production, driving costs upward. This meticulous selection process guarantees that only premium flaw-free areas with aligned tile shapes make it into the final strap.
Inner Leather and Core Material
The leather on the outer visible side of the strap is called the “face leather”. The leather piece on the underside is known as the “inner leather”. There are two common types of inner leather: calfskin leather (left) and sweat-resistant leather (right). Calfskin can absorb sweat while sweat-proof leather cannot. Both have their pros and cons. After absorbing wrist sweat, calfskin can start to smell unpleasant, but remains comfortable to wear over time. Sweat-proof leather does not absorb sweat initially, but its surface coating may still degrade from sweat corrosion, becoming uncomfortable against the skin over time.
Sandwiched between the top and bottom leather is a “core layer” material. The function of this core is to make the strap more three-dimensional and full-bodied. Brand new straps tend to be quite stiff since the fibers in the core are still flat at this stage. After extensive wear over time, the core fibers reshape themselves to conform to the contours of the wearer’s wrist for maximum comfort.
Apart from the stuffing core layers, some leather straps also incorporate special “anti-tear” structural design elements. For example, with alligator leather straps, since the fiber density of the genuine skin is uneven, fractures can occur under certain conditions at the tile junctures where fiber density is more sparse (seen as the darker red areas in the top image at the scale boundaries). Also, the sections holding the clasps and lugs endure repeated stretching daily, risking potential tears. Therefore, high-quality alligator straps have imported German high-tensile strength filaments woven unobtrusively into the interior. Despite measuring just 0.15mm thick, these fibers can resist huge perpendicular and parallel forces, preserving the strap’s surface integrity.
Bonding, Heating, and Shaping
Once the face leather, base leather, core, and reinforcing fibers are prepared, they are bonded together. To create a full, rounded profile, some straps are inserted into custom molds of corresponding sizes. The molds are made of stainless steel and heat-conductive brass.
The strap and mold are placed on a continuously heating metal plate for a period of time, allowing the adhesives to permeate the fiber layers and set the shape.
More specialized straps require two-sided heating, with the top and bottom surfaces at different temperatures. The exact temperatures depend on the adhesive used. Straps heated this way bond better than air dried glue, making the strap more solid. Controlled high heat from custom molds also imprints leathers like alligator with a precision curve in need of no further break-in, immediately contouring to wrists upon first wear.
Bonded straps require stitching to improve sturdiness and aesthetics.
For watch straps, common stitching brands used include Fil Au Chinois from France (also used by Hermès), French Coats (world’s largest sewing thread factory), and hand-stitching thread from Japan.
This “saddle stitch” method paired with “European-style beveled holes” creates a beautiful “wave pattern” on the finished product.
Not only is the saddle stitch durable, but it also looks attractive. Its obvious drawback, however, is that it is time-consuming to produce and has high technical demands for stitching skills. Every hole entry angle made by the top thread must align, and the pulling tension must remain consistent, otherwise the regular wave pattern effect will not form.
This meticulous stitch style elegantly adorns luxury watch straps from the likes of Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe. Master leather artisans hand-sew each stitch one-by-one with a slanted awl, slowly transforming leather skins into fitting wrist wraps for timepiece royalty.
Although leather is sliced open with knives, the cut edges still have tiny frayed bits to some degree. Therefore, to neaten and increase water resistance, the trimmed edges of the strap must be sealed.
Edge paint/dye is commonly used, gradually solidifying into an elastic coating at room temperature, protecting the strap edges from wear.
After applying and air drying the edge dye, fine sandpaper is used to polish the edges smooth and clean. To achieve optimal results, applying the edge dye and buffing are processes that need at least three repetitions each.
This hand-finishing step removes any final loose bits of leather fiber, while rounding off any hard corners from cutting for supreme comfort where wrist meets watch. The application of edge dye also imparts a subtle tonal shift from strap face to side for depth and dimension.
Piercing seven clasp holes one-by-one can easily lead to crooked results. However, we employ specialized tools to achieve excellent outcomes in one go.
Additionally, the punching of holes to interlock prong loops also relies on custom dies catered to different strap widths and designs.
The final strap then looks like this. Our factory can stamp custom logos per order request to complete leather strap production.
This article covered 8 key steps, but in reality there are many more intricate procedures involved. I aimed to explain several of the most important ones here related to materials, adhesives, thread, edge finishing, die-cutting, layering, techniques, design, and quality control – all factors that influence the end product’s quality and pricing.
The crafting of fine leather watch straps relies on generations of accumulative knowledge meshed with today’s state-of-the-art technologies. At premiere maisons like Hermès, artisans undergo 5-10 years of training across various leather specialization (including watch straps) before being bestowed the prestigious title of “Meilleur Ouvrier de France”, denoting them as national masters of their medium. Alongside tradition, cutting-edge methods like precision laser incision and Swiss-made automatic looms weave together man and machine to give life to lasting luxury for the discriminating wrist.
Romlicen is a Chinese watch manufacturer specializing in OEM and ODM watch production services. With over 15 years of experience crafting premium timepieces, we create customized products catered to the quality and design needs of client brands worldwide.
Our global supply chain enables access to the finest materials across categories – from Swiss movements to Italian leathers. These components feed into Romlicen’s state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities manned by dedicated craftsmen versed in the latest techniques.
Premium quality and consistent output drive our OEM/ODM approach. Clients can rely on Romlicen’s expertise in engineering bespoke watches that capture their brand essence within budget. Outside of impeccable product offerings, we provide guidance on technical considerations during development and accommodate flexibility in order quantities post-launch.
Contact us today to bring your watch vision to market reality.