Antelopes, Denim And Formula 1 – How Watch Straps Got Interesting
I remember attending my first trade fair for watches – the now-defunct Salon International de le Haute Horlogerie (SIHH for short). It was a frosty January in Geneva, 10 years ago, and while I had been writing about watches on and off for maybe six months at that point, I knew very little about them. It was my good fortune to be coached by some of the best writers and editors in this funny old corner of journalism – several of whom, I’m proud to say, now write frequently for MR PORTER.
One of the earliest pieces of advice I was given – I forget exactly who by, but most likely everyone at once, in a chorus of “really, don’t do that” – was that when presented with the chance to peruse a new watch for the first time, don’t let your first comment be a remark on its strap. To do so, I was told, is akin to regarding an artist’s latest work and complimenting him or her on the choice of frame, or telling a Michelin-starred chef that you were impressed by the plate their immaculate food came on. Not the done thing. Watchmakers make watches, not straps.
Well, that was then. Times change – and one of the biggest shifts in watchmaking in the last decade has been the redress owed to watch designers in terms of recognising the watch as a whole, from pin buckle to pinion, as an item that doesn’t fully succeed unless every element is on song. The humble watch strap has gone from the unremarkable strip of steel or leather that holds your precious timepiece to your wrist, to a blank canvas for creativity and innovation. Watch brands have taken the chance to recast the strap as something that provides valuable context and character to the watch itself: patinated or textured leather for a more outdoorsy look, intricate and slinky links for the more high-end models. And a widespread proliferation of alternative colours and material choices – a quick skim through MR PORTER’s offering will reveal H. Moser & Cie.’s kudu leather straps, supple and strong with a worn texture that’s a great textural counterpoint to the gleaming cases. Or Chopard’s L.U.C XP, with a merino wool and leather strap that lends a laid-back feel to the classic dress watch.
Oris’s collaboration with Momotaro jeans was a huge personal favourite and there is also much to recommend IWC’s military-grade textiles on its Pilot’s collection – but the brand that really stands out in its commitment to interesting straps is Roger Dubuis. Not content with combining no fewer than three more or less traditional materials (calf leather, Alcantara and rubber) on the strap for the Excalibur Spider Huracan the brand has managed to leverage its partnership with Formula 1 tyre-maker Pirelli to create straps inlaid with rubber taken from actual race-driven tyres. The new Excalibur Spider in black – a 45mm highly skeletonised automatic with the trademark star-shaped bridges and micro-rotor movement (all finished to Geneva Seal levels of quality) – is one such watch. The lightweight, aggressively styled titanium case and skeletonised interior are all reminiscent of Formula 1 cars – with an emphasis on weight-saving and exotic, aerodynamic shapes – and the juxtaposition with a race-winning rubber strap really completes the look.