How To: The Art Of The Hand-Made Watch Strap by Hughes Handcrafted

Hughes Handcrafted, run by Hughes Low, a self-taught Singapore-based craftsman, specialises in small leather goods, mainly in exotic skins like crocodile, alligator and ostrich. Everything by hand, saddled stitched in the traditional manner.
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Here Hughes shows us how a hand-made watch strap is handmade. This is hand-crafting in the traditional method with traditional materials, as Hermes does. Hughes’ work is amongst the most impressive I have seen, though it requires a tremendous amount of patience until the finished product.

I am fairly particularly about my watch straps and have dozens of them in all styles and materials. I’ve tried all the well known custom makers including the famous Parisian firms: Camille Fournet (excellent), Jean Rousseau (good as well) and Atelier du Bracelet Parisien (also known as ABP, exceptionally atrocious; they scratched the lug when changing the strap in the store and pretended nothing happened).

Hughes starts with the hides, from which the client can select any colour or scale pattern. These mostly come from a tannery that also supplies Hermes.

The required shape is then cut from the hide with a hand-drawn template.

What results is the leather for the strap, the uppers on the left and the lining on the right.

First the end of the strap upper is thinned so that it can be folded over.

The end is folded over and then covered with the inner lining, in this case brown crocodile.

Then the padding is thinned and shaped into the appropriate form. Top quality padding as used here is thick calfskin, rather than cardboard or leather composite.

Exceptionally thick calfskin can be sculpted into almost any form as shown here. The calfskin insert on the right has been shaped to replicate the unusual twin-springbar strap on the left.

Once the padding is done it is positioned on the leather upper…

And glued in place.

A vice is then used to press the layers – upper, padding and lining – together.

The edges of the strap are then scored with a line parallel to the edge of the strap; this is to ensure the stitching is parallel to the edge.

Holes for the stitches are then incised with a fork-like tool.

Next the thread is coated with natural wax. This makes it easier for the thread to run through the leather, but more importantly the heat generated by the friction that results from pulling the thread melts the wax, sealing the thread.

The thread used is no ordinary thread. It is 100% linen thread spun by a centuries-old French mill, Fil au Chinois, which is Hermes’ thread supplier. The thread is unusually expensive, one spool costs about $40.

Twin needles are used for stitching.

After the twin needles are threaded, the strap is held in a wooden clamp, and the thread is stitched in a criss-cross manner known as saddle stitching.

Once the stitching is completed, the stitches are hammered down. This flattening means the surface is smoother and more comfortable, and also prevents the threads from catching and breaking.

Next the edges of the strap are scored with a heating iron to create the line border around the strap. Here it is being done on the strap keepers.

Then the same heating iron is used to smoothen the edge of the strap.

Additional smoothing is done with a blade.

Lacquer is then applied to the edge of the strap – literally by hand – to seal it.

Then the edge is smoothed once again. This process is repeated several times for a perfectly smooth edge finish.

The final coat of lacquer is applied with a small brush.

And then it is smooth with fine grit sandpaper.

Last is the application of leather cream, in this case Saphir, which is regarded by shoe enthusiasts as the best leather cream. Saphir’s top of the line Medaille d’Or cream can cost more than face cream.

The result is a beautifully crafted custom strap, where only one hole is needed.

For all the leather goods Hughes makes the process is exactly the same, except for laboriously for larger items.

Piece for crocodile lined with lambskin that will become cardholders.

And that is proof that hand-made leather goods are actually handmade.

Hughes can be reached via his website.

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Hughes Handcrafted, run by Hughes Low, a self-taught Singapore-based craftsman, specialises in small leather goods, mainly in exotic skins like crocodile, alligator and ostrich. Everything by hand, saddled stitched in the traditional manner.

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