Rolex Meets Sailors – The Prototype Strap

Some weeks ago I offered to make a bespoke watch strap for a Rolex.  I had never made a strap like this before and I decided to make a prototype for testing.  This is a brief narrative about the journey of the prototype Rolex watch strap and some hiccups along the way.

The original was a crocodile skin strap that the owner wanted to replace due to the original showing signs of wear.  It was not the usual Rolex watch I was used to seeing and so the strap needed a different approach.

The owner found me through the Walsall Leather Museum and thankfully I know somebody who happens to be a retired watch maker!  So the watch went into his hands for the removal of the strap.

Having the original straps off the watch I took plenty of measurements and produced a 1:1 scale drawing.  From this a paper template was made.  Since the original strap is made from stiff crocodile skin the strap hasn’t deformed over the years which made the strap a good template from which to take measurements.  To be on the safe side I added half a millimeter to the width to allow for the slight reduction in width usually caused when burnishing the edges.  Being a prototype I chose an offcut of the Sedgwick bridal leather used to make the brown folios because this is quite a dense and heavy leather which could be split down without losing too much the stiffness and strength.

The challenge with a strap like this is that the watch is quite low profile which is why the original strap is a millimeter thick despite consisting of three layer.  Also the strap is quite narrow and requires more precision to make than a larger project.  And that half a millimeter of extra width was a bitter sweet pill!  More on that shortly.  The properties of crocodile skin make it possible to split the leather down to less than a millimeter and the three layers are made up of very thin crocodile leather with rolled edges, a thin padding material in the middle and a thin goat skin lining with feather skived edges.  The whole strap is glued and the only stitching is to hold one of the strap keepers in place.  Really a lovely piece of work.  For the replacement the customer and I decided to go for a two layer stitched and burnished edge strap to give a different look.  The overall thickness is just over a millimeter and it is made up of two layers, Sedgwick bridal leather with a veg tanned russet lining.

Now for a lesson in mindfulness.  I was visiting the Leather Skills Centre where I had planned to complete the watch strap.  I had stitched the straps and burnished the edges already.  All that was left was to cut out the slot for the buckle tongue and the holes using one of the small diameter punches there.  Punch positioned precisely my mallet fell and in that split second, when it was too late to stop, a scream arose in my mind.  Wham!  This was followed by a real shout of pain.  The hole had been made on precisely the wrong side of the strap!  It was a momentary lapse of concentration that resulted in the strap being ruined.  One learns real life lesson from incidents like this and the lesson here was to not work while feeling tired.

The watch strap was later completed and handed over.  It would have been nice if the story ended here but it didn’t.  I received a call the next day.  The customer had tried to put the watch on but the strap wouldn’t fit through the buckle.  Thankfully I was able to meet him at the Museum the following Tuesday.  That half a millimeter, in fact it was less than that, of extra width was the trouble.  So the second life lesson here was that one should test the whole thing before hand over to the customer.  I had assumed that the extra width had been removed by the burnishing process.  This extra was so little that it was surprising that the leather didn’t just give a little.

There were two options.  Either slightly stretch the straps or remove some of the material from the edges.  The first option would have had unpredictable results.  Since this was such as small piece of leather I was convinced that there would be visible distortion and potentially over stretching.  Furthermore the leather could ‘bounce back’ later.  The risk with the removal of material was that the distance between the edge and the stitch line would be affected.  And the edges would need re-burnishing.  As the extra width was very slight, the amount of material that needed to be removed was very small and the results were quickly and satisfactorily achieved.  The watch and it’s new strap are now in regular use.  The final version won’t happen for a while as I have some other projects to complete first.

Some hiccups along the way but there is always a way out.

Please see the photographs below of the watch with the prototype strap installed.