It really is amazing the number of options we have these days when it comes to looking for straps to swap in on your favorite watches. While our thoughts most often turn to textile and nylon straps for the summer, leather is still a viable option. Of course, you may not want it to be a heavier strap (link to 74 watchstraps), given the warmer weather. Striking a nice balance between thinness and toughness, we have a few options in for review from Artisan Strap Co.
Based in Costa Mesa, California, Artisan Strap Co is making these straps by hand out of Herman Oak Leather. This was the first time I had encountered this type of leather, and it’s quite different than anything I had run across before. For starters, it is very thin, carrying about the same thickness (as measured by a calibrated eyeball) as a nylon strap. For being that thin, though, the leather feels pretty strong. I have run across thin leather straps before, and they have the tendency of feeling like they are about to stretch out of shape and break. Not so much here – this is a solid strip of leather. On the flip side of that coin, it does have a sort of stiff and almost papery feel to it. This may be an unfair characterization on my part, as leather products can certainly break in as time goes on. Just in the shorter time that I was able to spend with the straps prior to writing them up, that was my perception.
In keeping with the thinner nature, the back of the straps is left unfinished. Again, this is something I am used to, as it reduces bulk in the strap (and of course keeps costs down). While I would not call the Artisan Strap Co offerings scratchy, they are on the rougher end of the spectrum for what I have handled. Fortunately, once the strap was buckled on my wrist, they were not wiggling around, so there were not any issues with that roughness.
For our review, we were sent over two different options, a darker brown strap with orange stitching, and then a lighter brown with black stitching. While you as a customer can certainly work to pick the right colors for the watch you have in mind, we opted to let Artisan Strap Co build what they felt works best with the watches we slated to pair up for this review, the Seiko Orange Monster and the Michelsen Arctic Explorer. While the color of the stitching clues you in to which strap was intended for which watch, these were easy enough to match to either watch, in the end. For those ordering your own, once you settle on the style of strap (which includes the color) you can choose the stitch color, width, and length.
What makes the Artisan Strap Co straps different from others that I have reviewed (aside from the leather) is the hand-finishing that is applied to the strap and the keepers. This takes the form of some dye that is brushed on to the surface, creating angled lines and cross-hatches on the leather. I have stayed away from “painted” straps in the past, but I will admit that it makes for an interesting look. It adds some dimensionality to the otherwise flat surface of the leather, and should have some interesting interplay with the leather as it ages and picks up scratches and the like.
As I mentioned a bit earlier, once things are on the wrist, the comfort is decent. The straps themselves are tapered a bit, which ostensibly keeps things less bulky under the wrist. I was surprised to see that only the long end of the strap is tapered, however – the shorter end (where the buckle is installed) has no taper. This becomes more evident when you pass the strap through the buckle, and see the extra space between the strap and buckle edges, making the buckle feel oversized. I understand the need to standardize on some hardware, but hopefully they can find some narrower buckles that keep with their tapered style. I might also point out that the stitching at the top of the straps (where the spring bars slide in) can use some adjustment as well.
This is not to say that the stitching was loose, or in any way felt like it was going to fall apart – far from it. This is more a comment about how the spring bar pocket works for installing them onto the watch. Here, the pocket is pretty big, which gives the spring bar a lot of room to move around. Now, if you have thicker bars, this might work for you. For the standard thickness of spring bars, it means that you are using the tool not just to pop it into lugs, but also to get it moved back and into alignment. It is not something that is the end of the world, and you learn quickly enough how to work with it. It just means the install is not quite as easy as it could be.
For me, the Artisan Strap Co straps were a bit of a mixed bag. With more wear time, this is an opinion that might shift (as the leather breaks in). Then again, I have also been spoiled a bit with experiencing some very nice (and pricey) high-end leather straps. When you take into consideration that you can pick up these hand-made and (almost) custom straps starting at $60 (including the buckle and spring bars), then the light turns to a more favorable hue. In the end, I feel like, while there are some improvements to be made to the straps, Artisan Strap Co is offering a tidy variety of straps at an attractive price point. artisanstrapco.com