What matters? Knowledge, passion, and skills, and very little else!
First, I was introduced to Heima by a couple of collector friends who ordered regularly from them, not only straps, but also wallets, bags, and other stuff. I appreciated what they have had made many times over, and I liked what I saw – the style (of course, that did naturally reflect the patron’s taste!), the workmanship, some unusual colour combinations, and the leathers used, and I was assured that they were very responsive, helpful, and accommodating throughout the process.
Exactly what I needed!
What you must know when specifying a strap from scratch is the many, many degrees of freedom you have, and this comes also, logically, with an equal number of pitfalls and chances for wrong decisions: leathers (outside and inside), colour, padding, shape (lug attachment, tapering, end piece), number and position of holes, stitching, and many aspects more. Comes to this that the strap not only has to work, technically, with your watch, but also enhance both the personality of the watch as well as of the owner.
It was therefore imperative to me to have a knowledgeable, passionate artisan to guide me through the process. I could not have been in better hands than with the husband-and-wife team of Erwin and Ann at Heima.
I was warned though that had long lead times…
How to navigate through moving targets – or getting your priorities right!
At the beginning, I made myself a list of criteria from which I wanted to base my selections on:
In terms of the aesthetics, remember that the GP was in stainless steel, with a matte slightly off-white dial, rose golden indices and hands, as well as a blued seconds hand. The original alligator strap had a purple-reddish tone with a contrasting red stitching. I liked this contrast, however I thought I allow more emphasis on the creamy dial which Isabelle to loves with a less bold surface structure.
So, I was contemplating of a strap in a lively feminine colour, e.g., a deep but vivid purple, made from non-exotic hides, but still with a funny and unusual skin structure and contrasting stitching.
In terms of sizing, the old strap was a men’s strap which despite being too long fitted quite well, so I retained the measurements. Also, I wanted to retain the original buckle of the GP, and this automatically defined the tapering – from 18 to 14 mm.
So, I produced a quick drawing of what I thought were the essential details, and sent them to Indonesia:
(Data that matters, I thought…)
At this point, the experience of the artisan and their passion to satisfy their clients comes into play. Remember, we’re talking about bespoke, meaning the strap should fit ‘like a second skin’ to the wearer.
Sizing – and where to place the pin holes?
Each individual wrist has a different shape, its unique combination of circumference, reduction, and transverse profile. Then there is the watch diameter, the distance between case and pin holes in the lugs, and the shape of the buckle – all the above feed into considerations for the length and the hole positions of a bespoke strap. If done correct, technically a single hole should suffice.
In this case, we agreed to use the very comfortable position of the factory strap holes, adapted for a shorter strap length, and we also agreed to go with a set of holes as in the seasonal variation of climate here in Austria means that the circumference of the wrist is dynamic, often significantly so during a single day. One hole alone would be limiting, we feared, and I also did not really trust my ideas to fully go with one hole only, to be honest…
The Heima team recalled that I intended to retain the GP buckle, so they quickly asked to check dimensions so that this would fit as well (e.g., cut width for the pin). Also, the strap would retain curved ends of the orginal.
Leather and shaping considerations
Next came the selection of the leather, thickness, and with it padding. I did not want exotic leather (I did not fancy the hassles with CITES, and on ethical grounds I rejected the idea of scarifying animals for just their skin) but aimed for a fine structure, and Heima recommended a few calf and goat leathers with various grain and structure, accompanied with sample images which would provide the effect that I was looking for: spice, but measured. I ended up with Japanese goat:
(Samples of Japanese goat leather, image © Heima)
Ann recommended an edge thickness of 1,5 – 2.0 mm for a relatively slim (8mm) dress watch like the GP, and I agreed. I was also given a lot of options for padding, again with sample images, and it took me some time to come up with a decision. This, after the leather and colour, immensely defined the appearance: flat, square, double, triple, domed, bone, or square with bevels? Heima sent me illustrative photos of straps they made with each of the options, yet my head was a bit spinning, but in the end, I went for 1mm square padding, as this I thought would fit nicely for the relatively flat strap, would expose the structure of the leather well, but in a subtle manner.
Colour scheme: outside, inside, trimmings – like with your car…
What was left to decide, though, was the colour. Now this is a tricky part as there are billions of colours to choose from, and add to this the inherent characteristics of the base leather which impact on the final outcome as well.
(Pantone colour chart excerpt for ‘purple’. Swatch 2607 XGC made the score…)
Heima suggested I consult the Pantone colour charts and notify them on a colour code that I liked most, and they would try their best to approximate it. I had the structure of the leather in my mind, and concluded that code 2607 XGC would match my idea best.
To add some spice, I asked for a contrasting bright orange stitching, and a burgundy inner lining (I could have gone full Louboutin red here, but I restrained that thought…).
I think we were there, finally!
Heima summarised the specification for me for a final check, and reminded me that I would have to wait for about 2-3 months due to their workload. I knew this, so I was ok with this. We further agreed on a deposit to be paid at order, and that they would provide me with a colour sample well before my strap would be finished.
That colour sample indeed arrived already a few days after I placed the order, and it just made my anticipation go up one level:
(Leather colour sample. Exactly as I imagined! Image © Heima)
The process could continue.
Fast forward two months, and I got another email notifying me that my strap was ready to be shipped, along with a request to confirm my address. Oh, it’s happening… what I saw was a thing of beauty, and based on the image Ann sent me also the workmanship was up there where expected:
(Driving my anticipation levels up… image © Heima)
Two weeks later, a final invoice settled, an EMS envelope arrived from Indonesia. I let the images speak for themselves, and I invite you to also appreciate the care Heima awarded to the packaging alone. Here are passionate people at work!
I had a handful of motivations when I started this little strap project: first, I wanted to create a very personal gift – one with a lot of input from myself, one which reflected her personality also, and one that could not be just bought off the shelf.
I wanted a strap which would enhance and not dominate a watch’s personality, yet which in a more subtle way showed attention to the details for those who look closely.
I also intended to try ‘bespoke’ with a manageable financial input and lead time, as there is a lot that can go wrong: bad measurements, unrealistic expectations, wrong judgements about own preferences (didn’t Steve Jobs once say that ‘people don’t know what they want until you show it to them’?), and finally hiccups with the artisans. At a final price of about € 150 including all shipments and taxes, I wanted to embark on the journey.
There is one thing with fully bespoke, i.e., starting from a blank page just as in this case, which differentiates them from ‘customised’ offerings: with so many aspects of a strap not just being options, but being completely open to discussion, there is a lot of preparatory work on the side of the client: one has to consider a plethora of aspects even with a simple object such as a strap, and a lot more will come during the discussions with the craftspeople. This is a lot more straightforward if you can specify your strap using a customiser as you get an instant visual feedback. In Heima’s case, I had to rely on email exchanges, images, and my own imaginations.
It is therefore imperative to really contemplate about your preferences beforehand (a fascinating exercise, btw!), expand your experience with straps by trying out a lot, following the ‘strap fetishists’ on social media, etc. Having done that, it needs an artisan who not only has a great aptitude to extract the sometime hidden desires of a client, but one who is also able to translate this into ideas and convey them to the client using words and illustrations. You also need someone who understands use cases well, and warns you if your idea might not be compatible with your desired results. I felt I was in good hands with Heima, and could not be happier with the result.
You might challenge your imagination initially with a custom-made strap by one of the fine manufacturers that offer an online customiser. But as small-luxury-world concluded in his report on his shoe project with ´Il Micio – Hidetaka Fukaya`,