Piedmont Red is not a wine, microbrew, or strain of marajuana. Come to think of it, it is probably all three, but that is not what I am talking about. I am referring to the source of handmade NATO straps made from remnant designer vinyls from North Carolina furniture manufacturers. Crazy? I thought so too, until I tried them.
Piedmont Red straps are available for $35, US shipping included, in 20 and 22mm widths. They are a conventional NATO design in all respects except the material. When I think of vinyl, I think of the black bucket seats of my grandmother's car. I remember being a young boy in those 1970's summers, hopping into her car after a day on the beach, and scorching the crap out of my legs. It was not a happy memory. It did not make me want to put anything made of vinyl against my skin. Ever. I made a solemn commitment to natural fibers and never looked back. Then Todd Trimakas contacted me, offering his vinyl wares, promising that were "47% softer than the end of Q-tip," and "as strong as a sandwich of Kevlar, steel, concrete, and more Kevlar." With such creative hyperbole, how could I resist?
From the moment I saw the shiny red, cardinal-emblazoned pouch in my mailbox, I knew these straps were going to be different. Todd sent me two 20mm samples, one a matte Corduroy Green, the other a shiny Gunmetal. Each arrived curled up in its own private tin. Wisely, Todd has chosen high quality vinyl from manufacturers like Knoll. It is not faux-leather, faux-fabric, or faux-anything. It is not trying to be anything but its own bad self and is unapologetically synthetic. The collection includes high gloss or textured matte finishes, hexagon and hammered patterns, and lurid colors. The stainless steel hardware is a heavy Zulu style and brightly polished. Each strap is a sandwich of two pieces of vinyl, glued back-to-back with aerospace quality adhesive, then hand stitched in contrasting polyester (of course). The result is a tough, thick strap that is finished on both sides, looks fantastic, and is strong as hell. Todd even tried boiling one.
As I examined them, I considered my own hypocrisy. How could I carry my anti-vinyl prejudice when I had a healthy collection of woven nylon NATO straps? Those were all made of dead dinosaurs too, not the flowering fruits of the earth. Moreover, these were all made of repurposed leftovers from another product's manufacturing process. Surely that environmental greenness must count for something? I pulled a Bulova Hack Commemorative and Nixon Mellor from the collection and gave them a go.
The first thing you will notice is the thickness. You will have to remove your spring bars to fit them. The material is pliable enough to compress under the bars when they are replaced, but even on the usually accommodating Nixon, clearance was tight. With the watch head in place, I found the strap hardware sat a little close to the lugs. I chose watches with long lugs to accommodate the thick strap so your mileage may vary, but I prefer a little more wiggle room. Thick-wristed folks will rejoice at the 310mm length, but it overwhelmed my 6.5" wrists. The strap doubles back through the keepers just fine, but the thickness means you will have quite a bundle. Even tucked, I ended up with an extra inch or so. I took care of this with a little planning, sharp scissors, and a steady hand; however, you can address it before it arrives by simply asking Todd for a custom length.
Now how do they feel? Like a kitten's meow or like the unforgiving seats of a 1974 Ford Maverick? Actually, somewhere in between. They feel like a perfectly normal watch strap: not squishy soft, but not too stiff. If you are comfortable wearing leather or rubber straps, you will be comfortable with a Piedmont Red on your wrist. Probably more so since the vinyl sandwich has quite a bit more give compared to other materials of comparable thickness. I did not try leaving the strap to bake in the hot sun, but seriously, who does that? It is not a credible threat.
As Todd says, "Vinyl, it's not just for your Grandmother's couch anymore." Or her car seats. I, for one, am glad I put my disco-era prejudice aside and gave Piedmont Red a whirl.
Pro: Otherworldly colors and textures.
Con: Could be a bit too thick for some.
Sum: Ziggy Stardust glam with Stevie Wonder funk. The Time Bum approves.