Happy Fourth of July! Today, the Time Bum celebrates our nation's independence by focusing on some handcrafted watch straps from Detroit, Michigan in the good old U.S. of A. You see, a few weeks ago, I was trawling Instagram for watchy goodness and stumbled across the account of The Detroit Strap Co. (@detroitstrapco). It was brimming with straps made from Horween, cork, baseball gloves, and reclaimed leather. They all looked good, but the one that really grabbed me was a strap made from a vintage motorcycle jacket. I held out as long as I could, but as the Instagram posts mounted, my willpower diminished. I finally went over the edge, scrambling for my credit card to make the purchase.
The artisan behind the company is proud of his city. "What's going on with Detroit is an immensely complicated issue but incredibly fascinating" he says. "News you see about the city nationally tends to be incredibly negative. Along with photos of my straps, I try to take positive photos of whats going on in the city as well. I'm a big believer in that. I'm definitely staying away from the "ruin porn" that comes out of Detroit." He is a true watch nerd and strap junkie, and finally decided have a go at making his own. After perfecting his technique, he tried his hand at a strap made from a baseball glove. He used a Tigers glove, of course, and created the perfect game day strap. When he posted it on his Instagram and it caught the attention of Shinola, the Detroit based watchmaker. They reposted it and soon he was inundated with requests for the same strap.
Detroit Strap Co. baseball glove straps sell for between $110-150. The completed straps in DSC's current inventory are priced at $125. When you consider what goes into these straps, they are an excellent value. The gloves are used, but he only selects those in good to exellent condition, and the construction process is more complex than if one were using new tooling leather. As he explains, "To dissemble a glove can take 45 minutes or so alone. I clean and condition the leather as well. The unique contours of the glove also make it more difficult to get a good, straight cut. Most of these gloves are broken in and have a crease right over the palm which can make things fun! It generally takes upwards of 6 hours to make one strap from a baseball glove start to finish." After all that effort, a glove will yield no more than two straps. A sheet of Horween, on the other hand, will yield several straps in half the time.
I selected a $65 strap made from a Brooks Leather motorcycle jacket. Detroit based Brooks has produced American made motorcycle jackets since 1959. They are perhaps best known for their infamous "We'll Take On Anybody in Leather" ad campaign. The strap is composed of two pieces sandwiched together so it has the same surface on both sides and it is very soft, partially because it was intended for clothing, partially because is is already quite broken in. The leather is dark brown with a slight sheen, and the light brown raw leather showing through the distressed areas. It is approximately 3.6mm thick. The edges are finished and stitching is kept to a minimum, just two simple side stitches in off-white at the lug ends and buckle, and an "X" on the tip of the tail. There is a single, wide, floating keeper. The buckle is a simple square frame in brushed stainless steel with a narrow tang.
I found it to be superbly comfortable and at 75/125mm, a perfect fit on my 6.5" wrist, with one more adjustment left to go. The leather just melts around your wrist, but there is nothing delicate about it. It may not be ammo bag stiff, but it is tough stuff. If it can take a hit from highway pavement at speed, it will certainly handle your Speedmaster. Its maker described it as "gnarly and authentic" and I couldn't agree more. I felt it needed a similarly gnarly watch, so I gave it a try on Crusty, my beloved and seriously beat up Seiko 7002. The two seemed to hit it off well, complementing each other's battle scars. I think it would be a natural on a time worn vintage piece, or a newer throwback design like the Tudor Ranger or Black Bay.
A strap made from an old biker jacket is pretty cool in and of itself, but that is only half the story. You see, the jacket actually belonged to the craftsman’s own grandfather. As he explains, "When he was a younger man, he wore that jacket on his motorcycle everyday ... until he wiped out on it. I found it in a box a while ago, and its got some road rash scars, along with blood strains." (The squeamish among you need not worry. My strap was blood-free.) It seems Grandpa survived the experience, but his Easy Rider days were over. Grandma made him sell the bike and the jacket ended up in storage until it found new life as a strap donor. There is still material available and you can choose your size, but remember there is only one jacket. When it's gone, it's gone.
Detroit Strap Co. products hit the sweet spot for a Bum like me. They are reasonably priced, well made, and brimming with charm. The motorcycle strap is unique and an absolute bargain at $65. The baseball glove straps are also a fair price and you can select your glove of choice from the inventory posted online. Leather and cork NATOs go for $40-45. Horween is $60. If you are looking for a quality, handmade strap, for a nice price, with some vintage Americana to boot, you should have a look at the Detroit Strap Co.