At the outset of Zero West we knew that the strap would make or break our watches, so we set off in pursuit of that perfect strap. A simple enough task?……don’t believe it!
After numerous meetings with large and small strap makers alike, it rapidly become clear that the art of finding the “right” strap to complement our case designs and the ability to buy them in sensible quantities wasn’t going to happen. The major manufacturers were helpful and courteous but uninterested in designing anything bespoke based on our limited edition volumes, and their out-of-the-box offerings could be seen on millions of watches, so we drew a disappointed blank.
The artisan strap makers were our next port-of-call. There are a few guys making lovely straps and we had a few samples made, but when we mentioned ordering 100 or so straps they turned pale and declined! The learning curve was steep.
The path open to us would have to be a standard strap form one of the large suppliers and “pimp” it with a custom buckle. Amiable thought but a compromise: and compromise really isn’t in our vocabulary at Zero West.
What to do then? How about making our own? I broached it with Andrew who in his unflappable and supportive way said “Okay, let’s have a go” so I did. How to begin? It’s obvious…..YouTube! I scoured the videos for anything watch strap related and found a few helpful pieces. I bought some basic tools from Tandy Leather along with some undyed leather and thread. I had all the gear…and no idea! My first attempts at everything were a complete disaster. Cutting, skiving, pricking, gluing, saddle stitching, edge finishing, hole punching…….it was all very difficult and not going to be doable overnight.
I showed my first attempts to Andrew and to his credit he praised them and gave me encouragement to continue. Looking back it is credit to his support that I continued, so soldier on I did. It took about a year to perfect my techniques and hone my leatherworking tools to a level that I could consistently make identical straps of a saleable standard. The result has added to the DNA of our unique watches and become an integral part of our customers buying experience.
As the brand has become more established we have had more and more requests for rubber straps as an alternative to Horween leather. Some people love a leather strap as it patinates with time, just like a pair of old shoes, but leather straps aren’t waterproof. At best they are water resistant and those customers who like to use their watches in the water will change their strap out for a rubber after-market offering. In true Zero West fashion though and as a direct result of our customer feedback, we decided to design our own rubber strap.
We are fortunate to have the ability to design our own product and have knowledge in plastic and rubber component and tool design, so I set about pulling a design brief together: dimensions, material, buckle, spring bar access etc. The design was relatively straightforward once the material was chosen but however, the material selection was tricky. Most straps are on the market are either silicone, thermos plastic elastomer (injection moulded thermoplastic) or Nitrile NBR rubber, each of which has its merit. Further research into potential materials highlighted that some of the high-end manufacturers use an alternative elastomer to the majority and further specialist investigation alluded to their use of FKM fluroelastomers. These rubbers are primarily used in high performance military and aerospace applications where strength, high temperature and chemical resistance is important. It is also hypoallergenic, a vital attribute in a watch strap.
With the material research finalised we decided to go with the FKM fluroelastomer and commission compression tools based around our design. The tooling was made at a local toolmaker and the mouldings produced at a local specialist rubber moulding vendor. The results speak for themselves and were well worth the effort and investment in producing a bespoke strap thats now been introduced across some of our models.
We are fortunate to have the ability to design our own product and have knowledge in plastic and rubber component and tool design, which is why we designed and manufactured our own FKM fluroelastomer straps. This rubber is primarily used in high performance military and aerospace applications where strength, high temperature and chemical resistance is important. It is also hypoallergenic, a vital attribute in a watch strap.