I was just browsing my usual stash of watch sites today and came across Fratello’s Watch Straps Reviews. Basically the guys over there “would like to introduce some of the lesser known craftsmen to the wider audience. People whose work we find interesting or out of the ordinary. Who – most of the time – create their products at home by hand, educate themselves and improve their skill all the time. When you put one of these hand-made straps on your wrist, you can feel the satisfaction and pride of the artisan who made them.” The write ups are pretty good and I encourage you to follow their thread if you’re into straps and/or watches. Till date, they have reviewed 7 custom strap makers.
An alternative to custom strap makers are really the run of the mill strap makers such as Hirsch, Morellato, Di-Modell, Fluco, Rios1931, Hadley Roma, etc. They tend to run a little cheaper, sacrificing customisation for price through economies of scale, as all things tend to be in the industrial age. However, what many people do not know is that most watch brands order their straps from these companies, and labelled the straps with their own brand. Examples that I’m aware of include Camille Fournet who makes straps for JLC, Di-Modell who makes straps for Damasko, so on and so forth. As such, the workmanship and quality of such companies are pretty decent and need not lose out to the customized strap makers.
My favourite brand is Rios1931, a German strap maker that started life, obviously, in 1931. Still a family owned company today, they are capable of producing straps in exotic leathers (i.e. sharkskin, lizard, crocodile, alligator, cashmere, etc) as well as the ubiquitous cow leather. My first Rios 1931 purchased for USD 40 in early 2012 was a simple brown leather strap with contrast stitching that is worn regularly at least once a week and it has aged well, without any discoloration on the sides, nor peeling of the layers. The leather is now well worn yet very comfortable.
Many other Rios1931 straps came in quick succession and I now have 6 Rios1931 straps ranging from real sharkskin, cow to embossed crocodile cow leather. Imagine my surprise when I discovered a shop carrying a huge range of Rios1931 watch straps right here in Bangkok!
The shop is located at Ekkamai Gateway shopping mall, which is linked to the Ekkamai BTS Station.
Head on up to Level 3, where Tom N Toms Coffee is located. The shop will be located on the right hand side once you exit the up riding escalator.
The shop is known as Expert Watch and they have a few branches around Bangkok. They are mainly a watch repair service center but they also have excellent collections of watch straps and some micro brands like Obris Morgan, Archimede, Laco, Seven Friday etc. Sounds like a WIS dream, as I never thought I’ll see these brands in a brick and mortar.
They also sell tons of straps from brands that I have not heard before, but these can be priced up to USD 100 and above.
I spotted a Rios1931 racing strap which I purchased after ensuring that it is the right lug width and length. (Digression: Rios1931 straps do come in different lengths and the lengths do matter!)
To my utmost surprise, it’s really cheap to buy Rios1931 straps in Bangkok! Yet to be confirmed for other brands.
The Rios Kaluga (Cognac) costs me THB 990, which is approximately USD 30 at today’s exchange rate.
This is in comparison to GnomonWatches in Singapore where it is priced at USD 49 (!!!), and eBay where the cheapest I found was USD 34.50 (excluding shipping of USD 5!!!). The eBay offer also came with a gold plated buckle (yucks!).
As such, buyers looking for Rios1931 straps can be better off buying them in person in Bangkok, since the price really beats all online sources hands down. I also recommend buying those strap models made via the Art Manuel manner, which is really top quality in its workmanship that I can personally vouch for, having already owned several.
You can download a PDF copy of their catalog here, which shows the different styles, material and manufacturing technique used for each strap.
If you have no way of getting to Bangkok and you’re dying for a Rios1931 strap you can try the following places: