Updated: Sep 28, 2020
Just like bespoke tailoring, leather goods, to me, always have that enduring appeal which as you age and mature, it evolves with you. And if you're lucky enough, it even develops a character based on your habits, or better yet it accompanies you throughout a lifetime.
So far at The Suitstainable Man, I have more or less encapsulated the wonderful experiences I share with my garments ― from designing them from scratch and doing fittings to wearing them (and staining them). Hopefully, you've been enjoying such stories as much as I have been enjoying telling them.
In today's write-up, I will be taking this narrative a bit further, through a different angle, by sharing with you the story of my recent bespoke watch strap commission with Jean Rousseau.
Maison Jean Rousseau, otherwise just known as Jean Rousseau, is a French leathercraft house specializing in making small leather goods, both readymade and bespoke.
While the once-small Maison has now become an internationally-renowned brand, through its evolving expertise in crafting leather goods large and small, and with stores stretching from Paris, London, and New York to Toyko and Macau, it is its passion in watchstrap making that kickstarted the firm's humble beginning more than six decades ago.
Founded by the man, Jean Rousseau, himself, along with 20 other artisans, the Besançon-based firm was established in 1954. Since then, the company has gone through many ups and downs ― expansion, bankruptcy, revitalization, and finally being awarded the EPV label, otherwise known as the Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant, Living Heritage Company.
Needless to say, the EPV label, a mark of recognition given out by the French state to reward French firms for their know-how, is well-earned by Jean Rousseau. You wouldn't need to look further than its excellent techniques in crafting out-of-this-world creations, as well as expertise in working with unusual types of hides and shades of colors. (A choice of over 600 colors to be precise!)
This, of course, couldn't have been achieved without its knowledgable team of artisans, its state-of-the-art equipment, and most importantly, its in-house tannery.
So given the firm's rich leathermaking heritage (and the fact that I have already owned a readymade strap from them), I had a lot of confidence that the strap would turn out impeccably.
And so it did. From the patina of the watch strap to the stitching, every aspect of the watch strap is executed to the finest level. Let's break this down one by one.
Starting with the material of the strap, which is the vintage alligator brown from their vintage line.
What makes this strap, or this line of straps, so special is that each piece is handmade to have its own aged/ vintage-looking patina. This is especially the case for the alligator models (there are also vegetable-tanned calfskin models in the collection) as the skins within this collection are all created by a single artisan within the firm and are finished by hand by combining various colors that form the harmonious, vintage-looking appearance of the strap. All of this brings out the uniqueness of the strap.
Frankly speaking, although the patina turns out to be quite different from what I had expected in the first place, it is surely a welcomed one. While the shade of the model featured on Jean Rousseau's site is more of a medium-brown, the piece I have received is more of a deep, saturated burgundy-brown.
Truth be told, the shine of this saturated model certainly elevates the golden hue of the watch. I can't complain at all.
Moving onto the other technical details.
One of the options which you could select from is whether you'd prefer a turned edge or a cut-edge with edge paint. What the former refers to is that you would have the same piece of the leather extend beyond the top of the strap and cover the side edges.
In this case, I have chosen the latter. As you could see from the picture above, the edges are waxed and painted using the same color applied to the top of the strap. Thus forming a very neat look.
I personally prefer the latter for straps that have thicker edges (in this case, in their standard 3.5mm thickness) or a padding profile (the parts of the strap that are closing to the lugs are padded whilst the rest of the strap is flat). That being said, at the end of the day, both constructions are equally superb. It comes down to personal taste.
Elsewhere, I have chosen the side to be stitched rather than having no stitchings at all.
Generally, the no stitchings option works better with thinner or flat straps, such as a strap that you would pair with a black-tie watch. That way, the strap would be able to match the discreetness of your watch.
On the other hand, if you are pairing it with a thicker watch (and hence a thicker strap, from 3.5mm to 5mm, or above), stitchings look better in my opinion.
What's also worth noting is that you get to have the option to have contrasting stitchings. What the means is that if you prefer a sportier look (in this case I don't as it is a vintage dress watch), you could have the stitchings done in a different color than the strap. Some of the more common ones I've seen are red or orange stitchings on a blue strap.
One final technical detail that's worth specifying is the shape of the lugs.
Most lugs you could find these days, be it the preset watch strap that came with your watch or a readymade strap from a menswear boutique, are usually straight. In this case, I have chosen the lugs to be straight as well since that is the shape of the lugs of my watch as well.
In other circumstances where your watch has a round case, Jean Rousseau offers the option of curved lugs.
Mind you, however, because the curvature of the case differs from one watch to another, it is best to talk to the staff in person to have the lugs measured. A straight lug would always be the safest option if you are commissioning the strap remotely.
There are three things that I would have changed if I were to nitpick. The first one concerns the fit of the strap, and the latter two are related to its design.
With regards to the fit, I would either have the strap with the pinholes to be slightly shorter or have the pinholes moved closer towards the lugs.
Now, this might not be fair to Jean Rousseau, given I wasn't able to commission the strap in-person at their Piccadilly Arcade boutique since it was taken place during the lockdown. All the communications were done through their online order form and email instead.
However, if I had been able to talk to the artisan or a staff member face-to-face, it would have been easier for me to demonstrate to them how tight/ loose I prefer to buckle my watch straps. I am, of course, talking about a fraction of a millimeter, or at most, a millimeter. In this case, I would just be wearing my watch a touch looser than I usually do.
Meanwhile, the two design features I would have changed is the thickness of the strap and the choice of adding a quick-release pin.
For the former, considering the case thickness of the watch and the lugs are relatively thin, Jean Rousseau's standard 3.5mm would be slightly too thick. The thickness of the black strap showcased a bit higher up would perhaps have been more appropriate.
As for the latter, it, again, comes down to personal preference. Though I can't say for sure whether I am the type of person who prefers to change the strap of his/ her watch just to match the color of his/ her belt or shoes, I'd say having a quick-release would have made my life easier. Mind you, this is a feature that you need to specifically mention to them rather than just ticking a box on the form.
In any case, these are lessons that I've learned if I were to commission a strap with Jean Rousseau in the future.
Speaking of the strap being made out of alligator skin, I know some of you may be questioning the ethical implications behind it. To which, there are two points I want to address.
First of all, I should point out that Jean Rousseau follows a stringent ethical policy regarding its use of skins.
Apart from complying with the terms listed in CITES (an international multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals) and the REACH regulations (an EU regulation that addresses the production and use of chemical substances, and their potential impacts on both human health and the environment), it also refuses to use certain leather types, which includes horsehide, elephant hide, and sealskin.
And with regards to the alligator skins Jean Rousseau uses, they are sourced from breeding farms that are approved by the federal agency US Fish & Wildlife Service.
To add onto that, Jean Rousseau has also developed a 100% Non-Leather collection, using materials such as various types of cork or wood, all chosen according to their flexibility and lightness. So fair enough.
My second point, however, is more important. Ethical concerns over the use of exotic skins and furs are no joke, and it's a valid concern that I very much share as well. Yet, the real problem isn't just about the treatment of the animal, but rather how it has been portrayed.
OK, what does this mean you may ask?
In recent years, the fur and exotic leathercraft industry has stagnated and gets quite a poor reputation given how it has been portrayed in documentaries. And while artisans such as Jean Rosseau adhere to a strict policy on their use of skins, their practices are not well-known ― coverages on the more ethical brands are washed out by the news on those who don't follow such rules.
On top of that, having looked at some past reviews on bespoke leather goods by various online media outlets or bloggers, it is no surprise that the public would be suspicious of how ethical these brands are, given there's a lack of mentioning of this subject matter.
So I think we could all do better so that we could give these artisans a recognition they deserve.
Finally, elsewhere I am wearing a pale pink crew-neck cotton jumper from Anderson & Sheppard and a pair of steel linen trousers from Natalino. The watch is a vintage 61GS.
I think this is a great example of how to put together a relaxed-elegant outfit, one that does not require tailoring but would still make you look smart. A casual Riviera style that could transcend my mind to somewhere else even when I'm just working from home, I suppose.
Anyway, that's all for today's write-up. I have included more pictures of the strap in the following, in case if you're interested to examine them from a different angle.
Take care, and bye for now.
Photography: as credited, otherwise own