My partner in crime, Blaise, introduced the fantastic strap reviews on Fratello Watches and it has really led me to look into strap makers as well. As you know, I really favor vintage pieces and one of my favorite things to do is to match a vintage watch with a perfectly appropriate strap. It’s really like buying a knockout suit and having the right shoes. In any case, we pick up a lot of recommendations on strap makers via word of mouth, reading about them on forums, and sometimes they contact us. More recently, though, we’ve come across certain strap makers on Instagram. There are a lot of strap makers out there and while I admire all of them – I certainly couldn’t make one – many straps have started to look similar. So, I tend to look for something different in either the design or the materials used.
“Different” was what led me to Bcatt Watch Straps. I saw a picture on Instagram and the bold colors really threw me. I dipped into the account feed and saw some great tones, variation and even some painted straps. I saw that loads of colors, stripes and patterns were available along with different colors of stitching. It was time for an email to Ben and what followed were some great custom made straps sent to my doorstep for use from the UK.
I custom ordered 19, 20, and 22mm BCatt’s straps in different hues and with varying levels of distressing. They were custom sized exactly to my fledgling wrists and taped down to 16mm at the buckle…just the way I like them! I ultimately fitted the straps to a Breitling 765 CP “Killy”, a Heuer Autavia 2446 “Rindt”, and an Enicar Sherpa Graph “Jim Clark”. Honestly, they look fantastic and have worn beautifully.
They were shipped in a personalized box and came with nice basic stainless buckles. The colors are rich, the leather seemingly durable, and very unique. I have not noted any scratching or wear as of yet. Plus, the leather is supple yet firm enough not to feel fragile.
It’s interesting to bend these straps because if you’re familiar Horween, the oils “pull up”. This is not the case with BCatt straps, as they stay consistent in hue no matter how they’re worn. I really enjoy wearing them, the customer service was excellent, and as you’ll see, the prices are fantastic. This will definitely not be my last order from BCatt…enjoy the interview!
FW: Tell us a little about yourself (name, location and business)
My name is Ben Cattroll and I based in Wirral in the north west of England. I work in engineering within a pharmaceutical manufacturing and packaging company. In my spare time I create watch straps.
FW: How and when did you get into the business/hobby of strap making?
I originally got into strap making because I picked up an injury and couldn’t go to the gym…one of my biggest hobbies, so I had spare time on my hands and decided to give making a strap a go. I’ve always been quite handy and like making things from scratch and a couple of my watches needed a strap.
FW: How’s business so far?
Business has been great so far. I joined Instagram earlier this year, which has helped with my reach. I used to make straps and when I could and upload them to eBay and Etsy, but the past few months I’ve been working more with direct orders via email.
FW: The watch strap world is filled with a lot of creative designs, but when I ran across yours, I was really impressed due to the surfaces, colours and overall finishing. How did you come up with designing them in this manner?
I like the tapering look to a strap and gives a bit more of a challenge to make by hand. I wanted to try and create different colour combos, something a bit different from flat colour, and giving a distressed style with the comfort and style of a new strap. I originally trained in graphic design before I came into engineering, and painted as a hobby. Although dying leather by hand takes longer, it feels natural for me to do it this way and gives me much greater options than pre dyed hides. It makes me more flexible with orders and allows more experimental colours. I like a thin strap, and decided to taper the thickness for the best of both. I start with 3.5-4mm at the lugs and thin to 2.2-2.6mm at the ends, which helps with ease of fastening.
FW: Can you talk to us a little about your process, how long it takes, etc.?
My straps are completely handmade by me. They start from a hide of natural non-dyed vegetable tanned leather. I select a strip which is thinned for the spring bar, thickened with an extra piece of tapering veg tan, folded, glued and then cut and shaped by hand.
Edges are then sanded, first with a Dremel to finish any shaping, the only part machinery that is introduced in my process, and then edges are sanded with three different grade sanding blocks and finally burnished with saddle soap to create a nice smooth edge. This is probably one of the longest processes, around 40-50mins a strap.
The topsides and edges of the straps are then hand dyed either using standard colours or specially blended colours.
The underneath is left natural which complements the handmade style. They usually dry overnight or through the day depending when I’m at work. They are buffed with a cloth to remove any colour residue left and are then sealed. The edges are burnished with a blend of wax ad this is repeated a couple of times to create a nice smooth edge. This is the part of the process I enjoy the most: a constant competition with myself to get a smoother edge than the last. The strap is sealed again with a blend of natural waxes giving a light shine and softens the leather slightly. Underneath is sealed lightly with beeswax.
The stitch is then added and the final stage for me is buckle holes. They are done by hand one by one and 1mm out and a mistake can easily result in ruining a couple of days work. My straps are quite labour intensive, taking around 4-5 hours work split over a couple of days with drying times.
FW: How long did it take you to master your craft before you felt comfortable in going to market?
I started making my straps in 2013. I originally started by using offcuts from eBay and continued that way for about six months. I start selling them on eBay around November and sold my first one in December 2013. Then in April/May 2014 I changed to using natural veg tan. My process is consistently evolving and I’m tweaking it to put out the best I can. I don’t get to the gym as often anymore but I wouldn’t change it.
FW: How do you interact with customers and how can they reach you?
A lot of my business comes from Instagram. I’ve not been able to restock my eBay and Etsy as much the past few months, but I get requests through them as well. Mainly through email (firstname.lastname@example.org) though, which I try to respond within 48hrs. On rare occasions, it can take a little longer as like so many strap makers it’s just me, a one-man operation. I’m looking to make a website by the end of the year.
FW: Do you work globally with customers?
I’d say 70% of my business is international. I’ve been fortunate to work with customers from all over the world. My first strap I sent internationally was to Hong Kong: I was amazed at the time that someone all the way over there found and bought one of my straps.
FW: Do you do a lot of custom work such as tailored sizing, etc.?
A lot of my work has the lengths tailored. Other custom options I can offer are the straps in a consistent thickness, stitched, and non-stitched. The main request is colours, especially the distressed style. I can blend dyes to create a more specific colour to match items. I also make a distressed style featuring less of one colour or more and even add worn patches with a dull blade.
FW: What is your current lead time and pricing?
My lead-time at the moment is around 14 days, which has been consistent for a while. Like many hobbyists, it can go up or down depending on my commitments outside of strap making as well as order load. My price is set at £45 at the moment direct to me. It’s a little more on Etsy and eBay due to extra costs. Shipping is £4 international, £9 for tracked international and 93p standard or £4 tracked within UK.
FW: Do you have any new styles or ideas coming?
I’m trying new colour combos and distressing styles. Straps with stripes are something I’m working on and you can see a navy strap I wear regularly with stripes on Instagram. I’m in the process of teaching myself how to saddle stitch, which I hope to add on to distressed style straps combined with stripes. I’m trying to think of ideas for darkening the leather using sunlight with taped off areas to create patterns and stripes, etc. Printing on leather is also something I’m trying to find a little bit more about. Also developing packaging ideas too…lots of ideas to try for the future.
FW: Most artisans are fans of their contemporaries. Are there any strap makers you really admire?
Where do I start? There are so many talented people out there. Considering we’re all using some leather and a bit of thread, it’s amazing to see the varied styles and great work out there. I love Heuerville straps as the craftsmanship looks top notch. Combat straps has such a variety of straps available with amazing finishing, especially the edges. I love the Schofield tweed straps: so different. Attila Aszodi straps look extremely well crafted, with beautiful bunds. Jpm for Bulang & sons, G.L.C, gunny straps: there’s so many I can list.
FW: Now let’s talk about watches. Your Instagram bio mention mentions that you’re a collector. Talk to us about how you got into watches.
I’ve always loved watches from a young age and I still have my Casio calculator watch somewhere…I really wanted the Casio TV remote watch. My first “real “watch was back in 2006, a new Breitling Superocean, it was heavy and shiny, I was drawn to it like a magpie. It’s served me well although I don’t wear it as much as I used to. It still accompanies me on every holiday and it’s my go anywhere do anything watch. In fact, I only get to wear a watch on the weekend, as my job doesn’t allow watches or jewelry. After my dad passed away, he left me his Rolex Precision 6426. For years my sister and I teased him about it being a knock-off, until I took it to my local jewelers where we found it to be genuine, although in bad shape. I had it resorted, and it amazed me once the work was done; it was then my taste changed to vintage watches and the obsession started. Out of my small collection they are the only two watches I would never let go.
FW: What are some of your favourite pieces?
Other than the 6426 and Superocean, one of my favourite pieces is a Rolex Datejust ref 1603 with a sigma dial and fatboy indexes. It’s not a very rare watch but it has little details that can be hard to come by. Some things I’d love to add are a Breitling 809, 1809 and 819. I love the 24hr dial Cosmonaute. Although there are a lot of vintage Breitlings I like, there are always a couple watches that could get in the way. I have such broad taste in watches, I’m still at the buy everything stage. I’m usually sucked in by a watch for the aesthetics of the dial, though.
FW: If there’s anything else you’d like to add, fire away…
I’d just like to thank everyone who’s bought a strap from me and keeping my passion for strap making going. All the kind words and supportive comments from people on Instagram, it all means a lot. Thank you to the team at Fratello Watches for contacting me and making me apart of this; I’m honoured to be amongst all these great strap makers.
Thanks again to Ben for participating in our interview. Per my introductory comments, I highly recommend checking out one of his straps. I think that you’ll be highly pleased!