We have said it before and we say it again; a strap can make or break a watch. Even the most precious, carefully crafted and rarest horological masterpieces can be degraded completely when not fitted with the right strap. Watch straps are a world of their own. From the inexpensive ones hanging in plastic boxes at your local Wallmart to the handmade straps of exotic leather by companies like Jean Rousseau. We had the opportunity to interview Jacques Bordier, President of Manufacture Jean Rousseau, and talk with him about how high end straps are made and what is important when doing so:
You call yourself a Manufacture. What does that exactly mean?
Manufacture comes from the Latin “Manufactura” meaning “hand made” – an adequate description of our craftsmanship activity. It is also a reference to the horology world, whereby a Manufacture Horlogère is an enterprise that masters all aspect of execution of a watch. In the same way, Jean Rousseau is fully vertically integrated. We prepare and process our leather in our in-house tannery, we create and craft our own tools, and sometimes even our machinery. For this we have our own CAD/CAM operators, our own prototypists, and an in-house testing laboratory. We do everything ourselves and nothing is subcontracted.
What makes a leather strap an exceptional good one?
It may sound a bit arrogant, but I sometimes compare our business to “Haute Cuisine”: You need exceptional ingredients, exceptional know how from dedicated people, and perfect service.
As one of the very few companies in this business you have your own tannery. Why is that so important?
Working with leather is very tricky, as so many factors can influence the final color and finish of the article: the way the animal is treated and fed, combined with the type of tanning and conditions of tanning (ingredients used, PH or temperature of water, etc). All this can fluctuate and impact the final result. Therefore mastering as much as possible of the total cycle gives us an opportunity to limit, unfortunately not exclude, the risk of defects, and traceability is a big plus that our clients appreciate. Furthermore we try to specify the finishing of the leather to the final usage of the skin: Leather prepared for small leather ware will be different from the one for belts or for watch straps. For example, in regards to allergy, UV, water resistance, and sweat resistance, to name a few.
How do you obtain your skins and what kind of quality control must they pass?
Over the years we have built partnerships with several suppliers with whom we work very closely. We audit the companies regularly to see how the animals are treated and how the supplier works. Our partners have to conform to REACH regulations and have to justify, for each batch delivery, of specific chemical tests performed by independent laboratories regarding Formaldehyde or Chrome VI content. We additionally perform random cross testing so as to make sure everything is right.
We all have to take good care of the world around us for the generations to come. What kind of role does that play in your business?
Environment is a big concern to us. We are lucky our factory is in the countryside near Besançon and nature is everywhere here as a permanent reminder to us what we need to preserve. We have roe deers, foxes, wild boars, and many birds “visiting” us regularly on our company estate. But this is also part of our philosophy:
a) In the choice of skins: We prefer to buy skins from farms rather than from the wild. Of course we are strictly complying with the CITES regulation. Also we refuse to use such skins as horses/ponies, elephants, seals and, generally speaking, animals “bred for fur” only.
b) In our production process, especially for all the by-products from our tannery, we have invested and keep investing in specific equipment so that nothing is released, be it in the air or water, which did not get prior treatment. In the execution phase we try as much as possible to avoid solvent base chemicals and we hope to be able to use “non solvents only” in the near future.
What is the strangest leather you have ever used to create a watchstrap from?
Quite some years ago, we had a small stock of rooster leg skins. We used to give them out to children in the Atelier Jean Rousseau as an amusing gift when they were coming with their parents. But someone asked for a strap made from this type of leather so we executed one.
As a manufacturer of high-end watchstraps you must have a passion for watches; any favorite brands or models at the moment?
I have to be careful not to get some of the watch brands we work for angry with me….so I will not give names. Actually, I love ultra slim watches but my favorite watch is an old Elgin, for sentimental reasons: first of all it was a kind present to me, and second it was manufactured in 1921, the year my father was born – and of course because it is beautifully crafted and still working very well.
Join us soon for part II of the interview with Jacques Bordier, where we discuss the current market and trends!